Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fudging the facts doesn't promote tolerance: The Chinese at Promontory

Chinese railroad workers most definitely were included in the May 10, 1869 joining of the rails ceremony. Honor the memory of the heroic Chinese transcontinental railroad workers by telling their story with historical accuracy.

We are troubled by an article in today's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle which misleadingly states:

"However, although historical records show that most of the railroad was built by thousands of Chinese laborers, on the Golden Spike Day, when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways were joined at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869, the picture taken to commemorate the occasion EXCLUDED the Chinese railroad workers. That is despite the fact that they were the ones who actually laid the final tracks joining the two railways and that these Chinese workers laid 10 miles of track in one day, a record still unbroken to this day. There have been many efforts to redress this omission." [emphasis added]

Referring to "the picture taken to commemorate the occasion" fudges the facts since there were multiple pictures taken. Presumably this refers to UPRR photographer A.J. Russell's "champagne" picture as if it were the only one, while in fact Russell didn't exclude the Chinese from his photography. To the contrary, A.J. Russell took a photograph on the same day specifically to show the Chinese workers which he titled "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR."

The CPRR management went much further, commissioning the famous painting of "The Last Spike" by Thomas Hill that includes the Chinese railroad workers, as well as the earlier stereoviews taken by A.A Hart, the railroad's official photographer to promote the construction project and showing the Chinese workers.

Also omitted is a critical part of the story: the fact that the portions of the transcontinental railroad built in Utah where the golden spike ceremony was held used mostly Mormon contractors and crews, largely replacing Chinese or Irish laborers used earlier in other states.

The famous A.J. Russell photograph (or the related stereviews by Charles Savage and by A.A. Hart) could not include the Chinese workers[sic] photographed earlier participating in the joining of the rails ceremony because at the moment the famous photo was being taken it was AFTER the conclusion of the ceremony and the Chinese workers were away from the two locomotives to dine at J.H. Strobridge's boarding car, being honored and cheered by the CPRR management.

Far from the Chinese being "excluded," a reporter for the San Francisco Newsletter, May 15th, 1869, described the final moments of the celebration at Promontory:

"J.H. Strobridge, when the work was all over, invited the Chinese who had been brought over from Victory for that purpose, to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road ... a tribute they well deserved and which evidently gave them much pleasure."

The Chinese were not only not "excluded" from the ceremony on May 10, 1869, but three of them, Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao survived long enough to also be included in the commemorative parade held exactly 50 years later!

While virulent anti-Chinese racism was certainly prevelant in 19th century California, Central Pacific Railroad officials facing economic necessity, rapidly overcame their initial prejudice against the Chinese once they hired some Chinese laborers and discovered that their work was outstanding. Don't unfairly malign great men whose vision, investment, and hard work made a project many thought impossible into a stunning success.

The few surviving Chinese-American descendants of the CPRR Chinese railroad workers whose ancestors built the difficult mountainous and arid western portions of the first transcontinental railroad should look back with well justified enormous pride at their brave ancestors' amazing accomplishment – the manual construction of the greatest engineering project of the 19th century that united our nation.

What the historic record actually shows is that the CPRR management overcame the prevalent racist attitudes of the day, recognized the great value of Chinese labor, and at the completion of the railroad construction properly honored and cheered the Chinese workers who built the railroad and were included in the ceremonies on May 10th, 1869. Those Chinese were free men seeking opportunity in America, paid comparable wages in gold for their incredibly hard construction work, who were able to save two-thirds of their railroad wages to enable them to return to China with considerable wealth.

Eight Chinese railroad workers, including Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, were the men who actually joined the rails at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869 and were honored on that day by the railroad officials for the magnificent Chinese contribution to building a transcontinental America.

43 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another." —Milton Freidman, Nobel Prize Winning Economist

5/11/2006 9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is bad enough that so many people believe things without any evidence. What is worse is that some people have no conception of evidence and regard facts as just someone else’s opinion." —Thomas Sowell

5/11/2006 9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tolerance: the free, competitive marketplace makes bigotry and prejudice very expensive. ... "
Michael Cloud


The price for not overcoming the anti-Chinese sentiment prevalent in 1860's California would have been quite extreme for the railroad builders if they chose to indulge their personal prejudices – the inability to build the Central Pacific Railroad, the collapse of their business, and personal financial ruin.

