This path was created by Nathaniel Isaacson.  The last update was by Kandra Polatis.

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

China's First Railroads: The Wusong and Tianjin Railways

This section of the module examines reportage surrounding China's early domestic trains appearing in Chinese and Anglophone print in order to considers some of the visual and thematic similarities of the trans-national image of the train. During Dianshizhai huabao's print run, the total distance covered by railroads in China amounted to less three hundred miles in a few isolated locations. Thus, readers of both Dianshizhai huabao and Illustrated London News alike would have come to terms with trains in print media rather than in the flesh. It is also important to understand that the development of railroads was not a matter of linear acceleration, and that their emergence in media was not simultaneous with their development in real space.

For example, the Wusong Railroad (which we will see some early images of shortly) was only in operation from 1876–1877; thus its appearance in Dianshizhai occurred nearly a decade after the demonstration line had been removed. Given the discrepancies between its appearance in the pictorial and the actual appearance of the locomotive used for the railway, it seems unlikely that the illustrators who produced the image had actually seen the Wusong Railway in operation in person, and instead drew from other print depictions of trains. The Tianjin Railway, originally established as a means of shipping coal from a mine to a local canal, did not significantly alter local space in its initial form, and sat many days journey from Shanghai by boat or on foot. The illustrators were thus separated from their subject matter by significant gaps in time and space. We should think of these images less as depictions of the transformations of the local landscape, and more as transformations in the representation of the landscape vis-a-vis its shifting geopolitical context.

Reportage on railroads in Dianshizhai was thus not necessarily "news" in the sense that it was current. The 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.

Both railways—one a colliery, and the other a tourist attraction—linked up with an already far more significant transportation infrastructure: China's network of natural and built waterways. They did little to change the mobility of individuals or goods. Dianshizhai huabao did not visualize, nor could it anticipate, the ways in which railroads would become part of a national transportation network. Instead, it offered a visualization of the psychological import of technological change, and (perhaps subconsciously) the social divisions of trains as a colonial enterprise.

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