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- 1 2021-02-03T12:00:55-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 The small locomotive here much more closely resembles the "Celestial Empire" locomotive Ransomes and Rapier sold to Jardine Matheson for the Wusong Railroad than its portrayal in Dianshizhai. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:00:55-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
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Discussion of How News From Foreign Sources Circulated in Late Qing
The New Era
Chinese science fiction critic and author Jia Liyuan (Feidao) has demonstrated how turn of the twentieth century Chinese science fiction novels like The New Era (Xin jiyuan 新纪元, 1908) drew on a process of circulation of real news for the arsenal of fantastic armaments that serve China in an imagined war with European powers. Real news on the discovery of elements like radium was translated into Chinese and repeated (often verbatim) in various popular science venues, before being adopted as fabao (法寶) or “magical weapons.” Author Bihe Guanzhuren's liberal recycling of Chinese-language science news regarding topics such as electricity and radium was married to the semantics and syntax of martial arts fiction in order to narrate a reversal of early twentieth century European military domination of Asia. Depictions of the Mersey Tunnel seem to follow this same pattern.
The pages of Dianshizhai huabao evince a similar process, by which news from foreign sources was translated into Chinese, repeated in various news outlets, and then imagined vividly and quite creatively in lithographic form. This process complicates the notion that cities like Shanghai were geographically and temporally distant from the center of scientific discourse. Fantastic news of trains and world expositions produced in Shanghai, like the image of the Trottoir Roulant, is strikingly similar to contemporaneous reportage on the same events in the European “metropole,” both of which were engaged in imaginations of future events.
Likewise, as we have seen in the case of the Wusong railroad, news appearing in Dianshizhai could be the result of “borrowing” from European sources, but it could also be a case of an event being seen as equally newsworthy in both contexts. Take another look at this depiction of the Tianjin and Wusong railroads:
Compare it to the image below, which was reprinted in Huatu xinbao in 1881.
How many similarities can you spot between the Dianshizhai image, and this image printed in China (from an unknown western source)? The image appears to be a reprint of an engraving by Alonzo Hartwell (1805-1873), a prolific Bostonian engraver and author of children's parables active in the 1830s and 1840s. (My thanks to Paul Fyfe for helping me to identify the engraver.)
Globally circulated, repurposed, rebranded, recycled, re-imagined in their localization to new cultural contexts, and drawing from a well of human archetypes, images can rarely be traced to a single locus classicus. Nevertheless, Wu Youru's rendering of a locomotive to accompany the description of the Wusong and Tianjin Railways above clearly has more in common with Alonzo Hartwell's image of an American railroad than it does with locally re-printed images of the Pioneer and Celestial Empire, locomotives produced by Ransomes and Rapier in coordination with the Jardine Matheson firm's efforts to establish railways in China.
In 1876, London-based journal Engineering featured and article on the locomotive (this volume also featured pieces on other railroads throughout the world). The second image of the locomotive appeared in a short feature on the Wusong Railway that used a reprinted image of the locomotive in the pages of John Fryer's Gezhi huibian in 1877. The feature states that “in Shanghai, there are no Chinese people who haven't seen this train, but because railroads haven't reached other places, we have reprinted it here for those far away. The firm will provide a booklet with annotated images, costs that is quite detailed. Those interested in establishing a railroad can write a letter to the firm and be sent the booklet completely free of charge.”
Images circulate globally, but they do not trace a linear path in space, in time, or in their relationship to an ontological truth. To wit, images of railroads circulated more readily than actual railroads, but did not correlate to a linear process of image/technology transfer.
Trains in the Popular Science Press
Discussion of Technical Information on Trains in Gezhi Huibian
The image above appeared in 1877 in an article entitled, “Huoche yu tielu lüelun” (A brief analysis of trains and railroads) in Gezhi huibian 格致彙編 (The Chinese scientific magazine, later titled The Chinese Scientific and Industrial Magazine in English), a periodical produced under the direction of missionary translator and proponent of modernization, John Fryer. The article was written with an educated but non-specialist audience in mind, detailing some of the technical complexities of railroads, locomotives, and train cars. In her summation of late Qing technical knowledge of railroads, Elizabeth Koll writes, “Despite the amount of railroad information in print, railroad knowledge in late Qing China was alarmingly superficial…In raw numbers, for many years the arsenal's influence on creating a substantial class of science and engineering graduates was minimal. Although by the 1890s twenty-nine engineering students had graduated from the shipyard's comprehensive training program, with five graduates working in railroad construction, the number was insufficient to satisfy the future demands of the emerging railroad sector” (Koll, 25-27).
W.A.P. Martin's (1827-1916) Gewu rumen 格物入門 (Introduction to investigatory knowledge, 1868) likewise introduced general science topics at a popular level, though it contained fewer illustrations than Fryer's Gezhi huibian. Both publications, produced under the supervision of Anglophone missionaries, were written in accessible classical Chinese. They engaged in the “translingual practice” of introducing western scientific concepts and vocabulary and often explicated them in pictorial form, serving as an early bridge for this field of knowledge.
Whereas Fryer and Martin's work were important nodes in the circulation of terms that allowed for the translation of the western scientific lexicon into Chinese, textual commentary appearing in work produced by Dianshizhai studios often featured more dense and allusive prose, availing itself of classical texts like the Yijing 易經 (Book of changes) to describe and comment upon the new technologies depicted. Like many other texts of Confucian antiquity, the Yijing is more properly a collection of works whose contemporary unity as a single “book” is the product of Han Dynasty compilation and exegesis. Similar to Daoist cosmology, the texts imagines the “cosmos is an organismic process without beginning or end.” The 64 hexagrams and their accompanying commentary purportedly explicate the correlative relationship between the cosmos and nature, and how they are to be interpreted. Framing scientific and technological breakthroughs in the language of the Yijing and the Daoist classics suggest that scientific knowledge is at best one field of human perception in an ineffable and constantly changing universe. This rhetorical move subsumes western science to a broader Chinese epistemology.
Gezhi huibian was arguably far less influential than Dianshizhai huabao, and this can be seen in part in its comparative lack of commercial success. In the first two years of publication (1876-77), Gezhui huibian featured 12 monthly issues per year, but it then ceased publication for the next two years. Again in 1880 and 1881, Fryer and company managed to produce two full 12 issue runs of the journal, but it then ceased publication for another eight years. In the final three years of publication, from 1890 to 1892, the journal was on a quarterly publication schedule, only releasing four issues. Dianshizhai huabao, on the other hand, while published continuously, was also available in reprinted, collected form almost immediately and images from the pictorial were picked up by other periodicals well into the 1930s.