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- 1 2021-02-03T12:16:58-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Even the trees arguably look more like the gnarled limbs of trees in Chinese landscape paintings than those we see in images of European trains. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:16:58-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:17:22-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 The tracks fading into the vanishing point are used to construct a sense of linear perspective. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:17:22-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:18:30-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Parallel to the tracks, telegraph lines also interrupt the landscape, emphasizing the train's spatial rationality. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:18:30-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:15:41-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Note how the presence of smoke suggests both the motion of the train, and the use of coal as fuel. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:15:41-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
- 1 2021-02-03T12:16:19-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539 Individuals in the image are differentiated both spatially and in costume and type of labor, denoting their social status. Nathaniel Isaacson 1 plain 2021-02-03T12:16:19-05:00 Nathaniel Isaacson 9a313a8f88ba8c43c463465ac9070fc9a3b50539
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"Building Railroads" 興辦鐵路
Image and Descriptions of Wusong and Tianjin Railways from Dianshizhai
Wu Youru 吳友如 (Zunyange zhuren 尊聞閣主人, ed.). 申江勝景圖 Shenjiang shengjing tu. Beijing : Quan guo tu shu guan wen xian suo wei fu zhi zhong xin, 2005．
Wu Youru 吳友如 (Zunwenge zhuzhu. 尊聞閣主署, ed.). Dianshizhai huabao 點石齋畫報 Dianshizhai: 1884-1898. 24 Volumes.
Li Siyi 李思逸. Tielu xiandai xing 鐵路現代性 (Railway Modernity in China). Taibei: Shibao chubanshe, 2020.
Tianjin Colliery Tramway
The Dianshizhai report on the Wusong and Tianjin railways, dating from roughly late 1884, was produced well after the railway had been scrapped and its stock shipped off to Taiwan. The Tianjin Colliery Tramway replaced mule-driven cars with a steam locomotive in 1882, but the railway would not extend beyond its nine kilometer length for another two years. It would appear however, that even a railway that was seven years defunct, or a railway that connected a mine to a canal were still seen as newsworthy. The presentation of both railroads as a single lithographic image freezes them outside of real space and time in order to present them as a spectacle. I examine the potential provenance of the image in the section on mediated worlds, but for now we shall merely note that the train depicted in this image is most likely not based on the actual Wusong or Tianjin railways.
The text of the image reads:
From the moment the Occident established international trade, western ways have been imitated, and this has increased to the present moment. When it comes to previous inventions, not all of them have been completely eliminated, thus new fashions arrive and times change, this is not another case of parochial ignorance of the past. During the Tongzhi reign (1861–75), train construction had already begun in Shanghai. The more than thirty li between Shanghai and Wusong could be covered in less than thirty minutes. Unfortunately, the line was scrapped, the capital to be invested in it, suddenly lost. This year, in the second half of May a report from Tianjin indicated that a railroad was to be constructed, and that the court had given its approval, a test line would go from the Taku forts to Tianjin. Then on June 23rd, the court promulgated a decree tasking Li Xiang with collecting funding for the construction of a railway from Tianjin to Tongzhou (outside Beijing). The train’s layout features a locomotive car at the front. This is followed by some which carry people, and some for transporting goods, it is capable of pulling ten or twenty cars. In the future, it will gradually expand, travelling throughout all the provinces. It will be like the ubiquity of telegraph lines, reliable throughout. I dare not relax my vigilance towards it.
泰西通商以來,仿行西法之事,至近年而益盛.將從前一切成見,雖未能破除盡淨,然運會之而 風氣開,非復囊時之拘於墟矣.同治季年,火車已肇行於滬埠.由上海達吳淞三十餘里,往返不 逾二刻.惜為當道所格議,償造作之貲,遽毀成功.茲於五月下旬天津來信云,創辦鐵路一節,朝 廷業已充準,由大沽至天津先行試辦. 嗣於六月二十三日悉,朝廷又頒諭旨,飭令直督李相速 即籌款興辦天津通州鐵路.其火車式樣,前一乘為機器車,由是而下,或乘人,或裝貨,極之一二 十乘,均可拖帶.將來逐漸推廣,各省通行,一如線之四通八達,上與下利賴無窮.窮不禁拭目俟 之矣.
Wu Youru's series of rhyming couplets reads:
Only the strength of vehicles separates China from the barbarians. Manpower and horsepower both have their purposes. Since establishing connections with the Occident, its wonders have stood out. The speed of the electric locomotive is difficult to surpass. Swift as lightning, it moves with the speed of many steeds. It rides on the wind and signals with whistles. At stops along the way the whistle sounds out. For avoiding accidents, flags are employed. A great succession of containers one after another wind back and forth coming and going. When they have passed by the road is empty, a parallel track that meanders along. I have included a picture to facilitate discussion.
