Event Detail


Harmony Express: Finding the New China via a 3-year Railway Odyssey

Thomas Bird
Wednesday, 31 Jan 2024
The Executive Centre. Level 15, AIA Central, 1 Connaught Road, Central
Complimentary Free-Flow Fine Wines from 6:45 pm; Talk at 7:30 pm
Due to an overwhelming response, the venue for the event has been changed to The Executive Centre. Level 15, AIA Central

Thomas Bird, a popular 3-time speaker at RGS-HK, set out on a daunting year to explore all of China by train.  The country was in the midst of a railway building boom the likes of which the world had never seen.  In this talk, he tells the story of his extraordinary journey, replete with wry personal anecdotes and sharp-witted observations.  His witty, insightful and knowledgeable narrative is a paradigm about the country’s continued struggle for modernity. 

Thomas tells of how one year morphed into several as he whizzed from high-tech Shenzhen to Xiamen at high-speed; “flew” into Shanghai aboard a Maglev; chugged through rural Sichuan Province on a steam locomotive: and traversed the “third pole” en route to Lhasa. Putting the people he met front and centre, Thomas gives portrait of an era, as he grapples to comprehend an inscrutable land undergoing breakneck change.

Thomas sought out the nooks and crannies of the world’s longest and fastest rail network, from small villages to giant, skyscraper- festooned cities, all plugged into this unfathomably rich honeycomb of rail.  He shows how China has a one-track mind to develop as fast as possible, from a century ago when China’s railways lagged behind the rest of the world, as represented by its stealthy new fleet of Harmony trains. 

Through his travels, Thomas comes to view Chinese trains as “time-machines” bridging the impoverished countryside, tumbledown third-tier towns and gilded megacities, painting a vivid picture of sprawling land.  From rockers who blend surf, reggae and Chaoshan opera, to a rebel photographer who shares Thomas’s passion for riding the rails, he tells of the country’s continued struggle for modernity. 

Thomas Bird is from the United Kingdom and moved to East Asia in 2005.  He holds Masters degrees in Chinese Studies from the University of London and Modern Chinese Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.  Having become Chief Editor of a Shenzhen magazine, over the last decade, Thomas has written for a host of top international publications.  A regular contributor to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, he has co-authored more than ten guidebooks including, most recently, The Rough Guide to Thailand.  He likes train travel, craft beer and the teachings of Zhuangzi.

Members of the RGS-HK, their guests and others are most welcome to attend this event, which is HK$200 for RGS Members and HK$250 for guests and others, including free-flow drinks.

The Royal Geographical Society - Hong Kong wishes to express its thanks to The Executive Centre for being the generous Venue Sponsor of this talk.


The opinions expressed in this talk are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Geographical Society - Hong Kong.

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