Chinese on the Train

Published by Beijing United Publishing Co., Ltd., November

From 1978 to 2014, Wang Fuchun took the train hundreds of times, traveling more than 100,000 kilometers. This famous Chinese photographer shot about 10,000 photos, recording Chinese people’s diverse lives as they traveled by train. This book features 114 pictures he shot during the 1980s and 1990s, of which 37 have never before been published.

1998: On a train from Tongliao City to Ulanqab City, both in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Wang was a railway worker. This experience gave him a special affection for the railways. His camera was always drawn to trains and their passengers. The black and white pictures in his book record unique characteristics of the period shortly after the reform and opening-up policies were launched: old-style mobile phones, permed hair and T-shirts printed with portraits of movie stars began to be seen in public. His photos also capture moments of Chinese life during a trip: children weeping while seeing someone off, a peddler hawking goods and the departure moment of couples. People from many distant places in China have met on trains, temporarily, among them was a photographer hunting for any interesting moment. A seemingly normal look or behavior can carry rich meaning. His diverse pictures introduced a China flowing on the railway.

1995: On a train from Xining, Qinghai Province to Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

Wang wrote in the preface of the book: “I recorded my feelings about the unforgettable history of China’s railway at the end of last century with those pictures. I felt lucky to be attached to the railway and have the chance to shoot the changing times from this perspective and witness the remarkable changes on China’s railway since the beginning of the country’s reform and opening up.” 

1994: On a train from Beijing to Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

Yang Shaoming, chairman of the Society of Worldwide Ethnic Chinese Photographers, opines that Chinese on the Train is emblematic of China’s migrating society. It also mirrors the development of Chinese society. In a way, Wang X-rayed society and life with the third eye of the human being. Vivid, authentic, and accurate, those pictures not just gain interest and sympathy among readers, but they are also valuable records of history. The vivid pictures were captured solely thanks to his passion over a long period of time, without pay. He is clearly a key witness to the era since the country began its reform and opening up.

1994: On a train from Guangzhou, Guangdong Province to Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

Wang is now a freelance photographer living in Beijing. He graduated with a photography degree from Harbin Normal University in the 1960s. Wang once served as a photographer and editor for Harbin’s Institute of Railways. He is a member of the Society of Worldwide Ethnic Chinese Photographers and the China Photographers Association. He has shot many photographic series including Chinese on the Train, China’s Steam Locomotives, Chinese in the Subway, Tibetans on the Way to Heaven, and Pictures of Chinese People in 30 Years. He has won the Golden Statue Award, the top prize for photography in China. His works have been exhibited in countries including Britain, France, and Italy. 

From steam locomotives to bullet trains, Chinese on the Train not only features passengers from all walks of life, but also documents the history of China’s railways. Pictured is a steam train traveling from Tongliao City to Ulanqab City, both in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in 1998.

Related articles