The Change of Chinatown – Reflection of the Historical Track of Chinese Immigrants


In foreign countries, the closest word related to Chinese immigrants is – Chinatown. In recent years, together with the amalgamation of Chinese and Western culture and the raising of Chinese oversea population, Chinatown has changed a lot. The appearance of excellent apartments, the extending of business areas and the participation of other none-Chinese nations make the change of the functions of Chinatown People start to think about these changes.

Brief introduction of Chinatown in some areas in US:


Boston’s Chinatown was established between 1869 and 1870 when the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad brought Chinese railroad workers to manufacturing jobs in Boston and other parts of the Northeast. The first workers pitched their tents in Ping on Alley. Chinatown grew slowly over a hundred and thirty years, from a community of predominantly male “sojourners” to a 46-acre neighborhood that is one of the last ethnic communities in the city of Boston.

Chinatown’s generally accepted boundaries are Essex Street to the north, the Surface Artery to the east, Washington and Tremont Streets to the west, and Marginal Road to the south. Chinatown continues to be a cultural, social and service hub for the Boston and New England Chinese and Asian community. Public transportation links sizable Asian enclaves in the South End, Allston-Brighton and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods to Chinatown as well as enclaves in the neighboring communities of Malden, Quincy and Brookline.

Chinatown now is home to approximately 6,000, 40 percent of whom, in 1990, had been in the United States for five years or less, with 35 percent (35%) describing themselves as speaking English “not well”. Many new immigrants choose to live in Chinatown until they have established themselves and have developed the English language skills and economic mobility to exercise options regarding their housing and employment. Additional data from the 1990 census included:

” Ninety-one percent (91%) of Chinatown residents were Chinese.

” Median incomes for Chinatown households were $9,059 compared to $12,530 for Boston.

” The per capita income for Asians residing in Chinatown and Castle Square was $6.53. Chinatown had a higher percentage of elderly (65 years and above) of 19.8% compared with an 11.5% for Boston and lower percentages for all other age groups compared to the entire Boston population.


Phoenix once had a Chinatown around what is now US Airways Center. It was defunct long before US Airways Center was built. Some artifacts from the Chinatown were uncovered in an archaeological dig on the site, and are exhibited at the Center.

A Chinatown-themed shopping center built to traditional Chinese architecture was opened in 1997 near the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The Chinese-American supermarket chain 99 Ranch Market operates a branch there. The shopping complex has attracted few tenants due to high rents. However, throughout Phoenix, there are many pockets of Chinese communities and areas nearby contain many Chinese supermarkets and restaurants.


Given its relative proximity to East Asia and Southeast Asia, California has the largest number of historic and contemporary Chinatowns in North America. The state boasts of the largest number of Chinatowns of all types, including the most well-known and largest Chinatown in San Francisco, the first all-Chinese rural town of Locke to be built by Chinese immigrants, and the first “Suburban Chinatown” that includes the cities of Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel and neighboring areas.

Many early Chinese immigrants were processed at Angel Island (now a California state park) in the San Francisco Bay area, which is equivalent to New York’s Ellis Island for European immigrants.

North Dakota:

One of the largest, most notorious, most prominent and most highly-visited in North America is the Chinatown Fargo, North Dakota- Fargo Chinatown which is predominantly Cantonese-speaking, though many immigrants from Mainland China (mostly hailing from Guangdong province) are also fluent in Mandarin. Its main entrance is at Grant Avenue at Bush Street, but the center of Chinese commercial activities is on Stockton Avenue, whereas the section mostly oriented towards tourists is on Grant Avenue. While downtown Chinatown is the Chinese cultural center, smaller neighborhoods in the Richmond and Sunset districts have developed in recent years, coexisting with ethnic Russian and Korean businesses.

The Change of Chinatown:

These years, the change of Chinatown has caused peoples’ attention and it has become a new topic for further discussion.

