The United States presidential election is less than three months away, and battle lines are being drawn everywhere, including at the United States Postal Service . President Donald Trump and his supporters claim postal voting will result in electoral fraud, while challenger Joe Biden and his allies accuse him of sabotaging the democratic process by withholding funding to facilitate mail ballots. I am an avid user of postal services. I get an inexplicable thrill whenever I drop something into the postbox or receive private correspondence by mail. In my youth, I was an amateur philatelist, albeit an indiscriminate one. The Chinese created a postal system to relay information early in their history. Inscribed pictographs relating to the carrying and transporting of news can be found on oracle bones dating from the Shang dynasty (1600BC-1046BC). By the early imperial period of the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-AD220), the postal system was highly organised. Couriers of official documents on foot, horseback and boats could avail themselves of properly equipped postal stations all over the country, where they could rest or change horses. The speed and method of dispatch, as well as the class of horses or vessels used, were governed by precise regulations depending on the importance and urgency of the missives. However, this extensive and well-run postal system was reserved only for the state and the imperial family. The swift and efficient movement of decrees, military orders and reports ensured the smooth running of the vast empire, though emperors sometimes used it as their personal courier service. Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty supposedly transported fresh lychees from Lingnan (modern-day Guangdong and Guangxi) to the capital (modern-day Xian) because his beloved consort Yang Yuhuan (AD719-756) fancied some. Given the long distance (about 1,200km, as the crow flies) and the fact that the fruit spoils in days, the highest dispatch grade, reserved for urgent military matters, was put to use. Shut out of the state postal system, how did ordinary people send letters in premodern China? The wealthy used servants while the less well-off would ask somebody they trusted, and who was travelling, to carry their letters. Naturally, some kind of remuneration in cash or kind would be paid to the courier. Yin Xian, an official of the Eastern Jin dynasty (AD317-420), threw more than 100 letters he had been entrusted with into a river, annoyed that his friends used him as a mailman. A private postal system, the Minxinju, was founded by Ningbo merchants in the Ming dynasty’s Yongle era (1403–1424) to handle private mail. Over the centuries, its operations expanded to cover the whole of China, and later Southeast Asia, Australia and across the Pacific Ocean – places with substantial populations of overseas Chinese. The Minxinju was finally abolished by the Nationalist government in the 1930s. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that China had a modern state-run postal system modelled along British and European lines. Spearheaded by Irish-born Robert Hart, inspector-general of China’s Imperial Maritime Customs Service, the Qing dynasty government in 1878 issued China’s first postage stamps, known in philatelic circles as “Large Dragons”. Two decades later, in 1897, the Chinese government established the Great Qing Postal Service, which marked the beginning of China’s modern postal system.