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Intermediary Elites in the Treaty Port World: Tong Mow-chee and His Collaborators in Shanghai, 1873–1897

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 April 2015

Nanyang Technological


This article examines the functions of Chinese and foreign intermediary elites in the commercial and political world of Shanghai, an international city in the nineteenth century mainly consisting of British, American, European and Chinese residents. Specifically, it focuses on the formation of the socio-economic network of Tong Mow-chee (Tang Maozhi 唐茂枝) (1828–1897), a well-known Chinese comprador-merchant serving the British firm Jardine Matheson & Co. and other anglophone and Chinese figures, including William Venn Drummond and Tong King-sing who supported Mow-chee's commercial and political activities. My research mainly draws on English and Chinese sources and enables a deeper understanding of the unofficial figures who contributed to the management of the international society of Shanghai in the late nineteenth century, offering new insight into social roles of the middlemen operating in an area of Britain's informal empire in China.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2015 

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1 This article represents an extended version of a paper I presented at the China Postgraduate Network (CPN) Annual Conference 2012 (University of Edinburgh) on 18 June 2012 and at the workshop, Modern China's Internationalizations and its Legacies (University of Bristol) on 11 January 2013. I would like to thank Andrew Hillier for sharing his family materials with me.

2 Xu Run 徐潤, XuYuzhai zixu nianpu 徐愚齋自叙年譜 (published around 1927), pp. 57–58; Yang Tian-yi 楊 天溢, ‘Shinmatsu yomuundo ki no kigyosha katsudo—kantokushoben seido wo chushin’ ni 清末洋務運動期の企業者活動–官督商弁制度を中心に [The entrepreneur system in the industrialization of 19th-century China:the institution of the official supervision and merchant management mystem] Keiei Shigaku (Japan Business History Review), I(3), pp. 70–71.

3 In terms of the importance of the intermediaries in modern Shanghai, Leung Yuen-sang discussed at length the multifaceted functions of the Chinese social leaders in the mid-nineteenth century: Yuen-sang, Leung, The Shanghai Taotai: Linkage Man in a Changing Society, 1843–90 (Honolulu and Singapore, 1990), pp. 160165 Google Scholar. Mark Elvin summarises the relationship between Chinese public associations and the Foreign Municipal Council in the late nineteenth century: Elvin, Mark, “Administration of Shanghai, 1905–1914”, in The Chinese City between Two Worlds, (eds) Elvin, Mark and Skinner, William G. (Stanford, 1974), pp. 240250 Google Scholar.

4 See Gallagher, John and Robinson, Ronald, “The imperialism of free trade”, The Economic History Review, New Series, VI, 1 (1953), pp. 115 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Robinson, Ronald, “Non-European foundations of European imperialism: Sketch for a theory of collaboration”, in Studies in the Theory of Imperialism, (eds) Owen, Roger and Sutcliffe, Bob (London, 1972), pp. 120124 Google Scholar.

5 Bayly, C. A., “Knowing the country: empire and information in India’, Modern Asian Studies, XXVII, 1 Google Scholar, Special Issue: How Social, Political and Cultural Information Is Collected, Defined, Used and Analysed (February, 1993), pp. 3–43.

6 See Hao, Yen-ping, The Comprador in Nineteenth Century China: Bridge between East and West (Cambridge, 1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chan, Kai Yiu, Business Expansion and Structural Change in Pre-war China: Liu Hongsheng and his Enterprises, 1920–1937 (Hong Kong, 2006.)Google Scholar; Chan, Kai Yiu, “A turning point in China's comprador system: KMA's changing marketing structure in the lower Yangzi region, 1912–25”, Business History, XLIII. 2 (2001), pp. 5172 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Motono, Eiichi, “A study of the legal status of the compradors during the 1880s: with special reference to the three civil cases between David Sassoon Sons & Co. and their compradors, 1884–1887”, Acta Asiatica, LXII (1992), pp. 4470 Google Scholar.

7 Business competition between Chinese and foreign merchants and the predominance of Chinese comprador-merchants over foreign merchants in coastal areas of China, has been studied and accessed by various scholars. For example, see Motono, Eiichi, Conflict and Cooperation in Sino-British Business: 1860–1911: the Impact of the Pro-British Commercial Network in Shanghai (New York, 2000)Google Scholar; Wang, Jerry L. S., “The profitability of Anglo-Chinese trade, 1861–1913”, Business History, XXXV, 3 (1993), pp. 3965 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Liu, Kwang-Ching, Anglo-American Steamship Rivalry in China, 1862–1874 (Cambridge, MA, 1962)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Leung Yuen-sang, The Shanghai Taotai, pp. 168–170.