In New York Chinatown numbers of new apartments are being built up. In the fast two years, five high-quality apartments were built up in New York Chinatown There are eight ones which are being built. These apartments have pretty high price – $1000/ every square.

Chinatown used to be thought as the area for middle or low class people to live. However, with the completion of these high quality and high price apartments, Chinatown appears to change what it use to be in most people’s mind.

The Appearance of Chinatown is Also Changing:

Besides these new apartments, the change of New York Chinatown can also be seen for the border illegibility of its business areas.

Nowadays, the business area has expanded a lot. In New York, Chinatown has a pretty large area: North – Little Italy; South – Quay; West – So Ho; East – Greenwich Village. Chinese faces and the shops owned by Chinese people have already “occupied” almost the eastern of the city.

It is clear that Chinatown is becoming lordly and outstretched to circumjacent areas. These are not the only changes. From the only living area from the very beginning to the prosperous business and travel industry center now, the function of Chinatown is changing obviously.

On the website of Antwerp, Belgium, we can see from the “Shopping Guide” that Antwerp Chinatown is highly recommended to the visitors.

The change of function makes the change of the consumer colony. The Chinatown in Antwerp is the first Chinatown in Belgium. It is located in the downtown and has more 40 Chinese companies and shops in this area. The visitors who come here become its main colony. Most of them come to Chinatown to try traditional Chinese food or to feel the Chinese culture.

The changes of the function can also been seen in the business. Besides the food and meal which is known by most of the people, the people in Chinatown have also started to do the hotel management; imports and exports operations; insurance companies, accounting affairs; tax-free shops; media companies and all kinds of business.

The products sold in Chinatown are not only from China, people begin to get the products all over the world in order to meet the needs not only the Chinese immigrants but also local and overseas consumers.

The population structure of Chinatown has changed a lot. On one side, the people who are born and grow up in Chinatown begin to go outside this area to get into the local society; on the other side, more and more non-Chinese immigrants move into Chinatown Among these people, there are specialized ones such as lawyers, doctors and stylists. They come to Chinatown not only for a different culture experience but also for better personal development. The change of residence is surely influencing this area.

The continuance of Chinatown:

In fact, Chinatown is continuing its Chinese traditional ways of life and communication mode.

Walking in Chinatown you can easily forget the time and place. Scutcheons of Chinese words; Chinese restaurants of different flavors of food and the shops which sell traditional Chinese craftworks can be seen everywhere in Chinatown When you come into a Chinese supermarket, you can find the product as big as furniture or as small as lady’s companion made in China. You will get almost everything about China you want.

If you go shopping or eating in Chinatown you are surely to feel the “Chinese Human kindness”.

The shopkeeper may give you a little more of leek or bean curd because you are his countrymen from north of China. When having your dinner in Chinese restaurant, you may get a big bowl of soup just because you have the same “Chinese Face” as them have.

All kinds of Chinese festivals and traditional Chinese custom are being continued by Chinese immigrants in Chinatown.

Having the spring festival in Bangkok Chinatown you can see the long lion dance and traditional Chinese martial such animal boxing and south boxing. You can see people burn joss sticks and light the candles to worship in order to ask for welfare and peace. You can see “Chinese Red” in every corner of Chinatown You can also taste authentic Chinese New Year’s Dinner. Such great environment of Chinese New Year will make the people in mainland China surprise and warm.

To the Chinese students and immigrants abroad, Chinatown is continuing their spiritual “root”.

Famous Chinese scholar who is now a professor in Harvard Dr. Oufan Lee used to describe his life in US: After arriving in US, I lived in a town not far from New York. The New York Chinatown became the “Mekka” of my heart. I went there almost twice a month. Usually on Saturday or Sunday I took the early bus to Chinatown watched one or two Chinese movies; ate Chinese food and bought several books in Chinese book stores. This life style made me feel substantial.

Chinatown was the brim of my life; however it had became the heaven of my heart. People who were far away from China always went to Chinatown together, bought things and had dinner together there. Just like western people go to church every Sunday, Chinese immigrants go to Chinatown It is the most part of their lives.

