Chinatown, Manhattan: Wikis


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A Chinese lion helps usher in the 2006 Chinese New Year
Cooks at a Mott Street restaurant taking a break outside a side entrance on Mosco Street
Falungong meditation in a Chinatown plaza
Chinatown is home to many groceries

New York's Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 纽约华埠; traditional Chinese: 紐約華埠; pinyin: Niŭyuē Huá Bù) — a neighborhood of Manhattan — is an ethnic Chinese enclave with a large population of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans as well as a long-standing Chinese cultural influence. Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the largest ethnic Chinese communities outside of Asia, while the Flushing Chinatown in the Queens borough of New York City has become the city's second-largest Chinatown, as well as one of the largest outside of Asia.



The borders of Chinatown as traditionally recognized are:


Ah Ken and early Chinese immigration

Although Quimbo Appo is claimed to have arrived in the area during the 1840s, the first Chinese person credited as having permanently immigrated to Chinatown was Ah Ken, a Cantonese businessman, who eventually founded a successful cigar store on Park Row.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] He first arrived in New York around 1858 where he was "probably one of those Chinese mentioned in gossip of the sixties [1860s] as peddling 'awful' cigars at three cents apiece from little stands along the City Hall park fence -- offering a paper spill and a tiny oil lamp as a lighter", according to author Alvin Harlow in Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street (1931).[3]

Later immigrants would similarly find work as "cigar men" or carrying billboards and Ah Ken's particular success encouraged cigar makers William Longford, John Occoo and John Ava to also ply their trade in Chinatown eventually forming a monopoly on the cigar trade.[10] It has been speculated that he may have been Ah Kam who kept a small boarding house on lower Mott Street and rented out bunks to the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in Chinatown. It was with the profits he earned as a landlord, earning an average of $100 a month, that he was able to open his Park Row smoke shop around which modern-day Chinatown would grow.[1][5][11][12][13][14]

Chinese exclusion period

Faced with increasing discrimination and new laws which prevented participation in many occupations on the West Coast, some Chinese immigrants moved to the East Coast cities in search of employment. Early businesses in these cities included hand laundries and restaurants. Chinatown started on Mott Street, Park, Pell and Doyers streets, east of the notorious Five Points district. By 1870, there was a Chinese population of 200. By the time the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed, the population was up to 2,000 residents. By 1900, there were 7,000 Chinese residents, but fewer than 200 Chinese women.

The early days of Chinatown were dominated by Chinese "tongs" (now sometimes rendered neutrally as "associations"), which were a mixture of clan associations, landsman's associations, political alliances (Kuomintang (Nationalists) vs Communist Party of China) and (more secretly) crime syndicates. The associations started to give protection from harassment due to anti-Chinese sentiment. Each of these associations was aligned with a street gang. The associations were a source of assistance to new immigrants - giving out loans, aiding in starting business, and so forth.

The associations formed a governing body named the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association(中華公所). Though this body was meant to foster relations between the Tongs, open warfare periodically flared between the On Leong (安良) and Hip Sing (協勝) tongs. Much of the Chinese gang warfare took place on Doyers street. Gangs like the Ghost Shadows (鬼影) and Flying Dragons (飛龍) were prevalent until the 1980s. The only park in Chinatown, Columbus Park, was built on what was once the center of the infamous Five Points neighborhood of New York. During the 19th century, this was the most dangerous slum area of immigrant New York (as portrayed in the movie Gangs of New York).

Post-immigration reform

In the years after the United States enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, allowing many more immigrants from Asia into the country, the population of Chinatown exploded. Geographically, much of the growth was to neighborhoods to the north. In the 1990s, Chinese people began to move into some parts of the western Lower East Side, which 50 years earlier was populated by Eastern European Jews and 20 years earlier was occupied by Hispanics. Although very much diminished from its hey-day at the turn of the century, there is still a small Jewish community primarily on eastern part of Grand Street as well as some businesses on Grand and Essex and elsewhere, such as the famous Katz's Deli and a number of synagogues and other old religious establishments (see The Lower East Side Remembered & Revisited, Joyce Mendelsohn, Columbia University Press, revised edition, 2009.

