Ghosts of Gold Mountain: Who Built the American Railroad? 


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Chinese workers in the snow constructing the first American transcontinental railways

In the 1860s, roughly 20,000 Chinese from the Guangdong province were shipped to America to labour at building the transcontinental railways. They came for the lure of gold. However, few of them moved outside their camp or learnt English. They faced a lot of hardships, breaking rocks and living for a pittance. What drove them there? What did they face? 

Author Gordon H. Chang  has uncovered the plight of these workers in his latest book, Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad. Chang is Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities at Stanford University. He has written a number of books on Asian-American history and US–East Asian interactions. 

Washington Independent Review of Books says Chang “ has dedicated himself to speaking for a group that cannot speak for itself, even in absentia. He’s dubbed them the ‘ghosts’ of his title because, while the work they did was about as tangible as it gets, their individual identities have evaporated.

(Gold Mountain was not a specific peak in the railroad’s path but a generic term among the Chinese for America, signaling one of the main allures of coming here.)”

While American and Chinese relations remain twitteringly ambiguous, the book has been rated well by many reviewers. Peter Cozzens, Wall Street Journal, calls this non-fiction book “gripping”.

The South China Post appreciated the narrative but critiques it for lacking in authenticity as Chang has used Mandarin words where the labourers could not have known the official language of China, which remained the forte of the educated elite in those days. Most of these people would have been speaking dialect.

Read more about the book in the article in South China Post.

 

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