Sunday, November 03, 2019

"No first-person memoirs of the Chinese experience in nineteenth-century California are known to survive." -Library of Congress

"No first-person memoirs of the Chinese experience in nineteenth-century California are known to survive."
Library of Congress

From: "John Shubert"
Subject: Gold Mountain Chinese Workers 金山中国铁路工人

You have a wonderful site and I commend your work!

However, I was dumfounded by these quotes:
1. “Alas (and strangely), the events were not recorded by the Chinese at the time, so the details and their perspective consequently are likely long since lost to history
2. “It's too bad that there are no known writings by Chinese memorializing their experiences in building the Central Pacific Railroad.

May I courteously say: Someone has clearly overlooked that any number of worker’s memories exist in the Chinese language. It’s an elementary mistake to say “none of them wrote a book in English we can read”.

The careful researcher (or historian) would say “the reason we don’t have first-person accounts from Chinese workers is because we haven’t researched original Chinese sources that exist in China”.

These workers surely told everyone back home (in China) and elsewhere (in the USA) about their experiences in their own language: Chinese. A few minutes of research using Google translate confirms there is a whole other world out there of Chinese knowledge about the ‘Gold Mountain Chinese railroad workers’ 金山中国铁路工人‘Jīnshān zhōngguó tiělù gōngrén’.

For instance, this 20min video contains information and some pictures which may surprise you. ...

John Shubert PE, Lake Forest, CA


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... It would be wonderful after so many years to discover that the Library of Congress "has clearly overlooked that any number of worker’s memories [about the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad] exist in the Chinese language."

We have encountered both language and technical difficulties in replicating that "A few minutes of research using Google translate confirms there is a whole other world out there of Chinese knowledge" and ask for your help.

Please e-mail to the English translations of the Chinese language worker’s memories about the 19th century construction of the Central Pacific Railroad that you have found, along with links to the corresponding online Chinese language sources. This would be a huge and greatly valuable contribution to knowledge about the railroad's history in the English speaking world.

Please also provide instructions as to how to use Google translate so that someone who is not literate in Chinese can further research these Chinese language online resources about CPRR worker’s memories.

Thanks again, for your help.

11/03/2019 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "John Shubert"
Subject: Re: Gold Mountain Chinese Workers 金山中国铁路工人

It’s a pleasure to read your reply and to respond to it. In all seriousness, I don’t think the Library of Congress is aware of the following:

Chrome browser, Google, and Google Translate:
Google Translate is a website that allows one to translate from one language to another. If you access this site: and punch in English: Gold Mountain Chinese Railroad Workers, you will get in Chinese: 金山中国铁路工人

The best browser to use in researching Chinese language topics is Chrome, because you can add the Google Translate button to the browser itself (if you can find the right setting, it will even translate the page automatically as it comes up). Many folks don’t realize that Chinese characters can be copied and pasted into any search engine. So, if you copy these characters: 金山中国铁路工人 and paste them into Google, in 0.57 seconds you will get 2,850,000 results. I’ve only had time to look at the first 10 results.

Please see the attached 1.jpg to see the Chrome browser and the translated search results. Of course, one must bear in mind that ‘machine translation’ is a work in progress (ie, it’s not perfect or even understandable sometimes, but it’s wonderful because it ‘throws the curtains open’ to the serious researcher).

Ok, so now you can search Google for 金山中国铁路工人 and click on the Images tab: see the attached 2.jpg for the type of results you get (and dare I say it, it will be wonderful for you to perhaps see some images that you’ve never seen before, and they are on totally Chinese sites). Click on the images and you will open the whole other world of Chinese memories.

For instance, the photo highlighted in 2.jpg leads to this site:

[Continued below]

11/03/2019 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You can read the translated memories here:

“An orange train climbs the railway to the Donner Summit. This is a special line sent by Union Pacific (hereinafter referred to as "UP") . Two days ago, the special train traveled from Omaha, Nebraska, to Oakland, Nebraska, to a special trip: starting at 8 am on May 16 from Auckland Amtrak station, 5 pm Point arrived in Reno, Nevada. On the morning of May 17th, the original road returned to Auckland.

