From Academic Kids

Alternative meanings: Chinatown (disambiguation)
The second-largest Chinatown in  is in , , where signs, storefronts, proprietors, and even lamp posts bring the culture of China to the United States.
The second-largest Chinatown in North America is in San Francisco, California, where signs, storefronts, proprietors, and even lamp posts bring the culture of China to the United States.

A Chinatown is an urban region containing a large population of Chinese people within a non-Chinese society. Chinatowns are most common in Southeast Asia and North America, but growing Chinatowns can be found in Europe and Australia.

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 any land to Chinese or restricted the land sales to a limited geographical area and which promoted the segregation of people of different ethnicities. The location of a Chinatown in a particular city may change or disappear over time.

In the past, overcrowded Chinatowns in urban areas were shunned by the general non-Chinese public as ethnic ghettoes, and therefore seen as places of vice and cultural insularism where "unassimilable foreigners" congregated. Nowadays, many old and new Chinatowns are considered viable centers of commercialism and tourism; some of them also serve, in various degrees, as centers of multiculturalism (espoused in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom) and "racial harmony" (especially in Malaysia and Singapore).

Quite a number of Chinatowns have a Disneyland-esque atmosphere, while others are actual living and working communities; some are a synthesis of both. Chinatowns also range from rundown ghettoes to sites of recent development. In some Chinatowns, recent investments have revitalized run-down and blighted areas and turned them into centers of vibrant economic and social activity in recent years. In some cases this has led to gentrification and a reduction in the specifically Chinese character of the neighborhoods.

Many Chinatowns have a long history, such as Nankinmachi, the nearly three centuries old Chinatown in Nagasaki, Japan. Other Chinatowns are much more recent developments: the Chinatown in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. formed in the 1990s. Most Chinatowns grew without any organized plans, while a few Chinatowns (such as the one in Las Vegas and a new one outside the city limits of Seoul, South Korea to be completed by 2005) resulted from deliberate master plans (sometimes as part of redevelopment project).Indeed, many areas of the world are embracing the development and redevelopment (or regeneration) of Chinatowns, such as in Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. In Ireland and Italy, right-wing ideology and anti-Chinatown sentiments have made efforts at such redevelopment more challenging.

Missing image
One of the formal entrances or Paifang to Chinatown in London, England, which is located in Soho around Gerrard Street, Lisle Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.


In Chinese, Chinatown is usually called in Standard Mandarin Tngrnjiē (唐人街): "Tang people streets". The literal translation of the word is an uncommon term for the Chinese, used here since the Cantonese, which make up a large proportion of immigrants, were only fully brought under imperial control under the Tang Dynasty). Indeed, some Chinatowns are just a street, such as the relatively short Fisgard Street in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada or the sprawling 4-mile long new Chinatown of Bellaire Boulevard in Houston, Texas, United States. In Cantonese, it is Tong yan gai (Tang people street) and the modern Tong yan fau (唐人埠), which literally means Tang people town or more accurately, Chinese town. It is Tong ngin gai in Hakka, one of the widely spoken and diffused dialect among overseas Chinese. Tang and Tong refer to the Tang Dynasty, an era in Chinese history.

A more modern Chinese name is Hub (華埠: Chinese City) which is used in the semi-official Chinese translations of some cities' documents and signs. B, pronounced sometimes as f, usually means seaport; but in this sense, it means city or town. The literal word-to-word translation of Chinatown is Zhōnggu Chng (中國城), which is occasionally used in Chinese writing.

In Francophone regions (such as France and Quebec, Canada), Chinatown is often referred to as le quartier Chinois (the Chinese Quarter; plural: les quartiers Chinois) and 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.) Other countries also have names for Chinatown in local languages; 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". Some languages have adopted the English language term, such as in Dutch, German, and Bahasa Malaysia.

Several alternate English names for Chinatown include China Town (generally used in British and Australian English), 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; these sites are now historical sites).

