The Pioneer of Greater Bay area

The construction of the Greater Bay Area is a major development strategy under the reform and opening-up of the country. The Bay Area brings opportunities and also faces many challenges, including unstable world economic development, large gaps in development within the Bay Area, and mismatched resources. We might as well learn from the past and the present, and take history as a mirror to get inspiration from the footsteps of the Bay Area pioneer, Tang Tingshu.

Li Hongzhang once said: “China can be without Li Hongzhang, but it not without Tang Tingshu.” The importance of Tang Tingshu to the development of modern China is evident. Tang Tingshu is the founder of modern industry in China. He was an active supporter and important practitioner of the Westernization Movement. He is known as the “Father of Tangshan” and the father of China’s national insurance, railway locomotive, and cement industry. In the practice of industry and commerce, he believed in “imitation of Western techniques and use of Westerners”, determined to strengthen himself with industry, seek wealth, and save the country, and made important contributions to China’s modernization process. He was a man of integrity, hard work, integrity, loyal to business, loyal to the country, adhered to tradition and opening up, while patriotic, pragmatic, innovative, and open.

Dare to be the first

With the development of the Westernization Movement, Li Hongzhang established the Steamship Merchants Bureau in Shanghai in 1873. At the age of 40, Tang Tingshu came to his attention and was commissioned by the Steamship Merchants Bureau. Tang successfully solved the company’s funding difficulties at that time. He also adopted modern Western operating methods in management and relied on the government and Chinese businessmen to successfully run the company, which came to be known as China Merchants. Soon, Tang was commissioned by Li to go to Zhiping Kaiping (now Tangshan City, Hebei Province) to survey coal and iron mines, and in 1878 he established Kaiping Mining Bureau. Later, the Tangjing Railway was built, and the Tangshan Fine Cotton Plant was established. This spirit and practice of being a pioneer and serving the country laid the foundation for the development of China’s industry and commerce.

Innovation and pragmatism

Tang Tingshu had a strong sense of innovation. He created many “China firsts” in his life: he founded China’s first national insurance company, the China Merchants Insurance Bureau, created the first mechanized coal mine in mainland China, Kaiping Coal Mine, and built China’s first railway (Tangye Railway), the first steam locomotive in China (the Long locomotive), and the first cement plant in mainland China (the Tangshan Fine Cotton Plant), among other achievements.

At that time, China used earth mining methods, so the coal quality was poor and the output was low. In order to achieve “rich country and strong soldiers for the benefit of civilians”, Li Hongzhang advocated the establishment of Kaiping Coal Mine and appointed Tang Tingshu to establish the Kaiping Mining Bureau (now renamed Kailuan Group) ). Tang did everything from surveying the mine site, drawing up plans, recruiting capital, and formal mining, to coal transportation.

Due to the development of the military and civilian industries, demand for cement increased sharply. Tang went to Macau to inspect the Qingzhou Cement Plant. After several tests and tests, he finally established the Tangshan Fine Cotton Plant in 1889.

Open and inclusive

Tang Tingshu attended the Macau and Hong Kong Morrison Schools, and was proficient in English. He engaged in numerous aspects of foreign affairs. He was engaged in social work since the age of 16, as a translator, comprador, foreign affairs delegate, and mining representative. Rich social experience cultivated his open and inclusive character. This also affected his later life.

In the Steamship Merchants Bureau, especially when the Kaiping Mining Bureau was founded, he used Westerners and Western techniques to personally select first-class foreign engineering and technical personnel and gave them full trust and support, which was rare. In the Chinese social environment at that time, it was extremely difficult to open up new industries and new fields. Tang Tingshu was not afraid of hardships and struggles. Right up until his death in 1892, he still worked in his post.

Tang Tingshu has left us with a wealth of material wealth, as well as precious spiritual wealth –  the “Tang Tingshu spirit” who looks at the world, is innovative and pragmatic, and is open and tolerant. This is the core of the Xiangshan culture and is also what is found in the Greater Bay Area today: the mental motivation needed for development. It has important enlightenment significance and reference value for the construction of the Greater Bay Area.