In foreign people’s point of view, Chinatown is a “Small China”. It continues Chinese culture and way of life. An American reporter talks about his feel to Chinatown like this: Chinatown is indeed a Chinese Culture Center which combined all kinds of Chinese community, economy and culture. As a foreigner, you can easily feel the mystery and magic of Chinese culture. There is a saying: Chinatown is the first step to know China.

New Chinatown and Globalization:

Nowadays, Chinatown is not the same as before, I would like to choose the words – amalgamation and promotion to describe it.

As the globalization is a trend that can not be stopped, it has also become a new situation for Chinatown.

People now are more likely to call “New Chinatown”. It is not only because of the huge changes in Chinatown these years but also a new way to show the new function of Chinatown.

Chinatown is no more just a living area for new immigrants; it is place that is commixed by different nations and different culture. One of the main functions of Chinatown is to break the border of race and culture, and try to show Chinese Weltanschauung. Chinatown is actually a place for idea communication and to let the whole world to know a new China.

As we know that China has a stable increasing GDP and national power. These are directly influencing Chinatown all over the world. The changes and prosperity in Chinatown are the reflections of what is happening in mainland China.

It is true that immigrants are better supported and they are using their own ways to show the whole world what the Chinese society is including the society structure; politics structure; economic growth; culture environment and so on.

“Today, Chinatown is one of many culturally distinct neighborhoods that together make up the backbone of the City. Viewed within the context of America, Chinatown is an American working class community that has been a partner in building this nation with every other American working class community. Like all other American neighborhoods, Chinatown has been developed by the will and energies of immigrants.”

Chinatown is facing questions:

It is clear to see that, Chinatown is changing.

From my point of view: Chinatown is not a small community which is isolated from the local society. It is sure to face the impact brought from western and modern civilization. What’s more, there are more and more Chinese immigrant to USA and have their child here, Chinatown moves from the margin to the mainstream of the society culture. The changes of Chinatown seem to be so natural with the amalgamation of different society and culture.

At the same time, the people who are living or used to live in Chinatown continue Chinatown’s sprite and culture in all kinds of ways. This makes Chinatown still has strong and special culture characters.

Dr. Lee says: How to keep personal culture character during the culture impact is most important point. New generation of Chinese immigrants who come from Chinatown have done many meaningful things. They visit old immigrants, make documentary about Chinatown and publish magazines. These things make positive effect on the US society. Many universities have set up “Chinese Immigration Research Center”, and started to look deeper inside into Chinese immigrants’ behavior and modality.

When Chinatown becomes a kind of social culture phenomenon, it is endued with more profound meanings.

The change of Chinatown refracts the historical track of Chinese immigrants. The development and change of Chinatown shows that Chinese immigrants are trying their best for the better personal development at the same time; they are carrying forward Chinese culture.

Changes occur for sure. What do these changes bring to Chinatown? What is the future way of Chinatown? What kind of choice will people make during the conflict and fortitude?

These kinds of questions are in front of the Chinatown all over the world.

To all the overseas Chinese immigrants, Chinatown is the most familiar word. To all the people around the world, Chinatown is the window for them to know more about China.

As time goes so fast, Chinatown is undoubted in the process of changing. Nowadays, Chinatown is more like a bridge which connects the Chinese culture and lifestyle to the whole world.

With more outside people come into Chinatown and so many existing culture and behavior conflicts, Chinatown is facing unprecedented challenges. There are several questions in front of us, how can Chinatown really get involved to the social community and at the same time still keep its own culture and characters? Whether Chinatown should continue its changing or keep some of its traditions?

The questions like these will never stop.

Chinatown is the epitome of Chinese immigrants’ history and development. I am glad to see that it is accepted by more and more people and societies. Just like Chinese immigrants who are playing more and more important role in the world.

I believe that not only Chinatown but also Chinese immigrants will be accepted by more people and will make greater achievements in the future.


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