Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company in China
HF: Following our recent article about the Asiatic Petroleum Company in China and Nicholas Kitto’s photographs of the APC building in Shanghai, I thought it would be of interest to learn about Royal Dutch Shell’s history there as the two companies were closely connected.
Let’s start with Royal Dutch Shell in China according to their own website:
Shell’s business relationship with China dates back more than a century. In early 1890s, Marcus and Sam Samuel, the brothers who created the Shell Transport and Trading Company, began shipping kerosene to China.
That same year, Royal Dutch Petroleum Company began exporting its ‘Crown’ kerosene to China.
They built installations in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xiamen.
Shell Transport and Royal Dutch were originally competitors. In 1903, they agreed to establish a joint marketing company for the Far East operations. The Asiatic Petroleum Company (APC) was thus incorporated in London.
APC established branch offices in Hong Kong (1906) and Shanghai (1908).
In 1913, these offices became the headquarters of the Asiatic Petroleum Company (South China) Ltd and the Asiatic Petroleum Company (North China) Ltd respectively.
In 1907, Royal Dutch and Shell Transport merged their businesses interests to form the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, though they still conducted business in China under the APC trade name.
By the beginning of World War II, Shell had more than 50 subsidiaries in mainland China, and ran 1000 sales outlets across some 20 provinces.
This all came to a halt during the war, when the facilities were taken over by the Japanese and badly damaged.
After the war, reconstruction was rapid. Shell remained in China after 1950 and became the only western oil company trading in the PRC.
Shell was allowed to retain its Shanghai head office until it was closed in 1966.
Meanwhile, Shell remained the market leader in oil and chemicals in Hong Kong.
Shell’s re-entry into the PRC began in 1970/71, when Shell was invited to attend the Guangzhou Trade Fair.
A Shell representative office was re-established in Beijing in 1980, and active trade in chemicals resumed.
Within three years Shell had formed oil exploration ventures with Exxon and Phillips.
China’s “Open Door Policy” led to the opening of two Shell joint venture depots in Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in 1985 and 1987 respectively. Since then, Shell’s businesses in China have continued to develop across a broad front.
Shell’s history in China has been documented in a book: “Looking to the Long Term – The Story of Shell in China”. Copies are available from our offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. You are also welcome to send us an e-mail requesting the publication.
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