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As the U.S. economy took a turn for the worse and many workers were out of jobs, politicians spoke out against what they called the "Yellow Peril," claiming that Asian workers were invading the country and taking work away from white men. Chinese workers were finding work in quartz mills, building roads and canals, and many were going to Idaho and Montana, looking for work. On July 2, Judge Crocker relayed details of how the associates broke the strike: Their agent stopped supplying them with goods and provisions and they really began to suffer. Charles Crocker, who oversaw construction on the Central Pacific, told the U.S. Senate, “we cannot distinguish Chinamen by names very well.” According to Crocker, the names of Chinese workers sounded too much alike for railroad authorities to distinguish between individuals, constituting instead a homogenous mass in the railroad company’s wage accounts. Known in San Francisco as the Six Companies, district associations functioned as mutual-aid societies where new and indigent arrivals could find shelter and basic amenities, following organizational models among Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Chinese workers were instruments of labor, constant capital for the Central Pacific Railroad Company. Laborers and rocks, near opening of Summit Tunnel. We did not want to exhibit anxiety. There was almost no law and order in the camps, and some of the miners began to attack the Chinese. The quality of their lives interfered with their essential function, as a quantity of labor. Judge Crocker obligingly explained that construction directors projected working three men on each drill, at the excruciating pace of a 13/4 inch hole one foot, per hour, organizing the work in day and night shifts of eight hours. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. While he imagined that the Chinese workers felt ashamed, the judge informed Huntington, “we feel a good deal encouraged.”[35], This is an edited excerpt from Manu Karuka’s Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019). . Our Pacific slope, and particularly California, filling rapidly with a hardy, enterprising and industrious people mostly of our brethren and sisters of our old Atlantic homes.[14]. “Coolie,” in the logic of California law, meant “Chinese,” a racial status, not a debt and labor structure. Chinese community leaders had sent messages to the work camps, advising the workers to return to work. [13] Sacramento Daily Union, December 18, 1866; Sacramento Daily Union, December 19, 1866. 3 (September 2005): 781, 785–87, 789. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Sucheng Chan described Chinese merchants’ main assets in California: working knowledge of English and ready access to laborers. In his remarks that evening, Stanford made no explicit mention of Chinese workers, but he had China on his mind. It was not only a class war over the conditions of work. Few records remained of the individual men who accomplished this overwhelming task through courage and discipline, and there were no known first-person accounts, such as memoirs or letters, left by the railroad workers. In … He is the author of Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad (University of California Press, 2019). The Chinese workers on the railroad lived separately from the other laborers. 3; Hobson wrote of Chinese workers, who were “introduced into the Transvaal as mere economic machines, not as colonists to aid the industrial and social development of a new country. The only safe way for us is to inundate this state and Nevada with laborers. Only about one in ten of the men that were hired stayed on the job longer than a week. Confucianism was based on the idea that one's role in life was set at birth and must be carried out. Chinese Railroad Workers Were Almost Written Out of History. [1] Colonialist race war fueled the fears for colonial futures. Empire’s Tracks boldly reframes the history of the transcontinental railroad from the perspectives of the Cheyenne, Lakota, and Pawnee Native American tribes, and the Chinese migrants who toiled on its path. The lives of their workers threatened the security of their profits. To pay to send a son overseas, Chinese families sold precious property or livestock and usually had to borrow money as well. Despite their hard work, the Chinese experienced discrimination for generations after the completion of the railroad. Development of the Industrial U.S. Reference Library. They proved so diligent and effective that more Chinese workers were recruited. These companies became very powerful, and some forced the new arrivals in the United States into gang labor to pay their debt. Because most did not have much money with which to purchase a claim (the right to mine for gold in a small area), they frequently worked as cooks or servants in the gold camps. In truth the number of Chinese workers remained relatively small. Projecting forward to an anticipated completion of the transcontinental in 1870, Stanford prattled: Then will the “ligament be perfect that binds the Eastern Eng and Western Chang together.” Then, Mr. Chairman, behold the result! Between Colfax and summit, the railroad employed 11,000 Chinese Workers: Almost the entire work of digging is done by Chinamen, and the Directors of the road say it would be impossible to build it at present without them. It was the first time the nation had restricted immigration. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-transcontinental-railroad-workers, Chinese Immigration and Exclusion (U.S.), Nineteenth Century, Chinese in the English-Speaking Caribbean. Until 1850 very few of them went to the United States, but when news reached China of the 1848 discovery of gold in California, thousands of Chinese men set out on the seven-thousand-mile voyage to the state, which they called Gum Sam, or "Gold Mountain.". The two chief sources used were Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 written by Stephen Ambrose and Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad by David Haward Bain. [16] E. B. Crocker to Collis Huntington, January 14, 1867, Huntington Papers; Day, Alien Capital, 44, 47. They were called sojourners (people who stayed as temporary residents) because they had no intention of remaining in the United States, though many did. Kwong continued, saying that Chinese people in North America “have no masters” with one exception: “Only those persons who came to work for the railroad came under contract but most of them ran away when they got here. Neither could be disentangled from the other. 58) created a ten-year morato…, Chinese, subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages (see Sino-Tibetan languages), which is also sometimes grouped with the Tai, or Thai, langu…, Kublai Khan They practiced unfamiliar religions, spoke an unknown language, and looked, dressed, and acted different than the rest of the population. Some who longed to go home could not bear the disgrace of returning without the fortune they had been sent to America to find, so they stayed in the United States and sought work elsewhere. Some historians, however, believed these numbers were greatly exaggerated and that as few as one hundred Chinese workers died during the construction of the railroad. Avalanches (snow slides) killed entire gangs of workers. Manu Karuka  is an Assistant Professor of American Studies, and affiliated faculty with Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, where he has taught since 2014. They cleared the areas around the chimneys of the shacks to create air vents and then lived in the dark. “We hope you will strain every nerve bringing everything to bear to keep along, and not ask us to discharge a man.”[15]. Some Chinese miners pooled their funds and bought claims that other miners had abandoned, and they were often able to find gold where others had not. The strike was broken, the workers returned to their jobs in the same conditions as before the strike. Those who opted to stay, perhaps hoping that they could make their fortune or that the 1882 immigration law would be overturned, lived out their lives in the bachelor societies of U.S. Chinatowns. Ambrose, Stephen. [33] E. B. Crocker to Collis Huntington, July 6, 1867, Huntington Papers. The longest summit tunnel was nearly 1,700 feet long and took more than two years to finish. The labor of Chinese workers was instrumental to the transcontinental railroad’s construction. Instead, this social body acts on Chinese people in North America, and beyond. Five days later, the judge notified Huntington of plans to raise the Chinese workers’ wages almost 13 percent, from $31 to $35 per month. Collectively, Chinese railroad workers had no future. The Sacramento Daily Union printed a telegram attributed to Huntington, dated June 28, stating, “There will be no trouble in getting all the laborers you want. The great race to Promontory: the 150th anniversary of driving the Golden Spike. People became sick and the smell was often unbearable. The Chinese had little choice but to agree to Crocker's conditions. Chinese spiritual beliefs were strong and profoundly influenced the young men who arrived in the United States. But their work was so impressive that eventually 80% of all the workers were Chinese. Chinese workers’ isolation in temporary work camps, scattered along the line of railroad construction, bound them to relationships cementing their control. The Chinese workers were supposed to receive $28 for working twenty-six days each month, paying for food, tents, and utensils, with labor contractors paying the cooks. Judge Crocker fired off another note to Huntington that day. If the husband left to go to the United States, she was expected to remain under the control of her mother-in-law. 3 (September 2005): 677–701; Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 36–38; Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents, 25. These are not the hallmarks of free labor. Testifying later before the U.S. Senate, Charles Crocker would stress wages to argue that Chinese labor in the Central Pacific was free labor. But China laborers are coming in slowly so that Charley thinks the force will steadily increase from this time on.”[11] A report from the Sacramento Daily Union a little over a year later, in June 1866, provides a sense of the rapid increase Chinese labor as Central Pacific construction proceeded. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/tcrr/index.html (accessed on July 7, 2005). 340–41; Robert Schwendinger, “Investigating Chinese Immigrant Ships and Sailors,” in The Chinese American Experience: Papers from the Second  National  Conference  on  Chinese  American  Studies, ed. They do not accomplish so much in a given time as Irish laborers, but they are willing to work more hours per day, and are content with their lot so long as they are promptly paid. Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. The Daily Union printed a more detailed account of the strike action and demands, clarifying the demand for eight hours from those working the tunnels, and ten hours from those on open ground. Karuka organizes the book into three sections. As Judge Crocker explained to Huntington in mid-February 1867, nearly all of those drilling for the Central Pacific were Chinese men whose work was “fully equal to white men,” but they were employed at a rate requiring them to work twenty-six days a month, covering the cost of their own food and housing, unlike their white counterparts. In 1862 Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, in which the government committed federal funds toward the creation of a transcontinental railroad. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. [16] By the end of the month, the directors doubled down, printing and circulating a Chinese language recruiting notice throughout California and in China. The Chinese workers who built an American railway and their history detailed in new book Author Gordon Chang gives a comprehensive account of … Lucie Cheng and Edna Bonacich  (Berkeley:  University  of  California  Press, 1984);  Iyko  Day,  Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,  2016),  48–53; Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive, 144, 152. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Empirical observation of racial competition settled the question. The first Chinese immigrant to the United Sta…, Chinese Immigrants. They are found to be equally as good as white men, and less inclined to quarrel and strikes. Where the Central Pacific covered housing and food costs for white railroad labor, the reproduction of Chinese labor was free. Chinese workers were not invited to many of the festivities marking the completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad, but several tributes were made to them. En route to San Francisco, ships stopped in Manila, Guam, and Honolulu. Three-fourths of all Chinese immigrants in the United States in 1870 lived in California, with a large number concentrated in San Francisco. The sources used are books written by historians, quotes from important figures, and articles written in the time period. At any given time, between ten thousand and twelve thousand Chinese workers were employed on the project, largely by Central Pacific. The railroad workers blasted and scraped their way through the Sierra Mountains at great risk to their lives. William Henry Yates had arrived in San Francisco in 1851 from Washington, DC, where he had been active in the Underground Railroad, and had worked as a steward on river steamers and ferry boats in California. New York: Benchmark Books, 2002. From 1863 and 1869, roughly 15,000 Chinese workers helped build the transcontinental railroad. On May 10, 1869, the two railroads were to meet at Promontory, Utah in front of a cheering crowd and a band. 4, 2016) and with Vivek Bald, Miabi Chatterji, and Sujani Reddy, he co-edited The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power (NYU Press, 2013). According to Nordhoff, most of the items sold in this store were imported from China. The centennial was a bitter disappointment for the descendants of the Chinese railroad workers, she said. Judge Crocker explained to Huntington. How many thousand shall I send? Blasting a ledge for the roadbed one thousand feet above the American River at Cape Horn took six months of dangerous and physically exhausting work. The U.S. military government in San Francisco had already begun enforcing compulsory Indigenous labor in 1847. Where in the federal anti-coolie law, the U.S. government asserted territorial prerogatives to control borders, in the California law, the state distinguished Chinese people as a significant source of state revenue. [9] Charles Crocker testimony, Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, 674, 723–28; Chang, Pacific Connections, 30; Jung, Coolies and Cane, 61. That October, the Committee on Industrial Pursuits at the 1865 California State Convention of Colored Citizens forwarded a resolution to send three representatives to present to Central Pacific directors “the expediency of employing from twenty to forty thousand freedmen on the Great Pacific Railroad” and to petition members of the California state legislature and congressional representatives for aid. Calisphere: University of California. They usually did not drink alcohol. [34] E. B. Crocker to Collis Huntington, July 23, 1867, Huntington Papers. 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chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad