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

Trains as Threat

In the pages of Dianshizhai huabao, the spectacular new medium was very often the message. A new, highly public means of seeing the world regularly focused on spectacles, and their public nature. 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. 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.

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