Largely staffed at senior levels by foreigners, the Chinese Maritime Customs Service was a Chinese governmental tax collection agency and information service from the time of its founding in 1854 until its split in 1949 into services operating in the Republic of China on Taiwan, and in the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.
The Service was controlled by the Chinese central government throughout its history. It was established by foreign consuls in Shanghai in 1854 to collect maritime trade taxes that were going unpaid due to the inability of Chinese officials to collect them during the Taiping Rebellion.
Hong Kong, a British Colony until 1997, was a free port. No import duties were charged, but at the time of my novel, The Orchid Tree, the Customs had established a station, Taishan, just outside Hong Kong waters. It was convenient for some of the staff to live in the colony and have their offices there, but their job was to make sure that all cargo junks called at the station to pay Chinese excise duties. They would anchor their craft and watch the traffic out of Hong Kong then chase and seize any junk evading this task. During the war, the collection of excise had lapsed and the trading junks had got into bad habits. They resented having to pay, and smuggling of consumer and luxury goods had become a profitable side industry.
My father, Douglas Bland , was in the Royal Navy during WWII and, after demob, stayed on in Hong Kong to work with the CMC from 1946 to 1948, making charts and chasing smugglers up and down the South China Coast. His story inspired the character of James in my novel.