Monday, December 18, 2006

Chinese American history volunteer group

From: "Sandy Chan"

... we promote Chinese American history and are a volunteer group. We would like to promote your website and the history to a wide audience. ... We really want a wide audience to know about this important history and the great website you have. ...

—Sandy Chan


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Studying the history of the Chinese railroad workers on the CPRR is a difficult subject, as there is considerable misinformation in recent books.

Chinese Railroad Workers

We would especially welcome the participation of the Chinese community in the discussion, particularly your perspective, any additional information, or if you find any errors on our website that should be corrected.

12/18/2006 11:45 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Sandy Chan"

Thank you Very Very Much!  ... Since we do promote Chinese American History, the Chinese people were specifically the Cantonese-Toisanese (aka Guang Dong, Taishan)  people who built the railroads.  I was wondering if you may mention that on your CPRR website since our program is to Pay Tribute to our ancestors, and we are of Cantonese-Toisanese descendants. ...

12/21/2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... We understand that Guang Dong is the current name for what was called Canton in the 19th century, and that this is a southern provence adjoining Hong Kong. Is this correct? Is Taishan a synonym for Guang Dong? Is this Cantonese versus Mandarin language? What is "Toisanese"?

Do you have any information about the economic and social conditions in Canton in the 1860's that would motivate young men to come to California and work on the railroad? We understand that the Central Pacific Railroad advertised in China for railroad workers. Can you help us find a scanned copy of CPRR Chinese advertising posters or newspaper advertisements, and help with translation?

We find it hard to believe that none of the tens of thousands of Chinese railroad workers on the CPRR ever left a written record of their experience. Is it possible that some of the men who returned to China and became successful left letters, or wrote autobiographic articles, etc. about their experience building the railroad? Can you help us locate any surviving memoirs (none are know to exist) or any oral history that has been passed down in families of the Chinese railroad workers? ...

12/21/2006 8:23 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Sandy Chan"

Guang Dong (Canton) is a southern province in China and near Hong Kong.  Toisan is a county in Guang Dong.  Cantonese means the dialect and the people of the province.  A majority of the Cantonese people who left to build the RR were the Toisanese people (from Toisan county) 

What led the Toisanese/Cantonese people to leave was because of the economic conditions and natural disasters.  This info can be found at the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundations. They mention it: "Around the middle of the 19th century, on the far western frontier of the continental United States, immigrants from Guangdong Province in southern China began arriving, fleeing from a land stricken by both natural and man-made disasters and a collapsing rural economy."  ... 

I don't know anyone who has info on the Cantonese who built the RR.  I would like to locate them myself. I will let you know if I do find something.   The book Fusang, by Stan Steiner probably mentions why the Cantonese people left. 

My website is ...

Your CPRR website is amazing.

12/27/2006 5:04 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

" ... Chin Yee Hee (Chen Yixi), a former laborers and foreman on the Central Pacific Railroad returned to Toisan in 1904. Chin had left China in the 1860s. Although he had no formal education in engineering, he possessed practical knowledge of railroad construction. Inspired by the nationalist movement, Chin gave up his idea of starting a textile factory in China and instead decided to construct a railroad. ... "

"Chinese Emigration, the Sunning Railway and the Development of Toisan" by Lucie Cheng and Liu Yuzun with Zheng Dehua. Amerasia 9(1): 59-74, 1982.

12/27/2006 6:28 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

" ... Background on Emigration from Toisan

After China's defeat in the Opium War of 1839-1842, the Qing government signed a series of unequal treaties with Britain, France, Germany and the United States which transformed China into a semi-colonial country. China's traditional economy, based on the integration of small owner cultivation and household handicrafts, slowly disintegrated due to cash crop cultivation and unequal foreign trade. Cotton, silk, tobacco and tea became subject to the fluctuations of the international market. As a result of this disintegration of the traditional rural economy and the incorporation of China into the world market, many peasants lost their land. This led to successive waves of emigration, especially from the coastal areas of Guangdong and Fujian. These emigrants were mainly displaced peasants, handicraft workers and peddlers. Also included were members of anti-Manchu secret societies whose rebellious activities made it unsafe to stay in China. These emigrants crossed the Pacific to Southeast Asia and America, and many were sold as "piggies." Although Chinese emigration began before the Opium War, the massive overseas emigration to sell labor power started in the mid-nineteenth century. Besides the change in economic structure mentioned above, there were other important reasons. During the mid-nineteenth century, after the abolition of slavery and the termination of the black slave trade, the large plantations in Central and South America faced a critical labour shortage; in addition, the discovery of gold in California, the construction of transcontinental railways in the U.S. and Canada, and the development of mines and plantations in Southeast Asia all required cheap labor. Thus, the Western bourgeoisie turned to Asia, and to China specifically, attempting to replace black slaves with Chinese coolies, in the meantime, under the military and diplomatic intimidation of the Western powers, the Qing government changed its traditional isolationist policy and legalized foreign labor recruitment activities in China. The surrendering of Hong Kong to the British and the opening of five ports to foreign trade facilitated this recruitment. Agents of Western capitalists established labor recruitment stations in Canton (Guangzhou), Swatow (Shantou), Amoy (Xiamen), and other coastal cities. Hong Kong and Macau became centers for the coolie trade. A large number of those who went overseas to sell their labor and those who were indentured came from the county of Toisan. It is estimated that Toisanese accounted for approximately 80 percent of all emigrants who went to the continental United States in the nineteenth century. A hilly area located southwest of the Pearl River delta, Toisan was not economically prosperous. In addition to geographical reasons, massive social unrest and persistent natural diasters in Toisan and nearby counties such as Enping, Hoiping (Kaiping) and Sunwui (Xinhui) resulted in the devastation of farm land, famine and dire poverty. Three specific social factors were especially important in separating a large number of peasants from their land. The first was the Red Turban Rebellion of 1844-45, after which peasant participants fled to Southeast Asia and the Americas. The second factor was the Punti-Hakka War which began in 1856 and lasted for twelve years. Twenty to thirty thousand peasants died in battle. The number of peasants who died from epidemics and hunger was even higher. In March 1864 alone, more than twenty thousand Hakkas who were pinned down at Tailoongdong died of epidemics. Captives of these wars were sent to the Americas as indentured laborers via Hong Kong and Macau. Many displaced peasants also left the country. It is estimated that during the Punti-Hakka conflict, more than a hundred thousand peasants left the area. Among them were twenty to thirty thousand Hakkas who either were sold by the Puntis or had indentured themselves to South America. The third factor was natural disasters. According to incomplete records, between 1851 and 1908 there were fourteen serious floods, seven typhoons, four earthquakes, two severe droughts, four epidemics and five great famines. A large number of people perished during these disasters. Thus, the combination of the disruption of the peasant economy due to foreign penetration, natural diasters, and domestic rebellion and strife contributed to the departure of Toisanese to the Americas and Southeast Asia. It was estimated that by 1876, the membership of the Ning Yeung Association (an association of Chinese in the U.S. from Toisan County) totalled 75,000, or almost half of the total Chinese population in America at that time. ... "


12/27/2006 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A newly discovered newspaper report shows that the notion of large numbers of Chinese casualties in building the Central Pacific Railroad is almost certainly a myth based on a single erroneous newspaper article. (On June 30, 1870, the bodies of 50, not 1,200 Chinese dead were reported to have arrived in Sacramento by train for reburial, and not all of this much smaller number had died of construction accidents.)

Consequently, any claims of more than 150 Chinese killed building the first transcontinental railroad now seem extremely dubious.

1/17/2007 10:06 AM  

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