The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a major shipping and industrial nation in Eastern Asia. It is the 2nd largest country in terms of land area and is surrounded by water on the Eastern front.
China is a major economic power in the region and is known for industries that produce different types of products and ship them all over the globe. It is a major financial centre with several global banks and companies based in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shenzhen.
The shipbuilding industry of China is also very strong, and it is the world’s largest shipbuilding nation, having overtaken South Korea.
COSCO, formed from the merger of the erstwhile CSIC and CSIG, is now the largest shipbuilder overtaking even the likes of Hyundai (HHI), Samsung (SHI), and Daewoo (DSME).
The maritime ports of China have played a major role in the country’s development. The country’s coastline is dotted with numerous harbours and small ports that deal in trade, fishing, containerized goods, ores and minerals, automobiles, and agricultural produce. This article will look at the top 10 ports in China.
They are ranked based on overall traffic in cargo (in a million tons) and containers (in a million TEUs). These values are provided alongside the administrative province and UN/LOCODE for identifying the port.
One interesting thing to note is that while all the other ports lie within mainland China and are referenced using the UN/LOCODE prefixed with CN- (to signify China), the port of Hong Kong lies in the Special Administrative Region belonging to the PRC. For this reason, it is often treated as separate from the rest of the mainland country.
It is referenced via the UN/LOCODE prefixed with HK- (separate Locode for identification from mainland Chinese ports). It is such an important harbour and hub for shipping activities that there are numerous ports within Hong Kong. The one referred to in this article is the Hong Kong Harbor with the code (HK-HKG), the region’s largest and most developed port.
Table of Contents
1. Port of Shanghai
Container traffic in 2019: 43.3 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2019: 514 million tons
Operational since 1842 as a treaty port, Shanghai port is the largest port in China and the world. It had consistently topped the rankings since 2010, when it overtook the Port of Singapore.
Owing to the sheer volume of trade through this port and its effect on the local population, Shanghai has been designated as one of the four large port megacities across the globe. It is a deep-sea and riverine port.
It is managed exclusively by the Shanghai International Port (Group) Company. It took over from the existing Shanghai Port Authority in 2003, and the Shanghai Municipal Government owns its majority shares.
The port is built along the junction of the Yangtze, Huangpu, and Qiantang rivers. Hangzhou Bay flanks it to the South and the East China Sea to the East.
The nearby satellite port of Yangshan is built to handle traffic during shallow water conditions and is connected to the main port via the Donghai Bridge. Smaller ports have allowed Shanghai to process more cargo than any other Chinese port. The port is classified into working areas- Huangpu, Yangtze, and the Yangshan Deep Water Zone.
Shanghai port has received numerous accolades for its operations, including the “Best connected port” title from UNCTAD. The Yangshan Port is the world’s largest automated port and handles most container traffic.
Overall, Shanghai supplies a vast hinterland and spans an area of over 3,500 sq kilometres. It is naturally protected due to its location and close to China’s industrial and manufacturing zones. These factors have contributed to the rapid growth of Shanghai Harbor.
2. Port of Shenzhen
Container traffic in 2018: 27.7 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 194.9 million tons
Shenzhen is ranked 2nd nationally and 3rd globally in cargo thoroughfare, a naturally protected harbour in the Pear River area.
Formed by several smaller ports, it is one of the most evolving ports in the region.
It works as a feeder port, serves over 50 global shipping lines, has over 130 international routes, and services nearly 10,000 vessels annually. The Spanish port of Santa Crus de Tenerife is its sister port.
The port is classified into various zones that process different types of goods and cargo. Da Chan Bay, Donjiaotou, Neihe, Shayuchong, Yantian, Shekou etc., are the main zones with over 140 berths. Of these, there are 51 berths dedicated to large vessels of 10,000 DWT or more. The remaining are split between 43 berths for 10,000 DWT vessels, nine consignee berths, 18 container berths, 23 non-production berths, and 18 passenger ferry berths. The port is also divided by the Kowloon Peninsula into the Eastern and Western zones.
