Gordon H. Chang Celebrated by the Committee of 100

Gordon H. Chang is celebrated by the Committee of 100 for his contribution to the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The full text from Frank Wu, member of the Committee of 100:

Dear Friends:

I was honored to attend this important event, the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike Ceremony, commemorating the completion of the transcontinental railroad which joined the nation. As you likely already are well aware, approximately 12,000 to 15,000 Chinese laborers built the western half of the line, making up almost all of the workforce. Yet in 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah, they were absent — the most famous photograph shows maybe one of them, with his back turned, as everyone celebrates before the camera. Then at the centennial, the representative of Chinese Americans was excused from the program at the last minute due to the appearance of movie star John Wayne, and the keynote speaker apparently was unaware of any Chinese contribution.

Now, Chinese Americans have been put in the picture, literally and figuratively. The Chinese Railroad Worker Descendants Association organized official activities, which included a restaging of the famous photography with Corky Lee creating an image with Chinese Americans at the center. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a friend of C100, was the main representative of the federal government, which had subsidized the project, the most significant infrastructure development ever at that time.

Our own member Gordon Chang, a professor at Stanford and now the highest-ranking administrator of Chinese descent in the history of the university, was the star of the show. Gordon has written many books about the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese workers. His most recent book, Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroadwas published this month. He also has co-edited an academic book with even more background on the magnificent accomplishment as well as the tremendous sacrifice of our ancestors. A short video by C100, incorporating primarily Gordon’s earlier documentary, is available here. At this point, Gordon is exhausted. He has appeared in every major media piece about the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese workers. He has done what scholars hope to do: change the common understanding with original research.

Gordon spoke at the Saturday lunch organized by the descendants’ organization, about the history and the cultural effects of the transcontinental railroad. I spoke at the breakfast about the future of Chinese Americans. Our appearance, Gordon’s especially, affirmed the leadership role of C100 among Chinese Americans. The audience came from around the nation, and overseas, and it was standing room only.

Photo credit: Max Chang 

The events over a week were so exciting. It was terrific to see the many Chinese Americans of so many generations. The recognition of the railroad workers, including by the mainstream, was sincere and extensive. The academic conference showed there is much to be uncovered about the railroad workers. The study will be ongoing and it is fascinating material.

As Asian American Heritage Month comes to a close, we can salute again those pioneers who brought together the United States — who now, at last, are being given the recognition long due.

Thank you,

Gordon H. Chang’s additional honors and awards for his achievements related to the history of the Chinese railroad workers in North America.