The Small Trains of Yunnan

The Small Trains of Yunnan


Two Frenchmen, Auguste François, honorary consul general delegated to the Yunnan railway and Georges-Auguste Marbotte, chartered accountant for Waligorski, a subcontracting company of the French Indochina and Yunnan Railway Company from 1903 to 1908 have left us a unique testimony of this era and the great epic of the Yunnan railroad.
Source :

1. Georges-Auguste Marbotte and Auguste François

Surrounded by locals here, he uses his free hours to indulge his passion for photography. Auguste François also fixes his daily life on film as in this self-portrait where he brandishes two leopard cubs. He owned several domestic animals including a tame panther. © Georges-Auguste Marbotte / Auguste François


2. They fix on the film

Bureaucrats (left) or the privileged class of civilians, such as the Yi people here.
©Auguste Francois


3. Photo of Auguste François

The wooden suspension bridge spans the Da Du He River between China and Tibet. It leads to a monumental covered door on two floors and a few houses along the river. © Auguste François

Yunnan wooden suspension bridge

4. In the event of excessive congestion

As here the metal frames intended for the establishment of a bridge on crossbowmen, the transport was done on the backs of men. Out of 60,000 local workers who worked on this site, 12,000 died. This is the dark part of this giant project. © Georges-Auguste Marbotte


5. Auguste François lived in Yunnanfu (Kunming) from 1899 to 1904.

Renamed Kunming in 1913, the city was founded under Hans (206 BC-220 AD). The city had 50,000 intramural inhabitants during the time of Auguste François. Its current population exceeds six and a half million. © Auguste François


6. Railway construction site

They had no other access route than these mountain paths which had to be enlarged for the transport of materials and food. Transport could be done on the back of animals provided that the loads did not exceed 80 kilos. 12,000 animals were needed. © Georges-Auguste Marbotte


7. Near the crossbow bridge at kilometer 111.

Its construction required new techniques. Engineer Paul Bodin has developed a solution assembling two triangular trusses anchored lower in the cliff. It is a 67-meter long arch bridge. This unique work was completed in just eight months. © Georges-Auguste Marbotte

the small trains of yunnan

8. The two openings on either side of the crossbow bridge at kilometer 111

This three-hinged metal arch bridge is a world first. It spans a 102-meter gorge above a tributary of the Nanxi River. Forced to return to France in May 1908, Georges-Auguste Marbotte, therefore, did not have the opportunity to contemplate this completed architectural masterpiece. © Georges-Auguste Marbotte


9. 172 tunnels were drilled and 3,422 bridges were built.

In the end, 3,628 structures were completed: viaducts, embankments, aqueducts, retaining walls, etc.


More beautiful photos (between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century):

the small trains of yunnan


1. Auguste François (1857-1935), Minister Plenipotentiary with a dignitary from Yunnan
2. Local Opera
3. Ethnic minority soldier
4. Portrait of a Qing Dynasty Father and Daughter
5. Manzu women with bound feet

The new Yunnan Railway Museum in Kunming

This museum traces the history of this incredible construction site. A dive into the heart of China at the start of the 20th century and the industrial era.


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