|Literal meaning||"Chinese Street"|
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Second alternative Chinese name|
|Literal meaning||"Chinese District"|
A Chinatown (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Jyutping: tong4 jan4 gaai1) is an ethnic enclave of Chinese people located outside mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, most often in an urban setting. Areas known as "Chinatown" exist throughout the world, including Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Middle East.
The development of most Chinatowns typically resulted from mass migration to an area without any or with very few Chinese residents. Binondo in Manila, established in 1594, is recognized as the world's oldest Chinatown. Notable early examples outside Asia include San Francisco's Chinatown in the United States and Melbourne's Chinatown in Australia, which were founded in the mid-19th century during the California gold rush and Victoria gold rush, respectively. A more modern example, in Montville, Connecticut, was caused by the displacement of Chinese workers in the Manhattan Chinatown following the September 11th attacks in 2001.
Oxford Dictionaries defines "Chinatown" as "...a district of any non-Asian town, especially a city or seaport, in which the population is predominantly of Chinese origin". However, some Chinatowns may have little to do with China. Some "Vietnamese" enclaves are in fact a city's "second Chinatown", and some Chinatowns are in fact pan-Asian, meaning they could also be counted as a Koreatown or Little India. One example includes Asiatown in Cleveland, Ohio. It was initially referred to as a Chinatown but was subsequently renamed due to the influx of non-Chinese Asian Americans who opened businesses there. Today the district acts as a unifying factor for the Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Nepalese and Thai communities of Cleveland.
Further ambiguities with the term can include Chinese ethnoburbs which by definition are "...suburban ethnic clusters of residential areas and business districts in large metropolitan areas where the intended purpose is to be "...as isolated from the white population as Hispanics". An article in The New York Times blurs the line further by categorizing very different Chinatowns such as Chinatown, Manhattan, which exists in an urban setting as "traditional"; Monterey Park's Chinatown, which exists in a "suburban" setting (and labeled as such); and Austin, Texas's Chinatown, which is in essence a "fabricated" Chinese-themed mall. This contrasts with narrower definitions, where the term only described Chinatown in a city setting.
In some cities in Spain, the term barrio chino ('Chinese quarter') denotes an area, neighborhood or district where prostitution or other businesses related to the sex industry are concentrated; i.e. a red-light district. Some examples of this are the Chinatown of Salamanca and Barri Xinès, the Chinatown of Barcelona a part of El Raval, although in Barcelona there was a small Chinese community in the 1930s.
Trading centres populated predominantly by Chinese men and their native spouses have 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 (Canton, Kwangtung) and Fujian (Fukien, Hokkien) in southeastern China - where the people generally speak Toishanese, Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew (Chiuchow) and Hokkien. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, a significant amount of Chinese emigration to North America originated from four counties called Sze Yup, located west of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, making Toishanese a dominant variety of the Chinese language spoken in Chinatowns in Canada and the United States.
As conditions in China have improved in recent decades, many Chinatowns have lost their initial mission, which was to provide a transitional place into a new culture. As net migration has slowed into them, the smaller Chinatowns have slowly decayed, often to the point of becoming purely historical and no longer serving as ethnic enclaves.
Along the coastal area of Southeast Asia of the 16th century, quite many Chinese settlements existed in according to Zheng He's and Tome Pires' travel accounts. Melaka in Portuguese colonial period, for instance, had a large number of Chinese population in Campo China. They settled down at port towns under authority's approval for trading. After the European colonial powers seized and ruled the port towns in the 16th century, Chinese supported European traders and colonists, and created autonomic settlements.
Several Asian Chinatowns, although not yet called by that name, have a long history. Those in Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama, Japan,Binondo in Manila, Hoi An and Bao Vinh in central Vietnam all existed in 1600. Glodok, the Chinese quarter of Jakarta, Indonesia, dates to 1740.
Chinese presence in India dates back to the 5th century AD, with the first recorded Chinese settler in Calcutta named Young Atchew around 1780. Chinatowns first appeared in the Indian cities of Calcutta (now renamed Kolkata), Mumbai and Chennai.
