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  • The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroaded. by Gordan Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin
  • Marimas Hosan Mostiller (bio)
Gordan Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, editors. The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad. Asian America, Firstedition. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019. xiii, 539 pp. Paperback $30.00. isbn978-1-5036-0924-2.

The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroadis an anthology that aims to tell the story of Chinese railroad workers who are largely forgotten in the U.S. history. In popular and academic writing, Chinese railroad workers are viewed as mere background to center the railroad project, and little [End Page 247]is known about their actual lives. In the anthology's introduction, Gordon H. Chang, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, and Hilton Obenzinger note that Chinese railroad workers are not viewed as "agents of history" (p. 3). This is in part because there are few written narratives and archives from these laborers. In 2012, the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University was formed, and over 100 scholars from a number of disciplines worked together to find primary sources in English, Chinese, and other languages to build the Project. This anthology is a production of this Project.

The introduction of the anthology also states: "the story of Chinese railroad workers is necessarily a story of transpacific connections and of the intertwined social, economic, and political histories of nineteenth-century China and the United States" (pp. 5–6). With the passage of the 1862 Pacific Railway Act, the Central Pacific Railroad Company was set to build the first transcontinental railroad from Sacramento, California, to Promontory, Utah. The history of the railroad work was divided into four periods: (1) 1862–mid-1865 in which President Abraham Lincoln authorized the Pacific Railway Act and also the beginning of Chinese railroad work; (2) mid-1865 to mid-1867 in which Chinese workers began to organize and strike for better wages; (3) mid-1867 to May 1869, which marked the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, but left Chinese railroad workers publicly unrecognized in the railroad's construction; and (4) June 1869–1889, which focused on the completion of the railroad, the continued nonrecognition of Chinese railroad workers, and the emergence of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The story of Chinese railroad workers moves beyond knowledge of the railroad and is then also a story of the Chinese diaspora, which is foundational in ethnic U.S. history and Asian American history. The anthology is divided into four sections: (1) Global Perspectives, (2) Ties to China, (3) Life on the Line, (4) Chinese Railroad Workers in Cultural Memory, and (5) Chinese Railroad Workers After Promontory.

"Section One: Global Perspectives" offered two essays that utilized a transnational approach to viewing Chinese railroad workers. In chapter 1, Gordon H. Chang examined how the railroad connected the United States and China and emphasized how the railroad was also utilized as an American nation-building tool to heal the nation from the more recent Civil War. In chapter 2, Evelyn Hu-Dehart focused on locales in which Chinese laborers lived and speculated on the reasons behind why laborers decided to work abroad. Hu-Dehart challenged the exaggeration that migrants from Pearl River delta of Guangdong Province were leaving for work simply because the region was impoverished, instead Hu-Dehart argued that it was likely that because these laborers lived near ports, they were less bewildered and intimidated by recruiters for these work opportunities. Hu-Dehart also speculated that laborers [End Page 248]who migrated to Cuba between the 1860s and 1870s were more likely forced into these positions than those who migrated and worked in California.

"Section Two: Ties to China" offered three essays that examined the social, cultural, familial, and economic ties that Chinese railroad workers had to their home villages, which shaped their social behavior in the United States. In chapter 3, Zhang Guoxiong with Roland Hsu focused on the Chinese railroad workers' return home and explained how these hometowns were influenced by the return. In chapter 4, Yuan Ding, with Roland Hsu...


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