This content was created by Nathaniel Isaacson. The last update was by Kate McDonald.
Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian HistoryMain MenuGet to Know the SiteGuided TourShow Me HowA click-by-click guide to using this siteModulesRead the seventeen spatial stories that make up Bodies and Structures 2.0Tag MapExplore conceptsComplete Grid VisualizationDiscover connectionsGeotagged MapFind materials by geographic locationLensesCreate your own visualizationsWhat We LearnedLearn how multivocal spatial history changed how we approach our researchAboutFind information about contributors and advisory board members, citing this site, image permissions and licensing, and site documentationTroubleshootingA guide to known issuesAcknowledgmentsThank youDavid Ambaras1337d6b66b25164b57abc529e56445d238145277Kate McDonald306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5fThis project was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
12019-11-18T15:49:56-05:00"A Train that Runs Under Water" 水底行車41Depictions of the Opening of the Mersey Between Liverpool and Wirralplain2021-09-29T16:12:36-04:0053.4000, -3.0000LiverpoolMersey Tunnel187104/30/1886Wu Youru 吳友如 (Zunwenge zhuzhu. 尊聞閣主署, ed.). "Shuidi xing che 水底行車." Dianshizhai huabao 點石齋畫報 Dianshizhai: 1884-1898. 24 v. Geng 4, 26."Shuidi xing che 水底行車." Shenbao 申報. 1886-04-30, p. 28.Wu, Shellen Xiao. Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860-1920. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2015.Nathaniel IsaacsonDianshizhai huabaoFerdinand von Richtofen
The opening of the Mersey Tunnel, a railway tunnel connecting Liverpool and Wirral is one of a number of events that found its way from Western news sources into the pages of newspapers like Shenbao, and then into visual representation in Dianshizhai huabao. Dianshizhai covered events like the Sino-French war early and often as a means of coming to terms with a shifting Sinosphere. Reportage on foreign feats of engineering was framed in the ambivalent language of China's semi-colonial encounter with the West, simultaneously marveling at and questioning the value of these achievements. Initial permission to build the railroad was secured in 1871, and various funding and engineering challenges significantly delayed its completion. The Dianshizhai commentary closes on an ambivalent note, questioning the significance of the achievement as an indicator of Britain's scientific and engineering prowess.
The text reads:
England has built a railway beneath the Mersey River for trains to pass through. This has already appeared in Western newspapers, and it has been reported in translation in Shenbao by this very press. All who learn of it gasp at the marvel. From beginning to end, this project took much time; and workers were many. The path is twenty six English feet wide, and twenty three feet tall. Though a train can pass through it in under four minute’s time as the road is not particularly long, to this date it has taken fifteen or sixteen years of work to complete, and the labor of over three thousand workers. Such a precipitous moving of heaven and earth is unprecedented. From conception to planning then groundbreaking and completion took undeniable innovation and determination; it was no easy task. Yet, if we take this to be the pinnacle of Westerner’s talents, there superiority may not be so certain.
News of the Mersey Tunnel in its Chinese “localization” thus reveals an anxiety about the shifting position of the Sinosphere in a broadening geopolitical milieu. As with the Tianjin and Wusong Railroads when they appeared in Dianshizhai, the textual description of the Mersey Tunnel suggests the site on its own is not a significant transformation of geographic space—it is a node in a network, not the entire network. The title: “A Train that Runs Underwater,” and the dyptic: a cross section of boats confined to the surface of the river, and a cutaway of the tunnel seemingly split open to reveal the train penetrating the tunnel and moving into the foreground construct a sense of three-dimensional space: space could now be transcended horizontally and vertically. Geographer-cum-geologists like Ferdinand von Richtofen sought not only to map China's surface, but also to map its subterranean fossil fuel riches. Shellen Wu notes that “with the rise of geology in the nineteenth century, mapmaking extended from Earth's surface to the subterranean layers as geologists attempted to decipher the ground formations of regions around the world.” (50) The image suggests the dark subconscious of the train, of the subterranean caches of coal and iron that feed it.
As the article notes, a very similar report on the tunnel opening appeared in Shenbao on April 30, 1886. News pieces of this nature, and other items appearing in Dianshizhai continued to be reprinted—either textually, or in the form of the entire lithographic image—for decades after Dianshizhai ceased publication. The ambivalence of the text shifts here from highlighting the dangers of railroads to questioning the timeline and overall value of the project. This discourse echoed the notion of xixue dongyuan 西學東原 (the eastern origin of western knowledge), and the Yangwu 洋務 movement more broadly whose insistence on the superiority of Chinese civilization served as a balm for the adoption of western science.
12019-11-18T15:49:57-05:00The Mersey Tunnel in Anglophone Media33Anglophone Reportage and Image of the Tunnelplain2021-09-29T16:13:46-04:00Liverpool53.4000, -3.0000Mersey Tunnel18861881-1886"The Prince of Wales at the Mersey Tunnel." Illustrated London News [London, England] 30 Jan. 1886: 111+. Illustrated London News. Web. 17 June 2019.Liverpool"The Mersey Railway Tunnel." Illustrated London News [London, England] 11 June 1881: 586+.Nathaniel IsaacsonDianshizhai huabaoIllustrated London News
While the image from Dianshizhai was an original lithograph, the artist seems to have borrowed elements of the visual style and layout used by western news sources, especially in assembling the image of the tunnel in three parts, depicting the bustling river teeming with boats, a cutaway of the train tunnel traversing the earth beneath the river, and another cutaway of train and tunnel with the train approaching the viewer.
Reports of the tunnel's planning, construction, and eventual opening appearing in Illustrated London News between 1881 and 1886 are stylistically very similar, featuring a panorama of the Mersey River teeming with steamships at the top of the page, and a cutaway view of the tunnel descending beneath the river. Both Chinese and English-language images include rudimentary depictions of the support and ventilation structure of the tunnel.
The Dianshizhai huabao image appears to combine these two images, featuring both a panoramic cutaway, and a more detailed illustration of the train itself moving through the tunnel. We cannot say for certain that the above images from the Illustrated London News are the images that Dianshizhai's illustrators saw and emulated in colonial Shanghai, but it does seem quite likely.