The many books by economist Thomas Sowell about race explore how market economies make it too expensive to discriminate because the intolerant must bear the full cost of not hiring the best person for the job.

5/26/2006 12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A book for children claims that workers' "hazardous labor earns them only pennies a day" while the truth is that they were paid (adjusting for the current price of gold) about $1,880/month or $63/day as uneducated laborers with no experience.

[They were paid approximately 1.5 ounces of gold per month as $30 in gold coin, so the calculation is 1.5 oz gold x $1254/oz gold ÷ 30 days.]

6/25/2010 8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another online article in a publication promoting racial victimhood, Building the Pacific Railroad: Contributions Of Chinese Americans, makes all the same mistakes yet again, for example quoting incorrect conclusions from "Professor Madeline Hsu of Asian American Studies at the University of Texas-Austin [who] says, 'the absence of Chinese from the celebrations at Promontory Point, where the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, was perhaps the most glaring example [of the lack of Chinese representation].' "

As noted above, Chinese were not only present at the joining of the rails celebration, they were the ones who placed the final rail, were photographed doing this, were absent from view in photographs taken immediately after the ceremony because they were at a party with the CPRR management to recognize the Chinese contribution, and the very same Chinese men were photographed 50 years later in the parade commemorating the event.

The reason that there were not large numbers of Chinese at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869 is because that last portion of the railroad in Utah was constructed mostly by Mormon contractors, not by the CPRR Chinese workers.

9/02/2010 10:20 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

9/03/2010 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The racism against the Chinese arose from the early labor movement, not from railroad management, nor is the timing correct as the railroad was completed in 1869. Instead, the virulent anti-Chinese sentiment came later from labor leaders in the face of the continued high unemployment after the crash of 1873 which started in Europe and spread to the United States. The unemployment rate in San Francisco was 20% in 1877 when the racist Working Man's Party was agitating that "The Chinese must go." Labor leader Dennis Kearney on December 28, 1877 demonstrating in San Francisco against the Chinese said that "We intend to try and vote the Chinese out, to frighten him out, and if this won't do, to kill him out ... the heathen slaves must leave this coast." The railroad management had been in favor of immigration of Chinese labor to California. Kearney threatened the railroad managers that they must fire the Chinese workers, while also saying: "A little judicious hanging right here and now will be the best course to pursue with the capitalists and stock sharps who are all the time robbing us." So the actual history seems instead to be that labor was virulently racist, while the railroad management was in practice mostly pro-Chinese.

9/08/2010 5:55 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

9/22/2010 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By contrast to the actual safety record in the construction of the transcontinental railroad, did you know that 25,000 men died in the construction of the Panama Canal that was completed in 1914 after first French and then American efforts?

2/16/2011 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Book Review in the Maui News on March 5, 2011 by Harry Eagar of the book, The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester, opines that:

" ... the idea that China 'invented everything' has become a kind of vulgar common coin. So much so that, in California schools today, the kiddies are taught the the Chinese built the Central Pacific Railroad.

A bright fifth-grader would likely ask, then why didn’t they build one in China, and the reason is that, of course, there is more to building a railroad than pounding spikes, and China, for all its genuine innovations, was deficient in surveying, metallurgy, mechanics, theory of heat and a number of other ingredients required to build a railroad; and in other, equally important but less technological requirements, such as management and finance."

Of course the Chinese workers did provide the manual labor to construct the Central Pacific Railroad, but did not provide the innovation, engineering, entrepreneurship, and management of that great construction project in the Western United States in the 19th century. At other times and places, Chinese certainly did build all manner of railroads and other businesses, at times that their entrepreneurial spirit was not suppressed by imperial or communist government oppression.

3/05/2011 9:54 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

3/20/2011 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As the post-Civil War economy declined, labor unions struggling to organize blamed Chinese 'coolies' for undercutting wages. Hostility became widespread."