9 Smith, Carl T., “The formative years of the Tong Brothers: pioneers in the modernization of China's commerce and industry:, Chung Chi Journal, X,1 and 2 (1971), pp. 8195 Google Scholar.

10 Smith, “The formative years”, pp. 82; Welsh, Frank, A History of Hong Kong (London, 1997), pp. 153 Google Scholar.

11 National Archives (London): CO 129/23, John Davis to the Earl Grey, 25 January 1848, pp. 82–83.

12 Sinn, Elizabeth, Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, 2013), pp. 34, 331CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sacramento Daily Union, VII, 1084, 13 September 1854, p. 2; Tong Achick's name was recorded in Colville's San Francisco Directory (1857), p. 220.

13 Hart, Robert, Robert Hart and China's Early Modernization, (eds) Smith, Richard J., Fairbank, John K. and Bruner, Katherine F. (Cambridge, MA, 1991), p. 229 Google Scholar.

14 Robert Hart, Robert Hart pp. 217–218, 229, 243, 259.

15 Smith, ‘Formative Years’, p. 92.

16 The North China Herald (NCH), 3 September 1897, p. 459.

17 Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City and Nation: Regional Networks and Identity in Shanghai, 1853–1937 (Berkeley, 1995), p. 110; NCH, 3 September 1897, p. 459Google Scholar.

18 NCH, 3 September 1897, pp. 459–460.

19 For a detailed description of the compradors in Canton, see, Van Dyke, Paul Arthur, The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700–1845 (Hong Kong, 2005), especially chapter 4, “Compradors and the previsions trade”, pp. 5175 Google Scholar; Fairbank, John King, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: the Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842–1854 (Cambridge, MA, 1964), p. 51 Google Scholar.

20 Jardine, Matheson & Co Ltd, Jardine and the Ewo Interests (Shanghai, 1947), p. 48 Google Scholar; The Chronicles and Dictionary for China, Japan and Phillipines (Hong Kong, 1870), p. 221, cited in Yen-P’ing, Hao, Comprador, p. 102.

21 Williams, Samuel Wells, A Chinese Commercial Guide: Consisting of a Collection of Details and Regulations Respecting Foreign Trade with China, Sailing Directions, Tables, Fourth edition, revised and enlarged (Canton: 1856), pp. 224225 Google Scholar.

22 A8/131/8/10, Tables by Tong Mow-chee of salaries in the Shipping Office Department, 1876, and Comprador Department, 1876, Jardine Matheson Archive (JMA), Cambridge University Library.

23 Hao, Comprador, pp. 89–90.

24 Jardine Matheson Archive (JMA): A8/131/8/10, Tables by Tong Mowchee of salaries in the Shipping Office Department, 1876, and Compradore Department, 1876.

25 Chan, Business Expansion and Structural Change in China, p. 51; Köll, Elisabeth, From Cotton Mill to Business Empire: the Emergence of Regional Enterprises in Modern China (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 61 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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27 Lo Hok Pang, a head comprador at the Hong Kong office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, absconded, leaving the bank over one million dollars in debt in March 1892. The Hong Kong Telegraph, 30 January 1895; HSBC Group Archives (London): HSBCS 0019/0001, Comprador File; King, Frank H. H., The History of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Vol.1 1864–1902 (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 515516 Google Scholar.

28 Smith, “Formative Years”, p. 92; before that, Mow-chee was a comprador to Jardine in Tianjin; Hong Kong Public Record Office (HKPRO), HKRS144–4–1161, Will of Tong Mow Chee, 22 December 1894.

29 Hao, Comprador, pp. 122–124; Fairbank, John King, Coolidge, Martha Henderson and Smith, Richard J., H.B. Morse, Customs Commissioner and Historian of China (Lexington, 1995), pp. 7072 Google Scholar.

30 Smith, “Formative Years”, p. 92.

31 Thuật Nguyẽñ, edited by Chen Jinghe 陳荊和, Ruan shu “WangJin riji 阮述”往津日記” (Hong Kong, 1980), p. 58. In 1882, Tang Tinggeng was dispatched to Vietnam by the Viceroy of Liangguang, Zhang Shusheng 張樹聲. Li Hongzhang also ordered Tinggeng to investigate and report the circumstances there. 龍章 Zhang, Long, Yuenan yu zhongfa zhanzheng 越南與中法戰爭 (Taipei, 1996), pp. 8384 Google Scholar.

