China Ports: History, Heritage & Development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Humanities


According to the World Shipping Council, 7 of the world's 10 busiest container ports are now located in China. With the exception of the capital Beijing, almost all of China's largest cities are coastal or inland ports. Despite government attempts to lessen economic disparity between the seaboard and the hinterland, it is the ports of China's east and southeast which remain the centres of wealth in what is soon to be the world's largest economy. These economic and political developments have buoyed scholarly interest in the development of port cities in China and the growth in the marine economy. In various fields of engineering, for example, the new opportunities presented by such growth have opened up a range of new realms of research. The University of Nottingham has been at the forefront of such trends, with its International Academy for Marine Economy and Technology (IAMET), located on Nottingham's China campus in the city of Ningbo, seeking to train a new generation of engineers and managers for China's shipping and port-related industries.

China's maritime, coastal and port history also represent key areas of enquiry in the Humanities. Scholarship on the history and legacy of China's treaty ports, in particular, has become a major subfield in modern Chinese history. Other research has covered the material history of maritime and port China, as well as the 'maritime silk road'; the spatial and topographic configurations of China's coastal cities; underwater cultural heritage in China; and the cultural legacies of China's ports in the long history of immigration, transport and trade.

To date, however, there has been relatively little engagement between those who work on this cultural, material and social history of maritime China, and those who study (or directly work with) the physical and economic features of China's ports today. This is perhaps surprising, as the recent development of China's marine sector and the rapid growth of its port cities all reflect specific historical legacies, while the protection and celebration of China's maritime heritage has emerged as an important task in most of China's port cities, as witnessed in the opening throughout China of port and/or maritime museums (a number of which are represented in this network).

This network aims to remedy this gap by bringing together, under the for Cross-Disciplinary Research Networks Highlight Notice, a community of scholars and practitioners who share an interest in China's port cities and marine economy, but who rarely have the opportunity to learn from one another or engage in any form of dialogue. It will include: (i) Humanities scholars (in history, archaeology, Sinology, art history) who work on the cultural, economic, material, social and spatial history of maritime and coastal China; (ii) social scientists who work on China's urban and maritime development, as well as related fields such as shipping and logistics; (iii) engineers currently working in areas related to China's marine economy and urban and/or port environment (such as in geospatial engineering, SAR geocoding, engineering surveying, architectural engineering, and port and harbour construction); and (iv) museum practitioners engaged in the preservation and presentation of China's maritime past.

These scholars and practitioners will take part in 3 international workshops. The first of these will be held at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, the second at the Port Museum of China in Ningbo, and the third on the University of Nottingham's UK campus. Through these events, the network will facilitate a sustainable dialogue across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries, and establish lasting Sino-British collaboration in a new field which might be referred to as 'China port studies'. These developments will benefit a range of disciplines in both the UK and China, and will give rise to a range of cross-disciplinary collaborative projects in the years to come.

Planned Impact

The network will broadly benefit users and beneficiaries in specific sectors in China and the UK.

The first of these is the museums sector and cultural industries sector in China. The network itself includes representatives from major maritime museums in China, such as the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, the China Port Museum and the National Underwater Cultural Heritage Preservation Centre in Wuhan, and their involvement in the network will have tangible impact on curatorial practices, the management of the visitor experience, the conservation and preservation of collections and historic sites, the relationship between maritime/port museums and maritime industries, and the design and production of exhibit-related literature. In addition to these, the network's activities (specifically the 3 workshops) will involve other practitioners from this field as appropriate (including, but not limited to, network members' institutional contacts in the museums sector, including key institutions in the UK such as the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the British Library).

Two other major sets of beneficiaries from the network will be local government and the maritime industries - in both China and the UK. The specific ways in which the network will impact upon the work of these two sets of beneficiaries include providing information and ideas to support policy formulation (e.g., on the preservation of maritime sites; the design and development of port infrastructure; and the growth of the marine economy and maritime industries); and providing access to new ideas, technologies and methods relevant to government, the marine economy and maritime industries. On this point, it should be noted that a number of network members are involved in other existing projects which claim strong links with private industry, particularly in the marine economy, thus enhancing the opportunities for such impact. These include Nottingham's International Academy for Marine Economy and Technology, which has close relations to private industry in the Port of Ningbo, as well as with the Zhejiang Provincial Government; and the China Maritime Centre at Greenwich University, which has strong ties to the shipping industry in the UK and China. In order to ensure that the research undertaken by network members is directly shared with government and industry, at least 3 slots at all 3 workshops will be set aside for representatives from local government and/or industry who are directly engaged in port-related work (in the case of the Hong Kong and Ningbo workshops, this will mean China-based beneficiaries, where as for the Nottingham workshop, it will include UK beneficiaries). This will include representatives from port authorities; shipping and logistics companies; port construction and architectural firms; or government bodies responsible for maritime heritage protection. Such delegates will be invited to actively partake in discussions at the workshops (indeed, for this purpose, a specific panel will be set aside at each workshop to encourage direct academia-government-industry dialogue).

