Chinatown, Manhattan

For other uses, see Chinatown, New York City.
Chinatown, Manhattan

Crossing Canal Street in Chinatown, facing Mott Street toward the south
Traditional Chinese 曼哈頓華埠
Simplified Chinese 曼哈顿华埠
Manhattan's Chinatown, home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere,[1] is the oldest of at least 9 Chinatowns in the New York metropolitan area.

Manhattan's Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 曼哈顿华埠; traditional Chinese: 曼哈頓華埠; pinyin: Mànhādùn huábù; juytping: Maan6haa1deon6 faa1bou6) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. Chinatown is home to the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.[1] With an estimated population of 90,000 to 100,000 people, Manhattan's Chinatown is also one of the oldest Chinese ethnic enclaves.[2] The Manhattan Chinatown is one of nine Chinatown neighborhoods in New York City, as well as one of twelve in the New York metropolitan area, which contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, enumerating an estimated 819,527 uniracial individuals as of 2014.[3] Historically it was primarily populated by Cantonese speakers. However, in the 1980s-90s, large numbers of Fuzhounese-speaking immigrants also arrived. As many Fuzhounese and Cantonese speakers now speak Mandarin—the official language in China and Taiwan—in addition to their native languages, this made it more important for Chinatown residents to learn and speak Mandarin.[4]


A Chinese lion during Chinese New Year festivities on Mott Street near Worth Street.

Although a Business Improvement District has been identified for support,[5] Chinatown has no officially defined borders, but they have been commonly considered to be approximated by the following streets:[6]

Citywide demographics

The Manhattan Chinatown is one of nine Chinatown neighborhoods in New York City, as well as one of twelve in the New York metropolitan area, which contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, enumerating an estimated 779,269 individuals as of 2013;[8] the remaining Chinatowns are located in the boroughs of Queens (up to four, depending upon definition)[9] and Brooklyn (three) and in Nassau County, all on Long Island in New York State; as well as in Edison[10] and Parsippany-Troy Hills in New Jersey. In addition, Manhattan's Little Fuzhou (小福州, 紐約華埠), an enclave populated primarily by more recent Chinese immigrants from the Fujian Province of China, is technically considered a part of Manhattan's Chinatown, albeit now developing a separate identity of its own.

A new and rapidly growing Chinese community is now forming in East Harlem (東哈萊姆), Uptown Manhattan, nearly tripling in population between the years 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.[11][12][13][14] This neighborhood has been described as the precursor to a new satellite Chinatown within Manhattan itself,[15] which upon acknowledged formation would represent the second Chinese neighborhood in Manhattan, the tenth large Chinese settlement in New York City, and the twelfth within the overall New York City metropolitan region.

As the city proper with the nation's largest Chinese American population by a wide margin, with an estimated 573,388 individuals in 2014,[16] and as the primary destination for new Chinese immigrants,[17] New York City is subdivided into official municipal boroughs, which themselves are home to significant Chinese populations, with Brooklyn and Queens, adjacently located on Long Island, leading the fastest growth.[18][19] After the City of New York itself, the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn encompass the largest Chinese populations, respectively, of all municipalities in the United States.

Rank Borough Chinese Americans Density of Chinese Americans per square mile in municipality Percentage of Chinese Americans in municipality's population
1 Queens, Chinatowns (皇后華埠) (2014)[20] 237,484 2,178.8 10.2
2 Brooklyn, Chinatowns (布魯克林華埠) (2014)[21] 205,753 2,897.9 7.9
3 Manhattan, Chinatown (曼哈頓華埠) (2014)[22] 107,609 4,713.5 6.6
4 Staten Island (2012) 13,620 232.9 2.9
5 The Bronx (2012) 6,891 164 0.5
New York City (2014) 573,388[16] 1,881.1 6.8


Ah Ken and early Chinese immigration

Main article: Ah Ken
Historical population
Census Pop.
Asian American population [23]

Ah Ken is claimed to have arrived in the area during the 1840s; he is the first Chinese person credited as having permanently immigrated to Chinatown. As a Cantonese businessman, Ah Ken eventually founded a successful cigar store on Park Row.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32] 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).[26]

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.[33] It has been speculated that it may have been Ah Ken 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.[24][28][34][35][36][37]

Chinese exclusion period

Doyers Street depicted in an 1898 postcard.

