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 professor Gordon H. Chang draws on unprecedented research to recover the Chinese railroad workers’ stories and celebrate their role in remaking America. A lack of primary sources detailing the lives of the men who built one half of the transcontinental railroad—not a single diary and only a few letters—means Chang is forced to rely on payroll documents, inventory lists, folk songs, and other such sources to piece together his story. His writing is vibrant and passionate; he has searched as widely as he can to try to render his subjects as “vital, living, and feeling human beings who made history.” He examines the workers’ strike of 1867, brothels, violence against the Chinese, and other aspects of their lives.
“The lived experience of the Railroad Chinese has long been elusive… Chang’s book is a moving effort to recover their stories and honor their indispensable contribution to the building of modern America.”–The New York Times