Thousand Pieces of Gold

Last updated
Thousand Pieces of Gold
Author Ruthanne Lum McCunn
CountryUnited States
Genre historical novel
Publication date
ISBN 080708381X

Thousand Pieces of Gold is a 1981 historical novel by Ruthanne Lum McCunn and based on the life of Polly Bemis, a 19th-century Chinese immigrant woman in the American Old West. In 1991, the novel was adapted into a film of the same name.

Ruthanne Lum McCunn is an American novelist and editor of Chinese and Scottish descent.

Polly Bemis Chinese American pioneer

Polly Bemis was a Chinese American pioneer who lived in Idaho in the late 19th and early 20th century. Her story became a biographical novel, and was the subject of the 1991 film A Thousand Pieces of Gold.

The Han Chinese, Hanzu, Han people, are an East Asian ethnic group and nation native to China. They constitute the world's largest ethnic group, making up about 18% of the global population. The estimated 1.3 billion Han Chinese people are mostly concentrated in mainland China. In Taiwan they make about 95% of the population. Han Chinese people also make up around 75% of the total population of Singapore.



Lalu is the daughter of a Chinese farmer. When her father loses everything, Lalu finds herself thrust into debt slavery. Her misfortunes eventually take her to the Pacific Northwest. [1] [2]

Pacific Northwest Region that includes parts of Canada and the United States

The Pacific Northwest (PNW), sometimes referred to as Cascadia, is a geographic region in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and (loosely) by the Cascade Mountain Range on the east. Though no official boundary exists, the most common conception includes the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) and the U.S. states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Broader conceptions reach north into Southeast Alaska and Yukon, south into northern California, and east to the Continental Divide to include Western Montana and parts of Wyoming. Narrower conceptions may be limited to the coastal areas west of the Cascade and Coast mountains. The variety of definitions can be attributed to partially overlapping commonalities of the region's history, culture, geography, society, and other factors.


McCunn first came across Lalu Nathoy's story when she was researching the lives of Chinese in Idaho for an earlier nonfiction book called An Illustrated History of the Chinese in America: [3]

I came across her story in a book called Idaho Chinese Lore by Sister Alfreda Elsensohn— it included just a few pages about her. But I immediately knew that I wanted to find out more about her and write an entire book about her because she brought out so many things about American history that we don't actually know about, generally, in this country. And also because, to me, she was such an extraordinary person in her own right. There are many people who survive incredible hardships, and she certainly did. But to survive with your capacity for compassion for other people intact and not to turn hard and bitter yourself is, to me, extraordinary. And that was what drew me to her and to want to find out more about her.

McCunn has said that Polly Bemis reminded her of her own great-grandmother who was also born in northern China and sold into slavery. After Thousand Pieces of Gold was published, she learned that her father, who had died when she was a girl, had met Bemis when he was a teenager working summer jobs as a fire watcher in Idaho. [4]

Related Research Articles

Idaho City, Idaho City in Idaho, United States

Idaho City is a city in and the county seat of Boise County, Idaho, United States, located about 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Boise. The population was 485 at the 2010 census, up from 458 in 2000.

<i>After the Thin Man</i> 1936 film by W. S. Van Dyke

After the Thin Man is a 1936 American film, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, and James Stewart, that is the sequel to the film The Thin Man. The movie presents Powell and Loy as Dashiell Hammett's characters Nick and Nora Charles. The film was directed by W. S. Van Dyke and also featured Elissa Landi, Joseph Calleia, Jessie Ralph, Alan Marshal, and Penny Singleton.

<i>Crazy for You</i> (musical) musical by George and Ira Gershwin (1930)

Crazy for You is a romantic comedy musical with a book by Ken Ludwig, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and music by George Gershwin. Billed as "The New Gershwin Musical Comedy", it is largely based on the songwriting team’s 1930 musical, Girl Crazy, but incorporates songs from several other productions as well. Crazy for You won the 1992 Tony Award (Broadway) 1993 Olivier Award (London) and 1994 Dora Award (Toronto) for Best Musical.

Idaho Territory territory of the USA between 1863–1890

The Territory of Idaho was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 3, 1863, until July 3, 1890, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as Idaho.

