Chinatown - How Chinese Live in the World's Cities


Chinatowns in major cities around the world belong to the most famous ethnic districts.  They are not only home to a growing number of Chinese people but also have their own special traditions and way of life.

Millions of Chinese left their home country in the past to go and to live abroad. Most of them have gone to other countries out of economic reasons.  In past centuries Chinese abroad were treated badly and seen as cheap workers. They had jobs in farming, as cooks on ships or as harbour workers. In the US, thousands of Chinese helped to build the railroads that today span the continent. In previous times the United States and other countries limited the number of Chinese who could enter the country.

As a result Chinatowns exist in cities in all continents. When the Chinese arrived in foreign cities they often lived in the same neighbourhood, where they followed their own traditions and spoke their own language. Many Chinese have become successful businessmen. Today, Chinatowns are not only tourist destinations, but places where people can get great food, view art and listen to Chinese music. There are many traditional festivals and celebrations in Chinatowns including the Chinese New Year.

The main language in Chinatown is Mandarin. Shop and street signs are often in two languages. Houses and buildings show typical façades that you would see in China.  People sell all sorts of things, including handicraft, jewellery and traditional Chinese medicine. Chinatowns are often marked through a special entrance with a red arch.

Chinatown in Philadelphia

Chinatown in Philadelphia - Bruce Andersen


There are many well-known Chinatowns in the world’s major cities. New York’s Chinatown is the largest in the world. For one and a half centuries thousands of ethnic Chinese have lived in southern part of Manhattan. San Francisco is home to the oldest Chinatown in the US. It dates back to the 1840s when many people rushed to the west coast in search of gold. It was the hub to Chinese coming across the Pacific Ocean to America.

Chinatowns in Asia exist in almost every city.  Manila, capital of the Philippines, claims the oldest Chinatown in the world, dating back to the end of the 16th century.  Liverpool, England grew into a big Chinatown as thousands of Chinese arrived at Britain’s most important harbour in the 19th century. Other Chinatowns in major European cities were founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Havana was once Latin America’s largest Chinatown. Thousands of Chinese came to work on sugar plantations. When the country became Communist many of them left for the USA.


Related Topics



  • abroad = in another country, in many cases, on another continent
  • arch = structure with a curved top
  • capital = an important city, where the government is
  • century = a hundred years
  • claim = here: to declare that something is true
  • date back = originate , come from
  • destination = place you go to
  • economic = here: for making money
  • entrance = gate, door
  • ethnic = relating to a certain nation or people, with their own customs and traditions
  • façade = front part of a building
  • foreign = in another country
  • found-founded = start
  • handicraft = activity with which you use your hands to make baskets, necklaces or other things
  • harbour = place where ships stay to load and unload their goods
  • hub =  here: central place from which everything goes on
  • jewellery = necklaces, rings, bracelets and other things you wear to make you look prettier
  • limited = control , regulate
  • major = very important
  • Mandarin = official language in China, spoken by most of the people
  • plantation = large area of land in the tropical or subtropical parts of the world, where crops like tea, cotton etc.. are grown
  • previous = earlier
  • rush = hurry, move quickly
  • sign = piece of metal, wood or paper that gives information
  • span = stretch across, cover
  • successful = positive, good, wealthy
  • treat = act towards somebody
  • view = observe, see