Settlement patterns

With the overthrow of the Ming dynasty by the Qing in the late 17th century, some Chinese fled to Japan and formed a Chinatown community in Nagasaki before the start of the 18th century, making it (along with the Binondo district of Manila if the Philippines) one of the earliest Chinatowns to be established.

In the early 18th century, Chinese settlers established Chinatowns mainly in Southeast Asia (for example, the Cholon district of the former Saigon, Vietnam). Emigration from Mainland China to other parts of the world really took off in the 1860s with the enactment of Treaty of Peking, which opened the border for free movement. The early immigrants came primarily from coastal province of Guangdong and Fujian (Fukien)—where Cantonese, Min Nan (Hokkien), Hakka, and Chaozhou (Teochew, Chiu Chow) are largely spoken—in southeastern Mainland China. Initially, the Qing government of China did not care for the of these migrants leaving the country. As a dominant group, the Cantonese are linguistically and ethnically distinct from other groups in China; Cantonese remained the dominant language and heritage of many Chinatowns in Western countries until the 1970s.

Taishanese and Cantonese settled in the first North American Chinatowns. The Cantonese mainly formed Chinatowns in North America and Latin America. As a port city, San Francisco's Chinatown formed in the 1850s and served as a gateway for incoming immigrants. The Hokkien and Teochew (both groups speaking the Minnan sub-group of Chinese dialects), along with Cantonese are the dominant group in Southeast Asian Chinatowns. The Hakka groups established Chinatowns in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Northern Chinese settled in the Koreas in the 1940s. In Europe, early Chinese were seamen and longshoremen; Chinatowns were established in European port cities as Chinese traders settled down in the area. France received the largest settlement of the early Chinese immigrant laborers. hinatowns are also found in the Indian cities of Calcutta and Bombay.

By the late 1970s, the Vietnam War also played a significant part in the development and redevelopment of various 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 were solely inhabited by Chinese from southeastern Mainland China.


These features are characteristic of most Chinatowns everywhere. In some cases, however, they may only apply to Chinatowns in Western countries, such as those in North America, Australia, and Western Europe. (See also: Chinatown patterns in North America)

Arches or Paifang

Many tourist-destination metropolitan Chinatowns can be easily distinguished by large red arch-like structures known as Paifang with bronze lion statues on the opposite sides of the street. They usually have special inscriptions in Chinese. Historically, these gateways were donated to a particular city as a gift from the Republic of China government and business organizations. Construction of these red arches was also financed by local financial contributions from the Chinatown community. The lengths of these arches vary from Chinatown to Chinatown; some span an entire intersection and some are smaller in height and width. The popular perception of Chinatown often includes these arches.

Missing image
A bilingual sign in London's Chinatown

Bilingual signs

Many major metropolitan areas with Chinatowns have bilingual street signs in Chinese and the language of the adopted country. These signs are generally poorly translated by city planners.

Antiquated features

Many early Chinatowns were characterized by the large number of Chinese-owned chop suey restaurants (chop suey itself is a Chinese American concoction and therefore it is not considered authentic Chinese cuisine), 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 non-Chinese society (it was the profiteering British who had introduced opium to China during the Qing Dynasty). These businesses no longer exist in many Chinatowns and they have been replaced by Chinese grocery stores, more authentic Chinese restaurants, and other establishments.


Chinatowns worldwide are usually popular destinations for various ethnic Chinese and increasingly, other Asian cuisines such as Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian. Chinatown restaurants serve many Chinatowns both as a major economic component and social gathering places. Many adjacent tourist-centric businesses rely on restaurants to bring in the customers, both of Chinese descent and non-Chinese. In the Chinatowns in the 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 touristy restaurants.

San Francisco's Chinatown retains many historic restaurants, including those established from the 1910s to the 1950s, although some that lasted for generations have shuttered in recent years and others have modernized their menus. Many Chinatown eateries from that era specialized in Chinese American cuisine (or, depending on where they were located, Chinese Canadian cuisine, Chinese Cuban cuisine, etc.), especially chop suey and chow mein. They often used gaudy neon lighting to attract non-Chinese customers and often featured English-language signs with stereotypically "Chinese" writing, large red doors, Chinese paper lanterns, and zodiac placemats (perhaps the most enduring of these stereotypical features). Outside Chinatowns, such faux Chinese restaurants are also found in many areas without a significant Chinese-speaking population.

