I would rather live my life as if there is a God, and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t, and die to find out there is!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Review of "Historic Photos of the Chinese in California"

Text and Captions by Hannah Clayborn – Copyright (c) 2009 – Turner Publishing Company, Nashville, TN 37219

The book "Historic Photos of the Chinese in California" recently came into my possession. It looked like the standard coffee table book of photos. However, there was something about the picture on the cover that caused me to examine it carefully. I was then compelled to turn it over and look at the nine photos reproduced on the back cover. Each one commanded a bit of my time to study it fully. I was drawn to each photo.

I found the same thing happened when I opened the book. I was not able to put it down and, in fact went completely through it twice, and no doubt will visit it again.

Being a California native, I have a modicum of knowledge about how the Chinese fit into the development of California. I think most of us know there was a significant Chinese contribution to the establishment of the railroads, at least in the west, but the enormous offering made to railroad construction overshadowed some of their other contributions to California. Having lived in northern California, I was also aware of the hundreds of miles of rock walls built by the Chinese as fences for the ranchers marking the boundaries of their lands. Beyond that, I knew very little of California Chinese history.

Hannah Clayborn has done a stellar job of bringing some of the other Chinese contributions to light by way of an excellent photographic journal, combined with on-target comments and captions. Like many others, the Chinese were attracted to California in part as a result of the Gold Rush. However, because they were unable to own land or file gold claims they mostly ended up working for others for very low laborer’s wages. Their dreams of riches by way of gold were pretty much wiped away.

In 1850 there were 25,000 Chinese in California as recorded in California’s 1852 census. Many left the gold fields to seek employment and income elsewhere. As Chinese women were somewhat restricted from immigrating, this was a largely male population and a very able work force. By 1870 Chinese made up ten percent of California’s population, but accounted for almost 25 percent of the unskilled labor force. Chinese laborers were active in farming, fishing, sharecropping resulting in vegetable sales and other menial labor-intensive tasks as well as working the gold fields. In addition they proved to be very adept as cooks and shopkeepers.

While I am able to relay a bit of Chinese history here, I want to credit Hannah Clayborn, as this book is the only reference I used as a source of information. If you have found what I have written interesting, I must tell you it pales in comparison to Hannah’s book. The book "Historic Photos of the Chinese in California" is a must see. From beginning to end, with hundreds of photos and comments, the history unfolds. If you are at all like me you will be spellbound.

I understand this review may seem more like a promotional piece for the book rather than an objective review, but there was just no other way I could write it. This book is an exciting piece of work.

Be blessed,

Love all – Trust some – Harm none

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