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

The Trottoir Roulant - 游觀台

“News” could potentially refer to events in China or abroad, past or relatively present. It might also mean events that were yet to occur. Just as Dianshizhai featured “news” about railroad projects nearly a decade past, it also featured news of railroad projects yet to be realized. While the authors imagined railroads and tunnels in Liverpool or Tianjin by liberally borrowing from visual media available to them, they imagined an attraction at the upcoming Paris Exposition in fantastic and vivid detail based on a verbal description of the project.

The Paris Exposition of 1900 was met with anticipation beginning years before the event actually occurred. The pre-modern Sinosphere constructed its political-spatial imagination through a domestic knowledge industry—dynastic histories, poetry collections, gazeteers, visual and textual presentations of tribute missions, and lexicographical efforts like the Kangxi dictionary. The geographic imagination of Sinitic dynasties was constructed through the assembly of bibliographic space. Thus, the western knowledge industry—texts dedicated to assembling the whole of human knowledge based on a clear organizational schema like encyclopedias, compendia, handbooks and the like—were an object of particular fascination. Expositions and museums, which assembled human knowledge and innovation in physical form, applying the organizational logic of the knowledge text to their spatial layout, enjoyed similar attention. News of expositions was a source of fascination for late Qing intellectuals, and in late Qing visual culture. The text reads:

At the Paris World Exposition of 1900, the Frenchman A-lumang (“Mr. Inadvisable”), in his great generosity, seeks to fashion a marvelous machine to dazzle the eyes and ears of visitors from all countries. So he brought his idea to life [in the form of] a travelling observation deck. It is four meters across and over 200 meters long, standing more than 15 meters above ground it will be situated at the entryway to the exposition grounds. Visitors ascend the platform by climbing a ladder; the platform has a capacity of 51,732 persons. It is capable of moving at a rate of 17 to 18 Chinese li per hour, making a complete circuit of the exposition grounds rather than walking. A round trip will cost 50 centimes per rider.

The Chinese text reads:

法國巴里一千九百年開設萬國大博覽會時,法國人阿魯莽過思創一奇器,以眩各國來觀者之耳目,於是獨出心裁創造游觀台,長四吉米二百米突,距地高十五米突,安設于會場之首。 游觀者緣梯登臺,臺上可載五萬一千七百三十二人。 台自行走一點鐘可行中國十七八裡,循游會場縱覽一周,可代足力。 每行一周,計收台價每客五十參雲。

The image, titled “Moving Observation Deck”, features a triple-decker train car, pulled by a steam engine, apparently sans train tracks. The text indicates that this technological marvel was featured at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, France. This image is presentational, not representational. Like other depictions of technology, for example the illustrations in late Qing novels, the illustrator presents the idea of the object, but is not dedicated to visually reproducing either the real object, or the textual description the image accompanies. The reader is offered a vicarious chance to share in the cosmopolitan marvels of a world expo and its curated vision of global relations. The print run for Dianshizhai huabao ended in 1898, but this image appears to depict an event that would not occur until 1900. We are seeing an attempt to visualize the future. The Paris Expo of 1900 was a highly anticipated event, appearing in French and English print media as early as 1897, and making its way to semi-colonial Shanghai. Even seemingly real representations of the attraction were a site for fantastic imagination of how the future might leave some behind.

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