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建议将美国铁路华工研究列入国家社科重大课题规划

已有 232 次阅读 2017-10-13 07:41 |个人分类:纪念沉默道钉|系统分类:观点评述|关键词:建议将美国铁路华工研究列入国家社科重大课题规划

建议将美国铁路华工研究列入国家社科重大课题规划

黄安年年  黄安年的博客/2017年10月13发布

150年前铁路上万华工参与建成了太平洋铁路,促成了美国近代化的完成,并迅速崛起为地区大国并走向世界。无论从历史和现实的需要看,都有必要将美国铁路华工研究列入国家社科重大课题规划。  

这是因为:

第一,这是了解历史上的美中人民交往和合作共建的需要,一个半世纪前美中两国能够做到的,今天没有理由不能做得更好。

第二,这是适应公众史学、人民史学、下层史学发展潮流的需要,让被淡忘的、被尘封一个半世纪左右的沉默的铁路华工弱势群体不再沉默,打破长期以来精英史学的垄断,也让广大民众参与回忆、寻找、传颂自己的先人和身边的历史故事。

第三,这是适应21世纪迅速发展的高铁时代的需要,相信150年前只靠劳务输出的中国近代农民工赴美修建铁路,对21世纪振兴中的中国新的技术、资金、人才的高铁军团作为推动全球经济现代化火车头,起到了铺路人和开路先锋的历史作用。

第四,这也是弘扬历史丰碑,振奋中华民族精神的需要。诚如国家主席习近平在20159月下旬访美时说:广大旅美侨胞顽强拼搏、艰苦创业,为美国发展繁荣作出了贡献,赢得了美国人民尊重。150年前,数以万计的华工漂洋过海来到美国,参与建设美国太平洋铁路,铺就了通往美国西部的战略大通道,成为旅美侨胞奋斗、进取、奉献精神的丰碑。”历史丰碑需要通过深度研究让越来越多的人们了解和传承。

第五,这还是铁路华工后裔追寻先人足迹的需要。今天我们对于当年具体参加建设的铁路华工了解极少,随着时间的推移,个别了解历史碎片记忆的老人越来越多地离我们而去,抢救活的历史记忆,是当务之急。惟有强化这一课题研究,才有可能变历史碎片的点、线为面,相连缀合,从而有可能取得突破性的成果。

第六,这又是催生志愿者和社会工作者队伍的需要。要在短短几年十几年内取得美国铁路华工研究的重大进展,需要广大志愿者和社会工作者参与,惟有这支群众性队伍和专业研究队伍的协同努力,才有可能在艰巨的田野调查、文献和历史遗存普查中突破难点、疑点和重点。

第七,同时,也这是迎接美中旅游高潮,推动民间交往和2019年纪念太平洋铁路建成150周年的需要,是美中文化交流的需要。

  最后说到底,这是实现振兴中华中国梦的需要。150年前我国的文化先驱认识到振兴中华需要走向世界,许多出洋的农民工出洋为了寻求更美好的生活。今天我们意识到追寻更美好的生活需要有强大的祖国作后盾。了解当年的美国铁路华工有助于我们更加坚定实现中国梦的步伐!

鉴于过往国家社科规划、我国美国问题研究、近代史研究、相关博士论文课题涉及这一领域很少,也鉴于推动美国铁路华工进入公众视野需要强有力的学术依托,很有必要将美国铁路华工问题列入国家社会研究规划课题。

笔者列出关于美国铁路华工研究课题的20个题目供论证参考。

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再谈深度研究美国铁路华工的20个课题

黄安年年  黄安年的博客/2017728发布

20141123我发布博文《深度研究美国铁路华工的20个课题》。20159月我在和李炬合著的《沉默道钉的足迹》所写序中又重提了这20个课题。

在我看来,今天我们在宣传或者研究美国铁路华工问题时,围绕这20个课题,开展深度的个案的、合作的、协同的探寻和探究,依然是大有可为的,也是任重道远的。我们需要更多的志愿者、社会工作者、专业研究者投入针对这些课题的攻坚战中。

举例来说:

1,美国为何要兴建太平洋铁路?