Faced with increasing racial discrimination and new laws that prevented participation in many occupations on the U.S. 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, Park (now Mosco), 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. In 1900, the US Census reported 7,028 Chinese males in residence, but only 142 Chinese women. This significant gender inequality remained present until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943.[38] Wenfei Wang, Shangyi Zhou, and C. Cindy Fan, authors of "Growth and Decline of Muslim Hui Enclaves in Beijing", wrote that because of immigration restrictions, Chinatown continued to be "virtually a bachelor society" until 1965.[39]

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 businesses, 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 its affiliate Ghost Shadows (鬼影) were of Cantonese and Toishan descent, and controlled Mott, Bayard, Canal, and Mulberry Streets. The Flying Dragons (飛龍) and its affiliate 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 of Cantonese and Toishan descent, which were affiliated with each other and also gained control of Mott Street. Born to Kill, also known as the Canal Boys, a gang composed almost entirely of Vietnamese immigrants from the Vietnam War under the leadership of David Thai had control over Broadway, Canal, Baxter, Centre, and Lafeyette Streets.[40] Fujianese gangs also existed, such as the Tung On gang, which affiliated with Tsung Tsin, and 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 of Cantonese descent, had attempted to claim East Broadway as their territory.[41][42]:75[43][44]

Columbus Park, the only park in Chinatown, was built on what was once the center of the infamous Five Points neighborhood. During the 19th century, this was the most dangerous ghetto area of immigrant New York, as portrayed in the book and film Gangs of New York.[45]

After immigration reform

A typical scene on Pell Street.

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 increased dramatically. Geographically, much of the growth was to neighborhoods to the north. The Chinatown grew and became more oriented on families due to the lifting of restrictions.[39] In the earliest years of the existence of Manhattan's Chinatown, it had been primarily populated by Taishanese-speaking Chinese immigrants and the borderlines of the enclave was originally Canal Street to the north, Bowery to the east, Worth Street to the south, and Mulberry Street to the west. However, after 1965, there came a wave of Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong and Guangdong province in Mainland China, and Standard Cantonese became the dominant tongue. With the influx of Hong Kong immigrants, it was developing and growing into a Hong Kongese neighborhood, however the growth slowed down later on during the 1980s-90s.[46][47]

Through the 1970s and 1980s, the influx of Guangdong and Hong Kong immigrants began to develop newer portions of Manhattan's Chinatown going north of Canal Street and then later the east of the Bowery. However until the 1980s, the western section was the most primarily fully Chinese developed and populated part of Chinatown and the most quickly flourishing busy central Chinese business district with still a little bit of remaining Italians in the very north west portion around Grand Street and Broome Street, which eventually all moved away and became all Chinese by the 1990s.[48][49][50] However, until the 1980s, the portion of Chinatown that is east of the Bowery—which is considered part of the Lower East Side—was developing more slowly as being part of Chinatown, the proportion and concentration of Chinese residents was lower and more scattered than the western section, and there was still a higher proportion of Non-Chinese residents than Chinatown's western section consisting of Jewish, Puerto Ricans, and a few Italians and African Americans.[51]

During the 1970s and 1980s, the eastern portion of Chinatown east of the Bowery was a very quiet section, and like in all of the rest of the Lower East Side, many people and especially many Chinese people were afraid to walk through or even reside on the streets east of the Bowery due to deteriorating building conditions and high crime rates such as gang activities, robberies, building burglaries, and rape as well as fear of racial tensions with other ethnic people that were still residing there. In addition, there were fewer businesses and there were significant amount of vacant properties not occupied.[52] Chinese female garment workers were especially targets of robbery and rape a lot on their way home from work and often left work together as a group to protect each other as they were heading home.[53][54][55][56][57] In May 1985, a gang-related shooting injured seven people, including a 4-year-old boy, at 30 East Broadway in Chinatown. Two males, who were 15 and 16 years old and were members of a Chinese street gang, were arrested and convicted.[58][59][60]

