This page was created by Nathaniel Isaacson. 

Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

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. 

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