The Chinese rail system is among the largest, densest, and most heavily used rail networks in the world, playing a central role in the circulation of migrant workers, students, professionals and tourists within China’s domestic sphere. Research has examined the rail system’s role in China’s political economy and its use as a tool of statecraft, yet little research has been conducted on the rail system as a social space. How does rail travel contribute to the formation of community and place at the national scale? This dissertation argues that reconceptualizing the nation as a more-than-human assemblage illuminates how rail travel weaves together people, things and infrastructure to form a coherent but heterogeneous whole.
Drawing on more-than-human methodologies, fieldwork was conducted over seven months in 2016 and 2017. Spanning the geographic extent of the Chinese rail system, from its core to its far-flung peripheries, participant-observation gathered data on how the practices of rail skillfully assemble material things and spaces to produce a coherent system. Semi-structured interviews with passengers from a range of regional, generational, and socio-economic backgrounds gathered data on how the things and spaces of rail travel are perceived and how their use has evolved. This account of rail’s more-than-human dimensions informs the analysis of mainland Chinese discourses around the 2018 opening of the first high-speed rail (HSR) line to Hong Kong.
This project finds a system standardized over remarkable distances, characterized by a distinctively Chinese assemblage of infrastructures, objects and practices. This assemblage plays a vital role in knitting together China’s diverse regions and communities into an integrated national territory and community. Practices reflect national conceptions of class, and ticketing interpolates national citizens. Yet it is also a system riven with fractures. A two-tiered system is emerging which mirrors, roughly, a divided ridership: poor migrants depend on the cheaper conventional services, while the better off tend towards the speed and comfort of HSR. In the Pearl River Delta, centralized national standards produce fractures at the regional scale. The more-than-human environment of Chinese rail re-inscribes and realizes underlying tensions and contradictions within Chinese nation-ness.
|Commitee:||Murphy, Alexander B., Su, Xiaobo, Goodman, Bryna|
|School:||University of Oregon|
|Department:||Department of Geography|
|School Location:||United States -- Oregon|
|Source:||DAI-A 82/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Geography, Asian Studies, Transportation|
|Keywords:||Chinese rail system, Materiality, More-than-human|
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