Starting in the 1970s and especially throughout the 1980s-90s, Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese immigrants and then later on many other Non-Cantonese Chinese immigrants also were arriving into New York City. However, due to the traditional dominance of Cantonese-speaking residents, which were largely working class in Manhattan's Chinatown and the neighborhood's poor housing conditions, they were unable to relate to Manhattan's Chinatown and mainly settled in Flushing and created a more middle class Mandarin-Speaking Chinatown or Mandarin Town (國語埠) and even smaller one in Elmhurst, since most of the newer upcoming generations of ethnic Chinese were already using Mandarin although still their regional dialects in everyday conversations, whereas Cantonese speaking populations largely don't speak Mandarin or only speak it with other Non-Cantonese Chinese speakers. As a result, Manhattan's Chinatown and Brooklyn's emerging Chinatown were able to continue retaining its traditional almost exclusive Cantonese society and were nearly successful at permanently keeping its Cantonese dominance. However, there was already a small and slow growing Fuzhou immigrant population in Manhattan's Chinatown since the 1970s-80s in the eastern section of Chinatown east of the Bowery, which was still underdeveloped as being part of Chinatown. In the 1990s, though, 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.

Migration to Brooklyn Chinatown

During the late 1980s and 1990s, most of the new Fuzhou immigrants arriving into New York City were settling in Manhattan's Chinatown and later formed the first Fuzhou community in the city amongst the waves of Cantonese who had settled in Chinatown over decades. However, by the 2000s, the increasing Fuzhou influx had shifted into the Brooklyn Chinatown in the Sunset Park section of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. This shift replaces the Cantonese population throughout Brooklyn's Sunset Park Chinatown significantly more rapidly than in Manhattan's Chinatown. Brooklyn's Sunset Park Chinatown is becoming the new Little Fuzhou in NYC, or figuratively, Brooklyn's East Broadway (布魯克林區的東百老匯). In addition, Brooklyn's Little Fuzhou has now challenged and increasingly marginalizing Manhattan's Chinatown's Little Fuzhou's status as the primary center of Fuzhou population and culture of New York City. Gentrification in Manhattan's Chinatown has slowed the growth of Fuzhou immigration as well as the growth of Chinese immigrants to Manhattan in general,[61] which is why New York City's rapidly growing Chinese population has now shifted primarily to the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.

Some Chinese landlords in Manhattan, especially the many real estate agencies that are mainly of Cantonese ownership, were accused of prejudice against the Fuzhou immigrants, supposedly making Fuzhou immigrants feel unwelcome because concerns that they would not be able to pay rent or debt to gangs that may have helped smuggled them in illegally into the United States, and because of fear that gangs will come up to the apartments to cause trouble.[62]:108[63] There is also supposedly a concern that Fujianese are more likely to make the apartments too overcrowded by subdividing an apartment into multiple small spaces to rent to other Fuzhou immigrants. East Broadway, Manhattan's center of Fuzhou culture, has perhaps the most blatant results of illegal apartment subdivisions including having many bunk beds in just one small room.[64] As a result of fear of being evicted by Cantonese landlords, many Fuzhou immigrants resort to renting a tiny space from Fujianese landlords inside apartments already occupied by Fuzhou immigrants.

Although Mandarin is spoken as a native language among only ten percent of Chinese speakers in Manhattan's Chinatown, it is used as a secondary dialect among the greatest number of them. 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.[65]


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, most of the growth in new Chinese immigration has shifted to other Chinatowns in New York City, including the Flushing Chinatown and Elmhurst Chinatown in Queens; the Brooklyn Chinatown and its satellite Chinatowns in Brooklyn on Avenue U and in Bensonhurst; and to East Harlem in Upper Manhattan. 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 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.[66]

Since the early 2000s, there has been a continuously increasing number of buildings in Chinatown, neighboring Two Bridges, and the Lower East Side, taken over by new landlords and real estate developers, who then charged higher rents and/or demolished the buildings to build newer structures. Often, whenever this happens, many Fuzhouese tenants are more likely to be evicted, especially in the Eastern Portion of Manhattan's Chinatown, where many of the apartment buildings hold the vast majority of Fuzhou tenant population due to the majority of Fuzhou people in legal risks such as illegal apartment subdivision; often excessive occupancy overcrowding, lack of leases, and lack of immigrant paperwork; these legal risks were often overlooked by the original, Chinese landlords. In addition, within recent years since the 2000s, there have been city officials inspecting apartment buildings and cracking down on illegally subdivided apartments and kicking out the occupants throughout Manhattan's Chinatown, however the Fuzhou occupied apartments have been the primary main targets of these crackdowns and mostly in the eastern section of Manhattan's Chinatown where the Fuzhou population is primarily concentrated.

With tenants that have rent-stabilized leases, legal residency documents, no apartment subdivisions, and a lesser probability of subletting over capacity—most of whom are long-time Cantonese residents—it is usually harder for the newer landlords to be able to force these tenants out, especially including the western portion of Chinatown, which is still mainly Cantonese populated. However, newer landlords still continuously try find other loopholes to force them out.[67]

By 2009 many newer Chinese immigrants settled along East Broadway instead of the historic core west of 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.[68]


Looking north on Mott Street at night in 2015. Manhattan's Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.[1]


A Chinatown grocery store
A fish market in Chinatown

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 jewelers' 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 knock-off brands of perfumes, watches, and handbags. 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, and it is a destination for tour companies like Big Onion, NYC Chinatown Tours, and Lower East Side History Project.[69] Tour stops often include landmarks like the Church of the Transfiguration and the Lin Zexu and Confucius statues.[70] 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.[71] The Chinatown restaurant scene is large and vibrant, with more than 300 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.[72]

Other contributors to the economy include factories. The proximity of the fashion industry has kept some garment work in the local area, which at its peak employed 30,000 workers, though much of the garment industry has since moved to China. The local garment industry now concentrates on quick production in small volumes and piece work, which is generally done at the worker's home. Much of the population growth is due to immigration.

The September 11, 2001 attacks caused a decline in business for stores and restaurants in Chinatown. Chinatown was adversely affected by the attacks; being so physically close to Ground Zero, Chinatown saw a very slow return of tourism and business. Part of the reason was the NYPD closure of Park Row, one of two major roads linking the Financial Center with Chinatown (the other being Centre Street). However, the area's economy as well as tourism have rebounded since then. A Chinatown business improvement district has been proposed, but is being resisted by some merchants.[73]

The neighborhood is home to a number of large Chinese supermarkets. In August 2011, a new branch of New York Supermarket opened on Mott Street in the center district of grocery and food shopping of Manhattan's Chinatown.[74] 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 amongst the largest Chinese supermarkets carrying all different food varieties within the long time established Cantonese community in the western section of Manhattan's Chinatown.[75] A Hong Kong Supermarket at East Broadway and Pike Street burned down in 2009, and plans to construct a 91-room Marriott Hotel in its place resulted in community protests.[76] The New York Supermarkets chain, which also operates markets in Elmhurst and Flushing, reached a settlement with the New York State Attorney General in 2008 in which it paid back wages and overtime to workers.[77]

Population and culture

Street fairs are commonplace in Chinatown.

In 2000, most of Chinatown's residents came from Asia. That year, the number of residents was 84,840, and 66% of this people were Asian.[78]

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.[79][80][81][82][83] 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.[73]

Little Fuzhou

Main article: Little Fuzhou

From the late 1980s through the 1990s, when a large influx of Fuzhou immigrants, who also largely speak Mandarin along with their Fuzhou dialect started to arrive into New York City, they were the only exceptional Non-Cantonese Chinese group to largely settle in Manhattan's Chinatown and eventually Brooklyn's Chinatown, which was also originally Cantonese dominated. This is due to many of them having no legal status and being forced into the lowest paying jobs, Manhattan's Chinatown was the only place they can receive affordable housing and be around other Chinese people despite the heavy Cantonese dominance until the 1990s since the more Mandarin-speaking enclaves in Flushing and Elmhurst would be too expensive to rent a vacancy.

