Human-Powered Colonialism - Push-Car Railway in Taiwan and Spatial Construction of Colonial Urban Spaces

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:50 AM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Youjia Li, Northwestern University
This paper examines the innovation of human-powered push-car railway, its subsequent diffusion from Japan to colonial Taiwan, and how its transformative effects on colonial urban spaces redefine modernity in the late nineteenth century. Human pushing carriages on railways was an underwritten chapter in urban railway transportation. Although mostly used as leisure transport in Japan’s urban or suburb areas – such as around shrine and hot spring regions – the push-car railway system operated on a much larger scale across Taiwan. Invented as an expedient way to deploy Japanese troops across Taiwan’s hinterlands, it soon expanded into a massive system of civilian passenger and cargo transportation under both spontaneous and official initiatives. As an integral element of Japan’s first colonial modernization project, the push-car railway industry was one of a few industries in which Japanese administrators and entrepreneurs had to work closely with local capital, which showcases the constant negotiation and compromises on both sides of the colonial structure. A mundane refinement of semantic forms of technology, the push car railway remapped urban hierarchy and landscape in Taiwan, reshapes social behavior through daily movements, and thus helps redefine modernity in the colonial context with subtle differences from “home.”