President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
SPECIAL NOTE: Li Ju, a photographer from Beijing is going to USA to try to retrace the tracks of the Chinese railroad workers who came to USA to work on the railroads after the end of the Civil War…when the slaves were freed by President Abraham Lincoln, and so they had to relay on foreigners to build the railroads, ahahahahah! and the Chinese came, and women were not allowed to come with them. The American government then was smart because if the women were not here with their husbands, the men would have to return to China…how smart could you be??? For years, men were allowed to come to China without their women! Li Ju’s photographs are being used to promote that chapter of our American history, still unknown to both the Chinese and the Americans…Stanford University is doing something about it. Steve, USA, August 12, 2018 email@example.com WeChat 1962816801
Trek down the tracks
By LIA ZHU | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-13
A photographer from Beijing goes on an epic journey to retrace the steps of the thousands of Chinese workers who built the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States
When the “golden spike” was driven to join the tracks of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States in 1869, Chinese workers-who did much of the most dangerous and backbreaking work-were kept away from the widely publicized event.
Almost 150 years later, efforts are underway to give faces to those nameless workers who played such a key role in the completion of the railroad.
“The history of Chinese rail workers remains largely unknown to both Americans and Chinese,” says Li Ju, a photographer from Beijing. “People should be reminded of the Chinese workers’ contribution to the US economy.”
Inspired by 19th century American photographer Alfred Hart who took images of the railroad’s construction, Li has traveled the route at least once a year since 2012 to shoot the same sites as Hart.
With the help of a geographical location system, Li managed to identify all the sites captured in more than 360 photos taken by Hart in the 1860s
“Some of the sites were very difficult to locate because there were no landmarks in the photos,” says Li, who is also a computer engineer.
“History and geography are closely connected. In another 150 years, with the changes in landscapes, it will be impossible to identify those sites,” he says.
Li says he plans to donate his photos to the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University, which aims to create an online archive and digital visualizations of the era.
Two photo exhibitions featuring Li’s images paired with Hart’s photos are currently on display at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City and the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville, California. Both exhibitions are sponsored by the Stanford project.
“The railroads connected commerce between the west and the east. People should know who built the railroads-it was the Chinese workers,” says Paul Fong, a professor of political science at the Evergreen Valley College in San Jose and a former member of the California Assembly.
The First Transcontinental Railroad, originally known as the Pacific Railroad, was a 3,069-kilometer-long continuous track completed on May 10, 1869, linking the Pacific west coast with the Atlantic east coast for the first time in US history.
Fong’s great-grandfather worked on the railroad from 1897 to 1898 before he fell ill and returned to China.
“It was hard work. There was no labor protection-you had to work long hours and workers were easily exploited back then,” he says.
Fong only learned about the role of Chinese workers in the railroad when he attended an Asian-American studies class in college.
“I was surprised that we had such a long history,” he says. “People need to know they sacrificed a lot, including their lives, to build the railroad. It’s a significant part of history.”
The railroad, which took six years to build, was one of the most remarkable feats of engineering in the 19th century.
Chinese laborers joined the workforce for the western section, the most arduous phase of the construction, because workers from Ireland were reluctant to undertake such hazardous work.
The Chinese workers set a record for laying 10 miles and 56 feet (16 km) of track in 12 hours and were considered indispensable by their foremen.
As California Governor Leland Stanford reported to congress in 1865, “Without them (Chinese workers), it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise, within the time required by the Acts of Congress.”
Desperate for work to support their families, Chinese workers left their towns and villages in Guangdong province, which were then blighted by poverty and unrest, and boarded ships bound for California.
Historians estimate that at any one time as many as 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese laborers were working on construction of the railroad between 1865 and 1869.
The hardest and most hazardous sections of the railroad route included the construction of tunnels at high elevations through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada range.
At Cape Horn, a 5-km roadbed curving along steep slopes some 400 meters above the American River east of Colfax, Chinese workers were lowered down the cliffs in baskets to plant explosive charges.
In winter, fierce blizzards would often block tunnel entrances and trigger avalanches that swept away the worker’s camps-carrying many of them to their deaths, according to the Stanford project.
It’s estimated that nearly 1,200 Chinese railroad workers died from work-related accidents, avalanches and explosions while toiling through the Sierra Nevada.
In honor of the Chinese workers and their sacrifices, the California Assembly passed a resolution last year to designate May 10 as California Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Day.
“As a fourth-generation Chinese American, I think it is very important for all Americans to commemorate the historical significance of the experiences of Chinese railroad workers,” says Evan Low, California Assembly member and author of the resolution.
He says the resolution was an important step not only to address racism in American history and society, but also to emphasize the railroad workers’ contribution to the country’s economy in general and the development of Silicon Valley.
Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Many celebrations have been planned to mark the occasion, including a commemorative ceremony at the Chinese American Memorial Museum in San Jose History Park.
The Stanford project also has received several requests to host photo exhibitions across the US to commemorate the 150th anniversary, according to Li.
He has produced four sets of panels to be exhibited, each containing around 100 photos, with the help of the project and Chinese volunteers.
“More and more people in China are taking an interest in the history of the Chinese railroad workers. The 150th anniversary will be a great opportunity to promote the history and the friendship between the two countries dating back as far as 150 years ago,” says Li.