The Port of Nantong lies on the north shore at the head of the Yangtze River estuary. Serving the coastal zone of the Jiangsu Province, it is connected by canal to other cities in north Jiangsu. The Port of Nantong is a vital river port connecting the province to the East China Sea. The coast of the Sea moves constantly eastward as silt is added to the Yangtze River Delta. Thus, the Port of Nantong was much nearer the China Sea in ancient times. Combined with the Ports of Tiansheng (about 12 kilometers west) and Langshan (about 13 kilometers south), the Port of Nantong is one of the largest ports on China’s coast. In 2007, 947 thousand people lived in the urban area surrounding the Port of Nantong.
From 206 to 220 BC, during the Han Dynasty, the Port of Nantong was much closer to the coast of the China Sea. It grew as a port and as a commercial center until 1368 when it lost its status as a prefecture called Tong. From 1368 to 1724, it was under the jurisdiction of neighboring city, Yangzhou. In 1724, it was again given prefecture status, and its name was changed to Nantong. In 1912, it became a county.
The Port of Nantong’s prosperity was largely based on domestic spinning and weaving of cotton, although the modern industry was created in the late 1800s by Zhang Jian. After the Sino-Japanese War of the mid-1890s, Zhang committed to making Nantong a model district. He established the Dah Sun Cotton Mill about 9 kilometers west of the Port of Nantong. The Mill’s profits financed the building of an industrial complex in the Port of Nantong that included a modern silk factory, a machine shop, and oil and flour mills.
He also created a shipping line and a land reclamation company that created cotton fields out of much of the Yangtze estuary. Zhang also established China’s first teachers’ colleges, staffing hundreds of primary schools. He established a medical college, a textile school, and an agricultural college which were later merged to make Nantong University. Zhang went on to create libraries, theaters, and museums in the Port of Nantong, and it was called Zhang Jian’s Kingdom, or the “Model County,” by the time of the republican period after 1911.
Like most cotton-based economies in the world, the Port of Nantong was seriously affected by the Great Depression of the 1930s. After that difficult time, the Japanese occupied the Port of Nantong during World War II.
The economy of the modern Port of Nantong still depends greatly on cotton and the textile industry. In 1984, China designated it an “open” city, inviting foreign investors. Since the mid-1980s, the Port of Nantong has experienced much economic growth and has become an important industrial center and port for foreign trade. New factories manufacturing electronics, chemicals, and machinery have been added to the traditional textile plants.
In 2008, the new six-lane Sutong Bridge was completed. Crossing the Yangtze River, it makes it easier to travel quickly between the Port of Nantong and Shanghai, further encouraging the city’s growth. Today, Nantong is blessed with five Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises and a McDonalds.
In 1904, Zhang Jian constructed the first modern port facilities, including a wharf. In 1955, the government of the Port of Nantong established a private company to manage the port, replacing the socialist ownership. In 1959, new wharves were constructed that could accommodate 3-5 thousand tons vessels. A second modern wharf was built in 1961. Additional construction projects were undertaken during the Cultural Revolution.
In the late 1970s, large-scale construction of wharves was started. The Langshan port district was completed in 1980, with two deep-water wharves and shed space of over 6.5 thousand square meters. In 1980, the Port of Nantong was designated an “open” port for foreign trade, and the port began to export cotton products. In 1983, the first foreign ships arrived in the Port of Nantong. In 1984, the Port of Nantong began to handle containerized cargo.
By 1991, three bulk cargo berths and six Yangtze River berths had been completed, bringing the port’s cargo-handling capacity to 8.4 million tons. The multi-purpose berth began operating that year. In 1997, two special-purpose container berths were completed, adding capacity for 150 thousand TEUs. In 2001, over four thousand ocean-going vessels stopped in the Port of Nantong, and a third phase of construction at Langshan was completed.
The Port of Nantong celebrated the port’s 100th anniversary in September 2004. Since then, the port had continued to add new facilities for handling cargo from around the world. In 2007, a new general bulk cargo berth opened.