China Underground > China Book Library: Uncover Rich Chinese Literature and Art > Harmony Express: A Look into China’s Fast-Track Change

Harmony Express: A Look into China’s Fast-Track Change

Last Updated on 2023/10/31

Thomas Bird Chronicles China’s Rail Revolution.

Thomas Bird, once the editor of a lifestyle magazine and a rock band member, found himself in southern China after significant changes in his personal and professional life. With a focus on using China Railways as a means to document and understand the rapid transformation occurring within the country, Bird embarked on a years-long journey that took him through various landscapes and brought him into contact with a myriad of individuals.


The backdrop of Bird’s travels is China’s extraordinary investment in its railway network, a boom unparalleled in world history. China Railways is at the center of a nationwide push to expand and modernize transportation infrastructure. By the end of 2020, the total length of high-speed rail lines in China reached 22,000 miles, making it the world’s largest high-speed rail network. This expansion not only serves the country’s economic agenda but also acts as a catalyst for social and cultural change.

Bird’s journey spanned from the technological hub of Shenzhen to the colonial-influenced city of Xiamen, covering a diverse range of locations and modes of train travel. One leg of his adventure took him to Shanghai via a Maglev train, one of the fastest commercial trains in the world, with speeds up to 431 km/h (268 mph). Bird also traveled through Sichuan Province on a traditional steam locomotive and made his way to Lhasa, often referred to as the “third pole” due to its high altitude and extreme conditions.

Central to Bird’s account are the people he encounters during his travels. He chose to make individuals he met on trains and in stations the focal point of his narrative. In doing so, Bird aims to provide a well-rounded portrait of China during a time of rapid change, from the lives of ordinary citizens to the broader socio-economic landscape.

Author’s Biography

In 2005, Thomas Bird left the damp suburbs of Britain to make his way to East Asia. Initially gaining experience in journalism by serving as a magazine editor in southern China, he has spent the past decade contributing to various leading international publications. He regularly writes for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has co-written over ten guidebooks, the most recent of which is The Rough Guide to Thailand. Bird has a fondness for train journeys, enjoys craft beer, and is intrigued by the philosophy of Zhuangzi.

Topics: Thomas Bird China travel, China Railways expansion, Harmony EXPRESS journey, high-speed rail in China, Maglev train Shanghai, Sichuan Province steam locomotive, Shenzhen to Xiamen train, Lhasa third pole railway, cultural change in China through rail, human stories on China’s trains

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