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New Beginning for China's Shipping Industry - CMG

Updated: June 28, 2021


Flicking through old Chinese currency, a steamer can be seen printed on the five-cent paper banknotes. That's Hailiaolun, a steamer owned by China Merchants Group (CMG).

It is a very ordinary-looking ship, but it has a heart-stopping story that had an impact on the development of the company - and China's shipping industry.

Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a notice was announced saying that all critical supplies were being requisitioned by the Kuomintang (KMT) government and crews were not allowed to leave their ships without permission.

CMG had 466 merchant ships and was the country's largest shipping company at that time. The announcement was no doubt an indication of KMT's desperate attempt to turn the tide of battle with the Communist Party of China, by using CMG's materials.

To foil this attempt, Fang Zhenliu, captain of the Hailiaolun steamer, made a decision - to rebel.

In practice, this meant that the crews had to navigate the steamer thousands of miles from Hong Kong to Dalian in Northeast China, and at the same time hide from KMT's interceptions and even attacks.

Just half a year before Fang made the decision, Chongqing Hao, which had the most advanced equipment and the strongest power capacity of KMT's navy ships, was sunk in the ocean when it was bombed by KMT's fighters during its own heroic uprising.

It was hugely difficult for Hailiaolun to thread its way through to Dalian as it had nothing like the capabilities of the combat ships.

Despite the unimaginable difficulties, the uprising started on the evening of Sept 19, 1949. Hailiaolun quietly left Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong without notifying the port authority.

When it passed the Liyumen Channel, a lamp signal was sent from the signal tower. Fang walked onto the slipway and used the electric torch to send confusing signals, buying time for the ship to escape from the supervision of the KMT.

Fang ordered the crews to steer the ship into the Balintang Channel, a small waterway belonging to the Philippines, to dodge the KMT army at the Taiwan Straits.

They also changed the appearance of the ship, making it look like a British freighter to trick any observers.

Inside the cabin, crews continuously sent messages for days saying that equipment on the ship was not working, in order to confuse the KMT government.

After eight days and nine nights of navigation, Hailiaolun finally arrived at Dalian.

Inspired by Hailiaolun, 13 other ships of CMG followed in its footstep in January 1950.

These subsequent uprisings changed the development path of China's shipping industry. CMG now has a total shipment capacity of 45.53 million tons, ranking second in the world.

(Executive editor: Wang Ruoting)