 这需要从多角度来解读这个问题,不是一个人因素促成的,而众多因素中,哪些更重要时需要深度研究。

2,中央太平洋铁路公司为何选择华工?

 需要考察的是为何最初选择大批华工没有进入公司决策人的视线,是什么原因促成进入了他们的雇工视野并扩大使用?

3,华工何时参加兴建中央太平洋铁路?如何界定华工参加兴建中央太平洋铁路的时间?

 这是一个重要问题,也关系到研究方法。目前没有材料肯定或否定1863年就没有华工参加修建太平洋铁路(即使一二个来自参与淘金热的华工)。我们确定华工参与的时间还是要以成批量为准较为稳妥。一开始就参加、1864年开始、1865年大批参加,三种说法哪个成立需要材料论证。

4,参与兴建中央太平洋铁路的华工从哪里来?广东五邑地区占多大比例?

 一开始从广东来,还是从已经在美国西部从事淘金等工种的华工来?需要有材料说话。

5,这些华工以什么身份来美国?契约华工和自由移民所占的比例各有多少?

 华工身份问题很重要,目前还需要透过大量海关等资料探寻他们的身份。然而从法理上说,美国早已禁止奴隶制度,美西地区和中国,姬1868年美中条约也不允许贩卖奴隶,除非贩卖非法移民。这样的问题不查清行吗?难道侨乡移民当时没有“美国梦”?

6,参与建设中央太平洋铁路的华工有多少人?各个年份的统计情况?

 已有发掘的资料只能是局部和个别的,绝非整体,需要继续挖掘有完整统计数据作支持。

7,美国铁路华工承担了哪些工种,建设了那些最困难和最危险的施工地段?他们是怎样施工的?

8,他们的工作和生活待遇如何,和欧洲白人(如爱尔兰工人)有何不同?

9,在华工争取平等生活条件过程中发生了那些事件?

10,他们在美国的生活习俗如何?和白人社会如何交往?

上述问题,需要依靠更多遗址、遗物的发现和认定,需要查书询当时当地的报刊资料,专家研究的专著发现更多的线索。尤其是当年的照片,因为照片在当时难有作伪技术,可信度高。

11,有多少铁路华工死于兴建铁路过程中?

这是一个史实问题,迄今还是没有真正搞清楚。华工死亡数量不在少数,但是究竟多少要有人头依据,究竟多少人先后参加了修建太平洋铁路,因修建太平洋铁路死亡的有多少,其中因灾害死亡、因病死亡、因伤死亡情况何如?谁能厘清?

出于宣传流传所谓“每根枕木下都有一具华工尸骨”,并不靠谱,给人以假新闻之感。如李炬所说:“每英里有500根枕木,共690英里345000根枕木!”“总共几万华工成三价铁路建设,却死了数十万”?所以在死亡人数上要实事求是,不要追求越多越好,才有宣传效果。历史研究追求一个真字。

12,他们的遗骸是怎样处理的?墓地在哪里?先友的遗骸是怎样运回国内的?

这样的问题不查清无法给铁路华工后裔作出交代,但是要查清非要下死功夫不行,由于华工的中文姓名到美国改用英文名,葬在美国的亡者难以找到对应的中文姓名,加上非正常死亡、家族变故等原因,葬在美国或者遗骸带回美国认领的难度加大。这些已有墓地,尚待发现的墓地,厘清死者的身份需要花费的时间和精力可以想象,万事开头难,开始了,就有希望,不动手就永远没有希望了!

13,美国铁路华工在美国家庭生活怎样?他们和国内家人是如何联系的?迄今发现家信情况?

迄今已有大量的银信在广东、福建侨乡发现,但是在当年修太平洋铁路时的银信尚未看到,这并不等于没有,需要继续发现,尽管如此我们还是可以通过后期的书信看到当年太平洋两岸家人书信交流的蛛丝马迹。

14,迄今确定的铁路华工的姓名有哪些?为何难以发现他们的姓名?

