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This article is about the type of ethnic enclave generally. For other uses, see Chinatown (disambiguation).

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A Chinatown (Chinese: 唐人街, Cantonese jyutping: tong4 jan4 gaai1) is historically any ethnic enclave of expatriate Chinese, Hong Kongese, Macanese and Taiwanese people (outside China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao). Areas known as 'Chinatown' exist throughout the world, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australasia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.


Main article: Chinese emigration

Trading centres populated predominantly by Chinese men and their native spouses long existed throughout Southeast Asia. Emigration to other parts of the world from China accelerated in the 1860s with the signing of the Treaty of Peking (1860), which opened the border for free movement. Early emigrants came primarily from the coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian (Fukien, Hokkien) in southeastern China – where the people generally speak Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew (Chiuchow) and Hokkien.


Chinatowns throughout the world have developed as Chinese people have migrated out of China, initially in search of opportunities that did not exist in China. However, as conditions in China have improved, Chinatowns, especially the ones in the United States have lost their initial mission, which was to provide a transitional place into the new culture. In 2010, as the migration slows, the smaller Chinatowns have slowly decayed until some of them end up becoming purely historical and no longer serving as the ethnic enclaves they once were.

According to an article from New Hampshire Public Radio, some Chinese who were looking for the "American Dream" found that promise elusive and have now started to follow the "Chinese Dream", which was and now is, to return to China.[1] According to The Atlantic magazine, the decline is further exacerbated by the fact that Chinese no longer choose to come to the United States, driven by the lack of jobs and lower standard of living.

The first Chinatowns

Binondo's Chinatown located in Manila, Philippines is the oldest Chinatown in the world, established in 1594.[2]

Several Asian Chinatowns, although not yet called by that name, have a long history. Those in Nagasaki, Japan,[3] Binondo in Manila, and Hoi An in central Vietnam[4] all existed in 1600. Glodok, the Chinese quarter of Jakarta, Indonesia, dates to 1740.[5] The Chinatown centered on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok, Thailand, was founded at the same time as the city itself, in 1782.[6] The oldest Chinatown in the Americas, in Mexico City, dates to the late 19th century. [7]

The Chinatown in San Francisco is one of the largest in North America and the oldest north of Mexico. Other cities in North America where Chinatowns were founded in the mid-nineteenth century include almost every major settlement along the West Coast from San Diego to Victoria. European Chinatowns, such as those in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, are for the most part smaller and of more recent history than their North American counterparts.

In the United States, economic opportunity was usually the driver of the building of Chinatowns. The initial Chinatowns were built in the west in places such as California, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. As the transcontinental railroad was built, more Chinatowns started to appear in railroad towns such as St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Butte Montana, and many east coast cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, and Baltimore. With the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, many southern states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia began to hire Chinese for work in place of slave labor.

However, the history of Chinatowns was not always peaceful, especially when labor disputes arose. Racial tensions flared when lower-paid Chinese workers replaced white miners in many mountain-area Chinatowns, such as in Wyoming with the Rock Springs Massacre. Many of these frontier Chinatowns became extinct as American racism surged and the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.

From the 1890s onward, significant Chinese communities grew up in London and Liverpool – the main British ports for the China trade. These communities were a mixture of Chinese men, their British wives and their Eurasian children. Moreover, they were generally inhabited by those Chinese catering for Chinese seamen. Many immigrants spread throughout these cities, often operating laundries.

France received a large settlement of Chinese immigrant laborers, mostly from the city of Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang province of China. Significant Chinatowns are in Belleville and the 13th arrondissement of Paris.

Chinatowns also appeared in the Indian city of Kolkata (once Hakka-influenced) and formerly in Mumbai.

Redevelopment and influence from the Vietnam War

By the late 1970s, refugees and exiles from the Vietnam War played a significant part in the development and redevelopment of Chinatowns in developed Western countries. As a result, many Chinatowns have become pan-Asian business districts and residential neighborhoods. By contrast, most Chinatowns in the past had been largely inhabited by Chinese from southeastern China.

New Chinatowns and Chinese-themed malls

In the 21st century, especially after 2010, some newer Chinatowns have started to take on a role as historical and touristic centers. Many of the newer Chinatowns like the ones in Albany, New York have been created as an attraction rather than an enclave, intended to give the feeling of the "old Chinatown" in an upscale setting.[8] The new Chinatown in Raleigh, North Carolina will be built with a five-star hotel, and is intended mainly as a visitor attraction.[9]

Newer Chinatowns, such as those in Richmond, BC, Las Vegas, Dubai, and Santo Domingo have received official recognition recently. The Chinese-themed malls in Las Vegas; Chamblee, Georgia (Atlanta metro); North Miami Beach, Florida (Miami metro); Orlando; Raleigh, North Carolina; Richardson, Texas (Dallas metro); Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas; and, most recently, Albany, New York, show trends toward this style of Chinatown. Notable examples include Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, BC, and Splendid China Tower in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.