32 HKPRO, HKRS144–4–1161, Will of Tong Mow Chee, 22 December 1894.

33 NCH, 23 Sept 1897, p. 459.

34 (JMA)(Cambridge, UK), MS JM/F10/5, deed of partnership of Shanghai merchants. A copy of a deed of co-partnership between William Francis Brown Sams, Tong King Sing, William McGregor Smith and Wahee, all merchants of Shanghai, for a joint trade as sugar crushers and refiners at Hong Kong or Swatow, 7 March 1867.

35 Smith, “Formative Years”, p. 92.

36 The Hong Kong Daily Press, 17 July 1869.

37 The Hong Kong Government Gazette, 22 January 1870, p. 37. The company went into bankruptcy, stopping its service in the beginning of 1875. The Hong Kong Government Gazette, 20 February 1875, p. 55.

38 Bo, Hu 胡波, Xiangshan maiban yu jindai zhongguo 香山買辦与近代中国 [Xiangshan's compradores and modern China] (Guangzhou, 2007), pp. 126, 130, 161164 Google Scholar.

39 NCH, 23 Sept 1897, p. 459.

40 Hao, Comprador, p. 188.

41 Tung Wah Hospital Archives (Hong Kong), Zhengxinlu 徵信錄 (Annual Report), 1873.

42 Annual Report of the Shanghai Municipal Council, Shanghai for 1894, pp. 56–62.

Mow-chee obtained the report about the hunting of stray dogs by police from colleagues of Jintzetang Charitable Institution.

43 Goodman, Native Place, City, and Nation, p. 107; Shenbao, 14 January 1874.

44 Motono, Eiichi, Conflict and Cooperation in Sino-British Business, 1860–1911: the Impact of Pro-British Commercial Networks in Shanghai (New York, 2000), p. 9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; NCH, 23 Sept 1879, p. 309; NCH 3 Sept 1897, p. 459; Hamilton, Gary G., “Nineteenth century Chinese merchant associations: conspiracy or combination?: the case of the Swatow Opium Guild’”, Ch’ing-shih wen-t’i, III, 8 (1977), p. 53 Google Scholar.

45 NCH, 3 Sept 1897, p. 459.

46 NCH, 28 Oct 1892, p. 641.

47 Annual Report, Shanghai Municipal Council (1885), pp. 179–180; The senders of the letters were Tan Tongxing 譚同興, Chen Yongnan 陳詠南, Li Qiping 李秋坪, Chen Huiting 陳輝廷, Wu Hongyu 吳虹玉, Yan Yongjing 顏永京 in addition to Mow-chee and King-sing.

48 See a son of Yan Yongjing, Yan Huiqing's (顏惠慶) autobiography, Yen, W. W., East-West Kaleidoscope, 1877–1946: An Autobiography (New York, 1974)Google Scholar; Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity,

49 Annual Report, Shanghai Municipal Council (1885), p. 179.

50 Annual Report, Shanghai Municipal Council (1885), p. 180; Shanghaishi danganguan bian 上海市檔案館編 [ edited by Shanghai Municipal Archive], Shanghai Municipal Council, Gongbuju dongshihui huiyilu 工部局董事會會議錄 [The minutes of Shanghai Municipal Council Vol.8] (Shanghai, 2001), pp. 322–323.

51 NCH, 25 November 1885, p. 608; The Shanghai Literary and Debating Society also voiced their opinion to the newspaper. NCH, 10 February 1886, p. 145.

52 Shenbao 申報, 8 December 1885, (Guangxu 光緒 11/11/3), cited in Shanghai yuanlinzhi 上海园林志 (History of gardens in Shanghai], pp. 711–712.

53 Shenbao 申報, 21 September 1888 (GX14/8/16), cited in Shanghai yuanlinzhi 上海园林志, pp. 712–713.

54 Shiying, Chang 張世瑛, “ Wanqing shaghai xishi gongyuan chuxian hou de shehui fanying 晚清上海西式公園出現後的社會反應 [The people's reactions to the Western Parks that appeared in Shanghai during the late Ching period)”, Guoshiguan xueshu jikan 國史館學術集刊, vol. 14 (December 2007), p. 54 Google Scholar; Shanghai Municipal Council, Gongbuju huiyi ji lu 工部局會議錄 [Minutes of the Shanghai Municipal Council, Vol.9] (Shanghai, 2001), p. 709.