美国铁路华工作为一个群体是沉默的底层,也许包工头就是他们的代言人和保护人,凡是有当年华人尤其是铁路华工真名实姓的都是珍贵资料,这里包含照片、报刊报导的人名、公司账本等资料中的华人姓名,家谱中查出的在美国的华人等。

151869510太平洋铁路合拢时,为何有关华工在场的看法不一?

 需要厘清合拢时、合拢合影时、合拢庆典时,华工是否在场的不同场景。

16,第一条太平洋铁路完成后,铁路华工分别到哪里去了?

铁路华工时公司雇佣的临时工、季节工,属于公司聘任的正式职务各有多少时首先需要厘清的问题。随着1869年铁路的建成和1873年美国经济危机的蔓延。铁路华工除需要查清的回国人数外,他们以及继续来到美国的华工到那里去继续寻找信工作了?哪些人去加拿大?哪些人去加州和美国南部?那些人留在西部?哪些人去美国中部和美东地区,例如大体沿着铁路线去堪萨斯州圣路易斯、宾州、马萨诸塞州北亚当斯、新泽西州、纽约州等地,干何种业务,塔恩的集聚区和日后的唐人街有和关联?

171882年排华法令前后,美国铁路华工的遭遇如何?

 这方面已经有大量排华反华丑华漫画披露,估计地方报刊还会有继续披露,好在没有已经有19世纪中期看·报刊的数据库可供查询。此外对于哪些排华案件需要逐一查清。

18,如今我们找到了多少铁路华工的后裔?确切名单有哪些?

铁路华工和华工后裔的确切名单十分珍贵。点滴积累,调查落实确定,不能确定存疑继续调查。迄今我们已经知悉的名单包括在美国的不及百十人,联络到他们的后裔和家人至关重要。

19,我们的方志和古籍及政府文献是怎样记载铁路华工的?为何直接谈到的很少?

20,迄今发现了哪些涉及铁路华工的族谱、家谱、村志?

    方志、族谱、家谱、村志时中国史籍的重要成果和特色。不仅需要普查国内的,而且需要普查海外的。还要联系遗址遗物,口述史料等靠考察。

如果列为注意到上面例举的问题,相信会得出我们需要继续攻关的必要性和紧迫感。这件事情,需要大家来做,大家来做这件事,为国家、为华裔社会、为铁路华工家族、也为厘清被封存了一个半世纪之久的历史真相,为美中文化和建设交流作出了历史贡献的沉默道钉们的真相,我们难道不需要继续努力吗?

笔者一直主张信守规矩,资源共享。让沉默道钉进入更多人的视野,让更多人参加探寻沉默道钉真相的行列,大家都来关注和必要的参与,到2019年5月10日纪念建成第一条太平洋铁路时,相信会涌现一批新成果的。

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《沉默道钉的足迹》序中提出的20个课题(2015年版)

本书着力于探寻和突破美国铁路华工研究上的难点、疑点、重点。全书四部分内容试图集中在以下20个课题上用图文形式作初步解读,提供了我们的思路供读者和研究者参考。

1,美国为何要兴建太平洋铁路?

2,中央太平洋铁路公司为何选择华工?

3,华工何时参加兴建中央太平洋铁路?如何界定华工参加兴建中央太平洋铁路的时间?

4,参与兴建中央太平洋铁路的华工从哪里来?广东五邑地区占多大比例?

5,这些华工以什么身份来美国?契约华工和自由移民所占的比例各有多少?

6,参与建设中央太平洋铁路的华工有多少人?各个年份的统计情况?

7,美国铁路华工承担了哪些工种,建设了那些最困难和最危险的施工地段?他们是怎样施工的?

8,他们的工作和生活待遇如何,和欧洲白人(如爱尔兰工人)有何不同?

9,在华工争取平等生活条件过程中发生了那些事件?

10,他们在美国的生活习俗如何?和白人社会如何交往?