Generally speaking, restaurants serving authentic Chinese food to primarily to immigrant customers have never conformed to these Chinatown stereotypes as much as those aimed at non-Chinese tourists (although some banquet-oriented restaurants do use some of the same features). Because of new ethnic Chinese immigration and the expanded palate of many contemporary cultures, the remaining Chinese American (etc.) restaurants are widely seen as anachronisms. In many Chinatowns, there are now many large, authentic Cantonese seafood restaurants (with egg or spring rolls only served during dim sum hours), restaurants specializing in other forms of Chinese food (Hakka, Szechuan, etc.), and small restaurants with delis.

Cantonese seafood restaurants (Cantonese: hoy seen jow 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 tanks until preparation. They also offer the delicacy of shark fin soup. Some seafood restaurants may also offer dim sum in the morning through the early afternoon hours. These restaurants are also used for weddings, banquets, and other special events. Owing to their higher prices, they tend to be more common in Chinatowns in developed countries and in affluent Chinese immigrant communities, notably in Australia, Canada, and the United States. There are generally fewer of them in the older Chinatowns; for example, they are practically non-existent in Vancouver's Chinatown, but more are found in its suburbs such as Richmond, British Columbia. Competition between these restaurants is often fierce. Hence, owners of seafood restaurants hire and even "steal" well-rounded chefs, many of whom are from Hong Kong.

Also, Chinese barbecue deli restaurants, called siu lop in Cantonese, are generally low-key and serve less expensive fare such as won ton noodles (or won ton mein), chow fun, and rice porridge or jook in Cantonese Chinese. They also tend to have displays of whole pre-cooked roasted ducks and pigs hanging on their windows, a common feature in most Chinatowns worldwide. These delis also serve barbecue pork (cha sui), chicken feet and other Chinese-style items less welcome to the typical Western palate. Food is usually intended for take-out (British: takeaway). Some of these Chinatown restaurants sometimes have the reputation of being "greasy spoons". Nonetheless, with their low prices, they are still generally patronized by hungry Chinese and other ethnic customers on a budget. One of the older and better-known of these is the multi-story Sam Wo Restaurant, on Washington Street and Grant Avenue in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Some small Chinese restaurants in Chinatowns may offer both Chinese American cuisine — for Western customers — and authentic Chinese cuisine for Chinese-speaking customers. According to an interview of Chinese cuisine culinary chef Martin Yan (host of the television program Martin Yan's Chinatown), more and more non-Chinese are becoming acquainted with authentic cuisine.

In integrating with the larger population, Chinese cuisine has evolved. To adapt to local tastes, the best Chinese Mexican-style Cantonese cuisine is said to be found in Mexicali's Chinatown (or La Chinesca in its local Spanish) or the Chinese Peruvian cuisine in the Barrio Chino of Lima.

Vietnamese immigrants, both ethnic Chinese and non-Chinese, have opened restaurants in many Chinatowns, serving Vietnamese phở 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.


Most Chinatown businesses are actively engaged in the import-export and wholesale businesses; hence, a large number of Trading Companies are found in Chinatown.

Small ginseng and herb shops are common in most Chinatowns.

As with the aforementioned Chinatown Chinese restaurant trade, grocery stores and seafood markets serve an essential function in typical Chinatown economies, and these stores sell the much-needed ingredients to such restaurants. Chinatown grocers and markets are often characterized by sidewalk vegetable and fruit stalls – a quintessential image of Chinatowns – and 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, Mainland 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 and well in aquariums, for Chinese and other Asian cuisine dishes. Until recently, these items generally could not be found outside of 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.

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

Chinatowns also typically contain small businesses that sell imported Video CD and DVDs of Chinese-language films and karaoke. VCD is a format that has not caught on in Western countries, but are sold in ethnic Chinese shops. These VCDs are mainly titles of Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese films, while there are also VCDs of Japanese anime.