維車之利，無間華夷，使人使馬，各有所宜。自通泰西，獨出其奇。叫電運輪，其捷難 羁。雷轟火撃，何藉騧驪。排空御氣，胡有噞嚱。中為轉屈，叫便兩吱。不利攸往，树之 以旗。綿綿聯聯，萬斛舟移。此注彼來，各遂遨戯。衆來已晚，古路空遺。對茲周道，殊 歎逶迤。猶存圖書，聊託思維。
Notably, while the author of the Dianshizhai piece counsels vigilance towards the dangers of trains and railroads, there is little evidence here of cosmological suspicions of railways (which would surface later during the Boxer Rebellion). For those who scrapped the Wusong Railroad and the authors of these pieces, the primary concern would appear to be who built and owned the railroad, not superstitious beliefs about damage to local fengshui.
Background: About Dianshizhai
The Most Popular Pictorial From Semi-Colonial Shanghai
Wu Youru 吳友如. Dianshizhai huabao 點石齋畫報 (Wenchunguan comp., 問淳館主人署) 4 volumes.
Wu Youru 吳友如 (Zunyange zhuren 尊聞閣主人, ed.). 申江勝景圖 Shenjiang shengjing tu. Beijing : Quan guo tu shu guan wen xian suo wei fu zhi zhong xin, 2005．
Dianshizhai huabao was a supplement to the Shanghai newspaper Shenbao, appearing every ten days between 1884 and 1898. The bricolage of lithographic images therein were a product of colonial modernity, offering a window novel events and technologies, real and imagined, at home and abroad. The Dianshizhai press, and the larger Shenbao press that it was part of were owned by the British entrepreneurs Ernest and Frederick Major. It differed from other gazeteers in that it was a mass-produced publication meant for a popular audience. The foreign-owned, native-Chinese staffed serial publication was made possible by the new technologies and cultural encounters of the late 19th century in port cities like Shanghai. As products of colonial modernity, these images offered a window on world events, both real and imagined.
In its fourteen-year print run, Dianshizhai huabao featured more than 4,500 images of all aspects of life, foreign and domestic. The main requirement for inclusion was that these events were spectacular—that they were worthy of an audience. They did not have to be real. A small, but conspicuous portion of the lithographic images in Dianshizhai huabao turned their attention to contemporary technological advances like hot-air balloons, airplanes, and steamships, through which they speculated on the position of technology in society, and the differences between China and the West. Less than a dozen images in the pictorial featured trains, but they represent an early glimpse of the reception of a technology that has become one of the key markers of China's contemporary development.
Funded by British entrepreneurs in a semi-colonial city, the pictorial was a hybrid product of colonial modernity, presenting readers with a sensorium of news items both domestic and foreign. Various presentational and representational techniques—Chinese and western perspectives, woodblock printing, landscape and ink painting, and other “traditional” representational modes were melded with photorealism, and occasional reprints of images from American magazines like Harper’s Weekly and the Illustrated London News. These images were accompanied by extended prose commentary, both contextualized and moralized about the events and wonders they depicted. Accompanying text often closely resembled or borrowed directly from pre-existing literati forms like biji and youji: collections of interesting trivia, tidbits, and observations of the world at large alongside personal commentary situated at the margins of official history or accurate reportage.
The Dianshizhai print-shop also produced this stand-alone volume, the Shenjiang shengjing tu (Marvelous scenery along the Huangpu River). The volume featured an image of the print-shop itself, and its lithographic print process. The image features two hand presses, and five hand-cranked presses, manned by dozens of workers.
These images were accompanied by extended prose commentary which both contextualized and moralized about the events and wonders they depicted. Accompanying text often closely resembled or borrowed directly from literati biji and youji—literati journals, travelogues, and other unofficial histories comprised of collections of interesting trivia, tidbits, and observations of the world at large alongside personal commentary situated at the margins of official history or accurate reportage. The lithographic press was a medium uniquely suited for this type of message: movable type in the late 1880s could not produce characters that publishers deemed significantly aesthetically pleasing. Lithographic stones were affordable, reusable, and could reproduce the calligraphy of artisans writing directly on the stone's surface (Reed, Gutenberg in Shanghai, 88-127).