From "China Alley: Historians unearth mystery of the disappearance of Bozeman’s Chinese community." Bozeman Daily Chronicle
By GAIL SCHONTZLER, April 3, 2011.

4/03/2011 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related lesson plan.

4/09/2011 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see, The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by James M. Lindsay.

5/06/2011 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is correct and what is historically incorrect in the following account which appears in Richard Adams' review of a play published on the World Socialist Web Site?:

" ... During the 1860s, nearly half the Chinese population in the United States worked for the Central Pacific Railroad under brutal conditions. Once the transcontinental railroad was completed, two-thirds of its Chinese labor force returned to China; the rest went into fishing and agriculture, many signing labor contracts to work the former plantations of the Old South (replacing slave labor) while others migrated to frontier cities such as Los Angeles.

Sections of white immigrant workers, led by demagogues, were led to perceive these abruptly unemployed Chinese workers as a threat. ... Denis Kearney’s speech to ten thousand unemployed workers in San Francisco in 1877 ... At that rally to support striking East Coast railroad men, Kearny railed against the railroad magnates and big landowners. He reserved his most venomous attacks, however, for the Chinese workers, whom he accused of stealing 'American' jobs.

Kearney called upon the crowd to expel them from the country by force. Within minutes of his cry, 'The Chinese must go!' — which became the battle cry of the American Workingmen’s Party — a white mob rampaged through San Francisco’s Chinatown for three days, beating the men and gang-raping the women. They burned laundries and attacked the steamship docks that provided transport to China. ...

Anna Smith, chair of the Workingmen’s Committee, defended the mob’s actions, comparing them to the Minutemen of Lexington. She asserted that it was 'a mob that threw the tea overboard in Boston Harbor' and ended her oration with, 'I want to see every Chinaman thrown out of this state.' Kearney fantasized exploding dynamite-loaded balloons over Chinatown and erecting gallows on every vacant lot.

Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, painted the Chinese as liars, cheaters, murderers and opium addicts. He even insisted that Chinese men had left their wives at home so they could prey on virtuous American girls (overlooking the fact that most Chinese women were legally prohibited entry into the United States). Henry George warned that Chinese immigration would 'make the rich richer and the poor poorer' and that they would make 'princes of our capitalists and crush our working class into the dust.'

This Yellow Peril hysteria climaxed in the atrocities of 1885-1886: in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in Issaquah, Tacoma, and Seattle, Washington, and in Juneau, Alaska, where a hundred Chinese men were set adrift at sea. California had its own Klan-like 'Order of Caucasians'; it waged a relentless campaign to terrorize the Chinese. In 1885 alone, thirty-five California communities experienced anti-Chinese riots or forced expulsions."

5/29/2011 10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Chris Graves" caliron@cwnet.com

I will offer three comments re: this question:

1. Consider the source, and rise above it.

2. The more I know, the more I need to know.

3. Folks that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

The gentle reader should understand that the writer of such drivel has a message that he/she wants to deliver to influence the reader to join him/her in a rush to judgment.

I am reminded of the letter send to a fellow that had just met a young lady that appeared to have all the qualities of a fine wife.

To wit:
Friend Anonymous-
You ask me if you will not act the wiser part by marrying Miss Informed at once, and settling yourself permanently; and yet you inform me that it has been but three weeks since you first made her acquaintance. You may possibly be in jest, and perhaps in earnest: in either case, as you ask my advice, I can but give it
The choosing a life companion, dear Anonymous, is too serious a matter to be so hastily decided. The selection of a partner for a dance or a ride may be of little moment; the choice of an associate for business may be determined in a short time; but the acceptance of a partner for life requires the most serious deliberation. You should take ample time for the STUDY of the character, temperament, disposition and accomplishments of the lady (OR THE WRITER OF DRIVEL) whom you choose to be the sharer of your labors, joys, sorrows, reverses and prosperity.
To take this step hangs a large share of your happiness in life. Do not act too hastily. Trusting, however, that I will some day see you happy with your bride AND YOUR THOUGHTS, I am, as ever,
Your Most Sincere Friend

—G J Chris Graves, NewCastle, Alta Cal'a

5/30/2011 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make sure that your facts aren't
˙uʍop ǝpısdn

6/01/2011 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related comment.

