Elisabeth Köll, "Railroads and the Transformation of China" (Harvard UP, 2019)


Railroads and the Transformation of China (Harvard University Press, 2019) looks at the development of railroads in China from the late 19th century to the post-Mao reform period. Treating railroads as institutions, Elisabeth Köll charts how railroads and railway management companies were constructed and developed, how railway lines were disrupted by war, and then how they were re-organized and re-structured – often by re-packaging pre-1949 ideas – in the Communist period. Throughout Köll is attentive to historical continuities and disruptions, paying particular attention to the tensions that existed between centralization and decentralization, which, as she shows, ultimately created a system where regionally autonomous railroad bureaus exist within a centralized hierarchy. By drawing on sources that range from archival materials to oral testimonies, Köll has created not only the first comprehensive history of railroad operation in China, but also a book filled with fascinating details, including the absurdities of railroad accounting practices in semi-colonial China, what you learn when you look at the rate of railroad accidents during the Great Leap Forward (spoiler alert: as you will hear in the podcast, the rates are definitely not good!), and much, much more, all of which will be of interest to historians and railfans alike.
Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a PhD candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilization at Harvard University. She is interested in translation, Manchu language books, and anything that involves a good kesike.

Your Host

Sarah Bramao-Ramos

Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a Research Assistant Professor at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. She can be reached at sarahbr@hku.hk
View Profile