Whereas other online modules like the MIT Visualizing Cultures site examine Dianshizhai huabao as a whole, and Christopher Reed's Gutenberg in Shanghai: Chinese Print Capitalism, 1876-1937 (2004) presents a comprehensive history of the role of print culture in Chinese modernization, this module might be seen as a curated exhibition on a specific topic covered by the pictorial. In this module, I argue first that depictions of trains in the pictorial are symptomatic of a trans-national flow of information, by which news in one context would become fiction in another. Second, the visual style of the media clearly demarcates “western” and “modern” objects and spaces from purportedly native ones. Chinese and western objects and individuals are immediately differentiated through contrasting visual styles. Finally, depictions of trains in the pictorial also portray trains as part and parcel of the knowledge industry: a new mode of seeing and understanding the world, as well as being a new medium through which the world was put on display and rendered understandable.
The Wusong Railway in Western Media
Anglophone Descriptions of the Wusong Railway
Illustrated London News
What was newsworthy in China was newsworthy in the Anglophone world as well, and these news items shared a number of similarities in their visual repertoire. They drew upon globally circulating, mass produced images of railroads, and upon an unconscious aesthetics of the colonial gaze. Reports on the construction of the Wusong Railway also appeared in Western media, like the Illustrated London News:
Note the similarities between this image and images of the Wusong and Tianjin Railways or a man crushed to death by the Tianjin Railway in their early stages. The western artist has chosen a similar representational mode: Chinese and foreign individuals are visually distinct in both their spatial positioning and in their attire. As opposed to the images in Dianshizhai huabao, the Illustrated London News piece also establishes a class difference by depicting those in the foremost passenger car as westerners as well. The crowd gathered to see the train helps guide the eye to the focal point of the image: the locomotive and its conductors, while establishing the event itself as a public spectacle. The westerners in the scene appear disinterested in the train, especially the man standing immediately to the right of the locomotive, who appears to have his gaze trained on the point that would be occupied by the artist. They are generally above the headline of the Chinese onlookers, some of whom are seated, both giving a clear view of their western counterparts and associating their lower plane with a closeness to the earth.
The drawing is likewise strikingly similar to this photograph, which is laid out in almost exactly the same way, other than the fact that the train occupies a more dominant position in the drawing. From left to right, we see in both images a train shed, train and western passengers and workers, Chinese onlookers, a shallow ditch, and a Chinese-style building. Whereas the plume of smoke coming from the locomotive in the drawing produces a sense of ambling motion, some individuals and elements of the photograph are blurred as a result of having moved during the exposure. Whereas the Chinese onlookers are fixated on the train in the drawing, the majority of those present in the photograph are facing the camera in observance of the commemorative moment.
The accompanying text notes that the construction and opening of the railway would be “the commencement of a new era in the history of Chinese civilization.”
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.
The Aesthetics of Development - Not on Board
In The Railway Journey: the Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century, Wolfgang Schivelbusch identifies a number of shifts in human perception and productive organization that were brought on by the advent of trains and railroads. One of these is the panoramic view afforded from within the cars of the train. The images appearing in Dianshizhai huabao use a panoramic layout, but they universally depict trains from an external perspective. There are no depictions of the landscape passing by as seen from within the train, or of the new social space within the rail car itself. Trains were relatively new and rare in China in the late 1800's, perhaps explaining why the ways the train transforms the landscape are seen from the outside. Whereas Schivelbusch cites depictions of telegraph lines that accompanied railways marking the speed with which riders perceived the passage of the landscape outside the train, Dianshizhai huabao tends to depict the passage of the train from the perspective of an outside observer, rather than a passenger.
This universal depiction of the train from outside renders some class differences visible while effacing, but not completely erasing others: in the image and accompanying text presenting the Wusong and Tianjin Railways, there is no sense of the class divisions of the passengers aboard the train, or whether such differences even applied in rail travel in late-19th century China. The difference between the British engineers in the open-air locomotive and the Chinese passengers is immediately apparent, though. The image emphasizes a second set of social contrasts: one group of manual laborers appears to be maintaining the railroad bed, or perhaps porting coal from a fenced-in yard in the foreground over to the train and tracks. Meanwhile, a group of coolies carry an assortment of packages on shoulder poles. The laborer's sleeves are rolled up and some of them appear to be barefoot. A third group of men, clad in robes, mill about examining the scene. They are no immediately identifiable women.
- 1 2020-09-01T16:27:44-04:00 China's First Railroads 2 Images of the Wusong and Tianjin Railways plain 2020-09-04T11:21:02-04:00