This is not an ordinary passenger train. It was once a special train for Pacific Union's presidents and was called a "mobile five-star hotel." President Kennedy, Hollywood film queen Elizabeth Taylor, and film actor Clark Gabo were once VIPs of the train.

The special train hangs 10 cars, of which 3 are dining cars. From fresh fruit to freshly baked bread, there is a long dining table. Even the cream of the bread is carved into delicate flowers, such as a blossoming jasmine, in a delicate silver plate.

The old man named Gene Chan took a sandwich, stepped on the rich red carpet, went to another dining car, and sat by the window.

As soon as he opened the white cloth, the smiling waiter came over and poured him a cup of steaming coffee.

He feels that this is not quite true.

When the mother was alive, she always said to Gene, "Our family is from the railway." But Gene does not like railways. Perhaps when he was young, he was influenced by the uncle Bill who participated in the "Flying Tigers". He likes airplanes.

A name called Jim King always comes to mind. That is his former grandfather. 150 years ago, together with 12,000 Chinese workers, he built the railway under the foot of Gene, the Mid-Pacific Railway, and the western section of the US Intercontinental Railway. It was also the toughest section.

Gene was born in 1932, the fourth generation of Chinese workers. Most of the more than one hundred passengers in the same car, like him, barely speak Mandarin, and even Cantonese will only be a few simple words.”

—John M.

11/03/2019 1:02 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Thanks for the additional comments. It would be wonderful to see Chinese first person accounts of building the Central Pacific Railroad. Unfortunately, the example you provided did not support your belief that the statement that "the events were not recorded by the Chinese at the time ... memorializing their experiences" is wrong. Instead, your example has references to Amtrak, President Kennedy, and airplanes, so it clearly was not written in Chinese in the 19th century by a worker on the Central Pacific Railroad.

Can you provide other examples, that were actually written in the 19th century by Chinese who worked on the Central Pacific Railroad construction? It would help to know the name of the Chinese worker writing about his own experience in building the Central Pacific Railroad, with citation of the publication details. For example, is it a letter written to relatives in China. Date? Location? Where is the letter currently located? Can we see a copy and its translation? In which library in China can the original be found? Was a letter or article published in a 19th century newspaper in China? What is the name of the newspaper, location published, the date, volume, and issue numbers? What archive in China houses that 19th century newspaper? What website reproduces the 19th century primary source document written by a Chinese railroad worker describing his own personal experience in building the Central Pacific Railroad? ... etc.

Again, it would be wonderful if you can find and e-mail us copies of examples of first person accounts of building the Central Pacific Railroad written by Chinese men who were describing what they personally experienced. Absent such primary source examples, we are confused as to why you would be "dumfounded by these quotes" as shown below. Why do you believe that the Library of Congress' conclusion is incorrect that none of the known CPRR construction writings that have survived were 19th century first person accounts authored by Chinese.

It is not clear if the Chinese who built the Central Pacific Railroad were literate in Chinese. There are conflicting descriptions published in the 19th century as to whether the CPRR Chinese railroad workers could write. Did they have scribes who they could call upon for dictation to produce letters to send home to their relatives in China? Was this common practice? If any such letters were produced, could they have survived war and revolution? It is surprising to be unable to find any surviving writing by 19th century Chinese CPRR workers, but we don't know enough about the culture to know if such letters or newspaper accounts would have been created and whether such documents, if they existed, would have survived.


11/03/2019 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "John M."
Date: November 4, 2019 1:58:25 AM EST

[John M. has left a new comment on the discussion about Dead Chinese CPRR railroad workers:]

After wading my way through the above discussion, I'm surprised to find that only a few posts make even an oblique reference to research on the "Gold-Mountain Railroad Workers" or 金山中国铁路工人 which is being done in China, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.

It's as if the Chinese workers themselves are not even considered to have left any memories with their families (most of which were larger families by far than the average Irish, German, and other western families). Chinese company records listing overseas Chinese workers may also exist (since there is a museum in China dedicated to these workers).

Many of the above posts are oblivious to the fact that there are probably more memories and records in China than there are anywhere else. There are professors from major universities in China who are specialists in the subject.

