If there’s one person who could be said to truly be at the center of the 1871 LA Chinatown drama, it might be Yo Hing. While Yut Ho’s love intrigue was nominally the reason for the conflagration of Chinatown’s ongoing gang conflict, it would never have happened if it hadn’t aligned with Yo Hing’s plans.
Yo Hing represents a side of Chinese America that both Western nativists and Chinese assimilationists are reluctant to face. Ironically, he also represents the embodiment of many of the nominal ideals of American society and the West in particular. Originality, adaptability, multiculturalism, and an almost populist outlook were among the characteristics that won him success in Wild West California. In many Anglo accounts, these characteristics are downplayed or presented as incongruous due to Anglo-Americans’ inability to accept the historical reality of a “Chinese cowboy.” Yo Hing’s outspoken, aggressive behavior is also presented as shameful from the point of view of real or imagined Chinese commentators.
To anyone who believes in the ideal of rough men living by brains and brawn in a lawless West, Yo Hing seems almost too good to be true. However, like other larger-than-life Western figures, his winsome qualities are duly paired with more sinister ones. Chief among these was his affinity for violence. In this regard, the historical records are deceptively forgiving. They implicate Yo Hing in multiple incidences of fist fighting and not much else- at least not directly. However, circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that Yo Hing was complicit or involved in brutal beatings of Chinese men and women and possibly in murder. While this was by no means unusual in 1870s Los Angeles, it should be said that it is no more admirable in Yo Hing than in any of his Anglo or Latino counterparts. Another problematic attribute of Yo Hing’s was his blatant disregard for any semblance of law and order. In the case of figures such as Sam Yuen, a similar disregard could justifiably be chalked up to cultural values; China is not a culture in which the law is widely viewed as holding any moral authority. In Yo Hing’s case, however, his activities in the courts indicate that he had a clear understanding of the ostensible role of law within American society. Aside from his quip in the LA Star saying, “The police like money,” Yo Hing has left us with little insight into his internal attitudes towards legal process. However, his incessant legal skullduggery combined with recorded convictions for almost every imaginable crime speak volumes.
Even in light of his many failings as a human being, it is very difficult not to like Yo Hing. Writing the story, Micah found that Yo Hing came to life in a very vibrant, sometimes even attractive way. In this, we may find ourselves in a position not too different from that of the denizens of 1871 Los Angeles. They knew what he was like, and they liked him anyway both inside of Chinatown and in the broader community. Perhaps this says something about human nature and what we really value in American society. After all, in a tired truism succinctly articulated by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin: “Everybody loves a rogue.”
The final scene in this episode contains music derived from two mechanical player-piano scrolls, printed in Germany during the early 20th century and preserved by the Stanford University Libraries’ Player Piano Project. They are, in order of appearance, Hallelujah! : fox-trot from "Hit the deck" and Tea for two : fox-trot both composed by Vincent Youmans around the turn of the 20th century and performed or “encoded” by pianists Hans Sommer and Edward Johnson, respectively. The digitized scrolls are owned by Stanford University and licensed under a Creative Commons (CC) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International — CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
I transferred the digitized scroll audio to ¼ inch cassette tape via the redoubtable SSL2+ interface and a small valve phono amp, and then manipulated the vari-speed knob on a Sony TC-WE475 cassette deck to create the shifting, ghostly texture you hear during Yo Hing’s conference with the young lawyer Henry Hazard. While the music is admittedly from a later period than that in which the story is set, I loved the texture so much I decided to use it instead of the original guitar composition which I had initially slated for the spot. If Blood on Gold Mountain should ever appear in a commercial or non-educational context, I will happily replace this segment with the guitar material, unless Stanford Libraries see fit to make exception as they have done in some other cases.
This interlude, in which the scrolls play back the motions entered by pianists long dead, has the distinction of being the only segment in the Blood on Gold Mountain soundtrack in which players outside my creative team are heard. I find it thrilling that these players were contemporaries of some of the characters in our story, and that the music was preserved in such an outlandish (by today’s standards) mechanical fashion. Truly, this is a case of the Ghost in the Machine.
As usual, all the other music in this episode was composed and played by myself and my beautiful and talented fiancé, Emma.
If you have questions, thoughts, your own family stories, or historical context to share, please send us a message at @bloodongoldmountain on Facebook or Instagram.
Blood on Gold Mountain is brought to you by The Holmes Performing Arts Fund of The Claremont Colleges, The Pacific Basin Institute of Pomona College, The Office of Public Events and Community Programs at Scripps College, The Scripps College Music Department, The Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at The New England Conservatory, and our Patreon patrons.
Blood on Gold Mountain is written and produced by Yan-Jie Micah Huang, narrated by Hao Huang, introduced by Emma Gies, and features music composed by Micah Huang and performed by Micah Huang and Emma Gies. A special thanks to Kusuma Tri Saputro for the amazing artwork, Sheila Kolesaire for her critical PR guidance, Shayna Krizan for her Instagram wizardry, Rachel Huang for her editing prowess, and Evo Terra from Simpler Media Productions for his immense expertise and support.
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