Research Summary

Railroads and the Making of Modern China



My current book project is entitled Railroads and the Making of the Modern China and explores China’s economic and socio-political transformation from the last decades of the empire to the present using railroad infrastructure as a focus. Based on a large collection of historical data across select regions in China, my project analyzes how railroad infrastructure and railroad companies as new business institutions contributed to the emergence of complex work hierarchies, technology transfer, the rise of the engineering profession, business linkages and social mobility. One particular focus of my research involves the complex interaction between railroad companies, government agencies, and political authorities.

In connection with my previous historical work, this research addresses issues relevant to contemporary China. For example, the development of China’s communication and transportation infrastructure features prominently on the government’s agenda to create economic growth and political stability. With regard to the business environment in contemporary China, the history of Chinese railroads highlights the origins of infrastructure development in core areas along the coastal corridor and the East, strong regional and limited national market integration, and the continuing linkage of modern rail transportation systems with alternative transportation methods.