Since the Fuzhou immigrants have a strong cultural and linguistic background difference from the Cantonese people, the Fuzhou immigrants were unable to integrate well into Manhattan's Chinatown, which was still very Cantonese dominated and as a result they settled in the eastern portion of Chinatown, which was still an overlap of Chinese, Hispanics and Jewish in addition the higher availability of housing vacancies is another reason why they settled in that section. The eastern section became more fully developed as being part of Chinatown, and these new immigrants began to establish their own Fuzhou community along East Broadway and Eldridge Street. This has resulted in referring to East Broadway as Fuzhou Street No. 1, emerged during the late 1980s-early 1990s and Eldridge Street as Fuzhou Street No. 2, which developed more towards after the mid 1990s-early 2000s.

Little Fuzhou started becoming known as the new Chinatown of Manhattan, separate from the long time heavily dominated Cantonese community, which is the western section of Chinatown or the Old Chinatown of Manhattan; although significant minor to moderate numbers of long time Cantonese people and businesses still continue to exist in the eastern portion of Chinatown.[84][85]:20

Very soon, in the early 2000s, gentrification immediately came into Manhattan's Chinatown and in addition to the shortage of housing vacancies, it caused the Fuzhou influx to shift to Brooklyn's Chinatown, which was now the most affordable New York City Chinese enclave to live in and unlike in Manhattan's Chinatown where the Fuzhou population continues to be mainly concentrated, although now slowly declining due to gentrification in the East Broadway and Eldridge Street portion, the Fuzhou immigrant population has now managed to dominate the whole Brooklyn's Chinatown diluting the Cantonese population as well as beginning to sideline Manhattan's Chinatown's Little Fuzhou as the Fuzhou cultural center in New York City. Brooklyn's Chinatown then became more fully developed and as well as causing its ethnic enclave size to expand tremendously as a result of the shift of the Fuzhou influx.

Not only did the Fuzhou immigration influx establish a new portion of Manhattan's Chinatown, they contributed significantly in maintaining the Chinese population in the neighborhood, they also played a role in property values increasing quickly during the 1990s, in contrast to during the 1980s, when the housing prices were dropping. As a result, landlords were able to generate twice as much income in Manhattan's Chinatown, Flushing's Chinatown and eventually Brooklyn's Chinatown.[62]:114

Little Hong Kong

Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown.

As the epicenter of the massive Fuzhou influx has shifted to Brooklyn in the 2000s, Manhattan's Chinatown's Cantonese population still remains viable and large and successfully continues to retain its stable Cantonese community identity, maintaining the communal gathering venue established decades ago in the western portion of Chinatown, to shop, work, and socialize—in contrast to the Cantonese population and community identity which are shifting from Brooklyn's original Sunset Park Chinatown to the satellite Chinatowns in Brooklyn.

Although the term Little Hong Kong (小香港) was used a long time ago to describe Manhattan's Chinatown relating to when an influx of Hong Kong immigrants were pouring in at that time and even though not all Cantonese immigrants come from Hong Kong, this portion of Chinatown has heavy Cantonese characteristics, especially with the Standard Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China being widely used, so it is in many ways a Little Hong Kong.

A more appropriate term would be Little Guangdong (小廣東) or Cantonese Town (廣東埠) since the Cantonese immigrants do come from different regions of the Guangdong province of China. The long time established Cantonese Community, which can be considered Little Hong Kong/Guang Dong or known as the Old Chinatown of Manhattan lies along Mott, Pell, Doyer, Bayard, Elizabeth, Mulberry, Canal, and Bowery Streets, within Manhattan's Chinatown.[48][49]

Newer satellite Little GuangDong/Little Hong Kong have started to emerge in sections of Bensonhurst and in Sheepshead Bay/Homecrest in Brooklyn. However, there are more scattered and mixed in with other ethnic enclaves. This is a result of many Cantonese residents migrating to these neighborhoods. Originally Brooklyn's Chinatown in Sunset Park was a satellite of Manhattan's Western Cantonese Chinatown, but because of the massive Fuzhou influx to Brooklyn in the 2000s, and with the Cantonese residents now shifting to Brooklyn's own satellite Chinatowns, the original Sunset Park, Brooklyn Chinatown has since become a satellite of Manhattan's Little Fuzhou itself.

