Chinese in Chinatown and Flushing
By Hsiang-shui Chen

Settlements: In New York City, concentrations of Chinese can be found in every borough, with the largest populations being located in Manhattan's Chinatown and in Flushing, Queens.

Arrival to New York City: Chinese sailors began settling in lower Manhattan around the 1830s. In Queens, Chinese vegetable farms and hand laundries emerged during the 1880s. The immigration of Chinese was not restricted until 1882 when the Chinese Exclusion Law was passed prohibiting the immigration of Chinese workers. The Immigration Act of 1965 liberalized previous restrictive acts and allowed for 20,000 immigrants from each country to enter the US. on an annual basis.

Places of origin: The majority of Chinese in Chinatown came from Taishan and other parts of Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province. In Flushing, most Chinese came from Taiwan after 1965 and includes Chinese mainlanders who went to Taiwan after 1949. The first wave of Chinatown immigrants comprised of mainly peasants and workers. The first generation of new Chinese immigrants in Flushing come from a variety of educational, occupational and class backgrounds.

Languages Spoken: Chinese in New York City speak a variety of dialects, but share a common written language. Taishanese and Cantonese are the most dominant dialects spoken in Chinatown. In Flushing, Mandarin, Taiwanese and Cantonese are the most popular dialects.

Locations: Early Chinatown consisted of only three streets Mott, Park, and Doyer. This core area enlarged slowly in size and by 1898 Chinatown included Mott, Pell, and Doyer Streets, Chatham Square, and Bayard and Baxter Streets. Today, Chinatown covers more than 20 streets. Sometimes Flushing is referred to misleadingly as "the second Chinatown." It not only is home and workplace for Chinese, but for many other ethnic groups as well. The main business district is located on Roosevelt Avenue, 40th Road, 39th, 38th, and 37th Avenues, and Main Street.

Population: The population of Chinese in Manhattan was about 75,000 in 1980. Today our estimate is about 150,000. According to the 1980 Census, there were 39,500 Chinese living in Queens. A 1986 estimate from the Flushing Chinese Business Association sited about 60,000 Chinese in Flushing alone, and we estimated about 100,000 Chinese in all of Queens. Today there are about 70,000 Chinese in Flushing and 110,000 to 120,000 Chinese residing in Queens.

Occupations: In Chinatown there are mainly restaurants, garment factories, grocery stores, gift shops, and jewelry stores. The number of hand laundries, once the leading Chinese business, declined as the popularity of home washing machines grew. In the past ten years, various kinds of businesses emerged in Flushing. Today Chinese own about 600 establishments and offices. Almost any kind of service or business which one finds in Chinatown can be found in Flushing also. Besides being businessmen, Chinese also are professionals and workers.

Associations: Before 1960, the social structure in Chinatown was hierarchical- the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association was at the top, district and other business associations were located in the middle, and family and clan associations at the bottom. After 1960, more social service agencies and political organizations were formed by social workers and community activists. In Flushing, there is no single organization representing the Chinese community- organizations include business groups, a voters association, women's associations, a parents association, and recreational groups.

Religion: Most Chinese are Buddhists or believers in folk religion. Christians probably make up a small percentage of the Chinese population in New York.


Dr. Hsiang-shui Chen is an anthropologist and Staff Researcher at the Asian/American Center.