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Chinatown is a generic name for a urban region containing a large population of Chinese within a non-Chinese society. In Chinese, Chinatown is usually called Tang ren jie (唐人街), meaning the street of the Tang people (a rarely-used term for "the Chinese", named after the Tang Dynasty). Indeed, some Chinatowns in America are really just a street, such as Fisgard Street in Victoria, British Columbia. A more modern Chinese name is "Chinese City" (華埠 hua2 bu4), which is used in the official Chinese translations of some cities' documents and signs. B, pronounced more rarely as f, usually means "seaport," but in this sense, it means "city" or "town." The literal word-to-word translation of "Chinatown" is Zhongguo Cheng (中國城 zhong1 guo2 cheng2), which is occasionally in Chinese writing.

Chinatowns were formed in the 19th century in many areas of the United States and Canada as a result of discriminatory land laws which forbade the sale of land to Chinese outside of a restricted geographical area and which promotes the segregation of people of different ethnicities.

Many American cities now have two Chinatowns, an older mainly urban one, and a new mainly suburban one. The old Chinatowns are more traditional and hence are usually tourist attractions with restaurants selling American Chinese cuisine. The new Chinatowns are really for the Chinese people, with more authentic Chinese restaurants and large shopping centers[?] with Chinese merchants.

Early Chinese immigrants were mostly from the Taishan[?] area, close to Canton in Guangdong province, China. They immigrated to the US in the 19th century to lay railroad tracks, work in gold mines, and do laundry for the miners. Today, the old Chinatowns are still heavily populated by Taisanese and Cantonese people, although most descendants of the early immigrants have merged into the general non-Chinese population.

The new Chinatowns were formed starting in the 1970s when a new wave of Chinese immigrants began coming mainly from Taiwan. These new immigrants, who spoke Mandarin and Hokkien, generally did not find the old Cantonese-dominated Chinatowns attractive. Also, due to the high-tech boom in Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s, many new millionaires invested in developing new Chinese communities in the US. The trend usually started with a huge Chinese supermarket and strip mall[?], leading the new immigrants to settle nearby for convenience. These new communities were also attractive to new immigrants from mainland China after the PRC government opened up the border for emigration in the 1980s and 1990s, and gradually the neighborhood turns into a new Chinatown. In recent years, immigration from Taiwan has begun to decrease, and new Chinese immigrants consist of two groups: well-educated professionals from the People's Republic of China, who tend to work in high-tech areas, and undocumented aliens from Fujian working mostly in service industries. There has been relatively little immigration into the United States from Hong Kong, with most emigrants from Hong Kong ending up in Canada, usuallyVancouver, British Columbia or Toronto, Ontario. The reasons being stricter requirements and limited US immigration quota (approx. 5000/year) allotted for the SAR, compared to 20000/year for a country. Canada offers easy entry for any family rich enough to invest in the Canadian economy. One can practically buy a citizenship by opening a small business in Canada. Vancouver attracts most of the Hong Kong emigrants because of its milder climate compared to the rest of Canada. The city of Richmond has a more modern and larger Chinatown than the one in Vancouver.

The new Chinatowns and old Chinatowns have a number of differences. The older Chinatowns tended to be isolated communities detached from the rest of American society and containing strong internal institutions such as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in New York City and the Six Companies in San Francisco. These institutions served as quasi-governments and mediated relationships between Chinese in Chinatown and non-Chinese.

The Chinese in the new Chinatowns, many of whom are wealthy professionals, tend not to be isolated from the rest of American society, and the institutions of the new Chinatowns, such as Asian Chambers of Commerce, are much less powerful. Also, in contrast to Chinese immigrants of the 19th century, there are large numbers of Chinese who live outside of Chinatown in suburbia.

There are also differences in the relationships between the Chinatowns and various Chinese political actors. Chinese politics in the old Chinatowns were dominated by the Kuomintang. In the newer Chinatowns, there are significant numbers of supporters of Taiwan independence who were estranged from the Republic of China government before the 1990s but who have been drawn much closer since the mid-1990s as the government on Taiwan has become more localized. Until the mid-1980s, the People's Republic of China generally ignored the Chinatowns in the United States, but more recently the PRC has made a stronger and somewhat successful attempt to gain sympathy and influence within American Chinatowns. Both Counsulates of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan's Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices[?] (in the case of the United States) tend to be established in cities with large Chinese populations and both attempt to maintain close relationships with leaders of Chinatowns.

Monterey Park, California, has a large Taiwanese-dominated community, while the "Chinatown" in the city of Los Angeles remains tiny and Cantonese. Other examples are suburban Milpitas and Cupertino, California in the South San Francisco Bay Area, as well as the urban Richmond and Sunset districts in San Francisco, compared to the original Chinatown in downtown San Francisco. Another example is Flushing, New York versus the old Chinatown around Canal Street in Manhattan. Yet another example is Houston, Texas where there is an old and largely disappearing Chinatown near the Convention Center, and a new Chinatown on Bellaire Avenue in the Western part of the city. Although the popular image of Chinatown is urban and crowded, Monterey Park and Bellaire Avenue have quite interesting and unique architecture which is a mixture of the large shopping centers and shopping malls found in American suburbia with Chinese motifs. Interestingly, tourist guides invariably refer to the more traditional old Chinatowns without mentioning the much larger, modern and vibrant new Chinatowns.

New York being an exception to many things, Flushing is hardly suburban, and the Manhattan Chinatown still has many Chinese markets and other businesses, as well as a large Chinese-American population, including first-generation immigrants who speak little or no English and work in garment factories in the neighborhood. New York also has a third Chinatown, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Richmond near Vancouver, BC, Canada is also an exception to these trends. Unlike the Mandarin-dominated new Chinatowns in the US, Richmond is practically a "HongKongTown". It is quite possibly the largest Chinatown in North America, complete with several malls, a large grocery store and an endless number of restaurants and small businesses. One third of Richmond's population of 166,219 (2002) are people of Chinese descent, which is approximately 55,000 people.

Toronto also has one large Chinatown near Spadina Av and Dundas St. There are multiple other Chinatowns throughout Toronto's suburbs. The Markham area is noted for its large concentration of Chinese strip malls.

Montreal's Chinatown is around St-Urbain and St-Laurent streets between René-Lévesque and Viger. Smaller Chinatowns can be found in Boston and Washington D.C..

Roman Polanski also directed a movie named Chinatown.
Chinatown is also the common name used to refer to the song whose full title is "Chinatown, My Chinatown" written in 1910 with by lyrics by William Jerome and music by Jean Schwartz. The tune has been recorded by Louis Armstrong, Muggsy Spanier[?], and many others and is considered a standard of Dixieland music.

The heavy metal band Thin Lizzy has a song called Chinatown.

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