In 1996, I received a total of 53 letters for regular communication from my relatives and friends in China (mainland). It is hard to believe that, among them, 5 are underpaid and 12 carry cancel postmarks that are clearly wrong or hard to understand. Here is a highlight on the wrong or mystic postmarks.
Figs 1-3 illustrate the most mystic cancel postmarks on three covers. The cover in Fig. 1 bears three cancels which were from the same post office but dated differently. The cancel on the right top corner was dated 20 o’clock of Sept. 15 1996, while the other two dated Sept. 20. Why the post office canceled the stamps in such different times? Why the letter was held by the post office for almost a week before it was sent out? In Fig.2, the two stamps were canceled at the post office of Longgang at Shenzhen, the most famous special economic zone of China just north of Hong Kong. The cancel was dated Nov. 10. On the back of the cover, however, there is another chop from Shenzhen with postal code “518116” (possibly the same post office at Longgang), which was dated Nov. 8. Why the post office did not cancel the stamps when it pressed the first chop on the cover on Nov. 8? Why the letter was also held by the post office for 3 days before it was sent?
The mystery in Fig. 3 is more complicated. The cancels on the cover were not only dated differently, but also from different post offices of the same city. The two cancels on the top were from the post office at Phoenix Street and timed 18 o’clock of Nov. 13, and the one below from the post office at Northeast Street and timed 18 o’clock of Nov. 15. There is another chop on the back of the cover which bears a postal code “215006” in the city and timed 9 o’clock of Nov. 15. Why the five stamps were cancelled at different time by different post offices? Why the letter was circulated in different post offices of the same city for days before they were sent out?
China handles its first day covers for collectors in a way very different from USPS. First day covers there are prepared in advance by China National Philatelic Corp. and provincial post offices and available since the day of issue in most post offices nationwide. A first day cover may be put into use in any post office of the country only on the day of issue. The only first day cover among my 53 covers is the four-stamp set of 1996 Children Day issued on June 1st. As shown in Fig. 4, a 1-yuan stamp (Scott# 2061) was added to meet the then international air letter rate, 2.90 yuan. As the sender said, he did drop the cover into a mailbox on the day of issue. For unknown reason, however, the additional stamp was canceled as late as June 29, when the first-day canceled stamps were already invalid. The letter reached me on July 11.
Started from 1996 or earlier, China postal service tried to add information into its cancel postmarks to indicate the type of a letter. From the letters I received, there are at least three types of cancels for this purpose: “guoji” (international mail), “ping” or “pingxin” (surface mail), and “kuaidi” (express mail). Possibly it is too hard for a post employee to always remember that he/she is using a right cancel especially in rush time. So many covers bear wrong types of cancels. Some examples might be seen in Figs. 1 & 4, where the four characters, Pingxin (tongqu), below the date in the cancels mean “surface mail, from mailbox”, while the envelops and postages indicate that they are actually air letters. Fig. 5 lists two more examples. Although all of them are regular air mails, the cancels on Cover A says it is an express mail, while those on Covers B say it is a surface mail.
Besides the above cancels, 2 cancels with dates partly or completely inverted and one timed 27 o’clock were also found. If you have any comments or explanations on the above discussion, you are very welcome to contact me at the following address: 21 Marigold Ave., Toronto, ON., Canada M4M 3B1.
Fig. 1 The three stamps were canceled on different days by the same post office with the same cancel (No. 6). The cancel on the top right corner dated Sept. 15, while the other two dated Sept. 20.
Fig. 2 The cancel on the stamps was from the post office of Longgang, a town in suburb of Shenzhen, and dated 11 o’clock of Nov. 10 1996. There is another chop on the back of the cover, which is from the post office at postal code 518116 and dated earlier, Nov. 8.
Fig. 3 The cancels were not only dated different days, but also from different post offices. The two cancels on the top were from the post office at Phoenix Street and dated 18 o’clock of Nov. 13, while another is from the post office at Northeast Street and dated 18 o’clock of Nov. 15. There is another chop on the back of the cover, which is from the post office at postal code 215006 and dated 9 o’clock of Nov. 15.
Fig. 4 The first day cover with a set of four stamps of the 1996 Children ‘s Day and the first day commemorative cancel dated June 1st. The postage is valid only on the day according to the regulation of China postal service and the sender said that he did drop the letter into mail box on the day. The 1-yuan stamp added to meet international air letter rate is, however, canceled as late as June 29.
Fig. 5 The cancels on two regular air letter covers wrongly indicate the types of the letters. On Cover A, the two Chinese characters, Kuaidi, below the date in the cancels represent “express (mail)”, while, on Cover B, the character, Ping, between the date and postal code in the cancels means “surface (mail)”.
Author: Jin-qi Fang, Originally published on CHINA CLIPPER 1997.