AMC’s Hell On Wheels: How the Chinese Built America

The untold story of the Chinese immigrant experience during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Back in 2011, when AMC launched its new television series Hell on Wheels about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad, there was some concern about “Do Chinese Pioneers Get Railroaded in AMC’s ‘Hell on Wheels’?”:

““Hell on Wheels” ignores the Central Pacific line, focusing instead on the Union Pacific, which was built eastward from Omaha, Nebraska by a workforce consisting mostly of Irish immigrants, along with a handful of black freedmen and veterans of the just-concluded Civil War. … According to the show’s producers, Joe and Tony Gayton, the program was originally developed with storylines along both the Central and Union lines. Unfortunately, because of concerns about budget and complexity of narrative, the producers were pushed to focus on just one branch. … “What a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants,” Tony Gayton elaborated at AMC’s summer press event, according to the Post. … And the record shows that in 1865, the Union Pacific line employed exactly zero Chinese workers. A few enterprising Chinese may have found their way to the tent cities — “There were people of all sorts of different races in these towns, no question about that,” Thomas says. “Were there some Chinese? There certainly could have been some.””


Well, it looks like in Season 5 based on this released AMC video, Hell on Wheels will be including the Chinese railroad workers and acknowledges the importance, especially on the 150th anniversary of the first Chinese railroad workers starting to work on the transcontinental railroad.

I’ve never watched an episode of Hell on Wheels, but maybe I’ll start watching to learn a little bit about what it was like for the Chinese to help build the railroad.



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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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