Fuzhouese-Cantonese relations

The Fuzhou immigration pattern started out in the 1970s very similarly like the Cantonese immigration during the late 1800s to early 1900s that had established Manhattan's Chinatown on Mott Street, Pell Street, and Doyers Street. Starting out as mostly men arriving first and then later on bringing their families over. The beginning influx of Fuzhou immigrants arriving during the 1980s and 1990s were entering into a Chinese community that was extremely Cantonese dominated. Due to the Fuzhou immigrants having no legal status and inability to speak Cantonese, many were denied jobs in Chinatown as a result causing many of them to resort to crimes to make a living that began to dominate the crimes going on in Chinatown. There was a lot of Cantonese resentment against Fuzhou immigrants arriving into Chinatown.[86][87][88][89][90][91]

Chinese cultural standards

Despite the large Fuzhou population, many of the Chinese businesses in Chinatown are still Cantonese owned and because of still the large Cantonese population on the Lower East Side, Cantonese still carries a strong presence in Chinatown including to the additional large influx of Cantonese speaking customers coming from other places to neighborhood on the weekends to do shopping and eat in restaurants even though Mandarin Chinese is rapidly sweeping Cantonese aside as the lingua franca of Chinatown,[42]:38[92] allowing Cantonese to continue to exert a significant level of influence upon the cultural standards and economic resources of Manhattan's Chinatown. The Cantonese dominated western section of Chinatown also continues to be the main busy Chinese business district.

As a result, it has influenced many Fuzhou people to learn the Cantonese language as well to maintain a job and to be able to bring more Cantonese customers as additional contributions to their businesses, especially large businesses like the Dim Sum restaurants on what is known as Little Fuzhou on East Broadway (小福州), the center of Fuzhou culture.[87][93][94] Due to many Fuzhou immigrants having the most interaction with Cantonese people out all of the other Non-Cantonese Chinese people, the Fuzhou immigrants that mastered the Cantonese language constitute the vast majority of Chinese people who are not native Cantonese speakers, but learned to speak Cantonese in NYC. Linguistically, however, in the past few years, the Cantonese dialect that has dominated Chinatown for decades is being swiftly uprooted by Mandarin Chinese, the national language of China and the lingua franca of most of the latest Chinese immigrants.

A significant difference between the two separate Chinese provincial communities in Manhattan's Chinatown is that the Cantonese part of Chinatown not only serves Chinese customers but is also a tourist attraction, whereas the Fuzhou part of Chinatown caters less to tourists, but it is now slowly receiving tourists as well.[95][96] Bowery, Chrystie Street, Catherine Street, and Chatham Square encompass the approximate border zone between the Fuzhou and Cantonese communities in Manhattan's Chinatown.[85]:112

Satellite Chinatowns

For a long time, Manhattan's Chinatown has always been the most largely concentrated Chinese population in NYC, which is 6% Chinese American overall. However, in recent years growing Chinese populations in the outer boroughs of NYC have tremendously outnumbered Manhattan's Chinese population.[97][98] 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 newer Chinatowns have recently sprung up in Elmhurst and Corona, Queens (which border each other and are part of the same Chinatown), on Avenue U in the Homecrest section of Brooklyn, as well as in Bensonhurst, also in Brooklyn. Outside of New York City proper, rapidly growing suburban Chinatowns are developing within the New York metropolitan area in nearby Edison, New Jersey and Nassau County, Long Island.[99]

While the composition of these satellite Chinatowns are as varied as the original, the political factions in the original Manhattan Chinatown (Tongs, Republic of China loyalists, People's Republic of China loyalists, and those apathetic) have led to some factionalization in the satellite Chinatowns.

The Flushing Chinatown 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 was originally settled by Cantonese immigrants, but today it is mostly populated by Fujianese immigrants with still some Cantonese immigrants, who are longtime Chinese residents.


Confucius Plaza, a 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 Street 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). Besides being the first and largest affordable housing complex specifically available to the Chinatown population Confucius Plaza is also a cultural and institutional landmark, springing forth community organization, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), one of Chinatown's oldest political/community organizations, founded in 1974.