7/18/2011 7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Courtesy Google Alerts, here is a comment about another apparent attempt at manufacturing a fake racial controversy, i.e., because the Chinese were supposedly excluded ("No Chinese need apply?") from a "Hell on Wheels" television script about the Union Pacific Railroad. (The controversy makes no sense, of course, as the Chinese worked for a different railroad, the Central Pacific, not for the Union Pacific which is the subject of the script.) So nobody was excluded from anything.

8/18/2011 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another ridiculous myth, this time about bodies in Lake Tahoe. Time to stop making up nonsense.

8/22/2011 7:33 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Another question received with a false premise:

"Why didn't Chinese laborers get credit for their work for the American railroad?"

They did get credit and are getting credit.

10/01/2011 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the same historical errors are again repeated in the Wall Street Journal October 26, 2011 commentary by Jeff Yang, "Do Chinese Pioneers Get Railroaded in AMC’s ‘Hell on Wheels’."

[Courtesy of Google Alerts.]

10/26/2011 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bloomer Cut accident that was reported in the Placer Herald, April 16, 1864, indicates that before Chinese workers were hired in large numbers white workers were exposed to exactly the same sorts of risks as the Chinese workers hired later, so any claims the welfare of Chinese workers was disregarded because of their race seems inconsistent with the historical evidence.

10/27/2011 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Related book: Race and Liberty in America by
Jonathan Bean
.

1/12/2012 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, The price of 'Yellow Peril', Opinion by Jeff Yang.

Explains that modern political advertising against outsourcing "American jobs" to China repeats the mistakes of the 19th century anti-Chinese sentiment. (In a free market, jobs go to China only when both countries are better off as a result.):

“ 'Sir: I am a Chinaman, a republican, and a lover of free institutions; am much attached to the principles of the government of the United States ... The effect of your late message has been … to prejudice the public mind against my people, to enable those who wait the opportunity to hunt them down. '

These were the opening lines of an open letter written by Chinese restaurant owner Norman Asing to California Governor John Bigler, who, in 1852, had demonstrated his intention to ride nativist sentiment to re-election by delivering a scabrous, xenophobic speech before the state legislature. ...

Later, he was named U.S. ambassador to Chile, and then U.S. commissioner for the Central Pacific Railroad (ironically, overseeing the greatest achievement of the so-called 'coolies' he so despised.)"

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

2/09/2012 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A March 4, 2012 article, Railroad adventure takes author to gold country, by RICHARD FROST, A Day Away, Press-Republican states,

" ... Chinese who had come to America to mine gold were denigrated for their small size, lack of skills and even their habit of bathing daily. Many white workers, however, proved unreliable, deserting their jobs for gold prospecting or other endeavors. In frustration, Crocker forced construction chief James Strobridge to hire 50 Chinese men. Despite Strobridge's harassment, none quit, and most were productive. Soon he would hire only Chinese. More than 11,000 were working on the tracks by 1869. ... "

But, this does not seem entirely plausible as Ah Toy was listed as a Chinese Foreman in the January and February, 1864 Central Pacific Railroad payroll sheets who is likely the same man that 12 years earlier already worked for James H. Strobridge on his farm according to the Calfornia Special Census of 1852.

3/04/2012 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see, Deaths during railroad construction.

3/19/2012 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another example of internet misinformation:

"The workers received about $1-3 per day, but those brought directly from China received far less."

4/09/2012 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A newspaper article "Memory of Chinese transcontinental railroad workers to be honored" again misleads, getting the history wrong (see above), and repeating the same myths:

"But the historic celebratory photo from that day the Central Pacific and Union Pacific came together doesn't include her relatives or any Chinese workers, a fact not lost on [railroad worker descendant, Margaret] Yee. Chinese workers, she said, were not only discriminated against — they were paid one-third that of their Irish counterparts — but forgotten when the job was done."

5/13/2012 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related discussion, "How much were the Chinese paid?"

