The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad

Left: Alfred A. Hart (1816–1908), Heading of East Portal, Tunnel No. 8, from Donner Lake Railroad, Western Summit, c. 1865–1869. Right: Li Ju (b. 1959), Heading of East Portal, Tunnel No. 8, from Donner Lake Railroad, Western Summit (Hart photo #204), September 26, 2013. Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives, Alfred A. Hart Photograph Collection; Courtesy of Li Ju

Left: Alfred A. Hart (1816–1908), Heading of East Portal, Tunnel No. 8, from Donner Lake Railroad, Western Summit, c. 1865–1869. Right: Li Ju (b. 1959), Heading of East Portal, Tunnel No. 8, from Donner Lake Railroad, Western Summit (Hart photo #204), September 26, 2013.
Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives, Alfred A. Hart Photograph Collection; Courtesy of Li Ju

The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad—The Railroad Helped Build America

A four-part exhibition series featuring photography by Alfred Hart & Li Ju
Produced by Stanford University’s CRRW Project and Guangxi Normal University Press Group


In 2016, the CHSA Main Gallery hosted a new exhibition produced by Stanford University’s CRRW Project and Guangxi Normal University Press Group, The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad, the Railroad Helped Build America. The multi-panel exhibition presents a comprehensive historical overview of how the First Transcontinental Railroad was built, and how thousands of Chinese laborers made the completion of the railroad possible.

The full exhibition prominently features contemporary photographs by photographer Li Ju. Beginning in 2012, Li Ju visited sites from the Pacific Railroad route four times. Inspired by Alfred Hart’s historic photos of the Pacific Railroad from the 1880s, Li Ju traveled across mountains, canyons, and deserts and searched relentlessly to find the sites of Hart’s original photos. Li Ju’s photography is paired with original Alfred Hart photographs from Stanford University’s collection, and captures the grand scope of the railroad building effort and the challenging landscape of the Sierra Nevadas. These side-by-side comparisons of past and present reveal how Pacific Railroad construction sites look today.

The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad first premiered in November 2015 at Stanford University, and CHSA was the first venue to showcase the exhibition outside of Stanford.

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