Historical Archaeology

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 46–58 | Cite as

Moral Discourse and Personhood in Overseas Chinese Contexts

  • John Molenda (约翰 ‧ 莫兰达)


Resistance and agency have been important themes in archaeological sites of labor. But how should archaeologists address archaeological contexts where resistance seems attenuated? This article takes the construction of the transcontinental railroad (1865–1869) as a case study to explore this question, focusing on the High Sierras section of the railroad around Tahoe National Forest. Chinese laborers in the mid-19th century were oriented toward and empowered by a moral discourse quite different from that of their Western capitalist employers, and these moral differences were intimately connected with divergent understandings of personhood. While Western capitalists understood labor relations through the dominant discourse of possessive individualism and the spirit of capitalism, Chinese workers were invested in a discourse of relational personhood and filiality. Understanding these differences can transform archaeological interpretation of Chinese work camps in regard to the presence of agency and the significance of labor.

海外华人语境中的道德话语与人 格


在对劳工的考古学研究中, 抵抗与能动性一直是重要的议 题。但是对于那些抵抗略显薄弱的考古学场景, 我们又应 该如何看待? 本文将横贯大陆铁路的建设 (1865–1869) 作为探索这一问题的个案研究, 将重点放在围绕太浩国家 公园、在西垩山上的一段铁路建设。我认为, 十九世纪的 中国劳工曾受到一种与他们的西方资本家雇主截然不同的 道德话语的调节和激励。而他们之间的道德差异又与其对 于人格的不同理解密切相关。西方资本家基于一种占有性 个人主义的主流话语和资本主义精神来理解劳动关系, 而 中国工人则笃信关系性的人格与孝道话语。理解这种不 同, 将转变我们对于中国劳工营中能动性的存在以及劳动 的意义所作出的考古学诠释。


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© Society for Historical Archaeology 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Molenda (约翰 ‧ 莫兰达)
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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