11,有多少铁路华工死于兴建铁路过程中?

12,他们的遗骸是怎样处理的?墓地在哪里?先友的遗骸是怎样运回国内的?

13,美国铁路华工在美国家庭生活怎样?他们和国内家人是如何联系的?迄今发现家信情况?

14,迄今确定的铁路华工的姓名有哪些?为何难以发现他们的姓名?

151869510太平洋铁路合拢时,为何有关华工在场的看法不一?

16,第一条太平洋铁路完成后,铁路华工分别到哪里去了?

171882年排华法令前后,美国铁路华工的遭遇如何?

18,如今我们找到了多少铁路华工的后裔?确切名单有哪些?

19,我们的方志和古籍及政府文献是怎样记载铁路华工的?为何直接谈到的很少?

20,迄今发现了哪些涉及铁路华工的族谱、家谱、村志?

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深度研究美国铁路华工的20个课题

黄安年文  黄安年的博客/20141123发布

为了突破在美国铁路华工研究上的难点、疑点、重点,我以为需要在以下20个课题上多下功夫:

1,美国为何要兴建太平洋铁路?

2,中央太平洋铁路公司为何选择华工?

3,华工何时参加兴建中央太平洋铁路?如何界定华工参加兴建中央太平洋铁路的时间?

4,参与兴建中央太平洋铁路的华工从哪里来?广东五邑地区占多大比例?

5,这些华工以什么身份来美国?契约华工和自由移民所占的比例各有多少?

6,参与建设中央太平洋铁路的华工有多少人?各个年份的统计情况?

7,这些华工承担了哪些工种,建设了那些最困难和最危险的施工地段?是怎样施工的?

8,他们的待遇如何,和欧洲白人(如爱尔兰工人)有何不同?

9,在华工争取平等生活条件过程中发生了那些事件?(如1867625罢工)

10,他们的生活习俗如何?和白人社会如何交往?

11,有多少华工死于兴建铁路过程中?

12,他们的遗骸是怎样处理的?墓地在哪里?有些先友的遗骸是怎样运回国内的?

13,美国铁路华工在美国有无家庭生活?和国内家人是如何保持联系的?为何迄今没有发现家信?

14,迄今确定的铁路华工的名字有哪些?为何难以发现他们的名字?

151869510太平洋铁路合拢时,铁路华工在哪里?为何报道甚少?

16,第一条太平洋铁路完成后,铁路华工到哪里去了?

171882年排华法令前后,美国铁路华工的遭遇?

18,如今我们找到了多少铁路华工的后裔?

19,我们的方志和古籍及政府文献是怎样记载铁路华工的?

20,迄今发现了哪些涉及铁路华工的族谱、家谱、村志?

下面是斯坦福大学北美华工铁路网站提出的13个问题

FAQs

CPRR FAQS(Frequently Asked Questions)

1How manyChineseworked on the first transcontinentalrailroad?

The precise number of Chinese who workedonthe railroadfrom 1864 to 1869 is not clear; records are incomplete andinexact.Therailroad did not list most individual Chinese workers by name intheirpayrollrecords, and instead listed headmen of work crews or laborcontractorswhodistributed pay to the individuals on the crew. In January 1864,theCentralPacific hired a crew of 21 Chinese workers and hired more duringthatyear. InJanuary 1865, convinced that Chinese workers were capable, therailroadhiredfifty Chinese workers and shortly after fifty more. But thedemand forlaborincreased, and white workers were reluctant to do suchbackbreaking,hazardouswork. As Leland Stanford reported to Congress in 1865,“A largemajority of thewhite laboring class on the Pacific Coastfind mostprofitable andcongenial employment in mining and agriculturalpursuits, thanin railroad work.The greater portion of the laborers employed byus areChinese, who constitute alarge element of the population of California.Without themit would beimpossible to complete the western portion of this greatnationalenterprise,within the time required by the Acts of Congress.”

