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- 1 2021-02-03T12:25:47-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 The image frames the spectacle as a spectacle by portraying the crowd who seem to reel back from the heat as they fix their gaze on the conflagration. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:25:47-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:24:02-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Seemingly redundant in an image that already produces a sense of motion from the smoke and fire in the freight cars, we still see smoke billowing from the locomotive. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:24:02-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
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Trains as Threat
Discussion of Opposition to Trains and Railways
Fyfe, Paul. "Illustrating the Accident: Railways and the Catastrophic Picturesque in "The Illustrated London News"." Victorian Periodicals Review 46, no. 1 (2013): 61-91.
The pages Dianshizhai huabao regularly featured reproductions of spectacular space. Readers were invited to gaze vicariously upon all number of spectacles not only by being presented with key figures, environments, and vehicles, that constituted the events, but also through the construction of the event as spectacle. This new, highly public means of seeing the world regularly focused on spectacles, and their public nature. Trains are constructed as spectacle in Dianshizhai in the same way that other events are—through the depiction of a crowd who have gathered to witness the spectacular event, whose gaze is trained on the focal point of the image. Just outside of the focal frame of the wondrous, and often fantastic events depicted in the pictorial, were the crowds of people gathered to take in the sight.
These images bear a striking resemblance to the images of railway accidents appearing in the pages of Harper's Weekly in the mid-19th century. Paul Fyfe categorizes these images as examples of the industrial and catastrophic picturesque, arguing that “the industrial picturesque used aesthetic harmony to redress the social and political disruptions of its depicted subjects” (Fyfe 65). While railroad companies used idealized images of the train and railway to create a sense of order and harmony, and to ameliorate anxieties surrounding political and technological change, Fyfe argues that accidents constituted another important aspect of the composition of the picturesque; one that focused on the aesthetics of destruction and decay and the contrast of the haphazard nature of the accident with the interrupted order of the built environment. Drawing on William Gilpin's aesthetics of demolition in the depiction of classical architecture, Fyfe argues that “the picturesque evokes a satisfying historical awe about degradation over time” (66).
Images of accidents like that in “Train on Fire,” and “Crushed to Death Under a Train,” and the delirious juxtaposition of a train going off its rails to dive into a roiling sea with the textual description of a safe and pleasant taxonomic journey in “Train Plunges Into the Sea” are at once orderly and disorderly. The rectilinear railroads and telegraph lines bring order to the landscape by creating a perspectival point of reference, rendering three dimensional space visible in the landscape. Penetrating from foreground to background, railroad, telegraph and train produce a sense of spatial distance that they then transcend. The freight and passenger cars present a uniform order of parallel lines and mechanically-produced uniformity.
This all stands in stark contrast to the potential chaos that the railway accidents invoke. Notice how all three of the above images are split in half by the railroad. In the case of “Crushed to Death Under a Train,” the image on one side of the tracks is comprised of a fairly traditional landscape-style image of a hill, while the other side features telegraph lines and a western-style brick building. Passengers aboard the train and bystanders on the ground gesticulate broadly at the unfortunate latecomer who is crushed beneath the wheels of the train as it leaves the station. The fire consuming the cargo and the plumes of smoke rising above it in the image of a train on fire contrasts with the order of the freight train while a group of onlookers both western and Chinese shy away from the flames. Arms raised to ward off the heat as they lunge back from the flames, they appear frozen in a Peking opera liangxiang pose.
Reflecting late Qing attitudes toward the Western world in general was a tension between admiration and opprobrium. In images like that of a train catching fire, or the man crushed to death under a train, warnings about the dangers of a new technology are practical, not spiritual or superstitious. In Railroads and the Transformation of China, Elisabeth Koll describes concerns about Feng Shui as the result of stereotypes, arguing that Chinese objections to the presence of railroads were 1) very pragmatic, and 2) no more superstitious or pseudo-scientific than contemporaneous concerns about trains in European culture. Opposition to railroads and broader concern about foreign imperialism became more pronounced after the Sino-Japanese war of 1895, near the end of Dianshizhai huabao's print run. Nevertheless, in the images above, and in images that that of the train “plunging into the sea,” there is often an ironic tension between a visual description of a disaster, and a more measured textual description (or vice-versa). This tension would emerge in the contrast between the visual tone of the lithographs, and the accompanying text, or between the body of the text and the final statements offering moral judgement of events.
Ambivalent Discourse - a Train Catches Fire 火車被毀
A Train on Fire
DSZHB, comp. Zun wen ge v. 22, 56
The Chinese word for train, huoche 火車 (lit. "fire cart"), reflects a misunderstanding regarding the process by which steam engines generated motive force. Initially, observers thought the motive power for steam engines came directly from the fires burned aboard, rather than the production of steam under pressure that drove the pistons. The billowing smoke and flames commingle, erases the difference between the desired smoke and steam of the locomotive, and the catastrophic smoke of the cargo on fire. One locus for expressing fears about the adoption of rail technology focused on this somewhat misleading name, and popular media often reported on train fires. The following image of a fire on the Tianjin railway circa 1886(?) appeared in the pages of Dianshizhai huabao.
The text reads:
For travel on water, there is the fire-wheel boat (huolun zhou), and for travel on land there is the fire-wheel cart (huolun che). They all move with the speed of lightning and wind, covering a thousand li in the blink of an eye; their utility is great indeed. Recently, a number of steamers have been lost to fire. Many base their fear of travelling aboard them on this, and only see the train as useful. While there are accidents, there has not yet been a great disaster, and owing to this, those who ride the train are many.
On the 16th day of the second month, a train left for Tanggu, near Tianjin. It had not gotten far when one of the freight cars suddenly caught fire. Upon inspection, it was found that the fire had started when sparks from the smokestack fell upon a bundle of cotton the train was carrying. On that day, it was sunny and the wind was strong, and the flames grew fierce. Although they had hoses, there was nowhere to draw water from. The spirit of the flames came and went as he pleased, the train was destroyed, but people were unharmed. This was the first such incident, thus we have recorded it for posterity.
水行有火輪舟 , 陸行有火輪 車 , 皆電疾風 馳 , 瞬息千里 , 其利便可謂 甚矣 。 自近年 輪船屢歿失火 , 人幾視為畏途所恃 , 攸往咸宜者 , 惟火 輪車耳 。 雖間有失事 , 尚未開禍 兆焚 ,如是 以乘之者尤 眾 。 乃 二月十六 日 ,天津有一火車 , 自塘沽開行展輪未 久 , 貨車上忽然火起 , 查知起火之 由 , 系因煙筒迸出火 星落在車上所載之棉花包 內 、 致有此禍 。 而是 日風力又 大 , 遂致轟轟烈烈 ,焰燭重霄 。 雖有水龍 ,無從取水. 一 任回祿君乘興而來 , 盡興而返 , 車輛均被燒毀 , 人物亦 互有損傷 ,此為火車開行以來僅見之事也 。 故志之 。
While it was preceded by a demonstration railway in Beijing, and the Wusong railroad which was soon demolished and sent to Taiwan, Tianjin's Tangxu line was the first Chinese-built railway in the country. It originally connected Tangshan to the Kaiping Coal Mine. This and other depictions of the train follow a familiar pattern - the text that accompanies the image counsels are rational approach, underplaying or contradicting the image, which punches up the horror of the fire.