One notable feature of Chinese-themed malls is the presence of Chinese supermarkets and Chinese banks, as in the Quincy, Massachusetts suburban Boston Chinatown mall anchored by Kam Man Food.[10]

The trend is generally away from the traditional urban style Chinatowns, according to that same article,[which?] citing parking as a major issue. The more recent urban examples such as West Argyle Street Historic District in Chicago, Illinois, exemplify a pan-Asian district that is generally considered to be a satellite of the original core district. In the metropolitan Boston area, significant Chinese populations have grown in Malden, Massachusetts; Quincy, Massachusetts; and the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of the City of Boston, relieving crowding in the original core Chinatown. These satellite areas are generally well-connected to the core Chinatown by good rapid transit services. According to the Huffington Post, the newer modern Chinatowns tend not to be tourist attractions like their downtown core counterparts, but can offer similar food choices.[11]

Bonnie Tsui in her book states that the newer "commercial Chinatowns" rely on the Chinatown being built before the local Chinese population arrives.[12]

Modern Features

The features described below are characteristic of many modern Chinatowns.

Chinese architectural styles

Main article: Chinese architecture

Many tourist-destination metropolitan Chinatowns can be distinguished by large red arch entrance structures known in Mandarin Chinese as Paifang (sometimes accompanied by imperial guardian lion statues on either side of the structure, to greet visitors). Other Chinese architectural styles such as the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney Chinatown and the Chinese stone lions at the gate to the Victoria, BC Chinatown are present in some Chinatowns. Mahale Chiniha, the Chinatown in Iran, contains many buildings that were done in the Chinese architectural style.

Paifangs usually have special inscriptions in Chinese. Historically, these gateways were donated to a particular city as a gift from the Republic of China and People's Republic of China, or local governments (such as Chinatown, San Francisco), and business organizations. The long-neglected Chinatown in Havana, Cuba, received materials for its paifang from the People's Republic of China as part of the Chinatown's gradual renaissance. Construction of these red arches is often financed by local financial contributions from the Chinatown community. Some of these structures span an entire intersection, and some are smaller in height and width. Some paifang can be made of wood, masonry, or steel and may incorporate an elaborate or simple design.

Chinese language signs

Chinese characters are very commonly seen in areas officially labeled as "Chinatown", and many stores that are located in such districts use Chinese calligraphy on store front signs. Many Chinatowns, such as the one in Oakland, California, employ bilingual street signs that are in Chinese as well as English.

In Washington, DC's Chinatown, storefront signs are required to have a translation in Chinese characters when the establishment is located in this district, whether the store is Chinese in nature or not. Local franchises of national chains, such as Starbucks coffeeshops and CVS drugstores conform to this rule.[13]

Chinese restaurants

Main articles: Chinese restaurant and Chinese cuisine

Most Chinatowns are centered on food, and as a result Chinatowns worldwide are usually popular destinations for various ethnic Chinese and other Asian cuisines such as Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian. Some Chinatowns, such as in Singapore, have developed their own localized style of Chinese cuisine. Chinatown restaurants serve both as major economic components and as social gathering places. In the Chinatowns in many western countries, restaurant work may be the only type of employment available for poorer immigrants, especially those who cannot converse fluently in the language of the adopted country. Most Chinatowns generally have a range of authentic and touristic restaurants.

Generally, restaurants serving authentic Chinese food primarily to immigrant customers have never conformed to Chinatown restaurant stereotypes. Because of ethnic Chinese immigration and the expanded palate of many contemporary cultures, the remaining American Chinese and Canadian Chinese cuisine restaurants are seen as anachronisms, but remain popular and profitable. In many Chinatowns, there are now many large, authentic Cantonese seafood restaurants, restaurants specializing in other varieties of Chinese cuisine such as Hakka cuisine, Szechuan cuisine, Shanghai cuisine, and small restaurants with delicatessen foods.

Cantonese seafood restaurants

Cantonese seafood restaurants (海鮮酒家, pronounced in Cantonese as hoy seen jau ga) typically use a large dining room layout, have ornate designs, and specialize in seafood such as expensive Chinese-style lobsters, crabs, prawns, clams, and oysters, all kept live in fish tanks until preparation. Some seafood restaurants may also offer dim sum in the morning through the early afternoon hours, as waiters announce the names of dishes while pushing steaming carts of food and pastries around the restaurant. These restaurants are also a popular place for weddings, banquets, and other special events.