Instead of saying "oh well, we may never know about xz and z", I would suggest opening our minds to the possibility that many records and memorabilia about the railway workers exist in China: Do a google search of 金山中国铁路工人 and see how many millions of hits (in Chinese) you come up with (my search yielded 2,850,000 hits).

—John M.

11/04/2019 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the CPRR Museum website cautions:
"Please examine the primary sources and don't pass on myths ...
If you make ... claims, it is your responsibility to prove them! – Where is the evidence? – Was the person you are quoting there to see what actually happened? (It is a logical error to suppose that anyone has a burden to disprove stuff that has been made up. The burden is entirely upon you to prove that what you write is historically accurate.)"

Merely mentioning 2,850,000 hits on a Google search without providing the requested documentation is not helpful or persuasive.

You must provide the actual primary sources when you assert that there are 19th century Chinese memoirs about the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad that nobody else has been able to find.

Once again, it would be wonderful if you can find and e-mail us copies of examples of first person accounts of building the Central Pacific Railroad written by Chinese men who were describing what they personally experienced.

Please also name and identify those "professors from major universities in China." Please provide their names, e-mail addresses, web pages, and publications about the CPRR Chinese workers.

Not providing the primary source evidence that you claim to have found isn't productive.

11/04/2019 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please also provide details about the "museum in China dedicated to these ... overseas Chinese workers." Name, location, address, e-mail, website?

11/04/2019 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "John Shubert"
Date: November 5, 2019 8:24:52 PM EST

My original messages made broad statements which you reduced to “Chinese first-person accounts”. This is intellectually deceitful because it allowed you to ignore the broader thrust of what I was saying: that there is a whole other world out there that is being neglected, i.e., the Chinese world. May I re-state that a careful researcher (or historian) would say “the reason we don’t have first-person accounts from Chinese workers is because we haven’t researched original Chinese sources that exist in China”. And please know that I don’t have a few spare years of time to fully research the subject for you when there are other professionals out there already doing that (and also given how the five-year research efforts of William Chew were handled by your site).

It’s obvious from the questions you’re asking that you’ve done little work using the sources I sent you. For instance the series of five videos made by the Chinese:
shows the name and actual house in China of one of the ‘kingpins’ who organized the labor crews sent to America and artifacts like a worker’s wooden suitcase. The video series shows more photos of the Chinese building the railroad than you have on your page. It shows Chinese professors at major Chinese and American universities who are studying records and collecting information about the railroad workers.

Perhaps you should read my statements again.

“The translated memories” referenced above are obviously those of a descendant, and if you had bothered to open you would have noticed that.

You asked for instructions on how to use Google translate; I provided these and apparently you did nothing to utilize them. It would have been common courtesy to at least acknowledge the research help I offered you in Google translate even if you found it useless.

I gave you a direct page-source for more photographs of Chinese workers, and you ignored it. Your site says it is a “photographic history museum”, yet you have precious few photos of Chinese railroad workers on your page (are they somewhere else? It is time-wasting to open all your page-links because you have not provided a central site-map to your site).

Similarly, my post to your blog was directed at everyone on the site, not just to the intellectually uncurious minds which have language and technical difficulties with Chinese language. I don’t appreciate my post being censored from the posters it was directed at (i.e., if you copied the post and added it to another discussion, fine). What is so offending (or frightening) about the post that it needed to be so quickly expunged even before your other posters could comment on it?


I don’t understand why you used the word “Chinese-American” instead of just “Chinese”, because it was basically Chinese who built the railroad; to label them as Chinese-American creates an unnecessary misconception colored by contemporary word usage.

11/07/2019 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Sending a rant to the webmaster is misguided.

"Intellectually deceitful"?
You disagree with the Library of Congress and are "dumfounded" (sic) by statements on the CPRR Museum website paraphrasing that conclusion (as applied to the CPRR) that "No first-person memoirs of the Chinese experience in nineteenth-century California are known to survive." There is nothing at all deceitful about adhering to the original matter under discussion, i.e., the apparent lack of any 19th century primary source Chinese accounts of their experiences in California, and more specifically, their construction of the Central Pacific Railroad.

