Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Trains in Dianshizhai

A small, but conspicuous portion of the lithographic images in Dianshizhai huabao turned their attention to contemporary technological advances, through which they speculated on the position of technology in society, and the differences between China and the West.

As products of colonial modernity, these images offered a window on world events, both real and imagined. Unsurprisingly, images of trains appearing in the pictorial depicted this new marvel of transportation as a new way of moving, a problematic symbol of the dangers of western science, and a potential danger to local ways of life. Depictions of trains in the pictorial also situate them within the knowledge industry: a new mode of seeing and understanding the world, as well as being a new medium through which the world was put on display and rendered understandable.

This examination of trains is part of a broader project that situates them in the context of what Amitav Ghosh and others have labeled “petro-fiction” – conscious and unconscious manifestations of petroleum-fueled culture in art. As Graeme MacDonald, Nicholas Mizroef and Stephanie LeManager have noted, oil and coal are all around us; petroleum and the networks of the extractive industry are infused in almost every aspect of modern life, in every corner of this room. Through the figure of train, I would like to show how petroleum and the Anthropocene become their own aesthetic.

This page has paths:

Contents of this path:

This page references: