As a vehicle to convey both the history of modern China and the complex forces still driving the nation’s economic success, rail has no equal. Railroads and the Transformation of China is the first comprehensive history, in any language, of railroad operation from the last decades of the Qing Empire to the present.
China’s first fractured lines were built under semicolonial conditions by competing foreign investors. The national system that began taking shape in the 1910s suffered all the ills of the country at large: warlordism and Japanese invasion, Chinese partisan sabotage, the Great Leap Forward when lines suffered in the “battle for steel,” and the Cultural Revolution, during which Red Guards were granted free passage to “make revolution” across the country, nearly collapsing the system. Elisabeth Köll’s expansive study shows how railroads survived the rupture of the 1949 Communist revolution and became an enduring model of Chinese infrastructure expansion.
The railroads persisted because they were exemplary bureaucratic institutions. Through detailed archival research and interviews, Köll builds case studies illuminating the strength of rail administration. Pragmatic management, combining central authority and local autonomy, sustained rail organizations amid shifting political and economic priorities. As Köll shows, rail provided a blueprint for the past forty years of ambitious, semipublic business development and remains an essential component of the PRC’s politically charged, technocratic economic model for China’s future.
Köll…has done a rare thing, and done it magnificently. She has written a book that will inform historians and economists of China, but also curious new readers, who will get a brainful of China’s development from the last emperors to the current president-for-life, Xi Jinping… She is adept at showing the impact of railways on all aspects of Chinese life.
Köll’s book could lead to the emergence of a field of Chinese railroad studies just as the First Transcontinental Railroad led to the spatial magnification of America… Many topics we thought we knew—gender, machines, space, capitalism, social stratification—are connected and expanded through the fresh lens of railroad history.
A sweeping account of the railways themselves as well as the impact of railway expansion on multiple dimensions of Chinese life…Wide-ranging and insightful.
Required reading. It is an exhaustively sourced analysis of how geopolitics, business organization, and social relations influenced the development of one of China’s most important industries.
Offers a powerful lens for understanding twentieth-century China…Köll’s work offers an important new perspective on the development of China’s rail network. The conclusions that she draws from the case of the Jin-Pu line speak broadly to scholars interested in infrastructure, technology, economy, and the power of the modern state.
As the first comprehensive history of China’s railroad development in any language, Elisabeth Köll’s well-researched account addresses issues of interest to historians of technology…Not only offers perspectives from the non-Western world, underrepresented in the histories of transportation and mobility; it also highlights the deep history behind the managerial innovation and adaptability that prompted policy makers to place railroads at the heart of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
Fills a long-standing gap… Valuing the railroads as one of the most important transportation tools, the Chinese are continuing to build their high-speed train networks. Thus, Köll’s book is a timely contribution to our understanding of modern China through the lens of the ongoing railway expansion.
So far the most comprehensive survey of China’s railroad history…The detailed studies relying on primary sources and in-depth discussions on how China’s railroads as institutions with wide social, economic, cultural, and political functions make this book the most reliable reference for anyone who is interested in understanding China in the modern times.
Köll is clearly a master of archival diplomacy, for she has over time found materials accessible to no other foreign scholar, resulting in one of the richest studies in the evolution, management, finances, and labor politics of any Chinese enterprise. It gives nuanced and sustained attention to the intersection of business and politics that remains to this day a critical factor for the success or failure of business in China.
The history of Chinese railroads is a topic so important, it is surprising we have had to wait so long for a book like this—the most comprehensive history of Chinese railways in either Chinese or English. Based on previously unused archives and interviews, Elisabeth Köll gives readers a picture of the building and development of what has become one of the largest railway networks in the world. At the same time, Köll provides a new perspective on a broad sweep of Chinese history from the final years of the Qing dynasty, through war and revolution in the twentieth century, and into China’s economic rise since the 1980s.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.