Chinatown was adversely affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks. Being so physically close to Ground Zero, tourism and business has been very slow to return to the area. Part of the reason was the New York City Police Department closure of Park Row - one of two major roads linking the Financial Center with Chinatown. A lawsuit is pending before the State Superior Court regarding this action.[citation needed]

Currently, the rising prices of Manhattan real estate and rents are also affecting Chinatown and it seems that the neighborhood is shrinking to its original borders. New and poorer Chinese immigrants cannot afford their rents and a process of relocation to the Chinatowns in Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn has started. Many apartments particularly in the Lower East Side and Little Italy that used to be affordable to new Chinese immigrants are being renovated and then sold or rented at much higher prices. Building owners, many of them established Chinese-Americans often find it in their best interest to terminate leases of lower-income residents with stabilized rents as property values rise. [15]

By 2009 many newer Chinese immigrants settled along East Broadway instead of the historic core west of the Bowery. In addition Mandarin began to eclipse Cantonese as the predominate Chinese dialect in New York's Chinatown during the period. The New York Times says that Flushing's Chinatown located in Flushing, Queens now rivals Manhattan's Chinatown in terms of being a cultural center for Chinese-speaking New Yorkers' politics and trade.[16]


A shop selling traditional herbal medicines

Chinese green-grocers and fishmongers are clustered around Mott Street, Mulberry Street, Canal Street (by Baxter Street) and all along East Broadway (especially by Catherine Street). The Chinese jewelry shop district is on Canal Street between Mott and Bowery. Due to the high savings rate among Chinese, there are many Asian and American banks in the neighborhood. Canal Street, west of Broadway (especially on the North side), is filled with Chinese street vendors selling imitation perfumes, watches, and hand-bags, which are largely purchased by tourists and non-Chinese. This section of Canal Street was previously the home of warehouse stores selling surplus/salvage electronics and hardware. Besides the more than 200 Chinese restaurants in the area for employment, there are still some factories. The proximity of the fashion industry has kept some garment work in the local area though most of the garment industry has moved to China.[citation needed] The local garment industry now concentrates on quick production in small volumes and piece-work (paid by the piece) which is generally done at the worker's home. Much of the population growth is due to immigration. As previous generations of immigrants gain language and education skills, they tend to move to better housing and job prospects that are available in the suburbs and outer boroughs of New York.


Another view of Chinatown
Pell Street

Unlike most other urban Chinatowns, Manhattan's Chinatown is both a residential area as well as commercial area. Most population estimates are in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 residents.[citation needed] It is difficult to get an exact count, as neighborhood participation in the U.S. Census is thought to be low due to language barriers, as well as large-scale illegal immigration. Until the 1960s, the majority of the Chinese population in Chinatown emigrated from Guangdong province and Hong Kong, thus they were native speakers of Cantonese, especially the Canton and Taishan dialects. A minority of Hakka was also represented. Mandarin was rarely spoken by residents even well into the 1980s. Most recent immigrants are from Mainland China, and hence speak Mandarin, the official spoken language of China. Immigration reform in 1965 opened the door to a huge influx of Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong, and Cantonese became the dominant tongue. But since the late 1980s and 1990s, the vast majority of new Chinese immigrants have come from mainland China, especially Fujian Province, and tend to speak Mandarin along with their regional dialects. Most Fuzhou immigrants are illegal immigrants while most of the Cantonese immigrants are legal immigrants in Manhattan's Chinatown.[17] With the coming of illegal Fuzhou immigrants during the 1990s, there is now a Fuzhou Community within the eastern portion of Manhattan's Chinatown which started on the East Broadway portion during the early 1990s and later emerged north onto the Eldridge Street portion of Manhattan's Chinatown by the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although the Fuzhou community and its population — which is now hardly growing — have emerged within Manhattan's Chinatown, the Cantonese population successfully still remains stable and large and successfully continues to retain the large stable Cantonese community identity where the Cantonese residents still have a place of gathering that was established decades ago in the western portion/main section of Manhattan's Chinatown — unlike the Cantonese population/community identity that is declining very rapidly in Brooklyn's Chinatown.[18]

