5C professor-alumni collaboration humanizes forgotten Chinatown history in podcast ‘Blood on Gold Mountain’

Two people with long hair are posing by a tree
“Blood on Gold Mountain” is a podcast co-created by Micah Huang PZ ’13, Emma Gies PZ ’14 and Hao Huang, Bessie and Cecil Frankel endowed chair in music at Scripps College. (Courtesy: Emma Gies)

CW: Anti-Asian violence

Today, Union Station rests on Los Angeles’ original Chinatown, the setting of the 1871 Chinese Massacre and focus of the new podcast “Blood on Gold Mountain.”

Created by a 5C professor and two alumni, BOGM is a seven-part storytelling podcast that takes listeners on a ride through America’s Wild West era. Micah Huang PZ ’13 served as the artistic director; he wrote the script and composed the music. The narrator is Hao Huang, Micah’s father and Bessie and Cecil Frankel endowed chair in music at Scripps College. The intros, outros and instrumental acoustics were recorded by Emma Gies PZ ’14. 

Hao Huang felt compelled to recount the events leading up to the massacre after he came across the story. Micah Huang recalled hearing about the massacre in college, but as one of many violent occurrences toward Asian and Asian American people, it didn’t stick out. That all changed when Hao Huang suggested they do a media project about it. 

A man stands with his arms on a table in front of a bookshelf full of books.
“Blood on Gold Mountain” tells the history behind the 1871 Los Angeles Chinatown massacre. (Courtesy: Emma Gies)

“A lot of communities of color in the United States have always lived with a consciousness of violence and a consciousness of risk … it was not the violence as much as the almost fairy tale quality of the story that stuck out to me,” Micah Huang said. “I felt like I saw an opportunity to use this story to show the vibrancy and humanity of these Chinese American characters.”

Micah Huang noted how Asian and Asian American people are exoticized, dehumanized and fetishized. The female Asian characters he saw being portrayed in the media felt distant from his reality.

“Part of Chinese culture is this idea that there are checks and balances in traditional gender dynamics. Women … have a lot of social importance,” Micah Huang said. “So, it’s almost like a double blow the way that these women are misrepresented … and I wanted to write Yut Ho in a way that showed the … powerful Chinese women in my life.”

The podcast is told from the perspective of Yut Ho. She was a 19th century refugee from China who was engaged to a man but fell in love with a member of a rival gang. The conflict led to a gang shootout and a white person got caught in the crossfire. In response, a mob came and lynched around 20 Chinese Americans.

“We wanted to bring to life some of the characters … real people who are connected to the Chinatown massacre, but the most important thing is we want to humanize these people,” Hao Huang said. “These people weren’t just victims, these people were people.”

Micah and Hao Huang spent hours going through archives and researching the 1871 Chinese Massacre to create Yut Ho’s narrative and surrounding environment. Beyond these sources, the two pulled from their family’s history as Chinese Americans, which traces back to a pre-Communist southern Chinese society. 

“A lot of the details that happened to these characters draw on some of my family’s experiences and memories; these are stories I grew up with,” Hao Huang said. “So, history … if not repeats itself, it goes in cycles.”

This Oct. 24 marks the 150th anniversary of the massacre, and the team planned to commemorate it through a three-year series of performances starting in 2019. However, the pandemic required them to change course. 

Gies recalled the first of three commemorations, for which the team coordinated with the LA Chinese American Museum. The setting was Pico House, the last standing building of the original Chinatown after it burned down due to the massacre. 

The team provided improvised music as community members shared their experiences with prejudice, racism, sexism or anything else they couldn’t previously express.

“Whenever there’s music involved, it opens our hearts and helps us connect to each other and maybe forget about some of the more superficial things. So, I think that project turned into the initial idea for [‘Blood on Gold Mountain’],” Gies said. 

The team wanted to preserve and transfer the healing and humanizing experience of this performance to BOGM. As a professor at Scripps, Hao Huang knew he didn’t want to narrate as a lecturer simply reciting facts. So, they settled on a storytelling podcast to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the massacre.

“The storytelling format gives us an opportunity to connect with the characters on a human level.” —Emma Gies PZ ’14

“The storytelling format gives us an opportunity to connect with the characters on a human level,” Gies said. “We took the historical details and then imagined what it would be like for these characters and put them in landscapes and experiences where they would have to react.”

The first episode, “Outlaws,” provides detailed descriptions of Yut Ho, people in her life and the hostile environment she entered. Micah Huang’s composing, Hao Huang’s narrating and Gies’ playing guided listeners throughout the episode. 

Micah Huang said a medium that used audio to tell stories was the most obvious choice for the project, as he wanted music to serve both the narrative and a sociopolitical agenda of healing.

“There’s kind of a glimmer of hope,” Micah Huang said. “If we work hard enough and reach out and make enough connections to other people on a human and personal level, could we make this country a place where it was okay for us to live and raise new generations?”

The first episode of Blood on Gold Mountain” was released on March 24 and the remaining episodes are set to release biweekly on Wednesdays.

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