Modern Asian Studies


Confucian Patriotism and the Destruction of the Woosung Railway, 1877

David Ponga1

a1 University of Delaware

The slow growth of railways is undoubtedly one of the most astonishing features of the history of modernization in China. The Chinese government often gave as its reasons for opposition to railway development the fact that improved communications would facilitate foreign military expansion, that railways obstructed the feng-shui, that mandarin and peasant alike were opposed to the railway, and that railways destroyed the livelihood of the common people. But, until recently, these explanations have never been given serious consideration, despite the fact that Ch'ing officials discussed railway-policy in these terms in a major debate in 1866–67. This is partly because historians have found it difficult to accept Chinese objections to railway development at their face-value, and partly because Chinese officials themselves, seeing that foreigners were unimpressed by Chinese arguments against railway construction, offered others which they thought would be more acceptable to the Western mind.