These types of restaurants flourished and became in vogue in Hong Kong during the 1960s, and subsequently began opening in various Chinatowns overseas. Owing to their higher menu prices and greater amount of investment capital required to open and manage one (due to higher levels of staffing needed), they tend to be more common in Chinatowns and satellite communities in developed countries and in fairly affluent Chinese immigrant communities, notably in Australia, Canada, and the United States, where they have received significant population of Hong Kong Chinese émigrés. Poorer immigrants usually cannot start these kinds of restaurants, although they too are employed in them. There are generally fewer of them in the older Chinatowns; for example, they are practically non-existent in Vancouver's Chinatown, but are found in its suburbs such as Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Competition between these restaurants is often fierce; hence owners of seafood restaurants hire and even "steal" the best chefs, many of whom are from Hong Kong.

Barbecue delicatessens/restaurants

Also, Chinese barbecue deli restaurants, called siu laap (燒臘) and sometimes called a "noodle house" or mein ga (麵家), are generally more modest in size and decor, and serve less expensive fare such as wonton noodles (or wonton mein), chow fun (炒粉, stir-fry rice noodles), Yeung Chow fried rice (揚州炒飯), and rice porridge or congee, known as juk in Cantonese Chinese. They also tend to have displays of whole pre-cooked roasted ducks and suckling pigs hanging in their windows, a common feature in most Chinatowns worldwide. These delis also serve barbecue pork (叉燒, cha siu), tripe, chicken feet, and other Chinese-style items less familiar to the typical Western palate. Food is usually intended for take-out. Some of these Chinatown restaurants sometimes have the reputation of being "greasy spoons" and reputation for poor service, whereas others may be clean and well-lit, with contemporary decor and attentive waitstaff.

Vietnamese immigrants, both ethnic Chinese and non-Chinese, have opened restaurants in many Chinatowns, serving Vietnamese pho beef noodle soups and Franco-Vietnamese sandwiches. Some immigrants have also started restaurants serving Teochew Chinese cuisine. Some Chinatowns old and new may also contain several pan-Asian restaurants offering a variety of Asian noodles under one roof.

Localized cuisines

Chop suey and chow mein eateries (United States)

Often lit by neon signage, restaurants offering chop suey or chow mein, mainly for the benefit of non-Chinese customers, were frequent in older Chinatowns. These dishes also are offered in standard barbecue restaurants and takeouts (take-away restaurants).

Chifas (Peru)

A special feature of the Chinatown in Lima, Peru (Barrio Chino de Lima) is the chifa, a Chinese-Peruvian type of restaurant which mixes Cantonese Chinese cuisine with local Peruvian flavors. Chifa is the Peruvian Spanish derivative of the Cantonese phrase jee fon (饎飯), which renders as "cook rice" or as "cook meal'". This type of restaurant is popular with native Peruvians.

Chinese and Asian businesses

Most Chinatown businesses are engaged in the import-export and wholesale businesses; hence a large number of trading companies are found in Chinatowns.

Markets and Supermarkets

Main article: Asian supermarket

In addition to the restaurant trade, grocery stores and seafood markets serve a key function in Chinatown economies, and these stores sell Chinese ingredients to such restaurants as well as to the general public. Some markets are wholesalers, while smaller Chinatown grocers and markets are often characterized by sidewalk vegetable and fruit stalls, a quintessential image of many Chinatowns. Many local residents buy fresh food daily, taking advantage of its ready availability, and also avoiding the space, ventilation, and electrical requirements of large refrigerators at home.

Stores also sell a variety of grocery items imported from East Asia (chiefly Mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea) and Southeast Asia (principally Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia). For example, most Chinatown markets stock items such as sacks of Thai jasmine rice, Chinese chrysanthemum and oolong teas, bottles of oyster sauce, rice vermicelli, Hong Kong soybean beverages, Malaysian snack items, Taiwanese rice crackers, and Japanese seaweed and Chinese specialties such as black duck eggs (often used in rice porridge), bok choy, and water chestnuts. These markets may also sell fish (especially tilapia) and other seafood items, which are kept alive in aquariums, for Chinese and other Asian cuisine dishes. Until recently, these items generally could not be found outside the Chinatown enclaves, although since the 1970s Asian supermarkets have proliferated in the suburbs of North America and Australia, competing strongly with the old Chinatown markets.

