This module examines how artists represented trains, primarily in the pages of Dianshizhai huabao—a late Qing Dynasty pictorial printed by in Shanghai between 1884 and 1898—and how those representations can help us understand popular approaches to science, technology and development in late Qing China. Occupied by a number of European powers, Shanghai in the late 19th century was a nexus of global exchange of commodities, capital and culture.
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.
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.
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 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).
This module can be navigated by clicking on the links at the bottom of each page, or by following the links in the "contents" section at the end of an examination of a given image. Continue by clicking "Trains in Dianshizhai" below.
For more, see this analysis of Dianshizhai at the MIT Visualizing Cultures website from Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Rebecca Nedostup.