Chinatown, Manhattan in New York City

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Manhattan's Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 纽约华埠 ; traditional Chinese: 紐約華埠; pinyin: Niŭyuē Huá Bù), home one of the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western hemisphere, is located in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the oldest ethnic Chinese enclaves outside of Asia.


The borders of Chinatown are currently approximated as:

  • Grand Street to the North (bordering Little Italy)
  • Allen Street to the East (bordering the Lower East Side)
  • Worth Street to the South
  • Lafayette Street to the West


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. He first arrived around 1858 in New York City, 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).

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 1990s. The Chinese gangs controlled certain territories of Manhattan's Chinatown. The On Leong (安良) and it's affiliate Ghost Shadows (鬼影) were of Cantonese and Toishan descent controlled Mott, Bayard, Canal, and Mulberry Streets. The Flying Dragons (飛龍) and it's affiliation Hip Sing (協勝) also of Cantonese and Toishan descent controlled Doyers, Pell, Bowery, Grand, and Hester Streets. Other Chinese gangs also existed like the Hung Ching and Chih Kung gangs being of Cantonese and Toishan descent, which were affiliated with each other also had control of Mott Street. Born-to-Kill or known as Canal Boys being of Vietnamese and Chinese descent had control over Broadway, Canal, Baxter, Center, and Lafeyette Streets. Fujianese gangs also existed such as the Tung On gang, which affiliated with Tsung Tsin had control over East Broadway, Catherine and Division Streets and the Fuk Ching gang affiliated with Fukien American controlled East Broadway, Chrystie, Forsyth, Eldridge and Allen Streets. At one point, a gang named the Freemasons gang, which were Cantonese descent had attempted to claim East Broadway as their territory.

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 book and film 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.

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.

By 2007 luxury condominiums began to spread from Soho into Chinatown. Previously Chinatown was noted for its crowded tenements and primarily Chinese residents. While some projects have targeted the Chinese community, the development of luxury housing has increased Chinatown's economic and cultural diversity.

Currently, the rising prices of Manhattan real estate and high rents are also affecting Chinatown. Many new and poorer Chinese immigrants cannot afford their rents; as a result, growth has slowed, and a process of relocation to the Flushing Chinatown and Brooklyn Chinatown has started. Many apartments, particularly in the Lower East Side and Little Italy, which 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.

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 predominant Chinese dialect in New York's Chinatown during the period. The New York Times says that the Flushing Chinatown now rivals Manhattan's Chinatown in terms of being a cultural center for Chinese-speaking New Yorkers' politics and trade.


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 street vendors selling imitation perfumes, watches, and hand-bags. This section of Canal Street was previously the home of warehouse stores selling surplus/salvage electronics and hardware.

In addition, tourism and restaurants are major industries. The district boasts many historical and cultural attractions so it is a destination for tour companies like Big Onion and NYC Chinatown Tours. Tour stops often include landmarks like the Church of the Transfiguration and the Lin Zexu and Confucius statues. The enclave’s many restaurants also support the tourism industry. The New York Food Tours company runs programs taking visitors to the area’s eateries for dishes like Shanghai Scallion Pancakes and wonton soup. The Chinatown restaurant scene is large and vibrant, with more than 200 Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood providing employment. Notable and well reviewed Chinatown establishments include Joe’s Shanghai, Jing Fong, New Green Bo and Amazing 66.

Other contributors to the economy include 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. 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.

The September 11 attacks caused a decline in business for stores and restaurants in Chinatown. Ten years later, the neighborhood had not recovered from the falloff in business, which continued after the lifting of travel restrictions immediately after the attack. The attacks resulted in a decline in the number of garment factories, which at its peak employed 30,000 workers. Tourism has risen since 2004, but is nowhere near its pre-attacks peak. A Chinatown Business Improvement District has been proposed, but is being resisted by some merchants.


Here in Manhattan's Chinatown are home to a significant few largest Chinese supermarkets. On August 2011, a new branch of New York Supermarket opened on Mott Street just in the center district of grocery and food shopping of Manhattan's Chinatown. Just a block away from New York Supermarket, is a Hong Kong Supermarket located on the corner of Elizabeth and Hester Streets. These two supermarkets are the largest Chinese supermarkets carrying all different food varieties within the long time established Cantonese community in the western section of Manhattan's Chinatown.

Parallel to the long time Cantonese community, the newly emerged Fuzhou community on the other side of Manhattan's Chinatown on East Broadway also carries another branch of New York Supermarket and a Hong Kong Supermarket did exist there as well, which burned down in 2009 and now the East Broadway branch of New York Supermarket remains as the largest Chinese supermarket for the Fuzhou community.