"Research the subject for you"?
Your assertions, your research. As noted above it would be wonderful if you would document your research claims to have found what the Library of Congress has missed, and you have been asked repeatedly to send along your documented findings so that readers can see for themselves what you say you've found. But, you apparently have the misconception that someone else should feel obligated do the research that you want. Barking instructions at an internet discussion group makes no sense, as the webmaster has no ability or authority to assign research topics to anyone, or even to get anyone to read what is posted here. The webmaster has never even met any of the amazing people who use the internet, who have found this website, and have graciously posted to this discussion group — but there is no research institute, not even a grad student, or other researcher to whom the webmaster could assign your project — don't exist — not even any funding. We are flattered that you believe we have such ability or resources, and sincerely hope that you will be willing to document your findings, as repeated requested, above, as this would be an important and wonderful addition to the railroad history documented on this website.

“'The translated memories' ... are obviously those of a descendant"?
Again, please document and supply the text that you are citing, while understanding that while very valuable, these are not the primary sources that historians want, or that the Library of Congress wrote about.

"acknowledge the research help I offered you in Google translate"
That research help was quoted verbatim, in full, above.

"More photographs of Chinese workers"?
The CPRR Museum website included every photo known to exist showing Chinese workers constructing the Central Pacific Railroad. If you believe that there are others, please send them with an explanation of how you know that they were imaged in the 19th century showing Chinese workers on the CPRR. Seeing Chinese standing next to train tracks does not make that random photo into an historic example of Chinese workers constructing the Central Pacific Railroad.

Everything you have written is now posted here at the top of the CPRR Discussion Group blog where it is most likely to be seen and read. We try to organize and relocate and cross reference posts that are misplaced where they are unlikely to be found or read.

As noted, that is the language used in the Congressional Record by the "HON. JOHN T. DOOLITTLE of California in the U.S. House of Representatives, Thursday, April 29, 1999." Sailing across the Pacific in the 19th century to build the greatest engineering project of the century, a railroad which united our country, is entirely sufficient to qualify as becoming American.

11/07/2019 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Five-year research efforts of William Chew"?
This website treated Mr. Chew's contribution with great respect, writing "Mr. Chew's book likely will be of very great interest, as he has for the first time extracted much detailed information about the Chinese workers from the recently available primary source CPRR payroll records at the California State Railroad Museum. ... Mr. Chew is to be congratulated for this important contribution." We published as much of his book online on our CPRR Museum website as Mr. Chew graciously permitted, and engaged in an extensive discussion with him regarding limitations of what could be concluded from examination of the surviving portion of the CPRR payroll records.

11/07/2019 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tried again following your links which did not show what was promised. There was a single short video interviewing Americans about the CPRR history, showing images in the background that were not identified or documented. Nothing about Chinese memoirs. After a minute or two, the video ended, and no additional video segments were offered. (Tried repeatedly using two different browsers and operating systems.) No idea how this is supposed to be proof that the Library of Congress is wrong.

Google translates 金山中国铁路工人 as "Jinshan China Railway Worker."
Google and Wikipedia indicate that "Jinshan" is "a suburban district of southwestern Shanghai." Not apparent what that has to do with California or the Central Pacific Railroad.
So it is not clear if your Chinese language search relating to Chinese workers on the Central Pacific Railroad is correct. Doesn't seem to be.

Attempting to search using Google translate failed. It displayed no search results and said that completing a Capcha was required, but none was displayed.

When attempting to research the Chinese experience in 19th century California in the Chinese literature, Google translate does not seem to be an adequate substitute for being literate in Chinese.

Once again, if there is information that you want to be considered, you have to extract it, document it, and send it to us so that we can actually see what you want to show us.

11/08/2019 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regrettably, no further information received.

1/26/2020 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tried again with the Google Chrome browser, which was previously unavailable due to OS incompatibility, but again failed to be able to view what you described. Frustrating!

Renew the request that if there is information that you want to be considered, you have to extract it, document it, and send it to us so that we can actually see what you want to show us.

6/11/2020 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still waiting with hope ...

10/19/2020 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still no further information received. Hope of ever finding any 19th century first-person memoirs of the Chinese experience in building the Central Pacific Railroad is fading ...

6/19/2021 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regrettably, still no further information received.

2/11/2022 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing further ...

2/21/2023 7:53 AM  

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