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- 1 2021-02-03T12:39:51-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Spectators on the seashore and aboard the train act as surrogate viewers, emphasizing the focal point of the image. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:39:51-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:41:03-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 In this instance, the plume of coal smoke produces a sense of motion both forward and downward, as the train plunges into the ocean. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:41:03-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:42:05-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Rectilinear cars and train tracks interrupt a "traditionally" rendered Chinese landscape. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:42:05-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:38:32-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 The waves seem to splash in multiple directions at the same time, heightening the chaos of the scene. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:38:32-05:00 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.
Exploration and Cataloging - Wondrous News from Overseas 海外奇談
An "Underwater Train" Plunges into the Sea
A common fascination of late Qing culture and approaches to western science was the knowledge industry: institutional efforts to identify, catalog, and organize knowledge, often in service of imperial power. This included museums, textbooks, scientific periodicals, expositions like the Paris Exposition Universelle, and other means of organizing and displaying knowledge of the world. This also included rich descriptions of the process of identifying and categorizing new territories, species and phenomena in the name of demonstrating national scientific acumen. The image below echoes descriptions in late Qing science fiction (which in turn are modeled on translations of authors like Jules Verne) of missions to identify and categorize flora and fauna in far-flung reaches of the globe.
The text reads:
Westerner’s learning in science is comprehensive and detailed. They stand upon its summit, producing its greatest achievements. But westerners also contemplate its artistry, making progress day after day and attaining great achievements in unlocking the mysteries of heaven and earth’s transformations. They have invented the steamship for travel on water, the train for travel on land, and the hot air balloon for ascending the skies. Chinese regard braving high summits; and riding the winds as oddities, but westerners don’t think much of it. So it came to pass that on top of these three, they confabulated the notion of a train that could explore the sea, saying: that the heavens can be ascended yet the sea is impenetrable – we have yet to exhaust the wonders of humanity and nature. Thereupon, adopting the form of a train and the craft of steamship production, they made a train that can be driven into water without flooding and wander freely. Passengers would enter another world as if riding on solid ground. On the day they tested it, many curious onlookers gathered to wait for the train to speed off through wind and waves. All watched in anticipation. After ten days, the train returned and the passengers returned unscathed. All recounted the birds, beasts, grasses and trees they had seen on their journey all of which resembled those of their country. The theory that there is another planet beyond this one is not balderdash after all, and so we have imagined it in painting in order to facilitate conversation.The Chinese text reads:西人格致之學精矣,備矣,登其峰造其極矣.而西人備思其藝日新月異.進而益上有務洩天地之奇窮造化之變者.輪船之行於水也,火車之行於陸也,氣球之升於天也. 涉險登高,風馳電掣,華人視之固已奇矣,而西人視之猶不甚奇. 乃於三者之外思製一遊海之車, 謂天可升而海不可入不足以窮人官物曲之變也. 於是仿火車之式參用輪船之製窮工極巧造成一車能使入海不濡遊行自在.諸客乘之為履平地別有闊天.當試行之日果有好奇之士聯袂偕來迨車既開行破浪乘風瞬息千里. 見者皆為之穿心. 越旬日而車復駛回. 客皆無恙丑歷述沿途所見禽獸草木一此(?) 國中然. 則地球之外復有地球之說果未蓋(?) 虛誣欺. 姡錄之以資談助.Again, there is a clear tension between the image, which presents the apparent apprehension of the passengers, who appear to be throwing their arms up in panic, flailing in the open windows of their train as it jumps its tracks and plunges into the sea, and the text, which assures readers that the passengers all returned unscathed. A further tension exists between the idea of science as an exploratory endeavor that westerners are quite happy to engage in, and the Chinese mindset, which would counsel against such folly. Upon their return, we learn that the purpose of the journey was to catalog new, and apparently not-so-wondrous creatures that were seen on the marine journey.
Explore some other news from Dianzhizhai huabao: