Search Chinese Maritime Customs Service records

Established in 1854, the Imperial Maritime Customs, later the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, was a foreign-administered agency of the Chinese government. Across the nearly one hundred years of its existence, some 22,000 men and women (but mostly men) from many different nationalities, served in the Customs. Half of those listed were Chinese, a quarter were British. The rest included French, German, Japanese, Americans, Russians, Norwegians, Italians and many more.


From 1875 to 1948 the Customs published annually a Service List, which listed all ‘Indoor’ and ‘Outdoor’ employees (the desk-bound, and those who saw to the business of dealing with cargoes). This allows researchers to locate the basic career outlines of employees. All foreign employees are listed, and by the later 1920s all Chinese staff of equivalent grades.


The second issue (1876) of the Service List contained a retrospective listing of all withdrawals since the start of the service in 1854. Chinese Indoor staff are listed commencing 1879 and postal staff from 1901. We do not hold copies of the Service List. Various copies survive in university or national libraries. The library of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a complete run from 1876 to 1941, that was transferred recently to the Special Collections and Archives at the Library of the School of Oriental & African Studies, London University. Harvard University Library has placed a number of digitised issues online. These are accessible through its library catalogue.


The database contains all records from one key table (‘Withdrawals from Service’ which have been extracted from the service lists published between 1875 and 1948. This dataset was created during the 2003-2007 Arts & Humanities Research Council funded project, ‘The History of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service’. It was prepared with the assistance of colleagues at the Second Historical Archives of China, Nanjing, and at the University of Bristol: Ma Zhendu, Jiang Yun, He Ling, Xu Yin, and Rosanne Jacks, as well as Dr Jonathan J. Howlett, and Dr Hirata Koji.


You can search using the Roman alphabet or Chinese characters. For example you can search for ‘Robert Hart’ or 丁贵堂. What information will I find?


Chinese name
Position on first appointment
Date of first appointment
Position on withdrawal
Port stationed when withdrawing
Date of final withdrawal
Mode of withdrawal (resigned, retired, dismissed etc)


You may find more than one entry for the same employee. The politics of the Customs during the Second World War were complex. A British employee might have found his services formally terminated in December 1941 when the Service’s staff mostly fell under Japanese control, but then also, formally, in 1943, when the legitimate Service leadership retrenched staff, but then he might have been reinstated at the end of the war only to leave again between 1945 and 1950. Sometimes men left and re-joined. All these were recorded separately. Some names are missing entirely. These will mostly be men who transferred to the Post Office in 1911 when it became independent from the Customs Service (of which, originally, it was a branch). The surviving archives of the Inspectorate-General and Marine Department are held at the Second Historical Archives of China, Nanjing. Although currently (2021) closed, a version of the catalogue is available here.