Finally, by establishing a truly Sino-British forum, the network will also play its part in contributing to the broader relationship between China and the UK, thus benefitting society in both countries, and increasing bilateral cultural, academic and economic exchanges. At the final workshop to be held in Nottingham, representatives from the public sector in the UK (e.g., Trinity House) and industry (shipping companies, port developers) will be invited to attend for precisely this purpose, with the hope that this engagement in the network's activities might contribute to wider efforts to improve the Sino-British relationship more generally.


10 25 50
Description One of the main achievements of the network has been to establish links between academic network members and those outside of academia, especially in museums, the urban design field, and the heritage sector. Non-academic members took a prominent role at all workshops, for example, and in-depth discussions about how academic researchers might contribute to the work of specialists in other fields or industries was regularly facilitated. In turn, we also helped to directly link practitioners from the private and government sectors in the UK with some of their counterparts in China (a country on the DAC list). We hope that this might helpfully provide a template for cooperation between maritime heritage practitioners in the UK and their counterparts in other maritime countries in Asia that are recipients of ODA funding, and that such cooperation can contribute to the welfare, cultural and economic development of port cities in such countries.
The Network has also provided a platform through which new theoretical and conceptual perspectives have been brought to bear on the research of network members working in other fields. Historians on the network have provided new perspectives on urban history which are of interest to curators in China, while anthropologists and sociologists on the network have proven how ethnographic fieldwork in port cities can provide types of data which documentary or archaeological work is unable to provide.
Perhaps one of the most important achievements of the network has been the extent to which it has opened up a range of new research questions that researchers working within specific and defined disciplinary boundaries have not hitherto addressed. Central to these is the question of how the maritime past and heritage can play a genuine role in discussions about the development of the marine economy in China. A related question is how research about port and maritime heritage in China can be undertaken without such work simply being utilised to justify maritime-related government policies. That a very basic question -- 'What happens to heritage as China's ports are developed' -- formed the headline of a newspaper article about the network in China itself suggests that the network's core aims are beginning to be addressed in China.
Despite the many achievements of the network, there have also been a number of negative results which were not foreseen at the start of the grant. The wide scope of the research pursued by individual members within the network, and the vastly different expectations in terms of publications and other output between different disciplines (to say nothing of UK-China differences of the same), has meant that no concrete plans for joint and cross-disciplinary research projects have yet emerged from the network. Indeed, in some cases the network has only confirmed that cross-disciplinary work which leads directly to publishable output (in a form which satisfies very different disciplinary and sectoral norms) remains highly challenging. This has also meant that one of our original ambitions -- i.e., the establishment of a field based on the notion of 'China port studies' -- has yet to be achieved.
Exploitation Route We expect the work of the network to be taken forward, in particular, in the museums and heritage sector not just in China, but potentially in various other countries that are on the DAC list. Development and protection of port and maritime heritage in such countries links directly to ODA aims in areas such as environmental sustainability. Our partner institutions have responded to the network with enthusiasm, and all network members have noted the potential for future joint work with these museums, and with others throughout China and the UK. Academic contributions to curatorial and consulting work with partner institutions; the utilisation of research expertise from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds in urban design and/or heritage projects; and the involvement of museums and heritage professionals in future maritime-related research projects, are all possibilities that we envisage as resulting from the relationships established through the network.