An early enclave of Chinese people emerged in the 1830s in Liverpool, England, when the first direct trading vessel from China arrived in Liverpool's docks to trade in goods, including silk and cotton wool. Many Chinese immigrants arrived in Liverpool in the late 1850s in the employ of the Blue Funnel Shipping Line, a cargo transport company established by Alfred Holt. The commercial shipping line created strong trade links between the cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Liverpool, mainly in the importation of silk, cotton and tea. They settled near the docks, but the area was heavily bombed during World War II, with the Chinese community moving a few blocks to the current Liverpool Chinatown in Nelson Street.
The Chinatown in San Francisco is one of the largest in North America and the oldest north of Mexico. It served as a port of entry for early Chinese immigrants from the 1850s to the 1900s. The area was the one geographical region deeded by the city government and private property owners which allowed Chinese persons to inherit and inhabit dwellings within the city. Many Chinese found jobs working for large companies seeking a source of labor, most famously as part of the Central Pacific on the Transcontinental Railroad. Since it started in Omaha, that city had a notable Chinatown for almost a century. 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. Other early immigrants worked as mine workers or independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the 1849 Gold Rush.
Economic opportunity drove the building of further Chinatowns in the United States. The initial Chinatowns were built in the Western United States in states such as California, Oregon, Washington, 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 City, 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.
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.
In Australia, the Victorian gold rush which began in 1851 attracted Chinese prospectors from the Guangdong area, and a community began to form in the eastern end of Little Bourke Street, Melbourne by the mid 1850s; the area is still the centre of the Melbourne chinatown, making it the oldest continuously occupied Chinatown in a western city (since the San Francisco one was destroyed and rebuilt). Gradually expanding, it reached a peak in the early 20th century, with Chinese business, mainly furniture workshops, occupying a block wide swath of the city, overlapping into the adjacent 'Little Lon' red light district. With restricted immigration it shrunk again, becoming a strip of Chinese restaurants by the late 1970s, when it was celebrated with decorative arches, and with recent huge influx of students from mainland China is now the centre of a much larger area of noodle shops, travel agents, restaurants, and groceries. The Australian gold rushes also saw the development of a Chinatown in Sydney, at first around the Rocks, near the docks, but it has moved twice, first in the 1890s to the east side of the Haymarket area, near the new markets, then in the 1920s concentrating on the west side, and Chinatown, Sydney is now centred on Dixon Street.
Other Chinatowns in European capitals, including Paris and London, were established at the turn of the 20th century. The first Chinatown in London was located in the Limehouse area of the East End of London at the start of the 20th century. The Chinese population engaged in business which catered to the Chinese sailors who frequented the Docklands. The area acquired a bad reputation from exaggerated reports of opium dens and slum housing.
France received a large settlement of Chinese immigrant laborers, mostly from the city of Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang province of China. Significant Chinatowns sprung up in Belleville and the 13th arrondissement of Paris.
By the late 1970s, refugees and exiles from the Vietnam War played a significant part in the redevelopment of Chinatowns in developed Western countries. As a result, many existing 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.
In 2001, the events of September 11 have resulted in a mass migration of about 14,000 Chinese workers from Manhattan's Chinatown to Montville, Connecticut, due to the fall of the garment industry and workers transitioning to casino jobs fueled by the development of the Mohegan Sun casino.
In 2012, Tijuana's Chinatown formed as a result of availability of direct flights to China. The La Mesa District of Tijuana was formerly a small enclave, but has tripled in size as a result of direct flights to Shanghai, with an ethnic Chinese population rise from 5,000 in 2009 to roughly 15,000 in 2012, overtaking Mexicali's Chinatown as the largest Chinese enclave in Mexico.
