Cover of The Chinese and the Iron Road by Edited by Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin
The Chinese and the Iron Road
Building the Transcontinental Railroad
Edited by Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin


April 2019
528 pages.
from $30.00

Cloth ISBN: 9781503608290
Paper ISBN: 9781503609242



The completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869 is usually told as a story of national triumph and a key moment for American Manifest Destiny. The railroad made it possible to cross the country in a matter of days instead of months, paved the way for new settlers to come out West, and helped speed America's entry onto the world stage as a modern nation that spanned a full continent. It also created vast wealth for its four owners, including the fortune with which Leland Stanford would found Stanford University some two decades later. But while the transcontinental has often been celebrated in national memory, little attention has been paid to the Chinese workers who made up 90% of the workforce on the Western portion of the line. The railroad could not have been built without Chinese labor, but the lives of Chinese railroad workers themselves have been little understood and largely invisible.

This landmark volume shines new light on the Chinese railroad workers and their place in cultural memory. The Chinese and the Iron Road illuminates more fully than ever before the interconnected economies of China and the US, how immigration across the Pacific changed both nations, the dynamics of the racism the workers encountered, the conditions under which they labored, and their role in shaping both the history of the railroad and the development of the American West.

About the authors

Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin are Co-Directors of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford; Hilton Obenzinger is Associate Director and Roland Hsu is Director of Research.

"The long-awaited The Chinese and the Iron Road makes visible the previously invisible Chinese railroad workers who built America's first transcontinental railroad. They are given names, family lives, homes, spiritual beliefs, and agency. The research is astounding. The wide variety of interdisciplinary, international, and collaborative perspectives – from archaeology to family history – is revelatory and a model for future collaborative projects. This timely and essential volume preserves the humanity of the often-ignored and forgotten immigrant worker, while also uncovering just how important Chinese American railroad workers were in the making of America and its place in the world."

—Erika Lee, author of The Making of Asian America