China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Locating the Train Station, Repositioning the City: Coevolution of Railway and Tianjin, 1908-1917

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall West, Mezzanine

In the early twentieth century, Tianjin transformed into the railway hub and great seaport of the North, as Chinese government and foreign powers contested for the economic control of Tianjin. Drawing on materials from the Tianjin Municipal Archives, this paper reveals a model of urban expansion driven by Sino-foreign conflicts by examining how Chinese railway construction and foreign port development caused Tianjin to expand laterally. It all started around 1908 with the controversial Tianjin-Pukou Railway project. The initial plan placed the railway station in south Tianjin near the foreign settlements. When Li Deshun was removed from office in 1909 on embezzlement charges, the Chinese railroad authorities shifted the station to the northwest to curtail foreign influence. Cut off from the two intersecting artery lines, the foreign powers redirected their attention to develop Tianjin’s seaport. Their conservancy commission connected Tianjin to the sea by engineering the shallow and sinuous Hai River into a navigable channel for steamships. The Chinese railway developers bypassed the seaport in a bid to build a transportation network that carries passengers and cargo in and out of Tianjin faster. The animosity between railway developers and river conservancy authorities ended in calamity. River water gushed into the railway station during the 1917 flood. Both agencies were then forced to cooperate with each other to avert future disasters. By then, Tianjin had turned into an urban sprawl, as the city branched out northwest along the railway and eastwards along the Hai River. 

Kan Li

University of Minnesota, Minnesota

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1 - Locating the Train Station, Repositioning the City: Coevolution of Railway and Tianjin, 1908-1917



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