Qianmen trams

April 24th, 2008

I think I’ll have to get myself down to Qianmen with a camera some time in the next couple of weeks. It seems the renovations are nearly done, and this article heralds the return of trams to the streets of Beijing. It’s hard to tell, exactly, from those two photos by 新京报/The Beiing News’ Han Meng, but it seems that the trams might have a certain retro style to them:

But black and white works better:

Anyway, the article, by TBN’s Wang Cheng, tells us:


Yesterday, the  “clank-clank cars” [trams- anybody got a better slang term?] , the trams Qianmen No. 1 and Qianmen No. 2 drove into Qianmen Dajie then split up, one going to each of the two stations to the east and west of Zhengyang Bridge. Test operations are planned to begin around May 1.


Tram installation work finished around 6am


At around 11 yesterday, the two trams named “Qianmen No. 1” and “Qianmen No. 2” slowly drove up from the south end of Qianmen Dajie, going and stopping along a tramline of over 800 metres, passing through the bonsai trees on the two sides of the road south of “Zhengyang Bridge”, splitting up with one entering each station on the east and west sides of “Zhengyang Bridge.”


At around 6 yesterday evening, construction workers near “Qianmen No. 1″‘s station said the “clank-clank cars” were shipped to the south end of Qianmen Dajie in the early hours of yesterday morning, and after they were unloaded, a crane lifted them onto their tracks, and the installation work on the tramline had basically been finished by about 6 am.


Open-style clank-clank car station


North of the Zhengyang Bridge archway are the “Qianmen No. 1” and “Qianmen No. 2” stations, one to the east, one to the west. At the end of the line are two power poles, next to which are open-style stations.


Yesterday nearby construction workers said this was the clank-clank cars’ “filling station”. When the trams enter the station they can immediately recharge their batteries. One worker recalled that when the trams entered the station for the first time around midday yesterday, because one tram didn’t have enough electricity, it couldn’t move, and so it had to be pushed into the station.


Appearance of new and old clank-clank cars not the same


The two “clank-clank cars” were built according to the old style: light blue roof, light green body, alternate brown or light blue chassis, a power pole on the roof. Each tram has a tow bar at each end, in the centre are two rows of benches, and there are hand rails inside.


“Returning to Qianmen Dajie half a century after the age of clank-clank cars, the trams’ appearance has changed.” Mr Shen, the 50-something security guard of Wanfu Property Management Company said, originally the  four sides of the “clank-clank cars” were open.


According to workers, along with the completion of the renovation work, test runs of the “clank-clank cars” are expected around May Day.

■ 铛铛车简历

■ History of clank-clank cars

铛铛车是北京老居民对有轨电车的称呼,原先由司机站立开车,在行驶过程中,司机不断地用脚踩响铃铛,发出 “dangdang”之响提醒行人注意,因而音译为“铛铛车”。北京市第一条有轨电车于1914年12月正式通车,路线南起前门,经司法部街、西单、西 四、新街口至西直门,全程9公里。此后,北京的西长安街、永定门、天坛北、北京体育馆路等路线也陆续开通有轨电车。前门至天桥的有轨电车因后来城区改造, 于上世纪五六十年代停运,至今已有半个世纪之久。

“Clank-clank cars” are what old Beijing residents called trams, originally because the drivers drove standing up, and as they drove, constantly trod on the bell, making a “clank-clank” sound to warn pedestrians to be careful, and so they came to be called “clank-clank cars”. The route began at Qianmen and passed through Fabu Jie, Xidan, Xisi and Xinjiekou to Xizhimen, 9 kilometres in all. Later Beijing’s West Changan Jie, Yongdingmen, Tiantan North, and Beijing Gymnasium tram routes opened successively. Because of changes in the city area, the Qianmen to Tianqiao line ceased operating in the 1950s or 1960s of last century, already half a century ago.

Alright, I decided it was fun to call trams “clank-clank cars”. I mean, it’s a pretty appropriate name for them, really.

I also think it’s cool that they’ve been renovating the Qianmen area to some approximation of the ’20s or ’30s or whatever their plan was. This city needs a lot more development with local character, not that bland, international, just-like-every-bloody-other-city rubbish like we’ve got around the CBD or those fancy apartment blocks around Jiulongshan.

Sure, hutong redevelopment has so far turned out to have a bit of an “ersatz” look to it so far- Nanchizi, for example. But:

  1. “Ersatz Lao Beijing” is better than no Lao Beijing. Really. And with time and the rise of more culturally-aware people to positions of influence and leadership, things will improve.
  2. The hutongs were never frozen in any sort of static, “This Is Lao Beijing” state. I mean, take a stroll through the hutongs and pay attention- it’s surprising just how many late-19th/early-20th century “Western”-style buildings can be found, and how many “Western”-looking elements were incorporated into otherwise Chinese buildings. Oh, and weren’t many of the crumbling, over-crowded courtyards of today originally beautiful family homes- as in homes for a single, wealthy family? Current hutong renovation projects are just the latest round of renewal and adaptation.

Anyway, I’m curious to see what has become of Qianmen, so sometime in the next couple of weeks I might take my camera and go for a walk down that way.

4 Responses to “Qianmen trams”

  1. Micah Sittig Says:

    I think in the US we’d traditionally translate the sound of a tram bell as “clang-clang”. I think “ding-ding” would sound better myself.

    I think “bonsai trees” for 盆景树 is a little strange because of the Japanese/Chinese thing. Maybe “planters” or “decorative shrubbery”?

    This is really exciting news to me. Shanghai is starting work on a tram system in my neighborhood of, ironically, Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park. If if is useful there are rumors that it will also be reintroduced to the Bund area.

  2. wangbo Says:

    I know, I took a few liberties with it. I wrote “clank-clank” because I didn’t read all the way through to the “history of trams” at the end and I was imagining the clanking noise of the trams rattling along their rails. Then I read why they were called “dangdangche” and thought, I translated it wrong, but who cares? The bonsai trees, you’re right, I just raced through that a bit too quickly without thinking about it.

  3. Micah Sittig Says:

    Ahh, then you have the gift (of translation) that I don’t have: speed ;)

  4. wangbo Says:

    Yeah, speed and carelessness. Nah, mate, it takes me ages.