Chinese delegation presents sculpture honoring workers
2,600 Chinese laborers helped build the transcontinental link that came together in Utah.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Margaret Yee's hands caressed the sculpture in the Gold Room at the state Capitol on Monday morning while her mind wandered over her past.

"This is my grandfather," she finally said with a laugh, and rubbed the figure that has a shovel balanced over his shoulder.

Of course it wasn't technically him, but for Yee, who has lived in Salt Lake City for 50 years, the depiction represented everything she had heard about her grandfather while she was growing up.

"It was very hard work," she said. "I recall my mother saying how one person died for every mile of railroad track built. He was very fortunate."

To honor the more than 2,600 Chinese who built the transcontinental railroad — which was completed at Promontory Summit 143 years ago — Chinese officials presented Gov. Gary Herbert's Office with the statue before continuing on their journey by rail to Chicago. The delegation began their journey in California last week and made it a point to stop in Utah, which is home to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, northwest of Brigham City.

Deng Yuyang, who spoke on behalf of the sculptor, Yuan Xikun, said the Chinese workers who laid down the tracks were instrumental in joining America together and helping to usher in the nation's role as an economic power.

The sculpture, about 2 feet tall, depicts three generations of Chinese workers — a middle-aged man standing on unfinished tracks and holding the shovel while a grandfather bends down and tells a young boy the history of the work done on the railway.

Yuyang told Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, that the statue would eulogize the workers' spirit.

"They have made a contribution to the diversity of Utah and it was widely acknowledged that they were kind, industrious and smart," he said. "Which is also a celebration of the men's dignity and fortitude."

Eccles presented the Chinese delegation, which included representatives from the Chinese national transportation ministry and the Chinese consul to America, with commemorative plates and a book about Utah to the group.

Eccles said the connection made at Promontory Summit with Utah and China continued to this day — noting Herbert had just completed a trade trip to China and that his successor, Jon Huntsman, was previously the U.S. ambassador to China.

"I think our future is bright," he said.

Eccles said the statue would likely end up in the Office of Economic Development's new home at the World Trade Center at the City Creek Shopping Center. He said it would symbolize the growing economic and cultural connection between China and Utah.

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero