Boys and toys

Opportunities to to learn more about China present themselves in odd places.

I was  rummaging my desk drawers the other day and found an old computer game ‘Railroad Tycoon II’ which looked cool back then and came cheap.
It’s about building railway companies and making money. Guess what, it contains a map of China.

Cast back to the 1850’s, I spent my Christmas holidays laying tracks between Shanghai and Nanjing, making some easy money by transporting passengers.
Which I re-invested to connect to Beijing, some 1000 km’s north of Nanjing. The gameplay made the passengers spend at least 4 months on the train. The investment turned out to be extremely profitable, from which I can only conclude my customers brought their picknicks along. Deceased passengers usually do not make much of a recurring business.

17th century steam engines do not crank out a lot of horsepower, so I was lucky to operate on the relatively flat North China Plain ( have a look here for a quick overview of China’s geography )

Connecting to Zhanjiang in the south was an entirely different matter.
Not only for the distance ( 2500 km’s to Beijing ), China’s south – and its west – are hilly, to say the least. Steam technology still doesn’t go very well with up-hill transport.
Did you know steam engines used sand for better traction ? Check out this picture to see how ingenious these machines really were.
In the end, the lap proved a little overstretched for transporting sugar.

Trains appear to be a big thing in post-imperial China.
From Sun Yat-Sen’s vision in which a modern China needs a dense railway network up to today’s fascination for high-speed trains.
China does maintain a tradition to have engineers as political leaders. Perhaps ‘boys and toys’ is a universal human trait – among those predestined to becoming male engineers, that is.

Note, there’s an interesting discussion in The Economist about railway safety in China ( mind the recurring business ) – the discussion is more interesting than the article itself.

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