History of Chinatown

The decline of the mining business on the West Coast pushed the earliest Chinese immigrants to the eastern coast. Mott Street in lower east Manhattan became the center of these Chinese immigrants. These Chinese immigrants were willing to take low paying jobs in cigar-rolling and textiles; ultimately the job intense between new Chinese immigrants and local residents resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred the wives and children of male labor in the U.S. and caused an imbalanced ratio between males and females. The Chinese Exclusion Act was officially repealed in 1943 when the U.S. and China were allied countries in World War II; but a quota was imposed to restrict the number of Chinese immigrants to 105 people per year. During the Civil Right Movement and a period when the hostility relationship between Communist Chinese and the U.S. started to break down, the racial quotas were uprooted in Hart-Celler Act of 1968. The new act allowed 20,000 immigrants for maximum from a single country and 170,000 immigrants in total every year. A huge wave of Chinese immigrants from mainland China moved to the States. This act resulted in a huge influx of Chinese immigrants and ultimately led to greater diversity of the neighborhood.

Immigration in Chinatown
The New York Historical Society. Chinatown Immigration. Digital image. The New York Historical Society, n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

In the earliest years of the existence of Manhattan’s Chinatown, it was 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. The end of immigration quota in 1965 opened the door to a huge influx of Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong and Guangdong province, and accelerated the influx rate of Chinese immigrants form Mainland China. Standard Cantonese became the dominant tongue. With the influx of Hong Kong immigrants, it was developing and growing into a Hong Kong-like neighborhood, usually referred to as “Little Hong Kong,”

Here, we interviewed Ming from Hong Kong, a resident of Chinatown since 1968 until he moved recently. He describes how Chinatown has changed over the years. (Note, this audio cannot play in Internet Explorer or Firefox. Please use Google Chrome.)


The large influx of Cantonese-speaking Chinese immigrants provoked the extension of the neighborhood. In the 1970s-80s, 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. Until the 1980s, the eastern portion of Chinatown, which is considered part of the Lower East Side, was developing more slowly as being part of Chinatown.

In the 1970s and especially throughout the 1980s-90s, Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese immigrants followed by many other Non-Cantonese Chinese immigrants also were arriving into New York City. However, they were unable to assimilate to Manhattan’s Chinatown and mainly settled in Flushing, creating a more middle class Mandarin-Speaking Chinatown and even a smaller one in Elmhurst.

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. As compared to other chinatowns in New York City, Manhattan’s Chinatown provided these immigrants with affordable housing as well as convenient transportation to their jobs. Many Fuzhounese immigrants had no legal statuses, and were forced into the lowest paid jobs. Their undocumented statuses also forced them to find a job few blocks away from their “homes.” These houses were usually illegally subdivided into many compartment by the landlord. Many Fuzhounese were able to learn Cantonese in order to survive in this Cantonese dominated neighborhood, but they were not able to assimilated to Cantonese culture. Therefore, a distinct new part Chinatown known as “Little Fuzhou” started to emerge on East Broadway and Eldridge Street.

Wired New York. Chinatown Today. Digital image. Wired New York, n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

Today, Manhattan’s Chinatown has the largest Chinese population and civilization on the western side of the hemisphere. It has a total population of approximately 60,000 Chinese immigrants. It has also become a destination of many tourists. However, Manhattan’s Chinatown is facing the problem of gentrification; as tourism, speculation in real estate industry, and more other ethical groups moved into Chinatown, Chinese residents in Manhattan’s Chinatown are steadily decreasing in number.



Lin, Jan. “Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclave, Global Change.” Vol. 2 Edition: NED – New Edition (1998): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 11 May 2014.

Zai Liang and Wenzhen Ye, “From Fujian to New York: Understanding the New Chinese Immigration,” in David Kyle and Rey Koslowski, eds., Global Human Smuggling (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2001). Web. 11 May 2014.

Kenneth J. Guest. ”From Mott Street to East Broadway: Fuzhounese Immigrants and the Revitalization of New York’s Chinatown.” Journal of Chinese Overseas. Vol. 7 No. 2. Liu Hong and Zhou Min. Singapore: Brill, 2011. 24-44. Web. 11 May 2014. <http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/wsas/academics/anthropology/documents/JCOGuestMotttoEBway.pdf>

“Chinatown New York City Fact Sheet.” Web. 11 May 2014.  <www.explorechinatown.com>


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