Soon the Chinese labor poolfromCaliforniawas exhausted, and the Central Pacific arranged withlaborcontractors toimport large numbers of Chinese workers directly from China. ByJuly1865, the Chineseworkforce was nearly 4,000. In February 1867, approximately8,000Chinese wereworking on the construction of tunnels and 3000 were layingtrack,representingninety percent of the workforce. Historians estimate that atany onetime asmany as 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese were working on constructingthe railroad.MostChinese probably did not work for the entire duration ofconstruction andotherswould take their place, particularly because the workwas so difficultanddangerous. Consequently, the total number of Chinese may beeven higher.

2When weretheyhired to work on the railroad?

Chinese worked on shorter railroadlinesbeforeconstruction of the transcontinental, such as the San Francisco and San JoseRailroadCompany(now known as CalTrain) completed in 1863. Some Chinese beganworking ontheCentral Pacific as early as January 1864, and Director CharlesCrockerandConstruction Superintendent James Strobridge were convinced inJanuary 1865tohire large numbers of Chinese laborers for the workforce. Soonafter,theCentral Pacific Railroad arranged with labor contractors torecruitlargenumbers of workers directly from China, and shipsregularlybroughtadditional workers throughout the construction.

3Where didtheChinese workers come from?

Railroad workers recruited bylaborcontractors camemostly from Guangdong (Canton) province, especially Siyi (四邑Sze Yap, meaningfourcounties: Taishan台山, Kaiping开平, Xinhui新会 and Enping恩平).  These counties suffered fromextreme poverty andcivil unrest, andthe area was close to Hong Kongas a point of departure. Desperate for work,workers fromthis part of Guangdong boardedships for Californiaand otherparts to support theirfamilies.

4What weretheChinese workers paid in comparison toworkers of European descent?

Chinese workers were initially paid 24to24to 31 per month,although rates would varydepending on how skilled ordangerous the work. Forexample, those who worked inthe tunnels were paid anextra 1permonth.Theirpayeventuallyroseto1permonth.Theirpayeventuallyroseto 35 per day, which was roughly the sameas for workersof Europeandescent. However, Chinese workers worked longer hoursand had topay theirheadmen or contractors for their own lodging and food andeven fortheir tools;on the other hand, the Central Pacific and Union Pacificprovidedwhite workersaccommodations, food, and tools without additionalcost.Alexander Saxton, in“The Army of Canton in the High Sierra,” calculatesthatChinese labor cost therailroad companies two thirds of what was paid towhiteworkers.

5What werethehardest and most hazardous parts of therailroad route for them to build?

Bloomer Cut

In early 1864 workers began blastinganddigging throughsteep terrain on the Bloomer Ranch near Auburn, California,tocreate a levelgrade for tracks. Bloomer Cut, 38 miles from Sacramento, was 800feet long and 63feethigh, and workers dug a trough through naturally cementedgravel and hardclaywith picks, shovels and black powder. This was the firstmajorengineeringchallenge for the railroad, and it was dangerous work. InJanuary1864, theCentral Pacific hired a crew of 21 Chinese workers and hiredmoreduring thatyear, with at least some working at Bloomer Cut. A largernumberworked thereby the time Bloomer Cut was completed in March 1865.

Cape Horn

In summer 1865 construction began onCapeHorn (namedafter the treacherous route for ships sailing around the tip ofSouthAmerica) and completed a year later.This was athree-mile roadbed curving alongsteep terrain of the Sierra Nevadaat least1300 feet high above the AmericanRiver east of Colfax.Work requiredgrading, leveling and clearing trees, stumps,rocks and otherobstructions alongan irregular slope dropping off between 45 and75 degrees.Hundreds of kegs ofblack blasting powder were used to form a ledgefrom whicha level roadbed couldbe laid. There are conflicting reports on howthe workwas carried out,including the belief that Chinese workers were lowereddowncliffs in baskets toplant charges (see below).