Now the increasing Fuzhou influx has shifted into Brooklyn's Chinatown in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn and replacing the Cantonese population more significantly than Manhattan's Chinatown. Since Brooklyn's Chinatown is smaller than Manhattan's Chinatown, and given its rapidly increasing Fuzhou population than in Manhattan's Chinatown and all other Chinese communities in NYC, Brooklyn's Chinatown is quickly becoming the new Little Fuzhou in NYC or Brooklyn's East Broadway(布鲁克東百老匯). In the past during the late 1980s and 1990s most of the new Fuzhou immigrants arriving into NYC were settling in Manhattan's Chinatown and later formed the first Fuzhou community in NYC within Manhattan's Chinatown after the waves of Cantonese settled and formed their own community in Manhattan's Chinatown, but by the 2000s the Fuzhou population/community growth slowed. As the Fuzhou community within Manhattan's Chinatown slowed in growth in the 2000s, the Fuzhou population began to increase in Brooklyn's Chinatown and is now home to the fastest growing Fuzhou population than Manhattan's Chinatown and all other Chinese communities in NYC and is replacing the Little Fuzhou already established within Manhattan's Chinatown as the largest Fuzhou population/community in NYC at a tremendous rate. Even though Brooklyn's Chinatown now has fewer Cantonese people than Manhattan's Chinatown, there are still many Cantonese shops between 50th-62nd streets on 8th Avenue.[19]

Although Mandarin is spoken as a native language among only ten percent of Chinese speakers in NYC's Chinatown, it is used as a secondary dialect among the greatest number of them and is on its way to replace Cantonese as their lingua franca.[20] Although Min Chinese is spoken natively by a third of the Chinese population in the city, it is not used as a lingua franca because speakers of other dialect groups do not learn Min.[20]


The Confucius Plaza 44-story subsidized housing cooperative, above typical Chinatown housing stock


The housing stock of Chinatown is still mostly composed of cramped tenement buildings, some of which are over 100 years old. It is still common in such buildings to have bathrooms in the hallways, to be shared among multiple apartments. A federally subsidized housing project, named Confucius Plaza, was completed on the corner of Bowery and Division streets in 1976. This 44-story residential tower block gave much needed new housing stock to thousands of residents. The building also housed a new public grade school, P.S. 124 (or Yung Wing Elementary). Since new housing is normally non-existent in Chinatown, many apartments in the building were acquired by wealthy individuals through under-the-table dealings, even though the building was built as affordable housing.


For much of Chinatown's history, there were few unique architectural features to announce to visitors that they had arrived in the neighborhood (other than the language of the shop signs). In 1962, at Chatham Square the Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau Memorial archway was erected in memorial of the Chinese-Americans who died in World War II. This memorial, which bears calligraphy by the great Yu Youren 于右任 (1879—1964), is mostly ignored by the residents due to its poor location on a busy car thoroughfare with little pedestrian traffic. A statue of Lin Zexu, also known as Commissioner Lin, a Fuzhou-based Chinese official who opposed the opium trade, is also located at the square; it faces uptown along East Broadway, now home to the bustling Fuzhou neighborhood and known locally as Fuzhou Street (Fúzhóu jiē 福州街). In the 1970s, New York Telephone, then the local phone company started capping the street phone booths with pagoda-like decorations. In 1976, the statue of Confucius in front of Confucius Plaza became a common meeting place. In the 1980s, banks which opened new branches and others which were renovating started to use Chinese traditional styles for their building facades. The Church of the Transfiguration, a national historic site built in 1815, stands off Mott Street.

In 2010, Chinatown and Little Italy were listed in a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.[21]