5/13/2012 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The University of California. Davis, History Project writes:

"Impressive Workers
Central Pacific contractor, Charles Crocker, encountered strong prejudice from foreman James Harvey Strobridge when he decided to hire Chinese laborers. Strobridge's attitude changed when a group of Irish laborers agitated over wages. Crocker told Strobridge to recruit some Chinese in their place. Instantly, the Irishmen abandoned their dispute. Sensing at least that fear of competition might motivate his men, Strobridge grudgingly agreed to hire 50 Chinese men as wagon-fillers. Their work ethic impressed him, and he hired more Chinese workers for more difficult tasks. Soon, labor recruiters were scouring California, and Crocker hired companies to advertise the work in China. The number of Chinese workers on CP payrolls began increasing by the shipload. Several thousand Chinese men had signed on by the end of that year; the number rose to a high of 12,000 in 1868, comprising at least 80% of the Central Pacific workforce. 'Wherever we put them, we found them good,' Crocker recalled, 'and they worked themselves into our favor to such an extent that if we found we were in a hurry for a job of work, it was better to put Chinese on at once.' "

5/23/2012 10:42 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See, In rare apology, House regrets exclusionary laws targeting Chinese, by Moni Basu, CNN.

" ... The House of Representatives passed a resolution Monday expressing regret for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which imposed severe restrictions on Chinese immigration and naturalization and denied Chinese-Americans basic freedoms because of their race. ... "

6/20/2012 7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same error appears in a newspaper article yesterday in the San Francisco Examiner, "‘Remnants’ examines Chinese-American lives," by: Janos Gereben:

"Another poignant souvenir of the era is the all-white crowd at the 1869 Golden Spike celebration, marking the completion of the vital Transcontinental Railroad. The Central Pacific portion was built by Chinese laborers, not one of whom is shown in the photo published around the world."

Again, the crowd wasn't "all white" and the Chinese men who laid the last rails and spikes of the transcontinental railroad were, at the moment the famous A.J. Russell photograph was taken, in Superintendent Strobridge's rail car being praised and toasted by the railroad management for their vital contribution to the building of the just completed Central Pacific Railroad.

Courtesy of Google Alerts.

9/05/2012 11:35 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

1/14/2013 6:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another example of distorting the history:

"The Central Pacific did not appear out of nowhere but on the backs of thousands of meagerly paid Chinese laborers ... "

Thirty dollars per month in gold coin was anything but "meagerly" and the Chinese came wanting the railroad jobs where they could save 2/3 of their income to soon become wealthy by the standards of southern China.

2/25/2013 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CPRR foreman, Amos L. Bowsher, who wired the telegraphic connection at Promontory which sent the word out over the wires that the last spike had been driven later recalled: "It was certainly a cosmopolitan gathering. Irish and Chinese laborers who had set records in track laying that have never since been equalled joined with the cowboys, Mormons, miners and Indians in celebrating completion of the railroad."

3/07/2013 12:11 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

3/25/2013 6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another example of fudging the facts is the claim that the Chinese and Irish railroad workers were trying to blow up one another with explosives, but the supposed witness and author of the account, UPRR Chief Engineer Dodge, was actually about two thousand miles away from the transcontinental railroad construction site at the time.

7/25/2013 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related discussion in which it is pointed out that J.H. Strobridge was included in the Russell photograph.

10/19/2013 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related discussion.

2/10/2014 12:20 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Induction of the Chinese Railroad Workers into the Labor Hall of Honor

5/06/2014 10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Chinese railroad workers honored for linking East and West
Over 11,000 labored on transcontinental railroad, completed 145 years ago
" by Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 9, 2014, has similarly misleading analysis, stating (as if the role of the Chinese railroad workers is not one of the most well known aspects of the building of the first transcontinental railroad, and that they were paid in gold about the same wages) that "when the formal photograph of that historic occasion was taken, the Chinese laborers ... were literally out of the picture. ... a part of their history long forgotten and neglected ... erased from our history books ... they worked ... for less money than other ethnic groups".

5/10/2014 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the same errors are repeated:

Descendants of Chinese Laborers Reclaim Railroad's History

12/04/2014 11:43 PM  

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