China Watch

The Cataclysmic Anatomy of Chinatowns- Cuisine, Tourism, Drug Cartels and More

By Anirudh Ramakrishna Phadke

Image Credit: Culinary Couples

(The Following article is a subscriber content and has the author’s original presentation available to download. No part of this piece has been edited to preserve the originality of the presentation.)

We all would have wished to visit a Chinatown at-least once in our lifetime by watching those action Hollywood movies or other type of media. All those spicy mouth savoring cuisine, street dance shows, and handicraft shops could definitely catch our attention. But do you think these things only built up an economy of a Chinatown? The answer in simply ‘NO’. All these things was not even a fundamental livelihoods of peoples in Chinatown during its peak time. Read this article so next time when you are visiting a Chinatown ‘you are not the next victim’.

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The History of Chinatown

The Chinatown, basically is an ethnic enclave of the Chinese community living outside of mainland China (including Hong-Kong and Taiwan). These enclaves were formed as a result of migration of Chinese community to other countries due to many number of reasons such as like labor, new culture (liberty from socialist economy), including religious causes expanding their business etc. and Great leap forward and other famines. (most of them during Mao Zedong). Thus in other words these enclaves were home to anti-communist Chinese who wanted to escape from the deadly foothold of the communist leader Mao. There has been numerous reports that during their migration, Communist leader Mao targeted those which resulted in nearly 18 million deaths and more than 20 million missing in the process.

The first ever recorded Chinatown was established in the year 1594 at Binondo, in Manila, Philippines. The reason behind the migration of that particular group to Binondo was to escape the foothold of brutal religious monarchy in China. Thus the migrants established a ethnic enclave comprising Catholic Chinese in Binondo, Manila.

Common Features of a Chinatown

“A Micronation”

  • It is a community of Chinese people (85%) including Tibetan, Korean nationals alongside with Chinese. They stay in a closed community with local ties to sustain in their day to day lives
  • Today many China-Towns across the world exists each with unique and absent elements
  • They contribute towards the host nation economy at a smaller scale which cannot be felt. Also the host country usually does not support these type of people.
  • In short a Chinatown is a diaspora micronation which has its own rules and regulations including a working economy
The Chinese Diaspora of the World (images are subjected to copyright by the writer)

A peek into famous Chinatowns around the World

Binondo- The first ever Chinatown in history

Binondo, also Known as Pinyin in Chinese is the first ever (oldest) Chinatown established by the Chinese in Manila, Philippines in the year 1594 for Catholic Chinese. In modern times business thrives in this region in old fashioned Filipino-Chinese style.

Chinatown in Manhattan, NY

The Chinatown in lower Manhattan, New-York houses the denser Chinese populated with around 1 lakh people. They live in a close community. Predominantly it is filled with Cantonese. It is one of the ten densely populated Chinese community in the western world.

Chinatown in San-Francisco

This Chinatown covers 24 square blocks and houses the second biggest Chinese community outside Asia (New York’s is first). There are exotic emporia, temples, tea houses, restaurants, Chinese banks, schools, law offices, bookstores, laundries and factories recalling the sweatshops of earlier times.

Chinatown in San-Francisco

Chinatown in Bangkok

Chinatown in Bangkok, Thailand has been hugely influential in the peoples life since the beginning of the city. It is the center of the gold trade and has a 200-year-old market, Taoist temples, and a 5-ton solid-gold Buddha at Wat Traimit.

A night picture of Bangkok’s Chinatown

Chinatown in London, UK

Gerrard Street, which lies between Leicester Square and Old Compton Street, is the main thoroughfare of London’s Chinatown. Chinese immigrants, mainly Cantonese from Hong Kong, started to settle in the area during the 1950s. Street names are subtitled in Chinese, and the tops of telephone boxes resemble mini pagodas.

Singapore’s Chinatown

My favorite Chinatown in the list. Although, the nation is predominantly filled with Chinese, Raffles’ original town plan, which assigned the different races to various districts. Here the Chinatown filled with old style Chinese shops and frogs to be skinned in the fresh produce market.

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Chinatown in Paris

Paris’s Chinatown is bordered by Avenue d’Italie and Avenue d’Ivry. The area is a mini-city of skyscrapers and streets lined with Thai groceries, Vietnamese noodle bars and Chinese tearooms. Chinatown’s gift shops are a treasure trove of gaudy decorations, trinkets and figurines, alongside elegant rice bowls, fine teas and tea sets, and good-quality Chinese dresses.

Chinatown in Melbourne

Cantonese-speaking Chinese immigrants arrived in Melbourne in great numbers during the 1850s, hopeful of making fortunes in the colony they described as “New Gold Mountain. They established an area where they could eat, gamble and smoke opium with their fellow countrymen on Little Bourke Street. Aside from food, there are also several bars in here that are packed cheek by jowl on weekends.

Chinatowns in India- Viyug’s Eye into the India’s Chinese Enclave

In today’s geopolitical scenario both the two biggest Asian superpowers are bitter enemies. But still breaking boundaries, the Chinese people live in India!!!…surprised right. If you are living in any one of the metropolitan areas of India you might have come across the Chinese enclave. What if I said that these communities hold Indian citizenship and other relevant documents. Now you must be quite shocked..! Breaking down their complex community structure, I have classified them into four broad categories.

