About the project and project team; Archives; Bibliographies; Information on staff; Meteorological work of the Chinese Maritime Customs; Occasional papers; Online digitized publicationsWritings by or about foreign members of the Customs Service and their families

The Catalogue

There are more than 55,000 items in two main series at the Second Historical Archives of China in Nanjing. Series 679, with sub-series 1-9, and Series 2085. Series 2085 contains records described as being from the collaborationist Customs, 1941-45, when the Service was run by the Japanese Inspector-General Kishimoto Hirokichi. However, in great part the 679 series contains the records of this period as well, as the central institutions of the Service, notably the Inspectorate, fell under collaborationist and Japanese control.


The nine sub-series of Series 679 contain the following major sets of Customs central and departmental records, among others: the Reference Library of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, Inspectorate General Central Registry (including the Kishimoto era), departmental archives or records of the Statistical Section, Staff Department, Preventive Service, London Office, Financial Secretariat, Marine Department, and the ad hoc Chongqing Inspectorate (1942-45).


The bulk of the records postdate 1900, when the Inspectorate General archive in Peking was destroyed during the Boxer war. The only material which survived that, famously, was Robert Hart’s personal diaries. What is stored in Nanjing is the post-1900 core archive of the CMCS with the addition of nineteenth-century records from Customs stations, which under a 1933 directive, were transferred to the Customs Reference Library in Shanghai. This initiative to create a historical archive for the CMCS was driven by Stanley Fowler Wright, one of the historians whose work on the Service was sponsored by Inspector General Sir Frederick Maze. The Customs Reference Library records, some 2,100 in all, are located in series 679(2). Other nineteenth-century records come from the Shanghai-based Statistical Department and Marine Department, and the London Office. There are also some materials from outside the core administration, such as transcripts of H.B. Morse’s letter books donated by John King Fairbank in the 1930s.


The Central Registry survived the Sino-Japanese war intact. Examination of the archives after August 1945 suggested that very little was missing (although the Customs Reference Library’s holdings of printed volumes had suffered a thorough purge). IG Frederick Maze had transferred many sensitive files to the presumed safety of a bank vault in Singapore in 1941. They were not in fact discovered during the Japanese occupation. Some of these were returned after 1945, while others form the basis of Maze’s own archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Confidential material still in Shanghai was burnt on the morning of 8 December 1941. Some other material was removed during the period of Japanese control. The specific records of the Kishimoto inspectorate are patchier overall. Where files already existed they continued to be updated with relevant material. New Central Registry files were opened at the Inspectorate in occupied Shanghai. The files of correspondence with Customs stations in Series 2085 are not comprehensive, however, and there was also some judicious culling and destruction of material before the resumption of National Government control over the Shanghai office. The Inspectorate records had a peripatetic career after 1949 before their arrival in the Archives at Nanjing, but the holdings now there appear to be comprehensive. They can be supplemented by IG ‘personal’ materials in the Maze papers or the L.K. Little collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library. These are usually copies of high-level correspondence, but it is not always clear that they are genuinely ‘personal’. Other archives in China hold the records of Customs stations (Tianjin’s at the Tianjin Municipal Archives, Guangdong province stations at the Guangdong Provincial Archives etc).


The Chinese Maritime Customs Project compiled a new digitised catalogue of the 2085 and 679 records. This catalogue was derived directly by inputting the titles from the original files themselves, with the guiding philosophy that the original title given by the Customs Service, in the original language used, should be recorded. An existing paper catalogue (which at present is all that researchers can see at Nanjing) was compiled in Chinese. By using the original titles we were able in one sense to recreate the original Customs Service catalogues. This is very important given the limited range of subject headings used in Customs archiving practice. The only compromise we had to make was using simplified Chinese characters for Chinese titles.


Please note that as of 2021 access to the original Customs Service archives in Nanjing has not been possible for over 10 years.


Searching the Catalogue

We have placed the database containing our catalogue online here. This contains a CSV and an MS Access database file, as well as an introduction to the collection and a brief guide to making searches.


Gale Microfilming Project

A microfilming project with the Gale Group led to the publication of about 258 reels of material from Nanjing, in four Units. Copies of unit introductions can be found here: Unit 1, CircularsUnit 2, London Office archivesUnit 3, Semi-official correspondenceUnit 4, The Policing of Trade (Superintendents, River Police, IG confidential correspondence with Guanwushu, Preventive Service), Unit 5, The Policing of Trade (Native Customs, Smuggling reports, Opium and Narcotics, Central Inspection Bureau); Units 6 & 7, The Sino-Japanese War and its Aftermath, 1931-1949 (Outbreak of the war, Wartime Consumption Tax, Chongqing Inspectorate, Customs leadership in wartime and revolution, Planning for peace and resuming functions in Post-War China). The files have subsequently been published as a searchable database in Gale’s China and the Modern World platform.