‘Throwing Light on Natural Laws’: Meteorology on the China coast, 1869-1912

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

14 Citations (Scopus)


This essay outlines the development of the modern meteorological infrastructure in China, and the competing agendas of different centres for metrological research and weather forecasting between 1869 and the fall of the Qing dynasty. It explores how Britons and Americans in Chinese government employ in the Maritime Customs Service worked with Jesuit scientists at Shanghai’s Zikawei Observatory to establish a scientific as well as a practical meteorological system in China, and it looks at how both groups engaged with the ambitions and pretensions of British colonial science, notably in the British colony at Hong Kong. The paper outlines the processes of collection, analysis and dissemination of data to scientists and to mariners, and the inter-related roles of new technology -- notably the telegraph and telephone – and new infrastructures – notably the lighthouse network developed by the Customs after 1869. Bringing China within the field of scientific knowledge by generating and disseminating data, and establishing an effective storm warning system for China coast shipping, was the objective of Sir Robert Hart, Inspector-General of the Customs, as he developed the system. The data generated is important today for climate scientists, and the story of its development provides a case study of the growth of a transnational scientific network in the late nineteenth century, and the incorporation of information and data from China into the wider domain of Western science.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTreaty Ports in Modern China
Subtitle of host publicationLaw, land and power
EditorsRobert Bickers, Isabella Jackson
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780415658751
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2016


  • Meteorology
  • History of science
  • Chinese Maritime Customs Service
  • Chinese history
  • Colonialism


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