Human-powered Metropolis : Push-car Railway in Taiwan and Spatial Construction of Colonial Urban Spaces

Youjia LI (Presenter)

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


This paper examines the innovation of human-powered push-car railway, its subsequent diffusion from Japan to colonial Taiwan, and its transformative effects on colonial urban spaces in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Human driving carriages on railways was an underwritten chapter in urban railway transporation, which usually features horse-drawn or electrified railways as precedents to the subway system. Although mostly used as leisure transport in Japan’s urban areas – such as around shrine and hot spring regions – the push-car railway system operated on a much larger scale all 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. By the time of its final retirement in the 1970s, it had helped remapped the city hierachy of Taiwan, becoming an icon in indigenous memories of colonial modernization. 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 that characterized Japan’s first colonization project. This paper also proposes that mundane refinement of semantic forms of technology could be just as important as the pursuit of advanced technology in transforming social behavior, reshaping urban spaces, and defining modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes
EventThe 22nd Asian Studies Conference Japan - International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan
Duration: 30 Jun 20181 Jul 2018


ConferenceThe 22nd Asian Studies Conference Japan
Abbreviated titleASCJ 2018


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