Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jon Jang's "Chinese American Symphony" about the CPRR Railroad Workers

"Oakland East Bay Symphony summons slice of Chinese-American history," © Contra Costa Times, 02/21/2008. (News Article)

"... the immigrant laborers ... inspired Jon Jang's [music] ... a 24-minute, one-movement 'symphony' ... Chinese workers set a record laying 10 miles of track in under 12 hours ... It is both the triumph and the travail of that incredible achievement that Jang has tried to incorporate into his Chinese American Symphony, which is scored for the full traditional orchestra plus an array of unusual instruments including an anvil, a pennywhistle and, most evocative of all, the two-stringed bowed instrument known as the erhu, or Chinese violin. ... it was his beloved uncle-by-marriage, historian Philip Choy ... to whom the symphony is dedicated ... 'The orchestra ... represents the American West and the terror and danger' it posed for the Chinese workers. The erhu [is] the real star of the symphony ... 'symbolizes the small Chinese worker whose strength reaches mythic proportions.' ... " [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

More myths. "Alkali dust made most bleed from the lungs."

Is there any factual basis for the claim about the Chinese workers who built the Central Pacific Railroad that: "Once the men reached the desert ... Alkali dust made most bleed from the lungs"?

A number of the details of the post that makes this claim are well known to be incorrect: There was no significant difference in pay of Chinese vs. other workers (Chinese workers were paid a dollar more), as the railroad did not provide Chinese food to those workers – they prepared it themselves. The myth about Chinese being "suspended in baskets" at Cape Horn is a fabrication. No dynamite was used – only black powder and nitroglycerine manufacured on site at the summit tunnel, as nitroglycerine was too dangerous to transport.