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

China's First Railroads - the Wusong and Tianjin Railways 興辦鐵路

Reportage on railroads in Dianshizhai was not necessarily news in the sense that it was current. A depiction of the Wusong railroad appeared long after the raw materials had been shipped to Taiwan where they lay to rust. Completed by Jardine and Matheson's Woosong Tramway Company in in 1876, the Wusong Railroad was the first commercial railway in China. The line only ran from June, 1876 to October 1877, at which point it was scrapped, in large part due to concerns about the railroads political and economic implications, and in order to rectify the fact that the railroad had not been built with fully informed consent of the Qing throne. Construction on the first Chinese-built railroad, which ran from Tangshan to Xugezhuang, began in 1881 under the supervision of Li Hongzhang. The railway initially only spanned nine kilometers – from a coal mine in Tanghshan to a canal. The Dianshizhai report, which describes passenger and cargo cars, dating from roughly late 1884, must be from a stage where the coal tramway had developed beyond its original purpose, though it is difficult to date the precise expansion of the railway.

The text of the image reads:

From the moment the Occident established international trade, western ways have been imitated, and this has increased to the present moment. When it comes to previous inventions, not all of them have been completely eliminated, thus new fashions arrive and times change, this is not another case of parochial ignorance of the past. During the Tongzhi reign (1861-75), train construction had already begun in Shanghai. The more than thirty li between Shanghai and Wusong could be covered in less than thirty minutes. Unfortunately, the line was scrapped, the capital to be invested in it, suddenly lost. This year, in the second half of May a report from Tianjin indicated that a railroad was to be constructed, and that the court had given its approval, a test line would go from the Taku forts to Tianjin. Then on June 23rd, the court promulgated a decree tasking Li Xiang with collecting funding for the construction of a railway from Tianjin to Tongzhou (outside Beijing). The train’s layout features a locomotive car at the front. This is followed by some which carry people, and some for transporting goods, it is capable of pulling ten or twenty cars. In the future, it will gradually expand, travelling throughout all the provinces. It will be like the ubiquity of telegraph lines, reliable throughout. I dare not relax my vigilance towards it.

Chinese Text: 

泰西通商以來,仿行西法之事,至近年而益盛.將從前一切成見,雖未能破除盡淨,然運會之而 風氣開,非復囊時之拘於墟矣.同治季年,火車已肇行於滬埠.由上海達吳淞三十餘里,往返不 逾二刻.惜為當道所格議,償造作之貲,遽毀成功.茲於五月下旬天津來信云,創辦鐵路一節,朝 廷業已充準,由大沽至天津先行試辦. 嗣於六月二十三日悉,朝廷又頒諭旨,飭令直督李相速 即籌款興辦天津通州鐵路.其火車式樣,前一乘為機器車,由是而下,或乘人,或裝貨,極之一二 十乘,均可拖帶.將來逐漸推廣,各省通行,一如線之四通八達,上與下利賴無窮.窮不禁拭目俟 之矣.

An image and description of the railway also appeared in Wu Youru's illustrated guide to Shanghai, the Shenjiang shengjing tu (1884).

Wu Youru's series of rhyming couplets reads:

Only the strength of vehicles separates China from the barbarians. Manpower and horsepower both have their purposes. Since establishing connections with the Occident, its wonders have stood out. The speed of the electric locomotive is difficult to surpass. Swift as lightning, it moves with the speed of many steeds. It rides on the wind and signals with whistles. At stops along the way the whistle sounds out. For avoiding accidents, flags are employed. A great succession of containers one after another wind back and forth coming and going. When they have passed by the road is empty, a parallel track that meanders along. I have included a picture to facilitate discussion.

Chinese Text:

維車之利,無間華夷,使人使馬,各有所宜。自通泰西,獨出其奇。叫電運輪,其捷難 羁。雷轟火撃,何藉騧驪。排空御氣,胡有噞嚱。中為轉屈,叫便兩吱。不利攸往,树之 以旗。綿綿聯聯,萬斛舟移。此注彼來,各遂遨戯。衆來已晚,古路空遺。對茲周道,殊 歎逶迤。猶存圖書,聊託思維。

Notably, while the author of the Dianshizhai piece counsels vigilance towards the dangers of trains and railroads, there is little evidence here of cosmological suspicions of railways (which would surface later during the Boxer Rebellion). For those who scrapped the Wusong Railroad and the authors of these pieces, the primary concern would appear to be who built and owned the railroad, not superstitious beliefs about damage to local fengshui.

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