Chinese railroad workers' efforts honored

2018-05-11 12:45:18
Summary:Zhao Zhunwang, a Beijing-based artist, revisits the historical sites along the Transcontinental Railroad in honor o...
 
Zhao Zhunwang, a Beijing-based artist, revisits the historical sites along the Transcontinental Railroad in honor of the Chinese railroad workers who helped build the railroad more than 150 years ago. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A Chinese artist and a California Assembly member have teamed up to promote the contribution of Chinese railroad workers and the Sino-American friendship through an art exhibition.

Zhao Zhunwang, a Beijing-based artist of traditional Chinese painting, recently completed a 10-day trip revisiting the historical sites where Chinese workers helped build the Transcontinental Railroad in the US more than 150 years ago.

He traveled, sometimes on foot due to rough terrain, across three states from Sacramento, California, to Salt Lake City, Utah. During the trip, he worked on 60 sketches.

"The paintings depict not only the beauty of the landscape but also the arduous condition for Chinese workers," said Zhao, 73, vice president of the Art Creation Institute of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

The sites depicted in Zhao's paintings include the China Wall of the Sierra, Colfax station, Donner Pass and Chinese workers' cemetery. He said he was most impressed by the "China Wall" – the massive retaining walls that hold up parts of the rail line. 

"The wall reminds me of the Great Wall in China. It represents the hardworking spirit and perseverance of the Chinese people," Zhao said.

The 60 sketches, which were on display at California Assembly member Kansen Chu's office on Tuesday, will lay the groundwork for a large-scale painting, nearly 50 feet long and 5 feet high, depicting the railroad landscape from Sacramento to Salt Lake City.

Zhao plans to finish the painting ahead of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad next year for public exhibition in both China and the US.

"Not until recent years did people begin learning about the Chinese railroad workers. I hope the exhibition can remind people, both in China and the US, of the friendship between the two countries as early as 150 years ago," Zhao said.

Zhao said the project was inspired by a conversation with California Assembly member Kansen Chu at his art exhibition in California last year.

"The Chinese railroad workers played a key role in the Transcontinental Railroad, which was in operation for more than 100 years and paved the way for economic growth," Chu said.

"However, their role was largely neglected for many years. There were no Chinese faces in the photos of celebrating the completion of the railroad," he said.

The Transcontinental Railroad, originally known as the Pacific Railroad, was completed on May 10 1869, linking the West and the East for the first time in American history with 1,907 miles of contiguous track.

The construction, which took six years, was one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century. Nearly 12,000 Chinese railroad workers were recruited, and nearly 1,200 of them died from work accidents, avalanches and explosions while working in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

As activists work to raise the awareness of the Chinese railroad workers, more and more attention has focused on this history.

In 2014, the US Department of Labor inducted the Chinese railroad workers into the Labor Hall of Honor for their fight for better working conditions.

Last year, the California Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to declare May 10 California Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Day in honor of the Chinese railroad workers.

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