While one of the initial aims of the network in terms of impact was to help establish a 'Humanities Voice' in debates about the marine economy, network members have agreed that this ambition has not been met as yet -- though our discussions with China-based network members suggest that similar attempts in the past have often proven difficult.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description It is perhaps too early to map the full scope of the impact of this network, given that it only started its work in late 2016. We would like to note, however, that the network's Workshop 2 (in Ningbo, China), generated significant interest in the local media, being reported on in the local press and on television, and that his has helped to raise the profile of the China Port Museum within China itself. Indeed, the deputy mayor of Beilun District was present at the workshop, and expressed interest in the ways in which a network such as this might help the city of Ningbo (one of the largest ports in the world) to expand as a centre of maritime research. In light of Nottingham's overseas campus in the city of Ningbo, we expect such conversations to continue well beyond the period covered by the grant and to be of benefit to Ningbo. Equality, diversity and inclusion were taken into consideration in all of the network's events (and within the network itself). Nine of the thirty-three network members are women. The network strove for gender equality in organising the formal presentations at its workshops (with women presenting at all three workshops). Two of the network's three workshops were co-organised by women (in cooperation with the PI). The network believes that the questions explored by the network regarding maritime heritage and development directly address issues of equality, diversity and inclusion insofar as they relate to the economic development and wellbeing of the diverse urban populations that live in port cities in China and across Asia more generally. The network's research addressed a number of the Sustainable Development Goals, most noticeably: (i) "Life Below Water" (i.e., by ensuring that the development of the marine economy can be pursued in a sustainable way, thus ensuring the protection of the seas, and of the wellbeing of communities who live and work on or near them); and (ii) "Sustainable Cities and Communities" (i.e., by strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage, especially with regards to maritime and port heritage and coastal regions). While the focus of the network is China, we believe that many of the questions that it has raised will be of relevance to many other countries on the DAC lists, especially those where the marine economy is currently developing. We note that the network has facilitated direct contacts between network members from the marine sector in the UK (e.g., those who work in areas such as port development) with their counterparts in China, thus laying the groundwork for future opportunities for collaboration.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description CPN Workshop 1 (Hong Kong Maritime Museum) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was the first formal workshop held under the auspices of the China Ports Network, and included 10 presentations from academics, museum curators and city planning and design professionals based in the UK, Hong Kong SAR, and other parts of China (ie a country on the DAC list). Five of the ten formal presentations were by people based in China (ie a country o the DAC list). Topics ranged from the current state of underwater archaeology as a field in Hong Kong to curating China's maritime past in the People's Republic of China. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum recorded the workshop and have uploaded it onto Youtube here:

The event was open to the public, and was attended by scholars, students, and professionals (in all around 40) mainly from Hong Kong, but also from other parts of China. This lead to some lively discussion in each session about a range of relevant topics. This workshop also laid the basis for further interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral discussions at the network's next workshop, to be held in Ningbo in September 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description CPN Workshop 2 (China Ports Museum, Ningbo) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The second China ports Network workshop --'Balancing the Marine Economy and Conservation in Chinese port cities' -- was held at the China Port Museum in Ningbo on 15 September 2017. The workshop included 8 presentations from academics, museum curators, and city planning professionals from China and the United Kingdom. In addition, representatives from local government in Ningbo, from government agencies in China engaged in maritime heritage, and from a range of other universities in China (Zhejiang University, Nanjing University, etc) attended. Indeed, there were over 50 participants in all. Of the formal presenters, 4 of 9 were based in a DAC-list country (i.e., China). Topics ranged from the uses of historical records and archaeological remains in planning for flood prevention in Chinese cities today, to the current state of maritime heritage preservation in China. A number of the papers also touched upon the potential of museums and new digital technologies in presenting China's maritime past to the public, while others analysed current debates about the significance of treaty port era architectural heritage in modern China.

As well as presenters, a number of participants from universities, museums and government agencies around China and from abroad were also present. This provided ample opportunity for discussion on a number of issues, and comparisons of different approaches adopted in the UK and China towards common challenges that many communities in port cities now face.

The network acknowledges the kind support of the China Port Museum (Ningbo) for hosting the September event. It also acknowledges the support of the Beilun District Government.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description CPN Workshop 3 (University of Nottingham) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The third China Ports Network workshop was held at the University of Nottingham's Trent Building on 26 January 2018. The workshop included five panels based around broad themes, with over 15 academics, curators, city planners, and heritage professionals from China and the United Kingdom contributing to discussions (with 2 of the 12 speakers being based in a DAC-list country, China). Participants addressed a number of questions about the CPN and its aims, including:
?How effective has the CPN been in aiding cross-disciplinary, and UK-China dialogue on maritime heritage and port cities more generally?
?What potential wider research questions have emerged from the CPN, and how might these be approached?
?What is the state of "China port studies" (e.g., port history, maritime sociology, etc) in participants' respective disciplines?
?What can those of us in academia learn from practitioners in museums, industry and government (and vice versa)?
?What are the different priorities and/or areas shared concern between China and the UK, and how might these be addressed/overcome?

Specific presentations relevant to these themes were also provided by Dr Libby Chan (Hong Kong Maritime Museum), Dr Chris Pater (Historic England) and Dr Toby Lincoln (University of Leicester).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation at Maritime Silk Road/ BRI Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop (16 July 2018) at University of Nottingham on the Silk Road/ BRI in China, involving researchers from the UK and China who are working on various aspects of maritime policy, history etc in China. I presented a paper for this workshop on the historical legacy of the collaborationist war-time navy in China.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019