The image is subjected to copyright
  • Chindians: This informal term refers to a individual or group of people having mixed Indian and Chinese ancestry. There are considerable number of Chindians in India’s only Chinatown situated at Kolkata, West Bengal.
  • Migrants/1st Gen: Here the term 1st generation of Chinese migrants refers to the Chinese who migrated from their homeland for many reasons such as new living, at their own will etc. In today’s context 1st generations Chinese migrants to India are very few in numbers.
  • Expatriates: The Chinese expatriates are those individuals living away in their homeland, often temporarily and for work reasons. Usually their contract lasts for a period of 3 years or less. In Indian scenario, the Chinese expatriates can be seen ranging from national universities for education till being employed in an Chinese style restaurants in major metro cities of India.
  • Prisoners: This particular category is historical reference, which signifies that the Chinese enclave under this classification no more in existence. Notable reference can be found out during the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Nearly 3000 Chinese-Indians were forced under reallocation and incarceration in an internment camp in Deoli, Rajasthan. They were detained under Defence of India Act 1962. Although they were all released phase by phase manner till 1967, Indian Government has not apologized or offered compensation to them. Further during 1962-1967 nearly 10,000 were captured under custody from all major parts of India under the Defence Act. All of them were accused spies, but not a single charge has ever been proven. This internment act by India violated both the Constitution of India & the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which India was an original signatory. Many Chinese-Indian parents were displaced from their children; they were never heard again. I will dig out more and brief one such lost Chinese enclave in Tamil-Nadu in my next write up.
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Chinese Diaspora in India- Brief Blueprint

In today’s scenario, the Chinese enclave in India are spread across all the states. But still their huge concentrations can be found in all the metropolitan cities of India.

  • Mumbai: The Chinese population here decreases at a higher rate. The only Chinese community can be found at areas nearby Kwan Kung temple, Mazagaon, Mumbai. (4000 Chinese live here)
  • New Delhi: There is no Chinatown here in new Delhi. Statistics show that only Chinese workers on contracts for 2-3 years stay here in New Delhi. There are no fixed Chinese community.
  • Kolkata: The original Chinatown in India is located here. Nearly for more than 5 centuries pure Chinese bloodline exists in Calcutta. We can see that in detail later slides. (nearly 5000 peoples live here)
  • Chennai: Although, no Chinatowns here., their culture exists here way back from British India period. A escaped community from madras central prison once stayed in parts of Nilgiris hills (I will dive deep into this in my next write up). Chinese expatriates are filled in Chennai.

A peek into Chinatown in Kolkata, Paschim Bangal- Tiretta Bazzar

Situated in Central Kolkata, Hakka Chinese stay here. Once a enclave of 20,000 Chinese today it is only home to 7000 Chinese peoples. They engage themselves in tanning and food industry. Today so called the Indian Chinese cuisine was born here at Bengal which is now famous in many other parts of India. They also engage in licensed opium trading for quick cash. There is also a school and local Chinese newspaper.

Tiretta Bazzar- Chinatown of India

The Economy of Chinatown

Now you have reached the most crucial part of my analysis, that is the economy of Chinatown. I have classified their economy model into broad 2 categories;

  • Normal Economy: This is predominantly located on Chinatowns of western nations. They heavily rely upon tourism, that is they sell of their Chinese culture to tourist people. This includes their art, pottery, cuisine, and other Chinese goods and services and they make hefty revenue from it. ($700 million)
  • Under-Ground Economy: also known as blood economy (illegal activities), this type is predominantly active in the eastern part of the world, especially in the Chinatowns of Thailand, Burma, and Malaysia.

An overview of Authentic Foods (Normal Economy)- The Original Canyin

Over 70% of turnover made by people in Chinatowns is by running the authentic Chinese foods which turns out to be quite expensive and not like those typical awkward dishes portrayed in social medias. That’s the reason, I am skipping the whole normal economy and giving you an overview of Canyin in a nutshell.

some authentic foods available in Chinatown

The authentic Chinese food is not like as we see in the social media today. It is much more than that and very expensive in nature. The cuisine is one of the worlds delicious cuisine which includes BBQ stingrays, roast pork, pork rib soup, noodles & dumplings, nasi cockles and eggs, puffer fish meat (quite expensive). In my opinion these authentic Chinese foods must be tired at least once in our lifetime. ($700 million industry)

The Blood Economy of Chinatown

Otherwise known as Black Economy, a segment of a country’s economic activity that is derived from sources that fall outside of the country’s rules and regulations. Here, in case of Chinatowns those are the activities which fall outside of their normal economy. Once again I have classified their black economy broadly into four categories.

  1. Triads (Organised Crime Groups): They are organised crime syndicates that is spread across the Chinese diaspora of the world. Especially active in the region of Thailand, Hong Kong, India, and Malaysia.
  2. Tong: This organisation particularly remain in smokes and shadows. They smuggle illegal immigrants and sell off or either loot a big amount from them to make them escape the authorities.
  3. Opium Dens: The Chinese are godfathers in the opium business. Every Chinatown has house structure called den which has plenty of opium’s in different smokable formats.
  4. Prostitution/Brothels: Or what is commonly called as red light areas has become a main stream business in parts of Chinatowns in Thailand, Malaysia, Italy. This is a billion dollar industry and runs alongside with the opium dens.

Let’s dive deep into each of this category and explore the shadowy/dark side of Chinatowns

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