Lue Gim Gong American horticulturist

Lue Gim Gong was a Chinese-American horticulturalist. Known as "The Citrus Wizard", he is remembered for his contribution to the orange-growing industry in Florida.

<i>Pollyanna</i> novel by Eleanor H. Porter

Pollyanna is a 1913 novel by American author Eleanor H. Porter, considered a classic of children's literature. The book's success led to Porter soon writing a sequel, Pollyanna Grows Up (1915). Eleven more Pollyanna sequels, known as "Glad Books", were later published, most of them written by Elizabeth Borton or Harriet Lummis Smith. Further sequels followed, including Pollyanna Plays the Game by Colleen L. Reece, published in 1997. Due to the book's fame "Pollyanna" has become a byword for someone who – like the title character – has an unfailingly optimistic outlook; a subconscious bias towards the positive is often described as the Pollyanna principle.

Lucy Delaney American writer

Lucy Ann Delaney, born Lucy Berry, was an African-American author, former slave, and activist, notable for her 1891 narrative From the Darkness Cometh the Light, or, Struggles for Freedom. This is the only first-person account of a "freedom suit" and one of the few post-Emancipation published slave narratives.

McCunn is a surname, originating in Scotland but now widespread in many countries across the world.

The Kiriyama Prize was an international literary award awarded to books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. Its goal is to encourage greater understanding among the peoples and nations of the region. Established in 1996, the prize was last awarded in 2008.

Judy Yung is professor emerita in American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She specializes in oral history, women's history, and Asian American history.

<i>Pollyanna</i> (1960 film) 1960 film by David Swift

Pollyanna is a 1960 live action drama Walt Disney Productions feature film, starring child actress Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, and Richard Egan, in a story about a cheerful orphan changing the outlook of a small town. Based on the novel Pollyanna (1913) by Eleanor H. Porter, the film was written and directed by David Swift. The film marks Mills's first of six films for Disney, and it won the actress an Academy Juvenile Award.

Helen Catherine Knapp Markley Miller was an American writer of historical and biographical fiction for children taking place in the Western United States.

<i>Moon Over Manifest</i> book by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest is a 2010 children's novel written by American author Clare Vanderpool. The book was awarded the 2011 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature, the Spur Award for best Western juvenile fiction, and was named a Kansas Notable Book. The story follows a young and adventurous girl named Abilene who is sent to Manifest, Kansas by her father in the summer of 1936. The author's note at the end of the book states that the fictional town of Manifest, Kansas, is based on the real town of Frontenac, Kansas.

Polly Bemis House

Polly Bemis House was the home of Idaho County, Idaho pioneers Charles Bemis and his wife Polly Bemis, who lived alongside the Salmon River in the late 19th and early 20th century. Polly was a Chinese American former teenage slave whose story became a biographical novel and was fictionalized in the 1991 film A Thousand Pieces of Gold.

<i>Thousand Pieces of Gold</i> (film) 1991 film by Nancy Kelly

Thousand Pieces of Gold is a 1991 film starring Rosalind Chao, Chris Cooper, Dennis Dun and Michael Paul Chan, and is directed by Nancy Kelly. The film is based on a novel of the same name.

Rachel Dolezal American racial identity and civil rights activist

Nkechi Amare Diallo, born and still commonly known as Rachel Anne Dolezal, is an American author, multimedia artist, former college instructor, and former NAACP chapter president. Dolezal is known for claiming to be a black woman while being of European ancestry and having no verifiable African ancestry.

Prince Romerson was a Union Army soldier of Native Hawaiian descent. One of the "Hawaiʻi Sons of the Civil War", he was among a group of more than one hundred documented Native Hawaiian and Hawaii-born combatants who fought in the American Civil War while the Kingdom of Hawaii was still an independent nation.

Kong Tai Heong Chinese-Hawaiian physician

Kong Tai Heong was a trained obstetrician who was the first Chinese woman to practice medicine in Hawaii. Also certified as a midwife, she delivered babies for the Hawaiian, Portuguese and Chinese populations in Honolulu, practicing for over fifty years. In 1946, she was credited by Robert Ripley as having delivered more babies than any other private practitioner in the United States.


  3. "The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature - Authors and Literary Works". Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  4. "Bookslut | An Interview with Ruthanne Lum McCunn". Retrieved 2019-07-05.