New US musical chronicles early Chinese railroad workers

World Today

New US musical chronicles early Chinese railroad workers

For generations, their contributions in building America’s rail network went largely ignored.

Now, Chinese railroad workers are gaining recognition as the U.S. marks 150 years of its transcontinental railroad.

CGTN’s Mark Niu has this story of a new musical about the lives of those early migrants.

In the state of Utah, Gold Mountain impressively sold out at both the 200-seat Eccles Black Box Theater and the 850-seat Peery’s Egyptian Theater.

“Yes, I am very surprised. There’s just something in the air right now,” said writer Jason Ma. “It isn’t just me. You are seeing these articles about the Chinese railroad workers everywhere.”

Broadway actor Jason Ma wrote the book, music and lyrics for Gold Mountain.

The story is about a young Chinese railroad worker – Lit Ning– whose quickness makes him perfect for the dangerous and high-paid job of fuse running.

He takes the job against his father’s wishes in hopes of reuniting them with their family in China sooner.

The musical highlights painful sacrifices railroad workers made—something often omitted from history books.

At this year’s official Golden Spike 150th anniversary celebration, different ethnicities, including Chinese were well represented.

That’s in stark contrast to the 100th anniversary when the Chinese American community speaker was bumped from the program at the last minute.

“On top of that, the Secretary of Transportation said something like who else but Americans could build a tunnel through the granite of the tunnels of the Sierra? Who else but Americans could lay ten miles of track in one day? These were feats that were accomplished mostly by Chinese immigrants,” said Ma.

Gold Mountain’s drama heightens when Lit Ning falls in love with a woman who’s been sold into prostitution to help her family survive.

With hopes of buying her freedom, Lit Ning has even more reason to continue risking his life.

“Although it tells the story through fictional characters, the story itself is truth,” said Gold Mountain’s Executive Producer Michael Kwan.

“We’ve been teaching pieces of this show to children in elementary schools in Utah,” said Ma. “When you say to them, now figure out what it feels like to be a guy who is lighting fuses and running out of the tunnel. All of a sudden a whole world opens up to them and they’ll never forget it.”

While Gold Mountain takes the audience through suspenseful moments, some laughter and for many plenty of tears, Ma hopes people will take away a deeper message.

“I would love for people to come away from the play with a sense of empathy and care for the characters who are Chinese immigrants, but maybe for all immigrants,” said Ma. “Nobody wants to leave their home to a country where they don’t speak their language. Something is driving them here.”