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Tong King-sing (Tang Tingshu, or Tang Jingxing)

Updated: 2018-09-19

Pathfinder of China's Modernization (1832-1892)


In 1881, "Dragon," the first China-made locomotive, made its debut on the first railway of China -- Tangshan-Xugezhuang Tramway. The tramway delivered blind coal from the country's first massive mechanized coal mine -- Kaiping Mining Co, and shipments from the country's first cement manufactory -- Tangshan Cement Plant, to Tientsin (Tianjin), Peking (Beijing) and areas in South China.


First China-made locomotive, "Dragon" [From Selected Works of Tangshan Historical Accounts vol.1]

The first locomotive, first railway, first coal mine, and first cement plant are all connected to a name -- Tong King-sing (Tang Tingshu, or Tang Jingxing), the pathfinder of China's westernization in the 19th century.

Tong King-sing was a Mandarin of the highest order and Li Hung-chang's (Li Hongzhang) (1823-1901) confidential adviser. The general and statesman of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Li once noted, "China can do without Li Hung-chang but not Tong King-sing."


Li Hung-chang, fourth from left in front, and Tong King-sing, second from left, at the launching ceremony of the Kaiping Tramway [From Selected Works of Tangshan Historical Accounts vol.1]


Tong King-sing was born in Tang's Village, today's Tangjiawan Town, Zhuhai, in 1832. He went to Hong Kong at age 10 with his father and studied at the Robert Morrison's missionary schools. Six years later, he served the Hong Kong colonial government as translator and he was sent to China Customs Shanghai to be chief translator when he was 20.


Tong King-sing in 1880 [File photo]

Tong King-sing had traveled to introduce western civilization to China ever since.

"Speaking the way a real British did," Tong King-sing was widely recognized for his mastery of English; compradors working in foreign companies used to seek his advice. He thus spent three years compiling a six-volume book -- the Chinese-English Instructor -- with Cantonese phonetic notations. Taken as the country's first Chinese-English Dictionary, it is now a collectible of the Zhuhai Museum.


Six-volume Chinese-English Instructor [Photo provided by Zhuhai Museum]

Shanghai Renji Hospital, founded in 1870, is the first western medicine hospital in Shanghai and first Chinese-founded of its kind. Tong King-sing was the major investor.

Tong founded Renhe Insurance Company in Shanghai, which is the first ever Chinese-run insurance company in China.

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