About Chinese Stamps

Although postal service in China goes back some 2,500 years, modern postal services were not established until 1877 by the Qing government. The postal system of the People's Republic of China was established as the General Postal Administration in Beijing in 1949, growing out of the posts that had been operating for several years in the liberated areas. Development was slow; by 1949 there was only 1 post office for every 370 square kilometers. Several of the liberated areas continued to operate their own postal systems; most were ordered to stop selling regional stamp issues by June 30, 1950, while the Northeast Liberation Area and the Port Arthur and Dairen Post and Telegraph Administration continued to use their own stamps (due to the different currencies) until the end of 1950.

The unified administration issued its first postage stamps on October 8, 1949, consisting of a set of four depicting a lantern and the Gate of Heavenly Peace, commemorating the 1st session of the Chinese People's Consultative Political Conference. This issue also inaugurated the innovative practice of numbering each type of stamp issued, usually in the lower left corner. For instance, the $800 value in the Dove of Peace issue of 1950 is numbered "5.3-2", indicating that it is the second stamp of three in the fifth stamp issue of China. The practice is only followed for commemorative and special stamps, regular definitive stamps having no special markings.

The first definitive series came in February 1950, and featured the Gate of Heavenly Peace against a background of clouds. The nine values ranged from $200 to $10,000. The design was modified several times over the next year, and again in 1954, resulting in what philatelists call the "second" through "sixth" issues, each varying in minor ways, such as the layout of the clouds.

The postal system found it necessary to surcharge stamps of the previous government, with issues in March and August 1950, and May 1951. In addition, leftover stamps of the Northeastern Provinces were pressed into service in July 1950, and those of East China in December 1950.

In the meantime, various commemoratives marked conferences and other events of the young republic. In June 1952 a set of forty stamps depicting physical exercises was issued in conjunction with a radio program; ten exercises were illustrated, each with a block of four, where each stamp shows a different position of arms and legs for the exercise.

Cultural revolution
Yang W82 unissued stamp "Great Victory of Cultural Revolution" showing Chairman Mao and Lin Biao at a victory celebration in the countryside
Reduced stamp sales and withdrawals from issue of several stamps during the Cultural Revolution resulted in a few stamps that are quite scarce, especially used. The typical pattern resulting in rarity was unauthorized sales before the official date of issue by isolated post offices of stamps which were then withdrawn from issue before the official date of issue. One rarity, an unissued 8f stamp from 1967 commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Establishment of Jing Gangshan Revolutionary Base, popularly known as "Big Blue Sky", which pictured Chairman Mao and Lin Biao on the podium overlooking Tienanmen Square exists only as scraps salvaged from the destruction process. Only scraps from one stamp in the withdrawn set are known to exist.

Postal service
The postal service was established rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1952 the principal postal networks centered on the capital, Beijing, and links to all large cities had been established. Great progress was made in improving the postal service under the First Five-Year Plan. Postal service was also developed in the rural areas. Besides extending rural postal routes, the problem of delivering mail to places below the county level was solved by enlisting the aid of the population. From 1954 onward a system of mail delivery by rural postal workers was tried in agricultural cooperatives, and in 1956 this system was extended throughout the country. By 1959 the national postal network was complete.

Postal service was administered by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (now the Ministry of Information Industry), which was established in 1949 and reestablished in 1973 after a two-year period during which the postal and telecommunications functions had been separated and the ministry downgraded to a subministerial level.

In 1984 China had 53,000 post and telecommunications offices and 5 million kilometers of postal routes, including 240,000 kilometers of railroad postal routes, 624,000 kilometers of highway postal routes, and 230,000 kilometers of airmail routes. By 1985 post offices were handling 4.7 billion first-class letters and 25 billion newspapers and periodicals. In 1987, after a six-year hiatus, six-digit postal codes were ordered to be put into use.

For many years, China was not a member of the Universal Postal Union, and while using Arabic numerals for the denominations, did not include the country's name in Latin letters as required of UPU nations. The addition of "CHINA" to stamps' inscriptions began in 1992. Western collectors typically differentiate earlier stamps both by the serial numbers in the lower corner, and by the first character of the country name 中, the "square box with a vertical bar" being visually distinct from the inscription used by any other Asian country.