WANG Fuchun has taken 200,000 photographs in his 40-year career on China’s railways, and he has been quick to bring out his camera on his British travels for the launch of his touring exhibition at the

National Railway Museum in York.

From that remarkable resource, 43 candid black and white portraits of his fellow passengers have been selected by Mr Wang in tandem with the NRM and Science Museum Group for display in One Billion Journeys: Wang Fuchun’s Chinese on the Train. Some are being shown for the first time; others are personal selections; all are divided into five themes: Loving & Caring, Entertainment & Boredom, Work, Comfort and Health & Spirituality.

Such is Mr Wang’s love of train travel that he declined the invitation to be picked up by car for one meeting in Beijing about the exhibition. Instead he took the train, asking to be met at the metro.

What’s more, Mr Wang does not own a car or have a driving licence. Trains are his preference, his train of thought, as it were, as he climbs aboard to record the diversity of life on China’s railways.

He likes the longer journeys, he revealed at Thursday’s exhibition launch. Journey of more than four hours, as the passengers tire and their faces become more expressive of emotion and character, as if filled with an imprint of their travels.

A railway worker by training– he followed his brother’s path – Mr Wang was accepted into the Train Driver Training School of Suihua Railway in 1963, aged 20 and worked in several positions before becoming a full-time photographer in 1984.

Although not a journalist, there is a documentarian’s nous at work, the instincts of a photojournalist, in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, his passion for his subject leading him to spend long, long hours in pursuit of the right shot.

Mr Wang has travelled on every railway line in China, clocking up more than 4,000 railway journeys and even suffered for his candid camera art, whether being attacked on a train from Shanghai in 2015 or breaking his ribs twice and a leg once.

He has documented Chinese society during a profound period of change.

Earlier images portray crowded, steam or diesel-hauled passenger trains used by rural workers to commute long distances to work in China’s emerging big cities.

Later photographs demonstrate the growth and pace of technological and social change, as China “opened up’ to the outside world”. China now has the world’s longest high-speed railway network, with trains

travelling up to 217mph.

As railway technology has changed, so has camera technology too, as Mr Wang switched from a Chinese twin-lensed Seagull camera to a higher quality Leica camera, before adopting digital photography in 2005.

Equally significantly too, he says people have become more guarded in the presence of his camera.

He has adapted, however, and

such is the universal love of trains and journeys that his photography has been exhibited in the United States, Russia and across Europe.

One Billion Journeys is his first show in Britain since an exhibition at Glasgow University in 2012, and this one will travel widely, like Mr Wang himself.

Aware of York and the North

East’s significant place in railway history, Mr Wang said: “I am very honoured to be here, especially coming to the city of York because in 1862 the first steam engine was designed, and steam engines are a milestone in the Industrial


“I am passionate about steam engines and steam travel, so I had a wish to bring steam trains back to York with these pictures. It feels almost like a homecoming, bringing steam travel back to where it all began.”

One Billion Journeys: Wang Fuchun’s Chinese on the Train, National Railway Museum, York, until August 11. Admission: free.

Did you know?

This is the Science Museum

Group’s first shared exhibition to start at the National Railway Museum in York.