Amongst the most popular stamps in the world Chinese philately has grown in stature alongside the country itself. China's first postage stamps were issued by the Municipality of Shanghai in 1865. In all 12 different Municipal stamp- issuing posts existed in the 19th Century and their stamps and postal history are eagerly sought-after by collectors. The first stamps for the entire Chinese Empire were issued in 1878. The ‘Large Dragons’ were issued in 1-candarin, 3-candarin and 5-candarin values although specialists identify 3 distinct sets based on paper thickness and spacing on the printing plate between the stamps.
Until the mid-1910s stamp issuing policy was relatively straightforward and despite some overprinted surcharges the stamps are beautiful and easy to identify, some very rare stamps were issued during this period including a series known as the “Red Revenues” where previous unissued revenue stamps were overprinted for postage. Arguably China's most valuable stamp comes from this series, the $1 on 3c deep red in mint condition being catalogued £850,000 in the Stanley Gibbons 2015 guide.
When political upheaval took hold, local uprisings saw stamps variously overprinted between the 1910s–1930s as currencies devalued. The early 1930s saw somewhat primitive stamps issued by breakaway Communist areas, now highly collectable. Following the defeat of the Japanese Invasion a wide range of different local unique and overprinted stamps were issued as Nationalists vied with Communists for territory.
People’s Republic of China – The first stamps for the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) were issued in 1949. Beautiful stamps and miniature sheets which track the great upheavals and development of this magnificent country have continued ever since. Perhaps the most popular stamps of the PRC were issued during the so-called “Red Period” in the late 1960s where despite Communist reservations over this bourgeois hobby, the need for foreign currency from philately saw the pictorial stamp issuing policy continue, albeit with highly politicised themes.