Chinese bakeries

Many Chinatowns have had ethnic bakeries for years, offering a large variety of steamed, boiled, or fried delicacies as well as baked goods. Most of the foods on offer were of Chinese origin, but storekeepers often added items adopted or adapted from the surrounding national culture. Chinese bakeries in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan were especially influential in mixing ingredients and techniques from other world cultures, developing new foods that have become standard items. In North America and elsewhere, the non-Chinese population has gradually discovered these delicacies, and Chinese bakeries have begun to sell their products to a wider market.

Street merchants

Street vendors selling low-priced vegetables, fruits, clothes, newspapers, knickknacks, and knockoffs are common in urban Chinatowns.

Chinese medicine

Main article: Chinese medicine

Small ginseng and herb shops are common in most Chinatowns, selling products used in traditional Chinese medicine. The Canadian government has stepped up policing of Chinese traditional medicinal stores and on a few occasions several Chinese stores in Vancouver and Toronto have been raided for products taken from the harvesting of rare and endangered species, such as tiger bone, bear paw and bear gall bladder. This has been alleged by some Chinese to be racial persecution, despite environmental and moral concerns.

Chinese and Asian video stores

Chinatowns may contain small businesses that sell imported VCDs and DVDs of Chinese-language films and karaoke. The VCDs are mainly titles of Hong Kong and PRC films. However, there are also VCDs of Japanese anime and occasionally pornography. Often, imported bootleg DVDs and VCDs are sold owing to lax enforcement of copyright laws.

Religious supplies

In keeping with Buddhist and Taoist funeral traditions, Chinese specialty shops also sell incense and funeral items which provide material comfort in the afterlife of the deceased. Shops sell specially crafted replicas of small paper houses, paper radios, paper televisions, paper telephones, paper jewelry, and other symbolic material items. They also sell "hell money" currency notes, intended to be ritually burned in a furnace.

These businesses also sell red, wooden Buddhist altars and small statues for worship. Per Chinese custom, an offering of fresh oranges is usually placed in front of the statue in the altar. Sometimes altars are stacked atop each other. These altars may be found in many Chinatown businesses as well as homes, to bring good luck and prosperity.

Antiquated features

Many early Chinatowns featured large numbers of Chinese-owned chop suey restaurants, laundry businesses, and opium dens, until around the mid-20th century when most of these businesses began to disappear. Though some remain, they are generally seen as anachronisms. In early years of Chinatowns, the opium dens were patronized as a relaxation and to escape the harsh and brutal realities of a hostile non-Chinese society, although in North American Chinatowns, they were also frequented by non-Chinese. Additionally, due to the inability on the part of Chinese immigrant men to bring a wife and lack of available local Chinese women for men to marry, brothels became common in some Chinatowns of the 19th century. Chinese laundries, which were labor-intensive but required very little capital or language fluency, were fairly common.

These traditional businesses no longer exist in many Chinatowns and have been replaced by Chinese grocery stores, restaurants that serve more authentic Chinese cuisine, and other establishments. While opium dens no longer exist, illegal basement gambling parlors are still places of recreation in many Chinatowns, where men gather to play mahjong and other games.

Annual events in Chinatown

Many Chinatowns close off streets for parades, street festivals, Chinese acrobatics and martial arts demonstrations, and carnival rides, at the request of the promoters or organizers of major events. Smaller festivals may also be held in a parking lot/car park, playground, local park, or school grounds within Chinatown.

Chinese New Year

Main article: Chinese New Year

Most Chinatowns present Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) festivities with dragon and lion dances accompanied by the rhythm of clashing cymbals, clanging on a gong, clapping of hardwood clappers, pounding of drums, and loud Chinese firecrackers. Special performances are held in front of Chinese businesses, where the "lion" character attempts to "eat" a head of lettuce or to catch an orange in its mouth. The lion costume typically contains two dancers, and performances may involve several athletic stunts. Dragon dancers often perform in larger groups, animating a long tubular dragon costume. In return, storekeepers usually donate some money to the performers, who usually belong to local martial arts clubs.

Ironically, many lion and dragon dances are considered better preserved in true form in overseas Chinatowns rather than in China itself. This discrepancy is attributed to the fact that traditional Chinese customs, including lion and dragon dances, were unable to flourish during the political and social instabilities of Imperial China under rule of the Qing Dynasty, and were almost eliminated completely under the Communist regime of the People's Republic of China under Chairman Mao Zedong. However, due to the migration of Chinese all over the world (particularly Southeast Asia), these dance traditions were continued by overseas Chinese and performed in Chinatowns.