Tunnels

In fall 1865 Chinese workers beganbuilding15 tunnels,most of them at high elevations through the SierraNevadafor a totalof 6,213 feet. Historians agree that the most difficulttunnel wasNo. 6, the Summit Tunnel, cutthrough solid granite, 1,695 feet longand 124feet below the surface. Progresswas very slow, with many kegs of blackpowderused each day, but to little effectin the hard rock. Nitroglycerine wasmixedon site by a chemist, but it was toounstable, causing manyaccidentalexplosions, and its use was abandoned. Workersbuilt a vertical shafthalfwaybetween the two tunnel openings, and in shiftsaround the clock they dugfourfaces simultaneously, from both exterior sides andfrom inside out.Workcontinued through two of the worst winters on record. Snowfromfierceblizzards often blocked tunnel entrances, and avalanches would sweepawaycampsof Chinese workers, carrying many to their death. The Summit Tunnelwascompleted, graded and tracklaid on November 30, 1867. Because of theseverewinter storms, the CentralPacific built 37 miles of snow sheds to coverthetracks in 1868 and 1869. Thesnow sheds were nicknamed the “longest barn intheworld.”


Ten Miles in One Day

On April 28, 1869 ten miles andfifty-sixfeet of trackwas laid in one day. The accomplishment was in response toa$10,000 wagerCharles Crocker made with Thomas Durant of the Union Pacificthathis workerswere capable of doing what seemed impossible. A squad ofeightIrishrail-handlers and a small army of 4000 workers, mostlyChinese,accomplishedthe feat, working between 5 a.m.and7 p.m., with a mid-day break after laying sixmiles of track. In the end25,800ties, 3,520 rails (averaging 560 lbs.each), 55,080 spikes, 14,050bolts, and othermaterials, totaling in weight4,462,000 pounds, were laid down.

The teamwork that went into laying tenmilesplus oftrack in one day was tremendous.  It was likeachoreographerorchestrating a complex dance sequence.  Everyone movedwitha rhythm. Theaccomplishment has not been matched even in modern times.

The names of the eight Irish workerswererecorded by therailroad, and they were hailed in a parade in Sacramento. None of theChinese workers’nameswere recorded; they were forgotten so they remainnameless.

6How manyChineseworkers died building thetranscontinental railroad?

The Central Pacific did not keep recordsofthe deaths ofany workers on the railroad. Some historians estimatefromengineering reports,newspaper articles and other sources that between 50 to150Chinese were killedas a result of snow slides, landslides, explosions,fallsand other accidents.Chinese practice was to bury the deceased temporarilyandat a later datecollect the remains in a box in a ritual fashion. Theboneswould then beshipped back to Chinato be reburied in the worker’s homevillage.One newspaper article entitled“Bones in Transit” of June 30, 1870 intheSacramento Reporter reported that “about 20,000 pounds ofbones” dugup fromshallow graves were taken by train for return to China,calculatingthat thisamounted to 1,200 Chinese. Another article published onthe same dayin the Sacramento Unionstatedthat only the bones of about 50 Chinesewere on the train. Others believethatsome Chinese must have also died in asmallpox outbreak among railroadworkers,although there are no records if anyof the dead were Chinese. Inaddition,there were reports of Chinese workersbeing killed in Nevadaas theresult ofIndian raids. Charles Crocker, testifying before Congressafter theline wascompleted, acknowledged that a great many men were lostduringconstruction –and most of those workers were Chinese.

7What happenedinthe 1867 strike?

On June 25, 1867 Chinese workers wentonstrike. Fivethousand workers grading along the eastern slope of theSierrabetween Ciscoand Strong’s Canyon and digging tunnels put their tools downandreturned totheir camps. When Chinese workers were first hired in 1864theyearned 25perday,butthenwageswereraisedagain.InSpring1867CharlesCrockerraisedtheirwagesfrom25perday,butthenwageswereraisedagain.InSpring1867CharlesCrockerraisedtheirwagesfrom31 to 35permonth;buttheworkersdemanded35permonth;buttheworkersdemanded 40 per month,reduced workdays from elevento ten hours, and shortershifts digging in thecramped, dangerous tunnels.Shifts were supposed to beeight hours in thetunnels, but they were often forcedto work longer. As theSacramentoUnion reported, theworkers protested“the rightof the overseers of the company to either whip themor restrain themfrom leavingthe road when they desire to seek otheremployment.”