The Chinese American experience has been documented at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown since 1980.

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, the Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau Memorial archway at Chatham Square was erected in memorial of the Chinese-Americans who died in World War II. This memorial bears calligraphy by the great Yu Youren 于右任 (1879–1964). A statue of Lin Zexu (林則徐), also known as Commissioner Lin, a Foochowese 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. The Chinese American experience has been documented at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown since 1980.

In 2010, Chinatown and Little Italy were listed in a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.[100]

Chinese theaters

The city's first Chinese theater, on Doyers Street

In the past, Chinatown had Chinese movie 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 Bowery. In 1903, the theater was the site of a fundraiser by the Chinese community for Jewish victims of a massacre in Kishinev.[101]

Among the theaters that existed in Chinatown in later years were the Sun Sing Theater under the Manhattan Bridge and the Pagoda Theater, both on the street of East Broadway, the Governor Theater on Chatham Square, the Rosemary Theater on Canal Street across the Manhattan Bridge, as well as the 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.[102][103][104][105]


Residents are zoned to schools in the New York City Department of Education. PS 124, The Yung Wing School is located in Chinatown.[106] It was named after Yung Wing, the first Chinese person to study at Yale University.[107] Public School 130 Hernando De Soto is located in Chinatown.[108] PS 184M Shuang Wen School, a bilingual Chinese-English School which opened in 1998, is a non-zoned school in proximity to Chinatown.[109]


There are two New York City Subway stations that are directly in the neighborhood—Grand Street (B D) and Canal Street (4 6 <6> J Z N Q R W)—although other stations are also nearby.[110] New York City Bus routes include M5, M9, M15, M15 SBS, M22, M103.[111]

The Manhattan Bridge connects Chinatown to Downtown Brooklyn. The FDR Drive runs along the East River, where the East River Greenway, a pedestrian walkway and bikeway, is also present.[112]

The major cultural streets are Mott Street and East Broadway; on the other hand, Canal Street, Allen Street, Delancey Street, Grand Street, East Broadway, and Bowery are the main traffic arteries.

There are multiple bike lanes in the area as well.[113]

Street names in Chinese

Baxter Street (巴士特街 Bāshìtè Jiē)
Elizabeth Street (伊利莎白街 Yīlì shā bái jiē), co-named Pvt. Danny Chen Way (陳宇暉路 Chén Yǔhuī Lù).

All streets in Chinatown have Chinese names as well, which are noted on bilingual street signs in Chinatown.

Street Chinese name
Allen Street 亞倫街[114]
Baxter Street 巴士特街[114]
Bayard Street 擺也街[114]
Bowery 包厘[114]
Broadway 百老匯[114]
Broome Street 布隆街[114]
Canal Street 堅尼街[114]
Catherine Street 加薩林街[114]
Centre Street 中央街[114]
Chambers Street 錢伯斯街[114]
Chatham Square 且林士果[114]
Chrystie Street 企李士提街[114]
Delancey Street 地蘭西街[114]
Division Street 地威臣街[114]
Doyers Street 宰也街[114]
East Broadway (Little Fuzhou) 東百老匯 (小福州)[114]
Eldridge Street 愛烈治街[114]
Elizabeth Street 伊利莎白街[114]
Forsyth Street 科西街[114]
Grand Street 格蘭街[114]
Henry Street 顯利街[114]
Hester Street 喜士打街[114]
Madison Street 麥地遜街[114]
Market Street 市場街[114]
Mosco Street 莫斯科街[114]
Mott Street (Little Hong Kong/Little Guangdong) 勿街 (小香港)/(小广东)[114]
Mulberry Street 摩比利街[114]
Orchard Street 柯察街[114]
Park Row 柏路[114]
Pell Street 披露街[114]
Pike Street 派街[114]
Worth Street 窩夫街[114][115]

See also



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Further reading

  • "New York's First Chinaman". Atlanta Constitution. September 22, 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 978-1-4165-5723-4
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chinatown, Manhattan.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Chinatown.

Coordinates: 40°42′53″N 73°59′50″W / 40.71472°N 73.99722°W / 40.71472; -73.99722

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