Chinese New Year dragon and lion dances are intended particularly to scare off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the community. They are also specially commissioned to celebrate a grand opening of a new Chinatown business, such as a restaurant or bank. Ceremonial wreaths and leafy green plants with red-colored ribbons strewn across are also usually placed in front of new Chinatown businesses by well-wishers (particularly family members, wholesalers, community organizations, and so on), to assure future success.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Main article: Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival or "August Moon Festival" is an annual celebration that occurs sometime between August to October, depending on the lunar calendar and local customs. Many stores sell special mooncakes in conjunction with this particular festival. In addition to street celebrations, dragon boat races are held on this occasion in some cities.

Miss Chinatown Beauty Pageant

Some Chinatowns hold an annual "Miss Chinatown" beauty pageant, such as "Miss Chinatown San Francisco," "Mr & Miss Chinatown Philippines," "Miss Chinatown Hawaii," "Miss Chinatown Houston" or "Miss Chinatown Atlanta".

Benevolent and business associations

A major component of many Chinatowns is the family benevolent association, which provides some degree of aid to immigrants. These associations generally provide social support, religious services, death benefits (members' names in Chinese are generally enshrined on tablets and posted on walls), meals, and recreational activities for ethnic Chinese, especially for older Chinese migrants. Membership in these associations can be based on members sharing a common Chinese surname or belonging to a common clan, spoken Chinese dialect, specific village, region or country of origin, and so on. Many have their own facilities.

Some examples include San Francisco's prominent Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (中華總會館), aka Chinese Six Companies, and Los Angeles' Southern California Teochew Association. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association is among the largest umbrella groups of benevolent associations in the North America, which branches in several Chinatowns. Politically, the CCBA has traditionally been aligned with the Kuomintang and the Republic of China.

The London Chinatown Chinese Association is active in Chinatown, London. Paris has an institution in the Association des Résidents en France d'origine indochinoise and it servicing overseas Chinese immigrants in Paris who were born in the former French Indochina.

Traditionally, Chinatown-based associations have also been aligned on ethnic Chinese business interests, such as restaurant, grocery, and laundry (antiquated) associations in Chinatowns in North America. In Chicago's Chinatown, the On Leong Merchants Association was active.

Names for Chinatowns

In English

Although the term "Chinatown" was first used in Asia, it does not come from a Chinese language. Its earliest appearance seems to have been in connection with the Chinese quarter of Singapore which by 1844 was already being called "China Town" or "Chinatown" by the British colonial government.[18][19] This may have been a word-for-word translation into English of the Malay name for that quarter, which in those days was probably "Kampong China" or possibly "Kota China" or "Kampong Tionghua/Chunghwa/Zhonghua". As noted below, Singaporean Chinese themselves used other names.

The first appearance of a Chinatown outside Singapore may have been in 1852, in a book by the Rev. Hatfield, who applied the term to the Chinese part of the main settlement on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena.[20] The island was a regular way-station on the voyage to Europe and North America from Indian Ocean ports, including Singapore.

One of the earliest American usages dates to 1855, when San Francisco newspaper The Daily Alta California described a "pitched battle on the streets of [SF's] Chinatown." [21] Other Alta articles from the late 1850s make it clear that areas called "Chinatown" existed at that time in several other California cities, including Oroville and San Andres.[22][23] By 1869, "Chinatown| had acquired its full modern meaning all over the U.S. and Canada. For instance, an Ohio newspaper wrote: "From San Diego to Sitka..., every town and hamlet has its 'Chinatown'."[24]

In British publications before the 1890s, "Chinatown" appeared mainly in connection with California. At first, Australian and New Zealand journalists also regarded Chinatowns as Californian phenomena. However, they began using the term to denote local Chinese communities as early as 1861 in Australia[25] and 1873 in New Zealand.[26] In most other countries, the custom of calling local Chinese communities "Chinatowns" is not older than the twentieth century.

Several alternate English names for Chinatown include China Town (generally used in British and Australian English), The Chinese District, Chinese Quarter, and China Alley (an antiquated term used primarily in several rural towns in the western United States for a Chinese community; some of these are now historical sites). In the case of Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada, China Alley was a parallel commercial street adjacent to the town's Main Street, enjoying a view over the river valley adjacent and also over the main residential part of Chinatown, which was largely of adobe construction. All traces of Chinatown and China Alley there have disappeared, despite a once large and prosperous community.

In Chinese

In Chinese, Chinatown is usually called "唐人街", in Cantonese Tong yan gai, in Mandarin Tángrénjiē, in Hakka Tong ngin gai, and in Toisan Hong ngin gai, literally meaning "Tang people's street(s)". The Tang Dynasty was a zenith of the Chinese civilization, after which some Chinese—especially in the South—call themselves. Some Chinatowns are indeed just one single street, such as the relatively short Fisgard Street in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada or the sprawling 4-mile (6.4 km) new Chinatown in Houston, Texas.

A more modern Chinese name is 華埠 (Cantonese: Waa Fau, Mandarin: Huábù) meaning "Chinese City", used in the semi-official Chinese translations of some cities' documents and signs. , pronounced sometimes in Mandarin as , usually means seaport; but in this sense, it means city or town. Likewise, Tong yan fau (唐人埠 "Tang people's town") is also used in Cantonese nowadays. The literal word-for-word translation of ChinatownZhōngguó Chéng (中國城) is also used, but more frequently by visiting Chinese nationals rather than immigrants of Chinese descent who live in the Chinatowns.

Other languages

In Francophone regions (such as France and Quebec), Chinatown is often referred to as le quartier chinois (the Chinese Quarter; plural: les quartiers chinois). The most prominent Francophone Chinatowns are located in Paris and Montreal.

The Spanish-language term is usually el barrio chino (the Chinese neighborhood; plural: los barrios chinos), used in Spain and Latin America. (However, barrio chino or its Catalan cognate barri xines do not always refer to a Chinese neighborhood: these are also common terms for a disreputable district with drugs and prostitution, and often no connection to the Chinese.).

The Vietnamese term for Chinatown is Khu người Hoa, due to the prevalence of the Vietnamese language in Chinatowns of Paris, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Montreal as ethnic Chinese from Vietnam have set up shop in them. Other countries also have idiosyncratic names for Chinatown in local languages and in Chinese; however, some local terms may not necessarily translate as Chinatown. For example, Singapore's tourist-centric Chinatown is called in local Singaporean Mandarin Niúchēshǔi (牛车水), which literally means "Ox-cart water" from the Malay 'Kreta Ayer' in reference to the water carts that used to ply the area.

Some languages have adopted the English-language term, such as Dutch, German, and Bahasa Malaysia. In Malaysia, the term Chinatown is named under administrative reason. Instead, the name Chee Chong Kai (茨厂街) is preferred and agreed upon by the locals. Chee in Hakka means tapioca, chong means factory and kai means street. This is originated from a factory that was set up by Yap Ah Loy, a rich Kapitan (a Chinese immigrant who had administrative and political power under the British rule) that made tapioca. Chee Chong Kai is also called jalan Petaling or "Petaling Street".

In Popular Culture

Film and music references

Chinatowns have been referenced in various films including "The Joy Luck Club", "Big Trouble in Little China", and "Chinatown". Also, many films in which Jackie Chan appears in reference locations in Chinatown, particularly the "Rush Hour" series with Chris Tucker.

Chinatowns have also been mentioned in the song Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas whose song lyrics says "... There was funky China men from funky Chinatown...."[27]

Notable people

The martial arts actor Bruce Lee is well known as a person who was born in the Chinatown of San Francisco. Other notable Chinese Americans such as Gary Locke (governor of Washington state) and Jeremy Lin (NBA basketball player) grew up in suburbs with lesser connections to traditional Chinatowns. Neighborhood activists and politicians have increased in prominence in some cities, and some are starting to attract support from non-Chinese voters.


Main article: List of Chinatowns


Main article: Chinatowns in Africa

There are three noteworthy Chinatowns in Africa located in the coastal African nations of Madagascar, Mauritius, and South Africa. South Africa has the largest Chinatown and the largest Chinese population of any African country and remains a popular destination for Chinese immigrants coming to Africa. The Chinatown on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene, Johannesburg is South Africa's largest Chinatown.


Main article: Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Asia are widespread with a large concentration of overseas Chinese in East Asia and Southeast Asia and ethnic Chinese whose ancestors came from southern China – particularly the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and Hainan – and settled in countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam centuries ago—starting as early as the Tang Dynasty, but mostly notably in the 17th through the 19th centuries (during the reign of the Qing Dynasty), and well into the 20th century.

Australia and Oceania

The Chinatown of Melbourne lies within the Melbourne Central Business District and centers on the eastern end of Little Bourke Street. It extends between the corners of Swanston and Exhibition Streets. Melbourne's Chinatown originated during the Victorian gold rush in 1851, and is notable as the oldest Chinatown in Australia. It has also been claimed to be the longest continuously running Chinese community outside of Asia, but only because the 1906 San Francisco earthquake all but destroyed the Chinatown in San Francisco in California.[28][29][30]

Sydney's main Chinatown centers on Sussex Street in the Sydney downtown. It stretches from Central Station in the east to Darling Harbour in the west, and is Australia's largest Chinatown.

The Chinatown of Adelaide was originally built in the 1960s and was renovated in the 1980s. It is located near Adelaide Central Market and the Adelaide Bus Station. There are additional Chinatowns in Brisbane and Perth.


Main article: Chinatowns in Canada

Vancouver's Chinatown is the largest in Canada.[31] Dating back to the late 19th century, the main focus of the older Chinatown is Pender Street and Main Street in downtown Vancouver, which is also, along with Victoria's Chinatown, one of the oldest surviving Chinatowns in North America. Vancouver has been the setting for a variety of modern Chinese Canadian culture and literature. Vancouver's Chinatown contains numerous galleries, shops, restaurants, and markets, in addition to the Chinese Cultural Centre and the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden and park; the garden is the first and one of the largest Ming era-style Chinese gardens outside China. Although only one neighborhood is designated as Chinatown in modern Greater Vancouver, the high proportion of Chinese people living in the region (the highest in North America) has created many commercial and residential areas that while Chinese-dominated are not called "Chinatown". In Greater Vancouver that term refers only to the historic Chinatown in the city core. There is an abundance of Chinese- and Asian-themed malls in the region, with the highest concentration in the Golden Village district of Richmond.

Chinatown, Toronto is an ethnic enclave in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with a high concentration of ethnic Chinese residents and businesses extending along Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue. First developed in the late 19th century, it is as of 2012 one of the largest Chinatowns in North America and one of several major Chinese-Canadian communities in the Greater Toronto Area.

Additional Chinatowns exist in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Victoria, and Winnipeg. Historical Chinatowns were in Nanaimo, New Westminster, Mission, Lillooet, Barkerville and Penticton, to name a few of many. Some towns that were majority Chinese for years, such as Stanley, Rock Creek and Richfield were not known as Chinatowns (Barkerville has a Chinatown area, though most Chinese lived outside it, and many non-Chinese lived in its Chinatown).


Main article: Chinatowns in Europe

Several urban Chinatowns exist in major European capital cities. There is Chinatown, London, England as well as a major Chinatown in Manchester, and several Chinatowns in Paris France: Mainly in the XIIIe arrondissement where many Vietnamese – specifically ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam – have settled and in Belleville in the northeast of Paris as well as in Lyon. In 2002 and 2003, Berlin, Germany was considering establishing a Chinatown. Antwerp, Belgium has also seen an upstart Chinese community, that has recently been recognized by the local authorities.[32] The city council of Cardiff has plans to recognize the Chinese Diaspora in the city.[33]

The Chinatown in Paris, located in the 13th arrondissement, is the largest in Europe. In Italy, there are Chinatowns in Milan at Via Luigi canonica and Via Paolo Sarpi and also in Rome and Prato. In the Netherlands, Chinatowns exist in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague.

In the United Kingdom, several exist in Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne. The Chinatown in Liverpool is the oldest Chinese community in Europe.[34] The Chinatown in London was established in the Limehouse district in the late 19th century. The Chinatown in Manchester is located in central Manchester.

Latin America

Chinatowns in Latin America developed with the rise of Chinese immigration in the 19th century to various countries in the region. Chinese people took work as contract laborers in the agricultural and fishing industries. Most came from Guangdong Province. The oldest Chinatown in the Latin America is in Mexico City which dates back to at least the early 17th century.[35] Since the 1970s, new arrivals have typically hailed from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Latin American Chinatowns may include the descendants of original migrants – often of mixed Chinese and Latino parentage – and more recent immigrants from East Asia. Most Asian Latin Americans are of Cantonese and Hakka origin. Estimates widely vary on the number of Chinese descendants in Latin America. Two notable Chinatowns exist in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Lima, Peru.

Middle East

Chinatowns in the Middle East have existed in the past, are a relatively new destination for Chinese immigrants compared with the rest of the world, particularly when compared with the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. For example, relatively new Chinatowns were built in Iran and Dubai as completely new settlement, unlike those in the other parts of the world where they were actual enclaves. Dubai has an example of a Chinese-themed mall on a very large scale, considered the largest in the world.

United States

Main article: Chinatowns in the United States

The United States is home to many Chinatowns, with the two largest in New York and San Francisco.

New York City

New York City is home to several Chinatowns in Manhattan, Flushing, and Brooklyn. There is also a Little Fuzhou developing in Manhattan and in a nearby area of Brooklyn.

