Sunday, May 12, 2019

From the Bookshelves: Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang

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Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang

A groundbreaking, breathtaking history of the Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, helping to forge modern America only to disappear into the shadows of history until now.

From across the sea, they came by the thousands, escaping war and poverty in southern China to seek their fortunes in America. Converging on the enormous western worksite of the Transcontinental Railroad, the migrants spent years dynamiting tunnels through the snow-packed cliffs of the Sierra Nevada and laying tracks across the burning Utah desert. Their sweat and blood fueled the ascent of an interlinked, industrial United States. But those of them who survived this perilous effort would suffer a different kind of death—a historical one, as they were pushed first to the margins of American life and then to the fringes of public memory. 

In this groundbreaking account, award-winning scholar Gordon H. Chang draws on unprecedented research to recover the Chinese railroad workers’ stories and celebrate their role in remaking America. An invaluable correction of a great historical injustice, The Ghosts of Gold Mountain returns these “silent spikes” to their rightful place in our national saga.

Andrew Graybill reviews the book for the New York Times.  The concluding paragraph of the review:

"The poignancy of such stories has preoccupied Chang since he was a child, and so in 2012 he and several colleagues established the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford. Its team of interdisciplinary researchers has combed through archives and interviewed descendants of the workers, for whom — like the author — the story is deeply personal. And yet it is a powerful political project, too. “The labor of the Railroad Chinese,” Chang declares, is `the purchase of, and the irrefutable claim to, American place and identity.' In our own time, much the same could be said of other immigrant workers as well, especially the millions of Mexicans whose labor puts food on American tables and roofs over American heads."  

Here is an interview with Gordon Chang.

Ghosts of Gold Mountain is a timely intervention, as the nation celebrates the 150 anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinentla Railroad.


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