Escape To Gold Mountain by David H. T. Wong chronicles the history of the Wong family from 1835 to the present day and in the process presents a history of the struggles, injustices, prejudices and cruelty toward the Chinese in America and Canada. We all know about the Chinese railroad workers in the Old West but the part the governments of America and Canada played in exploiting the Chinese for labor and taxes yet granting them no rights is often ignored today.
Wong’s graphic novel is an introduction to complex issues ranging from subjugation, discrimination, the head tax that charged individuals up to $500 for entering America and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that forbid the Chinese to emigrate to America. Meanwhile the Chinese were victims of racial hatred resulting in death from lynchings and shootings and the burning down of Chinatown in Tacoma, Washington in 1885. The local populace accused the Chinese of “stealing our jobs” when the truth of the matter was they were working for the lowest possible wages. When the Chinese moved north to British Columbia they encountered familiar hostility from both the “red hairs” and government who imitated America’s earlier actions with the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 that barred the Chinese from entering Canada.
Despite numerous obstacles the Wong family perservered with the help of strong family bonds that offered emotional support in times of economic hardship. The search for “Gold Mountain” (North America) for Chinese immigrants was only achieved in spite of government intervention that blocked their efforts to succeed. It was only in the post-WWII years that they finally saw real political progreess being made.
David Wong has written and illustrated an excellent debut graphic novel. His simple artwork style is effective in conveying the plight of the Chinese immigrants and his text encourages further detailed study of complex issues. This isn’t a Weird Western but the real life horrors endured by the Chinese are nore frightening than any zombie or ghost terrorizing the Old West.
“Copyright Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012. Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America. Art and text by David H.T. Wong.” Publication: November 2012.
Review copyright Paul Green 2012.