The New York City Metropolitan Area contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, enumerating 735,019 individuals as of 2012,[36] including at least 9 Chinatowns - six[37] (or seven, including the emerging Chinatown in Corona, Queens[38]) in New York City proper, and one each in Edison, New Jersey, Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey and Nassau County, Long Island,[39] not to mention fledgling ethnic Chinese enclaves emerging throughout the New York City metropolitan area. Chinese Americans, as a whole, have had a (relatively) long tenure in New York City. The first Chinese immigrants came to Lower Manhattan around 1870, looking for the "golden" opportunities America had to offer.[40] By 1880, the enclave around Five Points was estimated to have from 200 to as many as 1,100 members.[40]

However, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which went into effect in 1882, caused an abrupt decline in the number of Chinese who immigrated to New York and the rest of the United States.[40] Later, in 1943, the Chinese were given a small quota, and the community's population gradually increased until 1968, when the quota was lifted and the Chinese American population skyrocketed.[40] In the past few years, the Cantonese dialect that has dominated Chinatown for decades is being rapidly swept aside by Mandarin Chinese, the national language of China and the lingua franca of most of the latest Chinese immigrants.[41]

San Francisco

A Pacific port city, San Francisco has the oldest and longest continuous running Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere.[28][29][30] It originated circa 1848 and served as a gateway for incoming immigrants who arrived during the California gold rush and the construction of the North American transcontinental railroads. Chinatown was later reconceptualized as a tourist attraction in the 1910s.

San Francisco's Chinatown was nearly, but not completely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, but many of its inhabitants did not relocate elsewhere. Looming large were proposals by real estate speculators and politicians to expand the Financial District's influence into the area, by displacing the Chinese community to the southern part of the city. In response, many of Chinatown's residents and landlords defiantly stayed behind to stake their neighborhood's claim, sleeping out in the open and in makeshift tents. Numerous businesses and housing based in brick buildings survived with moderate damage and continued functioning, if only in a limited capacity. In just two years after the earthquake, the landmark Sing Fat and Sing Chong buildings were completed as a statement of the Chinese community's resolve to remain in the area. As a result of this action, Chinatown remains the longest, continuously occupied Chinese community outside of Asia.[28][29][30]

Still a community of predominantly Taishanese-speaking inhabitants, San Francisco's Chinatown became one of the most important Chinese centers in the United States.[42][43]

Elsewhere in the United States

Additional Chinatowns also exist in Avenue U, Brooklyn; Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; Boston; Chicago; Detroit; Elmhurst, Queens; Honolulu; Houston; Los Angeles; Oakland; Philadelphia; Portland Oregon; Seattle; Washington DC; and Atlanta.

See also

China portal
Society portal


Further reading

  • Chew, James R. "Boyhood Days in Winnemucca, 1901–1910." Nevada Historical Society Quarterly 1998 41(3): 206–209. ISSN 0047-9462 Oral history (1981) describes the Chinatown of Winnemucca, Nevada, during 1901–10. Though many Chinese left Winnemucca after the Central Pacific Railroad was completed in 1869, around four hundred Chinese had formed a community in the town by the 1890s. Among the prominent buildings was the Joss House, a place of worship and celebration that was visited by Chinese president Sun Yat-Sen in 1911. Beyond describing the physical layout of the Chinatown, the author recalls some of the commercial and gambling activities in the community.
  • [1])
  • "Chinatown: Conflicting Images, Contested Terrain", K. Scott Wong, Melus (Vol. 20, Issue 1), 1995. Scholarly work discussing the negative perceptions and imagery of old Chinatowns.
  • Pan, Lynn. Sons of the Yellow Emperor: A History of the Chinese Diaspora (1994). Book with detailed histories of Chinese diaspora communities (Chinatowns) from San Francisco, Honolulu, Bangkok, Manila, Johannesburg, Sydney, London, Lima, etc.
  • Williams, Daniel. Washington Post Foreign Service, March 1, 2004; Page A11.

External links

  • Chinatown Paris France
  • India's only ChinaTown
  • Life magazine
  • Chinatown San Francisco
  • Historical Photos of American Chinatowns
  • Chinatownology: Singapore Chinatown
  • Chinese New Year Parade and Festivals
  • A Journey through Chinatown New York City's 3 Chinatowns.
  • The Museum of Chinese in America
  • Yamashita's Web Site—Pictures of Chinatowns
  • Asian-Nation: Ethnic Enclaves & Communities
  • Boston's Chinatown
  • Chinatown Belarus
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