55 Wright, Arnold, Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China (London, 1908), p. 516 Google Scholar.

56 Zhaojin, Ji, A History of Modern Shanghai Banking: The Rise and Decline of China's Finance Capitalism (Armonk, 2003), pp. 5556 Google Scholar.

57 F. B Johnson to W. Keswick, 22 June 1871, JMA cited in Liu, Kwang-ching, “A Chinese Entrepreneur”, in The Thistle and the Jade: A Celebration of 150 Years of Jardine, Matheson & Co, Keswick, Maggie, (ed.) (London, 1982), p. 124 Google Scholar.

58 F. B. Johnson to J. Whitall, 15 and 21 November, 1872, JMA, Shanghai, cited in Liu, “Chinese Entrepreneur”, p. 124; Liu, Kwang-Ching, Anglo-American Steamship Rivalry in China, 1862–1872 (Cambridge, MA, 1962), p. 141 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 Liu, “Chinese Entrepreneur”, p. 124; Liu, Anglo-American Steamship Rivalry, p. 141.

60 Liu, Steamship Rivalry, pp. 140–141; Zhang Xiuli 張秀莉, “Shijiu Shiji shanghai waishang qiyezhong de hua dong 19” 世紀上海外商企業中的華董 [Chinese directors of foreign enterprises in Shanghai in the nineteenth century) 史林 Shilin [Historical review], Issue 4, 2004, p. 3.

61 A8/131/8/10, Memo of China Coast Shares, 1877, JMA. Mow-chee estimated the total loss was approximately 20,887 taels from 1833 to 1877.

62 MS B7/37/8987, 18 April 1877, Shanghai, Tong Mow-chee to F. B. Johnson, JMA.

63 The London and China Telegraph, 19 March 1883, p. 244.

64 Zhang, “Shijiu Shiji”, p. 5.

65 The London and China Telegraph, 4 April 1890, p. 292.

66 The London And China Telegraph, 21 March 1892, pp. 231–232.

67 NCH, 3 March 1893, p. 308.

68 Hao, Comprador, p. 169.

69 In addition to legal works, Drummond and Wainewright were involved into the management of various companies. In 1886, Drummond was the chairman of the Selangor Tin Mining Company of Shanghai. China Overland Trade Report, 13 April 1886, pp. 10–11. Drummond was also the chairman of Perak Tin Mining and Smelting Company, Limited in 1886 where Wainewright was a shareholder; 23 April 1886, Chine Overland Trade Report, p. 9.

70 falu huodong ji yingxiang” 略論近代上海外籍律師的法律活動及影響 [Brief sketch of foreign lawyers’ legal activities and influence in modern Shanghai]”, Shilin 史林, III, 2005, pp. 32–38.

71 “Mr. W. V. Drummond and The Chinese Guilds”, Daily Advertiser (Singapore), 20 February 1894, p. 3.

72 NCH “Mr. Drummond's Appointment”, 26 January 1894, pp. 132–134.

73 North China Daily News. “The Late Mr. W. V. Drummond”, 24 March 1915.

74 National Archives, Kew (London): PCAP 1/556, Appellant: Peter Denny, owner of the steamship Ocean Respondent: Jong (Tong) King Sing, shareholder and manager of the Chinese Merchants’ Steam Navigation Co, owners of the steamship Fusing Subject: Collision between said vessels on 4 Apr 1875 Lower Court: Supreme Court for China and Japan at Shanghai; NCH, 29 May 1875, pp. 524–536.

75 Hamilton, Gary G., “Nineteenth Century Chinese Merchant Associations: Conspiracy or Combination?: The Case of the Swatow Opium Guild”, Ch’ing-shih wen-t’i, III, 8 (1977), p. 51 Google Scholar.

76 Hamilton, “Nineteenth Century”, pp. 51–52.

77 NCH, 23 September 1879, p. 309.

78 NCH, 17 October 1879, p. 386.

79 FO228/658, To Shanghai 1–63, From Shanghai 1–52, Declaration from Acting Governor General Wu, Signed 5 February 1880, p. 54, National Archives (London).

80 NCH 19 Oct 1888, pp. 447–448.

81 Motono, Conflict and Collaboration, pp. 94, 104.

82 See, Motono, Conflict and Collaboration, Chapter 4, “Conflict over the opium trade”, especially, pp. 102–107.

83 The British officials continued discussing and investigating the Swatow Opium Guild case into the early 1880s. National Archives, Kew (London): FO 228/985, Chinese Enclosures (Shanghai), 1879–1883, Acting Viceroy Wu to Consul Davenport, 8 March 1880, p. 97.