Crocker recalled that, “If there hadbeenthat number ofwhite laborers [on strike] … it would have been impossibletocontrol them. Butthis strike of the Chinese was just like Sunday all alongthework. These menstayed in their camps. That is, they would come out andwalkaround, but not aword was said. No violence was perpetrated along thewholeline.” Despite theirnon-violent tactic, the strike posed a mortal threat toCrocker,Stanford andthe other railroad “Associates” who received governmentsubsidiesbased on themiles of track laid. “The truth is they are gettingsmart,” Charles’brother E.B. Crocker wrote, observing that the Chinese wereaware of thescarcity oflabor and therefore of their own leverage to bargain.E. B. Crockerand MarkHopkins considered taking advantage of the newly createdFreedmen’sBureau tohire recently freed slaves as strikebreakers. Hopkins reasoned, “ANegro labor forcewouldtend to keep the Chinese steady, as the Chinese havekept the Irishmenquiet.”

Charles Crocker cut off food andothersupplies. Aftereight days of increasing privation, Crocker confrontedthestarving workers,along with James Strobridge, the local Sherriff andacontingent of deputizedwhite men, insisting that he would make noconcessionsand threatened violenceto anyone preventing workers from returningto the job.Facing starvation andcoercion, the workers ended the strike. CharlesCrockerbecame convinced thatthe labor action was a plot by the Union Pacific,whichaimed to sabotage theCentral Pacific’s forward progress in their race togainmore miles forsubsidies. He never considered that the Chinese workerswerecapable ofasserting their own interests.

8What isthecontroversy over whether Chinese workers werelowered in baskets toplaceexplosive charges at Cape Horn?

Debate has been furious amongrailroadenthusiasts andhistorians on the use of baskets at Cape Horn.Manyaccounts,starting in the early twentieth century, told of Chineseworkershanging oversheer precipices in straw baskets to chip away holesforexplosives. Once theylit the fuse, they signaled to be hastily drawn uptoavoid the blast, a veryrisky operation, and many would lose their lives ifthebasket was not drawn upfast enough. In some accounts Chinese workersrequestedto weave the baskets,explaining that they were already skilled doingsuch workalong the Yangtze River. The imagehas beenpowerful of Chineseworkers hanging from baskets to do such hazardouswork, andthe depiction ofworkers in baskets along cliffs has appeared in manygraphicimages and literaryrepresentations, as well as histories.

However, other historians point outthatthere were noreports from engineers, no reports by ConstructionSuperintendentJamesStrobridge, no newspaper accounts, and no photographs ofbaskets beingusedduring construction at Cape Horn. Inthisview, the use ofbaskets is an exaggeration, a legend that has expandedovertime with each newversion of the story. An 1869 article in The OverlandMonthlybased on witnessesdescribed how workers“were suspended by ropesfrom above, the chain-bearerssignaling to thoseholding the ropes, up anddown, forward or back.” One accountdescribed howworkers sat on boatswain’s(or boson’s) chairs, flat seats of wovenropes likeswings. They were then letdown to prepare for drilling and blasting.The slopewas not a sheer cliff buta drop between 45 and 75 degrees, so laboringinbaskets could have actuallyhindered work, since no one would be able to usehisfeet to maneuver.

Researchers in Chinapoint out, however,thatthe laborers from Guangdongwould have much experience working at greatheightsfor building roads andstructures along the Yangtze river,as well asclimbing tall trees to gather delicacies forcooking. The workers,therefore,would have had no problem hanging by ropes andbaskets duringconstruction, soit’s plausible that some baskets could have beenemployed.Whether hung in basketsor by rope, there is no question the Chineseworkers undertookan arduous anddangerous task of cutting through steepterrain.

9Were theworkersliterate, and did they send letters backto China?