The New York metropolitan area, consisting of New York City, Long Island, and nearby areas within the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, is home to the largest Chinese American population of any metropolitan area within the United States and the largest Chinese population outside of China, enumerating an estimated 893,697 in 2017 and including at least 12 Chinatowns. Continuing significant immigration from Mainland China, both legal and illegal in origin, has spurred the ongoing rise of the Chinese American population in the New York metropolitan area; this immigration continues to be fueled by New York's status as an alpha global city, its high population density, its extensive mass transit system, and the New York metropolitan area's enormous economic marketplace. The Manhattan Chinatown contains the largest concentration of ethnic Chinese in the Western hemisphere; while the Flushing Chinatown in Queens has become the world's largest Chinatown, but conversely, has also emerged as the epicenter of organized prostitution in the United States.
The features described below are characteristic of many modern Chinatowns.
The early Chinatowns such as those in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the United States were naturally destinations for people of Chinese descent as migration were the result of opportunities such as the California Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad drawing the population in, creating natural Chinese enclaves that were almost always 100% exclusively Han Chinese, which included both people born in China and in the enclave, in this case American-born Chinese. In some free countries such as the United States and Canada, housing laws that prevent discrimination also allows neighborhoods that may have been characterized as "All Chinese" to also allow non-Chinese to reside in these communities. For example, the Chinatown in Philadelphia has a sizeable non-Chinese population residing within the community. A recent study also suggests that the demographic change is also driven by gentrification of what were previously Chinatown neighborhoods. The influx of luxury housing is speeding up the gentrification of such neighborhoods. The trend for emergence of these types of natural enclaves is on the decline (with the exceptions being the continued growth and emergence of newer Chinatowns in Queens and Brooklyn in New York City), only to be replaced by newer "Disneyland-like" attractions, such as a new Chinatown that will be built in the Catskills region of New York. This includes the endangerment of existing historical Chinatowns that will eventually stop serving the needs of Chinese immigrants. Newer developments like those in Norwich, Connecticut, and the San Gabriel Valley, which are not necessarily considered "Chinatowns" in the sense that they do not necessarily contain the Chinese architectures or Chinese language signs as signatures of an officially sanctioned area that was designated either in law or signage stating so, differentiate areas that are called "Chinatowns" versus locations that have "significant" populations of people of Chinese descent. For example, San Jose, California in the United States has 63,434 people (2010 U.S. Census) of Chinese descent, and yet "does not have a Chinatown". Some "official" Chinatowns have Chinese populations much lower than that.
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, British Columbia Chinatown are present in some Chinatowns. Mahale Chiniha, the Chinatown in Iran, contains many buildings that were constructed 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.
Entrance to Chinatown, Sydney
Paifang in Philadelphia
Chinatown, Boston looking towards the paifang
Chinese Garden of Friendship, part of Sydney Chinatown
Harbin Gates in Chinatown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Millennium Gate on Pender Street in Chinatown of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Chinese Cultural Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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 ( Zh?nghuá Z?ng Huìgu?n), 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. Chinatown, 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 with 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.
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. 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".
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. 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". 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. 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'."
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 and 1873 in New Zealand. 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, Chinatown is usually called , in Cantonese Tong jan gai, in Mandarin Tángrénji?, 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 call themselves. Some Chinatowns are indeed just one single street, such as the relatively short Fisgard Street in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
A more modern Chinese name is (Cantonese: Waa Fau, Mandarin: Huábù) meaning "Chinese City", used in the semi-official Chinese translations of some cities' documents and signs. Bù, pronounced sometimes in Mandarin as fù, usually means seaport; but in this sense, it means city or town. Tong jan fau ( "Tang people's town") is also used in Cantonese nowadays. The literal word-for-word translation of Chinatown--Zh?ngguó Chéng () is also used, but more frequently by visiting Chinese nationals rather than immigrants of Chinese descent who live in various Chinatowns.
Chinatowns in Southeast Asia have unique Chinese names used by the local Chinese, as there are large populations of people who are Overseas Chinese, living within the various major cities of Southeast Asia. As the population of Overseas Chinese, is widely dispersed in various enclaves, across each major Southeast Asian city, specific Chinese names are used instead.
