Media, Typhoons, and Contests over Meteorological Sovereignty in Nineteenth-Century East Asia


  • Marlon Zhu Academia Sinica


typhoons, imperial meteorology, east Asia


In the second half of the nineteenth century, meteorology was enhanced by improvements in systems of rapid communication. Data telegraphed from numerous observation sites scattered over a vast area were sent to a head observatory to make weather maps. In Europe and the United States, these communication networks were both national and international. In contrast, meteorological networks along the typhoon-inflicted coasts of East Asia were far more complex, with various sites vying for predominance. In 1884, the British colonial government designated the Hong Kong Observatory as the main headquarters for gathering regional weather information. However, two Jesuit observatories already existed, one each in Shanghai and Manila. Both gathered data and provided typhoon warnings to the maritime trading communities and were eager to be regarded as the foremost observatories in the typhoon zone. This article explores typhoon warnings issued in commercial English-language newspapers and argues that these commercial papers allowed mercantile users of the weather service to compare the accuracy of the scientific work of these observatories. Furthermore, this paper examines how the inter-colonial flow of weather messages and mercantile public opinion challenged incipient conceptions of meteorological sovereignty.