1848: From Mining Gold to Saving Lives

Tori Wang, guest writer


“Fast clipper ships carried the news of the 1848 gold strike at Sutter’s Mill across the Pacific. Peasants toiling in China’s rice paddies heard that gold had been discovered in California almost as soon as factory workers in Boston and New York did. Soon the Chinese were calling America’s West Coast Gum Shan, or the “Mountain of Gold.” By February 1849, the first of the Far Eastern gold-seekers had landed in San Francisco” (Nielson). Wang Haoyang, a seventeen-year-old boy wholives in a small village in Zibo, Shandong, China becomes one of the fist “Chinese gold diggers.” He decides to leave home for the California Gold Rush.


“Why did you cut off your hair?” Wang Haoyang’s little sister, Tianqi, asks him curiously.            “It’s easier to take care of when I go to California,” He answers patiently.

“But Confuciussaid, ‘Our bodies—to every hair and bit of skin—are received by us from our parents,and we must not presume to injure or wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety’ (The). Aunt is not going to be happy about it . . .”

“Enough,” Haoyang interrupts his sister.“Our parents already died from the First Opium War . . . Don’t you know Chinese bought 46,000 boxes of opium from England this year already People are dying from smoking opium; China is hopeless!” Soon, he realizes he was being too aggressive to Tianqi, so he apologizes, “Sorry for the attitude. We will start a new life in America once I find success there.”


On the boat, he becomes nervous as the city of San Francisco gets closer. The city is glowing through the fog over the sea; even though it is late at night, darkness cannot hide the charm of this city. He has never been to a huge city like this before. Each house is arranged tightly together; people are either walking fast to their next destination or talking loudly with their fellow peers. Everyone is minding their own business. As expected, no one cares about his arrival. All of a sudden, he feels a sense of sadness.

As Haoyang gets off the boat, someone catches his eye—a 6′ 5″ tall guy with brightblonde hair who can hardly stand straight with his one and only leg on crutches who is struggling to pick up the luggage on the floor. Haoyang knows the feeling of helplessness. Without hesitating, he walks straight to the tall guy.

“You . . . need me help?” Although Haoyang had learned English for a while when he was back in China, it is only good enough for people to somewhat understand him.

The tall guy smiling at Haoyang awkwardly says,”Yes,Sir.”

Without saying a word, Haoyang picks up the luggage from the ground.


Turns out, the tall guy—Richard Mitchell—is a solider from the Mexican-American War, which just ended on February 2. He lost his leg from the Battle of Palo Alto. As soon as the war ended, Richard decided to move to San Francisco where he could start a new life, and he happened to meet Haoyang on the boat. To return Haoyang’s help, Mitchell starts to teach Haoyang English. Soon, they become not only good friends, but also working partners; they start a gold mining business together. Sometimes, Richard reminds Haoyang of his parents because they are both victims of wars.

The gold mining business is not a big success. Soon, Haoyang and Richard struggle financially. They do not know how they can survive without money here. The feeling of depression makes them give up on the business.  Haoyang really misses China now, even though life was not great there.

Money is important to Haoyang, it is the only thing that can change his life now. He realizes that he cannot go home without being successful because he promised Tianqi a new life.


As more immigrants arrive from China, Haoyang finds a new business opportunity. On April 7, Richard and Haoyang open the first Chinese school in California which provides English classes for all the new immigrants. Since Haoyang has the ability to speak both Chinese and English, opening this school is not hard for him. Instantly, the business gets lucrative.

“I heard that the first medical school for females opened on April 30! I wish I can go to there and become a doctor. Then, I will go back to China and try my best to help people. I wish they will no longer suffer from opium . . . ” Tianqi always always motivates his brother in a positive way. This letter makes Haoyang start to think about his future . . .


Haoyang makes a really important decision in his life; he decides to apply for medical school at Boston University. The times in San Francisco had already changed him into a brand new person. He still has his flaws, but his thoughts are not the same anymore. He is going back to China to save lives as soon as he graduates from college.

“Mitchell, I get accepted to the medical school of Boston University!”

“Congratulations, Haoyang! You are officially a college student now! But I heard the school fees is really expensive there. How are you going to pay all the bills?” Mitchell asks.

“The first public library was created through the legislation enacted by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts on March 18, 1848 in Boston City, so I will not need to buy all the textbooks!” Haoyang answers, with a big smile on his face.


“Auntie! Haoyang is coming home in two weeks! He’s done with college! He is coming back to China!” As Tianqi reads the letter from her brother, she can no longer hide her excitement.

Two weeks later, Haoyang arrives. He still lives in the same village, but he is no longer the same. He comes back home with more responsibility—to save as many people as possible.

In 1848, chloroform is used for surgical anesthesia for the first time in the history by Dr. Haoyang. Later, this type of anesthesia is used widely during the American Civil War. Meanwhile, the Chinese government starts putting effort to publicize the damage of opium, and the opium smoking rate drops by the end of this year. Haoyang’s best friend—Mitchell, moves to China for a new business. He opens the first Old Phoenix (a famous jewelry store in China) in 1848. In December, Tianqi leaves home for Boston University. She makes a brave decision to pursue her dream like her brother did.


Haoyang becomes famous; different hospitals want to hire him. Nonetheless, he chooses to stay in Zibo. He wants to help people who need it the most. Wealth and power is less likely to bring happiness and meaning in life than working hard to care for other people. He is satisfied with life now because his life is meaningful. He feels the happiness of helping others. Even though he was not successful in finding gold, he finds something much more important, the”gold” of life—being content in every situation. He knows that content people do not judge others, nor do they judge themselves. They only do their best to chase after happiness.

Works Cited

Nielson, Carole. “Unlike Most Chinese Immigrants of His Time, Gin Lin Found Respect and a                 Mountain of Gold.”Wild West Apr. 1998: 14+. General OneFile. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

The Sacred Books of the East: The Texts of Confucianism, vol. III, part I: TheShu King, The                      Religious Portions of the Shih King, The Hsiao King, translated by James Legge, 2nd                       edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899, p. 465-488.

Bibliography .

Landreth, Jonathan. “Shandong, Metan move Mountain.”Hollywood Reporter 1 July 2009: 4.                   Business Collection. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

Lee, Jonathan H. X. History of Asian Americans: Exploring diverse roots. Westport: Greenwood              Press, 2015. Print.

Lusted, Marcia Amidon. “A Route for the Railroad.”Cobblestone Nov.-Dec. 2016: 21+. General              OneFile. Web. 12 Apr. 2017