For example, in Singapore, where 2.8 million ethnic Chinese constitute a majority 74% of the resident population, the Chinese name for Chinatown is Niúch?sh?i (, Hokkien POJ: Gû-chia-chúi), which literally means "ox-cart water" from the Malay 'Kreta Ayer' in reference to the water carts that used to ply the area. The Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, (where 2 million ethnic Chinese comprise 30% of the population of Greater Kuala Lumpur ) while officially known as Petaling Street (Malay: Jalan Petaling), is referred to by Malaysian Chinese by its Cantonese name ci4 cong2 gaai1 (, pinyin: Cích?ng Ji?), literally "tapioca factory street", after a tapioca starch factory that once stood in the area. In Manila, Philippines, the area is called Mínlúnluò Q? ?, literally meaning the "Mín and Luò Rivers confluence district" but is actually a transliteration of the local term Binondo and an allusion to its proximity to the Pasig River.
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 barrio chino (Chinese neighborhood; plural: barrios chinos), used in Spain and Latin America. (However, barrio chino or its Catalan cognate barri xinès 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 ngi Hoa (Chinese district) or ph? Tàu (Chinese street). Vietnamese language is prevalent in Chinatowns of Paris, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Montreal as ethnic Chinese from Vietnam have set up shop in them.
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. Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene, Johannesburg, hosts South Africa's largest Chinatown.
In the Americas, which includes North America, Central America and South America, Chinatowns have been around since the 1800s. The most prominent ones exist in the United States and Canada in Toronto, New York City, San Francisco, and Vancouver. The New York City metropolitan area is home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, comprising an estimated 893,697 uniracial individuals as of 2017, including at least 12 Chinatowns – six (or nine, including the emerging Chinatowns in Corona and Whitestone, Queens, and East Harlem, Manhattan) in New York City proper, and one each in Nassau County, Long Island; Edison, New Jersey; and Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey, not to mention fledgling ethnic Chinese enclaves emerging throughout the New York City metropolitan area. San Francisco, a Pacific port city, has the oldest and longest continuous running Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere. In Canada, Vancouver's Chinatown is the country's largest.
The oldest Chinatown in the Americas is in Mexico City and dates back to at least the early 17th century. 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 Latin 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. Notable Chinatowns also exist in Lima, Peru.
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. Today the Chinese diaspora in Asia is largely concentrated in Southeast Asia however the legacy of the once widespread overseas Chinese communities in Asia is evident in the many Chinatowns that are found across East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
Kya-Kya or Kembang Jepun, Surabaya's Chinatown, one of oldest Chinatown in Indonesia
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.
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.
Chinatown Gold Coast is a precinct in the Central Business District of Southport, Queensland, that runs through Davenport Street and Young Street. The precinct extends between Nerang Street in the north and Garden Street/Scarborough Street east-west. Redevelopment of the precinct was established in 2013 and completed in 2015 in time for Chinese New Year celebrations.
Several urban Chinatowns exist in major European capital cities. There is Chinatown, London, England as well as major Chinatowns in Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Manchester. Antwerp, Belgium has also seen an upstart Chinese community, that has been recognized by the local authorities since 2011. The city council of Cardiff has plans to recognize the Chinese Diaspora in the city.
The Chinatown in Paris, located in the 13th arrondissement, is the largest in Europe, 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 Italy, there is a Chinatown in Milan between Via Luigi Canonica and Via Paolo Sarpi and others 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. The Chinatown in London was established in the Limehouse district in the late 19th century. The Chinatown in Manchester is located in central Manchester.
Chinatowns have been referenced in various films including The Joy Luck Club, Big Trouble in Little China, Year of the Dragon and Chinatown. Also, many films in which Jackie Chan appears reference locations in Chinatown, particularly the Rush Hour series with Chris Tucker.
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 politician Gary Locke and NBA player Jeremy Lin 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.
Manhattan's Chinatown, the largest Chinatown in the United States and the site of the largest concentration of Chinese in the Western Hemisphere, is located on the Lower East Side.
China is, far and away, the primary sending country, with 22,140 city residents who make up about 11 percent of the foreign-born population, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts analysis of Census data.