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Shipment to China

Artist: Haiying Wu Medium: Bronze, antique train truckCommissioned by the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation in partnership with the City of Tacoma

A photo of a bronze sculpture called Shipment to China. The sculpture includes roughly a hundred small bronze boxes on top of an antique train truck.
Shipment to China

This piece commemorates the early Chinese in America, their labors to construct the transcontinental railroads railroad construction, and their unjust suffering. It consists of an antique train truck and abstracted representation of 100 ash boxes, a reference to the Chinese workers who died while building the railroads.

About the art +

Shipment to China was created to commemorate the Chinese laborers who were instrumental in building the transcontinental railroad in the United States. Starting in the mid-1860’s, thousands of Chinese came to the US to work on the country’s expanding railroad lines. In addition to dangerous, sometimes fatal working conditions, many Chinese laborers were threatened and killed during anti-Chinese expulsion movements.

After a Chinese worker died, the ashes of the deceased were often sent back to China in boxes, so that they could be buried next to their ancestors.  This piece refers to that practice.  Each “box” represents a worker.  The majority of boxes are anonymous; however a few choice names and dates powerfully connect us to the past and the people who gave their lives to build the railroad and the West. 

After connecting the city to the nation by building the Northern Pacific Railroad (NPRR), many Chinese workers settled in the growing city. But national sentiment began to turn against these immigrants, and in Tacoma, the Chinese community was intentionally expelled after anti-Chinese sentiment turned violent.  Led by Tacoma’s Mayor, the Chinese community of 600 was driven out of town on November 3, 1885. After the riot, the Chinese District, sometimes called Little Canton, lay in smoldering ruins. This horrific event, and the complicit role of the City’s leaders, led this kind of expulsion to be known as the “Tacoma Method” nation-wide. 

Meet the artist+

A native of China, Haiying Wu was a professional sculptor before emigrating to the US. In 1989, he participated in demonstrations in his hometown of Chengdu, getting caught in the square when the military attacked demonstrators.  Wu emigrated to the U.S. in the same year. He created this piece while a graduate student at the University of Washington. A prolific artist, his work can be found in Seattle, Lynnwood, Tacoma, Redmond, and in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China.

According to Wu,“This piece shows the bitterness of the Chinese experience in America during that time, for the railroad built by their efforts was the same transportation used to carry them out of Tacoma.” 

Thanks to the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation for contributing this important piece for exhibition on the Prairie Line Trail, now displayed on the very tracks that the Chinese worked tirelessly to build.

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