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The History Of International Shipping In China

Home to more than 2,000 ports that all play host to hundreds of thousands of ships from across the globe every year, the history of international shipping in China is a somewhat staggering one.

From the welcoming of the first overseas container in September 1973 that led to the sheer volume of shipping from China to UK ports and beyond we see today, to boasting some of the world’s largest and most breath-taking container ports, find out everything you need to know about the history of international shipping in China here.

The First Overseas Container

In September 1973, the first overseas container arrived in China. This container was towed in at Tianjin Port, which was later named China’s first container berth in 1980. Ten years later, China faced a rapid growth in the container transportation industry, and thus took over the United States to become the world’s top container handler. By 2006, the country had already handled more than 5 billion tons of cargo and an astonishing 93 million 20-foot containers.

Navigation Zones

China’s 8,700 miles worth of coastline has played host to ports since the first shipment was ever made, but today it is teeming with 100 large and small bays alike and 20 deep-water harbours, most of which are in ice-free throughout the entire year.

Today, coastal shipping in particular is divided into two propositions – the northern and southern marine districts. Whilst the northern district stretches north from Xiamen to the North Korean border, the southern district stretches from Xiamen to the Vietnamese border. Both of these districts have their own administrative centre, with Shanghai being the northern districts administrative and Guangzhou for the south.

Yangtze River Hu-Yu Route

In June 2007, redevelopment on the section of the Yangtze River between Chongqing and Luzhou was completed, allowing all ships carrying more than a thousand tonnes of goods to enter Luzhou. Before the redevelopment took place, the Hu-Yu Sea Route was not able to take full advantage of the development relished by the Sichuan Economy. After more than two years of work, the Hu-Yu Route has considerably advanced, with a channel depth of 2.7 metres and an impressive width of 50 meters, allowing vessels of up to 3000 tons to navigate the infamous Hu-Yu Sea Route at any time of the day.

Major Ports

China is home to countless ports, including 34 major ports and no less than 2000 minor ports. Some of the busiest container ports in China today are:

  • The Port of Shanghai. Incredibly, the Port of Shanghai overtook the Port of Singapore in 2010 and has become one of the world’s busiest container ports, handling more than 32 million containers a year that carry at least 736 million tonnes of goods from countries across the globe.

  • The Port of Shenzhen. The Port of Shenzhen is the ultimate gateway to Hong Kong, including the Pearl River Delta. As a result, this makes the Port of Shanzhen an essential port, connecting China to the world. The port itself is home to 39 shipping companies in total who have launched more than 100 international container routes since the port began operating.

  • The Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan. When it comes to cargo tonnage, the Chinese Port of Nungbo-Zhoushan is certainly the busiest in the world. Established in 1783, the Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan has extended its reach to central and west China, welcoming greater volumes to the industrious port.

  • The Port of Hong Kong. Of course, what kind of list of the busiest container ports in China would this be without mentioning Hong Kong. Located by the South China Sea, the Port of Hong Kong is a deep-water sea port, specialising in trade in manufactured products in particular.

  • The Port of Guangzhou. The lively Port of Guangzhou is the ultimate sea port of Guangzhou city operated by Guangzhou Port Group. Today, the ports international naval trade connects over 300 ports in more than 80 countries.

As you can see, China has had an extensive history when it comes to international shipping, and boasts some of the largest container ports in the world, such as the port of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Ningobo-Zhoushan. Though China is set to dominate global shipping by 2030, who knows what future shipping in China could truly look like.

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