Long ago, I developed a special affection for railways while working in the industry. When I became a freelance photographer, naturally, my lens was more attracted to locomotives galloping down endless bars of steel, carrying travelers to a plethora of destinations. Over the past three decades, I amassed more than 1,000 railway journeys totaling a distance of over 100,000 kilometers while visiting places like Mohe in the North, Guangzhou in the South, Golmud in the West, and Shanghai in the East. During my travels, I captured tens of thousands of pictures, documenting the wide range of lifestyles I witnessed along the way.
Although China’s total rails now exceed 90,000 kilometers, comparing this distance to the total population would allot each citizen the length of a cigarette.
In the past, frequent and incomparably heavy population flows increased pressure on China’s railway industry and constantly presented new challenges. The simple act of purchasing a ticket could be incredibly difficult at times, and the trip itself was often far from comfortable. When they presented themselves, I took the opportunities to snap pictures of such scenes happening in train cabins as they were transforming into unique capsulated societies, which together formed an unforgettable chapter of the nation’s railway history.
Since the turn of the 21st century, China has launched six rounds of the national rail acceleration campaign, increasing operating speed from 100 to 250 kilometers per hour and introducing the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railways with a designed maximum speed of 350 kilometers per hour and the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway at 380 kilometers per hour. In the cutting-edge cars, passengers can pass time surfing the internet, chatting online, playing video games, watching movies, listening to music, chatting on mobile phones, or trading stock. The scenes atop China’s rails have changed as drastically as anything else in the country.
I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to witness so many lives from such an angle, and these photos showcase the remarkable accomplishments of the Chinese railway industry over the past 30-plus years since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy.??