84 Yen-p’ing, Hao, The Commercial Revolution in Nineteenth-century China: the Rise of Sino-Western Mercantile Capitalism (Berkeley, 1986), pp. 212213 Google Scholar.

85 NCH 29 September 1888, pp. 351–353; Bramsen, Christopher Bo, Peace and Friendship : Denmark's Official Relations with China, 1674–2000 (Copenhagen, 2000), p. 100 Google Scholar.

86 Reports from the Consuls of the United States, Issues 101–104, pp. 426–427; NCH, 15 June 1889, p. 741.

87 NCH, 28 October 1892, p. 628.

88 NCH, 18 April 1883, pp. 431–432.

89 The London and China Telegraph, 27 May 1890, p. 462.

90 Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853–1937 (Berkeley, 1995), p. 61 Google Scholar; Leung, Shanghai Taotai, pp. 162–163.

91 NCH, 3 September 1897, p. 459.

92 Cassel, Par Kristoffer, Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan (Oxford and New York, 2012), p. 170 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wright, Twentieth Century Impressions, p. 516.

93 B11/3048, a letter from Tong Mow-chee to F. B. Johnson, 27 September 1877, JMA. “Do not use the person you doubt or doubt the person you use” (yiren buyong, yongren buyi 疑人不用,用人不疑).

94 A8/131/8/10, Tables by Tong Mow-chee of salaries in the Shipping Office Department, 1876, and Comprador Department, 1876, JMA.

95 NCH, 3 September 1897, pp. 459–460.

96 The North China Daily News, “The Late Mr. W.V. Drummond”, 24 March 1915.

97 Kurata Akiko 倉田明子, Jiukyuuseiki minamichugoku ni okeru purotesutanto fukyo no hatten to 「kaikoujou chishikijin」no tanjou: Koujinkan to 『shiseishinpen』 no ichiduke wo megutte 19 世紀南中国におけるプロテスタント布教の発展と「開港場知識人」の誕生 : 洪仁玕と『資政新篇』の位置づけをめぐって」 [The emergence of “open-port intellectual elites” in nineteenth-century southern China: Hong Rengan and ‘Zizheng xinpian’], PhD Thesis, University of Tokyo, 2010; Hong Rengan wrote a monograph, Zizheng xinpian 資政新篇 [The new essay on economics and politics] which suggested the reform of the Taiping regime based on his experience and communication with Christian missionaries in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

98 Bickers, Robert, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832–1914 (London, 2011), pp. 290291 Google Scholar.

99 John M. Carroll, Edge of Empires, pp. 66–70, 78; For Wu Tingfang's works as a barrister in Hong Kong, see Pomerantz-Zhang, Linda, Wu Tingfang (1862–1922): Reform and Modernization in Modern Chinese History (Hong Kong, 1992), pp. 4170 Google Scholar.

100 Regarding Hennessy’ career in Hong Kong, see Lowe, Kate and McLaughlin, Eugene, “Sir John Pope Hennessy and the ‘native race craze’: Colonial government in Hong Kong, 1877–1882”, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, XX, 2 (1992), pp. 223247 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

101 For instance, for Kidson's involvement in the establishment of a public school for Chinese, see Richard, Timothy, Forty-Five Years in China, Reminiscences (London, 1916), pp. 317318 Google Scholar; for his relationship with the western community in China, see “The development of China”, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 11 January 1899, p. 3.

102 NCH, ‘‘The Late Mr. Tong Kidson”, 11 March 1904, p. 492.

103 Hon, Tze-Ki and Joseph, Robert Culp, The Politics of Historical Production in Late Qing and Republican China (Leiden, 2007), pp. 34 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chang, P’eng-yuan and Nathan, Andrew J., “Political participation and political elites in early republican China: the parliament of 1913–1914”, The Journal of Asian Studies, XXXVII, 22 (1978), pp. 310313 Google Scholar.

104 Alfred Sze, Sao-Ke and Fu, Anming, Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, Reminiscences of his Early Years (Washington DC, 1962), p. 37 Google Scholar; Alice Yü-hua T’ang 唐鈺華 [Tang Yuhua] (1886–1974) was the daughter of Kidson who was married to Sao-Ke Alfred Sze.