Since the workers came from theagriculturalregion of Guangdong,itisgenerally believed that most were illiterate farmers. To be literateinChinaat that time involved being conversant with Chinese classical texts,andbythat definition, almost all of the workers were not literate. However,bythecommonly accepted American definition of literacy – being able toreadandwrite – a number may, in fact, have been literate. Evidencesuggests,however,that at least some of the workers were educated; certainly,the headmenandagents for labor contractors could speak English and tallyaccounts, andatleast one labor contractor had apparently passed the lower levelofthemandarin civil service exams. Mark Twain, writing about the 1860s aboutVirginia City, Nevada,observedin Roughing It that theChinese “can read, writeand cipherwith easy facility.” So far, though, noletter or document of any sortwrittenby one of the Central Pacific workers hasbeen found. Chinese who workedonother lines after the first transcontinental,such as the SouthernPacific,have left some documents.

10Why has noletteror journal from a worker been foundyet?

Guangdong suffered fromrebellions,civilconflict, bandits and warlords in the mid-nineteenth century,so ifletters ordocuments were sent to families back home they may havebeendestroyed in thechaos. Also, families may not have regarded the lettersasimportant, sincetheir fathers and sons were merely lowly laborers. As well,thefamilies maynot have been able to preserve them in the subsequent 150 yearsofinvasions,famine and social unrest. Finally, no exhaustive search forsuchprimarydocuments has been conducted until now, so there may yetbepossiblediscoveries.

11Why do we notknowmany of their names?

Chinese naming practices requiredthreenames. First wasthe family name for a male, followed by a middle namethatindicates theperson’s village and generation, and lastly the given name,oftenwith symbolicor aspirational meaning. English speakers found Chinese namesverydifficult tounderstand, and they are listed in payroll records andnewspaperarticles insimplified forms or what could be described as nicknames,such as AhFong, AhChung and Ah Lim, with “Ah” serving as a designation lessformal than“Mister.”Consequently, we have very few actual names, making it verydifficultto trackdown the actual workers. We have been collecting names fromoralhistoryinterviews of descendants and other sources, and we hope to obtain more.

12What kind offooddid they eat?

The workers insisted on eating Chinesefood:rice, driedvegetables, dried oysters, dried abalone fish, and some porkandpoultry. Muchof these foodstuffs came from Californiasources, such asfreshvegetables. They also drank tea and hot water withoccasional wine andopium.The Irish or white workers were fed mainly meat andpotatoes along withwhiskey.The Chinese diet and especially the use of boiledwater reduced theoutbreak ofdysentery and other diseases. In order to providefood for theworkers, theCentral Pacific made an arrangement with one of thelaborcontractors, Sisson,Wallace & Company, who had exclusive right tosell foodand other suppliesto the Chinese workers. As they work moved throughNevada,theCentral Pacifichad two train cars labeled “ChinaStore,” from whichgoodscould be purchased. Because the demand for tea was sohigh, thecontractordecided to bypass the middlemen and had their agents intheir HongKong officepurchase the tea directly from growers in China. Food wassoimportant thatthe Chinese cooks were paid more than unskilled workers.Inaddition, Chinesein their contracts insisted that a Chinese physician be inthevicinity.

13What didtherailroad workers do after the CentralPacific Railroad was completed?

Upon completion of the railroad, someworkerswent backto China;otherswent towork in agriculture, mining, building levees along the rivers orwenttoChinatowns in Sacramento, San Francisco, and thesmall towns intheSierras to enter domestic service or work in manufacturing toproducecigarsand other items. Some continued to work for the Central Pacificupgradingthehasty construction, such as filling in land to remove a trestle.Chinesealsowent to work on the railroad from Sacramentodown San JoaquinValleyto LosAngeles.We have not yet been able to determine how many workersfrom theoriginaltranscontinental line went to work on other railroads versusthe numberoffresh workers contracted in China,but there were large contingentsof Chinesebuilding the Southern Pacific andNorthern Pacific Railroads, as wellas otherrailroads throughout the West andeven in the East.

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