One Ticket, One Card, One Person: Legibility and Wayfinding in the Chinese Rail System

Authors: Dylan Brady*, University of Oregon
Topics: China, Cultural Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: materiality, infrastructure, state, citizenship, more-than-human, rail
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper traces the material flows of tickets and ID cards to investigate the constitution of the Chinese rail system as a far-flung but coherent state space. This paper emerges out of a research project which draws on participant observation and interviews, examining how the embodied practices and material interactions of being a rail passenger shape senses of citizenship and national identity. Passengers must constantly produce themselves as legible subjects in order to enter and navigate through stations and carriages, and they do so through two things in particular: the ticket and the Chinese national ID card. In 2012, China Rail rolled out a new computerized ticketing system which allowed online purchase, but attached each ticket to a specific individual through their national identification card. Even as ticketing has become increasingly virtual, however, the materiality of the ticket remains central not just to the wayfinding of passengers. In 2014, a terror attack on the Kunming railway station triggered a new wave of securitization, cutting rail space apart from public space and greatly restricting flows. Both the ticket and the ID play a key role in this new regulation. A close reading of ticket and ID sheds light on how "more-than-human" things articulate together vast infrastructural assemblages like the Chinese rail system, juxtaposing the intimate scale of everyday life against the "macro" scales of nation and state.

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