Unlike most other urban Chinatowns, Manhattan's Chinatown is both a residential area as well as commercial area. Many population estimates are in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 residents.[1] [2][3] [4] [5] One analysis of census data in 2011 showed that Chinatown and heavily Chinese tracts on the Lower East Side had 47,844 residents in the 2010 census, a decrease of nearly 9% since 2000. Although Min Chinese, especially the Fuzhou dialect, 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.

Arts and culture

Chinese theaters

In the past, Chinatown had Chinese theaters that provided entertainment to the Chinese population. The first Chinese-language theater in the city was located at 5–7 Doyers Street from 1893 to 1911. The theater was later converted into a rescue mission for homeless from the Bowery. In 1903, the theater was the site of a fundraiser by the Chinese community for Jewish victims of a massacre in Kishinev.

Among the theaters that existed in Chinatown in later years were Sun Sing Theater under the Manhattan Bridge and Pagoda Theater both on the street of East Broadway, Governor Theater on Chatham Square, Rosemary Theater on Canal Street across the Manhattan Bridge and Music Palace on the Bowery, which was the last Chinese theater to close. Others have existed in different sections of Chinatown. The Chinese theaters also played movies with Chinese and English subtitles for the non-Chinese viewers, which were very often black Muslims that enjoyed movies with non-white heroes, Caucasian martial arts students and people who were film cognoscenti. During the 1970s, the Chinese theaters became less attractive due to increasing gang-violence. These theaters now have all closed because of more accessibility to videotapes, which were more affordable and provided more genres of movies and much later on DVDs and VCDs became available. Other factors such as, availability of Chinese cable channels, karaoke bars, and gambling in casinos began to provide other options for the Chinese to have entertainment also influenced the Chinese theaters to go out of business.

Historic District

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


Residents are zoned to schools in the New York City Department of Education. PS 124, The Yung Wing School is located in Chinatown. It was named after Yung Wing, the first Chinese person to study at Yale University. Public School 130 Hernando De Soto is located in Chinatown. PS 184M Shuang Wen School, a bilingual Chinese-English School which opened in 1998, is a non-zoned school in proximity to Chinatown.

Street names in Chinese

  • Allen Street – 亞倫街
  • Baxter Street – 巴士特街 Bā​shìtè Jiē
  • Bayard Street – 擺也街
  • Bowery – 包厘
  • Broadway – 百老匯
  • Broome Street – 布隆街
  • Canal Street – 堅尼街
  • Catherine Street – 加薩林街
  • Centre Street – 中央街
  • Chambers Street – 錢伯斯街
  • Chatham Square – 且林士果
  • Chrystie Street – 企李士提街
  • Delancey Street – 地蘭西街
  • Division Street – 地威臣街
  • Doyers Street – 宰也街
  • East Broadway (Little Fuzhou) – 東百老匯 (小福州)
  • Eldridge Street – 愛烈治街
  • Elizabeth Street – 伊利莎白街
  • Forsyth Street – 科西街
  • Grand Street – 格蘭街
  • Henry Street – 顯利街
  • Hester Street – 喜士打街
  • Madison Street – 麥地遜街
  • Market Street – 市場街
  • Mosco Street – 莫斯科街
  • Mott Street (Little Hong Kong/Little Guang Dong) – 勿街 (小香港)/(小广东)
  • Mulberry Street – 摩比利街
  • Orchard Street – 柯察街
  • Park Row – 柏路
  • Pell Street – 披露街
  • Pike Street – 派街
  • Worth Street – 窩夫街

Satellite Chinatowns

For a long time, Manhattan's Chinatown has always been the most largely concentrated Chinese population in NYC. However, in recent years growing Chinese populations in outer boroughs of NYC have tremendously outnumbered Manhattan's Chinese population.Other New York City 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 Chinese 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 north of Queens Blvd on Broadway 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 mi to the southwest. In recent years, the Chinatowns established in Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn have long surpassed Manhattan's Chinatown. 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. 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

  • Shuang Wen School – a dual-language elementary school on the Lower East Side.
  • Shuang wen academy network - a non-profit organization that supports dual-language learning in New York City.
  • Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance
  • Chinatown
  • Chinatown bus lines
  • Chinatowns in Canada and the United States
  • Chinatown, Flushing (法拉盛華埠)
  • Chinatown, Brooklyn (布鲁克林華埠)
  • List of Chinatowns in the United States

Further reading

  • "New York's First Chinaman". Atlanta Constitution. 22 September 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.
  • Tsui, Bonnie. American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009 Official website

External links