Street names in Chinese

Baxter Street - 巴士特街


Satellite Chinatowns

Other New York City area Chinese communities have been settled over the years, including that of Flushing in Queens, particularly along from Roosevelt Avenue to Main Street through Kissena Blvd. Another community is located in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, particularly along 8th Avenue from 40th to 65th Streets. New York City's newest Chinatowns have recently sprung up in Elmhurst, Queens and on Avenue U in the Homecrest section of Brooklyn. Outside of New York City proper, a growing suburban Chinatown is developing in Edison, New Jersey, which lies 30 miles (48 km) to the southwest. While the composition of these satellite Chinatowns is as varied as the original, the political turmoils in the Manhattan Chinatown (Tongs vs. Republic of China loyalists vs. People's Republic of China loyalists vs. Americanized) has led to some factionalization in the other satellites. The Flushing Chinatown located in Flushing, Queens was spearheaded by many Chinese fleeing the Communist retaking of Hong Kong in 1997 as well as Taiwanese who used their considerable capital to buy out land from the former residents. The Brooklyn Chinatown located in Sunset Park was originally settled by Cantonese immigrants, but today it is mostly populated by Fukienese immigrants with still some Cantonese immigrants, who are long time Chinese residents.[19] More culturally assimilated Chinese have moved outside these neighborhoods into more white or Hispanic neighborhoods in the city while others move to the suburbs outright.

See also


  1. ^ a b Moss, Frank. The American Metropolis from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time. London: The Authors' Syndicate, 1897. (pg. 403)
  2. ^ Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. (pg. 278-279) ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  3. ^ a b Harlow, Alvin F. Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street. New York and London: D. Appleton & Company, 1931. (pg. 392)
  4. ^ Worden, Helen. The Real New York: A Guide for the Adventurous Shopper, the Exploratory Eater and the Know-it-all Sightseer who Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1932. (pg. 140)
  5. ^ a b Hemp, William H. New York Enclaves. New York: Clarkson M. Potter, 1975. (pg. 6) ISBN 0-517-51999-2
  6. ^ Wong, Bernard. Patronage, Brokerage, Entrepreneurship, and the Chinese Community of New York. New York: AMS Press, 1988. (pg. 31) ISBN 0-404-19416-8
  7. ^ Lin, Jan. Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclave, Global Change. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. (pg. 30-31) ISBN 0-8166-2905-6
  8. ^ Taylor, B. Kim. The Great New York City Trivia & Fact Book. Nashville: Cumberland House Publishing, 1998. (pg. 20) ISBN 1-888952-77-6
  9. ^ Ostrow, Daniel. Manhattan's Chinatown. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. (pg. 9) ISBN 0-7385-5517-7
  10. ^ Tchen, John Kuo Wei. New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001. (pg. 82-83) ISBN 0-8018-6794-0
  11. ^ Federal Writers' Project. New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide. Vol. I. American Guide Series. New York: Random House, 1939. (pg. 104)
  12. ^ Marcuse, Maxwell F. This Was New York!: A Nostalgic Picture of Gotham in the Gaslight Era. New York: LIM Press, 1969. (pg. 41)
  13. ^ Chen, Jack. The Chinese of America. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. (pg. 258) ISBN 0-06-250140-2
  14. ^ Hall, Bruce Edward. Tea That Burns: A Family Memoir of Chinatown. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002. (pg. 37) ISBN 0-7432-3659-9
  15. ^
  16. ^ Semple, Kirk. "In Chinatown, Sound of the Future Is Mandarin." The New York Times. October 21, 2009. Retrieved on October 27, 2009.
  17. ^ Rousmaniere, Peter (2006-03-17). "Smuggling of Chinese workers into the United States". Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  18. ^ "A journey through China town". Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  19. ^ a b [1]
  20. ^ a b García, Ofelia; Fishman, Joshua A. (2002). The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York City. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 311017281X. 
  21. ^ "National Register of Historic Places listings for February 19, 2010". National Park Service. February 19, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Historic Pictures of Chinatown". Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  23. ^ "A Journey Through Chinatown". Retrieved 2009-11-15. 

Further reading

  • "New York's First Chinaman". Atlanta Constitution. 22 Sep 1896
  • Crouse, Russel. Murder Won't Out. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1932.
  • Dunshee, Kenneth Holcomb. As You Pass By. New York: Hastings House, 1952.
  • Ramati, Raquel. How to Save Your Own Street. Garden City, Doubleday and Co., 1981. ISBN 0-385-14814-3
  • Tsui, Bonnie. American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009 ISBN 978-1416557234 Official website

External links

Coordinates: 40°43′06″N 74°00′09″W / 40.71833°N 74.0025°W / 40.71833; -74.0025

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