The Western zone is a deep-water port connected to the other Chinese ports via the On See Dun waterway. The Eastern zone is a natural harbour more suited to receiving larger cargo vessels and passenger ferries.
Shenzhen has over 250 kilometres of coastline and is part of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor used for road transport across the provinces’ border.
3. Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan
UN/LOCODE: CN-NBO and CN_ZOS
Container traffic in 2018: 26.4 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 1.12 billion tons
Shipping over 1 billion tons of cargo annually is the busiest port globally for cargo. Comprised of the ports of Ningbo and Zhoushan, this port lies on the East coast across Shanghai on Hangzhou Bay. It is well connected via waterways, rail, and roads to interior China. The port is owned and managed by the Ningbo Zhoushan Port Group Co. The merger between the two neighbouring ports was in 2006, and it overtook the leading port of Shanghai in 2012 (in terms of cargo).
The port is connected to 90 countries and 560 ports. It serves as a multi-purpose port with nearly 200 berths, of which about 40 can process ships over 10,000 DWT. A dedicated terminal for processing crude oil handles supertankers over 250,000 tons and OBO (ore bulk carriers) vessels over 200,000 tons. There is a terminal for liquid chemicals holding 50,000 tons and a special terminal for 6th-generation container vessels.
The port has one of the largest ore handling yards. The port tied up with Vale miners in Brazil to build the Shulanghu hub that processes iron ore grinding. The storage yard has a capacity of 4.1 million tons and has dedicated shipping berths. The Ningbo Zhoushan port is close to the Zhejiang Free Trade Zone, which serves several leading companies worldwide.
4. Port of Guangzhou
Container traffic in 2018: 21.9 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 600 million tons
One of the busiest ports in mainland China, Guangzhou, is a seaport on the Pearl River Delta. It is managed by the Guangzhou Port Group Company, the largest Southern port in China. It trades with over 80 nations and 300 ports. It merged with the regional Huangpu seaport, making it one of the largest comprehensive ports.
The port is well connected with rail, road, air, and inland waterway connections. It lies on the rivers of Dongjiang, Beijiang, and Xijiang and is connected to the industrial hubs surrounding it.
The port is endowed with over 4,500 berths and 2400 anchorage points. The port is close to the base for Nansha Wetland Park. Large storage spaces, bonded warehouses, customs checkpoints, and logistics centres exist. The commonly shipped goods include agricultural produce, foodstuff, industrial goods, machinery, oil, fertilizers, steel ore, minerals, automobile parts etc.
Work is underway to expand the port’s capacity to handle vessels over 100,000 deadweight tons through dredging activities. There is also work to increase the passenger handling capacity.
5. Port of Hong Kong
Hong Kong – Special Administrative Region
Container traffic in 2018: 19.6 million
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 258.5 million tons
Hong Kong is a major deep-water seaport located in the Victoria Harbor of South China. It is one of the world’s largest and busiest ports. Although part of China, its administration treats Hong Kong as a special region.
The region is famous for being a financial and commercial hub. For this reason, Hong Kong has expanded from a small fishing village to one of the top ports in the world. It is under the management of the Port Operations Committee of Hong Kong.
It receives nearly 0.5 million vessels annually, over 250 million tons of cargo, and over 25 million passengers annually. It has one of the lowest turn-around times in the region, with an average of 10 hours for container vessels and 47 hours for tankers anchored off-site. The main container terminals are Kwai Chung, Tuen Mun, Stonecutters Island, and Tsing Yi.
The companies that operate these terminals are Modern Terminals Ltd. (MTL), Asia Container Terminals (ACT), COSCO Information and Technology HK, Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), and DP World (DPW). The nine terminals provide 18 berths for incoming vessels, and work is underway for a 10th terminal.
The Hong Kong Port is also famous for mid-stream operations, where vessels do not have to approach the port during peak or hazardous conditions. There are regular ferry services to Macau and other ports in mainland China. The port serves over 15 million passengers from these services. There is also a government dockyard and fleet comprising various national services. There are docks and slipways for manufacturing vessels of different sizes and classes.
6. Port of Qingdao
Container traffic in 2018: 18.26 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 600 million tons
Located on the Yellow Sea, Qingdao is ranked 8th globally in traffic and is a major seaport in Eastern China. It is only topped by two other Asian ports- Busan and Singapore. Qingdao serves a large portion of vessels from Eastern China and is mainly directed at nations in the Pacific region, such as Japan, South Korea, the Americas and Russia. It carries out trade across 130 countries and over 450 ports. It also owns stakes in the Italian Vado Gateway Terminal.
Qingdao harbour is divided into four zones which function as autonomous ports. Dagang and Qianwan handle cargo and container traffic. The Huangdong Port is primarily for oil and petroleum tankers. The last zone of Dongjiakou is located away from the city and other ports. The port deals in containers, cargo, and iron ore. The container terminals are mainly the Qingdao Qianwan and Cosport Terminals. While Qianwan primarily deals in domestic containers, the Qingdao Cosport is an international terminal. The Qingdao port also has a large facility for handling iron ore shipments.
Qingdao is also linked with several other ports by treaties aimed at improving logistics and operations. Yantai, Weihai, Rizhao, and Qingdao ports have tied up with the largest port in South Korea- Busan Port, to build an Asian logistics centre. The Chinese ports are from the Eastern Shandong region and are under the Shandong Port Authority.
7. Port of Tianjin
UN/LOCODE: CN-TXG or CN-TSN or CN-TNJ
Container traffic in 2018: 15.97 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 428.7 million tons
As the largest port in the Northern region, Tianjin harbour is a major deep-sea and riverine port in China. Known as the Port of Tanggu, Tianjin is the largest artificial harbour in China and is the primary maritime route to the capital- Beijing.
Like many regional ports, Tianjin lies near Bohai Bay along the Haihe River. It is one of the largest ports in the world, covering over 120 sq kilometres. The port is owned by the Tianjin State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Tianjin SASAC) and operated by the Tianjin Port Group (TPG).
This port has over 200 berths for ships of all sizes, including containers, cargo, and passenger vessels. The port witnessed just over 0.1 million passengers in 2015.
Tianjin is ranked 4th worldwide in terms of cargo traffic (based on tonnage) and is ranked 9th in terms of container traffic. It services vessels from over 600 ports spread over 180 nations. Over 100 different shipping lines run services here, while 60 liners have operations in Tianjin. One of the few Large Port Megacities in the world, Tianjin lies within the SEZ in Northern China.
The port is classified into nine zones, of which the main ones are Beijing, Nanjiang, and Dongjiang. Ship locks and tidal barriers facilitate vessel movement while sheltering the harbour from adverse climate conditions. The port is self-sufficient, with in-house police, ambulance, and emergency services. There is a customs house, a border protection unit, and an Anti-Smuggling Bureau. Tianjin also has many shipyards capable of building and large-scale repairs. The major yards are the Taku dockyard, CSIC Tianjin Xingang shipyard, and the CCCC Bomesc Maritime Industry.
8. Port of Dalian
Container traffic in 2018: 9.77 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2017: 455 million tons
The Northern port of Dalian is a major seaport that serves much of the Pacific coastline. It handles a large portion of container and cargo traffic from the Pacific Rim nations to North and Eastern Asia. Situated on the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea, it is a deep-water port that is the 2nd largest transhipment hub on the Chinese mainland. It services vessels from over 160 different nations across 300 ports. Dalian port has been operational since 1899. The Dalian Port Corporation manages it.
Container trade began in 1972, and was the first port to handle international container shipments from China. The main port has smaller zones of Daliangang, Dalianwan, Ganjinzi, Dayaowan etc. The major routes operational through Dalian are 68 international container routes. However, Dalian primarily receives a majority of revenue through its domestic loads of cargo and minerals. The Yingkou and Dalian ports have signed an agreement to integrate port management.
