- Modern Railway Technology Transfer to China: The Case of Kiaotsi Railway, 1898–1914 by Bin Wang
In recent decades, a number of books and papers have been published on the history of the construction and operation of the Kiaotsi Railway (Jiaoji tielu 胶济铁路) and its impact on the economy and society of Shandong. A new monograph by Wang Bin, Modern Railway Technology Transfer to China: The Case of Kiaotsi Railway, 1898–1914, with its perspective on technology transfer and reference to German-language materials, is one of the latest examples of such fruitful research.
The Kiaotsi Railway connects Qingdao (a harbor by Jiaozhou Bay) and Jinan (the capital of Shandong Province), traversing most of the province from east to west. The railway was built by the Germans from 1899 to 1904. The Shandong city of Gaomi, past which the Kiaotsi Railway runs, was the hometown of the Chinese novelist Mo Yan, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in October 2012. Mo’s stories, said to merge folk tales, history, and the contemporary with magic realism, sometimes take place against the backdrop of the railway.
Why did the Germans choose to build a branch line in Shandong rather than a main line in the hinterland when they came to China? From a macroscopic perspective, Germany was a relative latecomer to the imperialist scramble for colonies across the globe in general, and in China in particular, and could therefore only develop in territories not yet encroached upon by Britain, France, America, Russia, and the other great powers of the time. From a microscopic perspective, the German navy desired to compete with Britain’s Royal Navy for supremacy and to seek a suitable foothold on the coast in North China, where Qingdao was the ideal choice.
In November 1897, two German missionaries were murdered in Shandong. This event, known as the “Juye Incident,” served as an excuse for the German military occupation of Jiaozhou Bay. The following year, the Qing government was forced [End Page 211] by the Germans to sign the Treaty of the Lease of Jiaozhou Bay, by which Germany leased Jiaozhou Bay and seized the rights for the construction of railway lines and the mining of local coal deposits. Construction of the railway from Qingdao to Jinan began 25 August 1899. Five years later, this 435-kilometer-long railway was finished and opened to traffic.
1 Perspective of Technology Transfer
Academic circles in mainland China have long been influenced by ideology, and as a consequence research on railways has been done mostly from the perspective of the Western imperialist invasion, which, to some extent, has obstructed an objective and comprehensive analysis of the impact of Western railway technology on the economy and society of China. The past three decades have witnessed China’s opening up to the West, which has made possible the learning and borrowing of Western historical theories and methods. Taking advantage of the new academic atmosphere, Wang has been able to embark on a new study of the Kiaotsi Railway from the perspective of technology transfer. Furthermore, as a matter of personal motivations, Wang was born in Shandong and attended university in Qingdao and thus is familiar with the Kiaotsi Railway.
Technology transfer usually takes place between a country that possesses a certain kind of advanced technology and a country that has no such technology or a relatively lower technological capability. From 1835, when the first railway was built in Germany, through the late nineteenth century, railway technology and management had matured in Germany, which offered a precondition for the implementation of technology transfer. However, mere maturity of technology and management could not guarantee the success of technology transfer. Although the technology transfer for the Kiaotsi Railway happened in an era when China was in a passive position and unable to confront Western power, this did not mean that Germany could unilaterally exercise such influence upon Chinese traditions as to cause...