Zhongxian Xiao is a PhD student in the history of science and technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. His scholarly interests lie in infrastructure studies, science, technology, and society, and the history of technology. His work examines the rise of infrastructural expertise and the lasting impact of infrastructure building on everyday lives in Maoist and post-socialist China.

Conceiving Chinese Speed: Sociotechnical Imaginaries of High-Speed Rail in Post-1978 China

Since the 1980s, Chinese officials and technocrats have been presenting a rosy image of high-speed railway growth under the label of ‘Chinese Speed’. In this context, the Ministry of Railways conceived of the acceleration of train speeds as a techno-fix to the problems that public transportation and the national economy faced in post-socialist China. In the twentieth-first century, however, a mounting social critique of high-speed rail in China demonstrated public distrust of this technocratic order. In response to these criticisms, after the Wenzhou train collision on 23 July 2011, the MoR refashioned a technological-determinist mentality of speed into a discourse highlighting techno-risk regulation and economic rationales. This move shows how the meaning of Chinese Speed is a multiply authored cultural idea that has been transformed through technocratic–civil contestation.

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