Newsletter 46 Supplement - Picturing China

A Customs officer in the treaty port world. R.F.C. Hedgeland’s photographs

Catherine Ladds

The Chinese Maritime Customs Service was a foreign-run and internationally-staffed institution, whose responsibilities grew far beyond its initial purpose of administering the duties on foreign trade, to encompass lighting the China coast, harbour maintenance, publishing reports on countless China-related topics, and even representing China at international exhibitions. Written records about the work and workforce of the Customs between 1854 and 1949 are plentiful. Over 52,000 such files are housed in the Second Historical Archive of China, Nanjing, alone. The reports and correspondence lodged in the archive tell us a great deal about the Service’s guiding principles and ideologies, its everyday business, and the Customs’ contribution to the development of China’s foreign relations. Yet photographs, in particular the photographic collection of a British Customs man, R.F.C. Hedgeland, offer us an alternative view, and sometimes a clearer picture, of the Customs world of work and the Sinoforeign environment it operated in.

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