Benevolent associations

A major component of many old Chinatowns worldwide is the family benevolent association. 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, spoken Chinese dialect, specific region or country of origin, and so on. Many of these associations have their own facilities. Some examples include San Francisco's prominent Chinese Six Companies and Los Angeles's Southern California Teochew Association. The Chinese Consolidate Benevolent Association is among the largest umbrella groups of benevolent associations in the North America; Paris, France has a similar institution in the Association des Rsidents en France d'origine indochinoise.

Annual events in Chinatown

Most Chinatowns the world over present Chinese New Year (or also known as Lunar New Year) festivities with ubiquitous dragon and lion dances accompanied by the clashing of cymbals and by ear-splittingly loud Chinese firecrackers, set off especially in front of ethnic Chinese storefronts, where the "dragon" attempts to reach for a lettuce or catch an orange. Storekeepers usually donate some money to the performers. In addition, some streets of Chinatowns are usually closed off for parades, Chinese acrobatics and martial arts demonstrations, street festivals, and carnival rides – this is dependent on the promoters or organizers of the events. Other festivals may also be held in a parking lot/car park, local park, or school grounds within Chinatown. These events are popular with the local ethnic community and also to non-Chinese gawkers.

Some Chinatowns hold an annual "Miss Chinatown" beauty pageant, such as "Miss Chinatown San Francisco," "Miss Chinatown Hawaii," or Miss Chinatown Houston" (just to name a few examples).

Dragon and lion dances

Missing image
Like Chinese worldwide, the folks in Calgary, Alberta's Chinatown perform dragon dances for good luck.

Dragon and lion dances are performed in Chinatown every Chinese New Year. They are also performed to celebrate a grand opening of a new Chinatown business, such as a restaurant or bank. In Chinatowns of Western countries, the performers of dragon and lion dances in Chinatown are not necessarily all ethnic Chinese.

Ceremonial wreaths are also usually placed in front of new Chinatown businesses by well-wishers, to assure future success.

Social problems in Chinatown

Main Article: Social problems in Chinatown

Overcoming an earlier reputation of being dirty slums, Chinatowns currently enjoy the rewards of attracting tourists with Asian cuisine and culture. However the economic success brings with it Asian organized crime with rival gangs competing for new lucrative opportunities in extortion, people smuggling, gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking. This has led to high profile shoot-outs where innocent bystanders and police have been killed. Although some Chinatowns have experienced recent growth and success many others are facing the difficult challenges of decay and abandonment. Leading some to fear redevelopment initiatives will erase struggling Chinatowns completely. In 2003, along with these ongoing social problems, SARS hit Chinese Canadians' and Chinese Americans' core tourist businesses the hardest, as tourists and local residents became reluctant to risk infection by returning Chinese travelers.

Chinatowns worldwide

Template:Chinatown Chinatowns are most common in North America, Asia, Australasia and Europe, but are common across the globe. Immigration patterns determine the economic, political and social character of individual Chinatowns, as do their intranational locations (urban, suburban or rural). Most Chinatowns grow organically but some countries have taken to building and promoting Chinatowns within their bigger cities.

See also: List of Chinatowns

Chinatown in film, television, and the arts

See also

External links

  • Yamashita's Web Site ( - Pictures of Chinatowns worldwide.

African Chinatowns

Asian Chinatowns

North American Chinatowns




Other Western U.S.

Eastern U.S.



South American Chinatowns

European Chinatowns

Oceanian Chinatowns

Further reading

  • 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.
  • The First Suburban Chinatown: The Remaking of Monterey Park, California, Timothy P. Fong, 1994
  • Mexicali's Chinatown, James R. Curtis, Geographical Review (Vol. 85, Issue 3), 1995
  • San Gabriel Valley Asian Influx Alters Life in Suburbia Series: Asian Impact (1 of 2 articles), Mark Arax, Los Angeles Times, 1987de:Chinatown

es:Chinatown fr:Chinatown ja:中華街 no:Chinatown pt:Chinatown zh:唐人街


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools