Chinese Railroad Workers

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Chinese railroad workers Sierra Nevada

Upcoming Events[edit | edit source]

Transcontinental Railroad[edit | edit source]

(see also Central Pacific Railroad)
An estimated 30,000 Chinese worked outside of California in such trades as mining, common labor, and service trades. Between 1865-1869, 10,000 -12,000 Chinese were involved in the building of the western leg of the Central Pacific Railroad. The work was backbreaking and highly dangerous. Approximately 1,200 died while building the Transcontinental Railroad. Over a thousand Chinese had their bones shipped back to China to be buried. See the article "China Burial Traditions" in this outline.

As time passed, the resentment against the Chinese increased from those who could not compete with them in the workforce. Acts of violence against the Chinese continued for decades, mostly from white urban and agricultural workers. . Mob violence steadily increased against the Chinese until even employers were at risk. Eventually, laws such as the Naturalization Act of 1870 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted immigration of Chinese immigrants into the United States.

See the article Chinese Emigration and Immigration for more information.

Articles Written in Chinese[edit | edit source]

Articles Written in English[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

Canada Public Railroad[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

  • VIDEO: Chinese railroad workers and the CPR - examines the history of Chinese laborers on Canada’s first megaproject, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which brought new economic and transportation possibilities to a young nation, but at a severe human cost, including sickness, malnutrition, and shunning by society.

California Gold Rush[edit | edit source]

Large-scale immigration began in the mid-1800s due to the California Gold Rush. After a much larger group of coolies (unskilled laborers who usually worked for very little pay) migrated to the United States in this time frame, American attitudes became more negative and hostile. By 1851, there were 25,000 Chinese working in California, mostly centered in and out of the "Gold Rush" area and around San Francisco. More than half the Chinese population in the United States lived in that region.

These Chinese clustered into groups, working hard and living frugally. As the populations of these groups increased, they formed large cities of ethnic enclaves called "Chinatowns." The first and most important of the Chinatowns belonged to San Francisco. If researching Chinese who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1850s, this would be a place to begin the search.

Occupations can also direct a search for Chinese immigrants. The Chinese did not only mine for gold, but took on jobs such as cooks, peddlers, and storekeepers. In the first decade after the discovery of gold, many had taken jobs nobody else wanted. By 1880, one fifth of the Chinese immigrants were engaged in mining, another fifth in agriculture, a seventh in manufacturing, another seventh were domestic servants, and a tenth were laundry workers.[1]

Articles Written in Chinese[edit | edit source]

  • California Gold Rush (加利福尼亞淘金潮) - partial article summarizing different aspects of the California Gold Rush.

See the article Chinese Emigration and Immigration for more information.

Research Information[edit | edit source]

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Collections[edit | edit source]

Published Sources[edit | edit source]

Occupations[edit | edit source]

Most Frequently Reported Occupations, 1870[2]
The table below lists the most common occupations among Chinese-Americans as of 1870.

# Occupation Population %
1. Miners 17,069 36.9
2. Laborers (not specified) 9,436 20.4
3. Domestic servants 5,420 11.7
4. Launderers 3,653 7.9
5. Agricultural laborers 1,766 3.8
6. Cigar-makers 1,727 3.7
7. Gardeners & nurserymen 676 1.5
8. Traders & dealers(not specified) 604 1.3
9. Employees of railroad co., (not clerks) 568 1.2
10. Boot & shoemakers 489 1.1
11. Woodchoppers 419 0.9
12. Farmers & planters 366 0.8
13. Fishermen & oystermen 310 0.7
14. Barbers & hairdressers 243 0.5
15. Clerks in stores 207 0.4
16. Mill & factory operatives 203 0.4
17. Physicians & surgeons 193 0.4
18. Employees of manufacturing establishments 166 0.4
19. Carpenters & joiners 155 0.3
20. Peddlers 152 0.3
Sub-Total (20 occupations) 43,822 94.7
Total (all occupations) 46,274 100.0

Organizations & Projects[edit | edit source]

Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, Stanford University
北美鐵路華工研究工程項目, 史丹福大學
American Studies Program, Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305-2022, USA

Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Project
965 Clay Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Telephone: (415) 391-1188

Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association
2061 East Rainbow Point Dr.
Salt Lake City, Utah 84124
Telephone: *801) 703-3518

Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA, in San Francisco)
965 Clay Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Telephone: (415) 391-1188 x101

Chinese American Museum
425 North Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Telephone: (213) 485-8567
Email: see email list

California State Railroad Museum
125 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Telephone: (916) 323-9280
Email: see this link

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

History Museum for Overseas Chinese (located in Beijing)
中国华侨历史博物馆 北京
East Gate, Sanqiao, Beixinqiao
Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
Telephone: 86-10-64030790

University of Washington (Professor, Asian American History, Moon-Ho Jung)
Department of History
University of Washington
318 Smith Box 353560
Seattle, WA 98195-3560
Telephone: (206) 543-5790

Truckee-Donner Historical Society (Jim Fisher)
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 893
Truckee, CA 96160
Telephone: (530) 582-0893
For additional questions, see this contact list.

Nevada State Railroad Museum Curator (Historian: Wendell Huffman)
2180 S. Carson Street
Carson City, NV 89701
Telephone: (775) 687-6953

  • Other local communities along the railroad route (see this article for more route information)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. David V. DuFault. "The Chinese in the Mining Camps of California, 1848-18970." Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 41 (1959).
  2. 1870 U.S. Census, Population and social Statistics, Volume I, Table XXIX, pp 704–715. Located on