The Dalian Container Terminal (DCT) runs seven berths previously owned by Nippon Yusen, Singapore Dalian Port Investment, and PSA China. The port is well connected by rail and road. There are also large storage zones for cargo and containers. Modernized berths are deep water and have an average depth of 16 meters.
9. Port of Xiamen
Container traffic in 2018: 10.7 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 218 million tons
Located on Xiamen island along the Jiulongjiang river, Xiamen is a deep-sea port ranked 17th in the world in terms of cargo thoroughfare. It is one of the few ports that can process 6th-generation ships and mega vessels. Xiamen is managed by the Xiamen Port Authority and is majority-owned by the Xiamen Municipal Government. It was merged with the Port of Zhangzhou in 2010, making it one of the largest ports in the world. It is currently the largest port in South-East China.
The port operates across 12 different zones with a combined 74 berths. Of these, nine are dedicated container handling terminals, while the rest are for cargo. The average cargo handling tonnage of these berths is 10,000, although there are also berths that can process 100,000 tons. The average anchorage depth is 17 meters, and the port spans over 30 kilometres of the harbour. Some operational zones include Heping, Haitian, Liwudian, and Dongdu.
Xiamen is technologically advanced and serves all the top shipping lines. It serves nearly 500 vessels monthly from over 50 countries and has a regular service of 70 routes passing through the top ports from Europe, the Americas, and Africa. The port also operates a small passenger ferry connecting Xiamen to other mainland ports. Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Wenzhou have regular ferries, while service is also provided to Kinmen island.
10. Port of Yingkou
Container traffic in 2018: 6.5 million TEU
Cargo tonnage in 2018: 21 million tons
Despite being one of the smallest ports in China, Yingkou Harbor is larger than the top ports of other nations. Managed by the Yingkou Port Group Corporation for the Republic, this port operates 27 berths and numerous smaller piers and docks. The main imports here are coal, steel, automobiles, and grain. The primary exports are containerized goods, machinery parts, mass-produced goods, electronics, and foodstuff.
The port is divided into two working zones- the Old Yingkou Port on the Daliao river and the Bayuquan Port on the Bohai Sea. The seaport offers services to incoming ships, including loading, pipeline transportation, pilotage, communication vessels, and transportation through road and rail. The main Bayuquan container terminal was jointly built by the port authorities and the Chinese Shipping Corporation (COSCO).
Yingkou began international operations in 1858 and was ranked in the top 50 in 2015.
Recently, the Russian government and Yingkou port signed an MoU to develop an international logistics terminal in Russia jointly. Yingkou also bought a large portion of the Bely Rast Terminal operated by the Russian Railways.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the port of Shanghai famous for?
Port of Shanghai is the world’s busiest port in cargo tonnage and consists of a deepsea port and a river port. It is one of the four port-cities around the globe to be categorized as a megacity.
2. Is Shekou and Shenzen port the same?
Shekou container facility is just a part of the enormous Shenzen port complex. Shekou is also one of the main fruit importing cities of the south Chinese region.
3. Where is the Ningbo-Zhoushan port?
It is located in Ningbo and Zhoushan, on the coast of the East China Sea, in Zheijiang province, on the southeast end of Hangzhou Bay, across which it faces the municipality of Shanghai.
4. How many berths are in port Guangzhou?
It has more than 4,500 berths and 2400 anchorage points and is close to the base for Nansha Wetland Park. There are large storage spaces, bonded warehouses, customs checkpoints, and logistics centres, handling agricultural produce, industrial goods, machinery, oil, steel ore, minerals, automobile parts etc.
5. What is the largest port in North China?
The Port of Tianjin is the largest in North China and is the principal maritime gateway to Beijing. It lies on the Haie river estuary’s western banks of Bohai bay.
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Disclaimer: The author’s views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.
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Ajay Menon is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with an integrated major in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture. Besides writing, he balances chess and works out tunes on his keyboard during his free time.