There’s a Chinatown in nearly every major city in the world! A culturally appropriated place now exists as a popular destination and ‘must-see’ on the tourist itinerary. However, we want to expand people’s perceptions, like we have with our exhibition, ‘Identity Kit’; Chinatown is not simply an outlet stop for knockoff Gucci bags and fake Rolex watches. Now, what makes up our identity kits is more important than ever before. PHoA artist, Shellie Zhang has created a contemporary fine art photography series called, ‘Made in China’ that explores her own kit as a first generation Chinese Canadian woman through (dis)placed mass-manufactured products.
Home-base for our very own superstar, Shellie Zhang, Toronto’s Chinese community has thrived to encompass 6 Chinatowns in the Greater Toronto area! The city also hosts the Toronto Dragon Boat Race, bringing teams from around the globe to race their handmade and painted works of art.
The Dragon Gate was gifted after Fidel Castro’s visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1955. In Cuba’s Ten Years War, 2.000 Chinese fought with the rebels, and later a monument was erected to commemorate the fallen Cuban Chinese, on which is inscribed: “There was not one Cuban Chinese deserter, not one Cuban Chinese traitor.”
Britain’s long, contentious history with China encompasses two Opium Wars along with the British ownership of Hong Kong for more than 150 years. It’s expected that London’s Chinatown dates back to the 1700s. However, with a rockin’ history as punk as London itself, this Chinatown is said to be the location of Led Zeppelin’s very first rehearsal!
Johannesburg, South Africa
From the 19th century onwards, migrants came in waves to work in the gold mines of the Transvaal. With two Chinatowns in this city, Old Chinatown in downtown Commissioner Street is where the early migrants arrived. New Chinatown in the suburb of Cyrildene is where many Mandarin-speaking immigrants have settled today.
Manila, The Philippines
Officially named ‘Binondo’, this Chinatown was established in 1594, making it the oldest in the world! Binondo was a centre for Chinese commerce well before Spanish colonial occupation in the Philippines. If you find yourself wandering some of the oldest streets in the world, don’t forget to try the infamously slimy bull testicle soup, and then get your fortune told by ashes from incense at the Kuang Kong Temple.
Established in the 19th century, it is known as the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere. After the 1851 gold rush that ushered in waves of Chinese migrants, this boom time continued until the introduction of the White Australia Policy in 1901, when the Chinese, like many non-European immigrants, suffered under racist rule. The policy was relaxed after World War II and Melbourne’s Chinatown was reinvigorated.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is the centre of the gold trade and shares the location of Wat Traimit, a temple that holds a 5.5 ton solid gold Buddha statue from the 13th century, the largest in the world! The golden Buddha was covered with a plaster façade to keep it out of the hands of Burmese invaders in 1767; though, it was rediscovered in 1955 when movers accidentally dropped the statue, revealing the glowing Buddha within.
San Francisco, CA, USA
Established in 1848, San Francisco’s Chinatown serves as the oldest in North America! Its destruction by the 1906 earthquake and fire had American architects redesign the structures to look more “Chinese”. It’s subsequent success as a tourist attraction became a canon for many other Chinatowns around the world. The Chinese community in the Bay Area faced adversity with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; however, 150 years later and San Francisco’s Mayor is Chinese American, Ed Lee!
Even though many Chinatowns around the world are founded by immigrants who sought to start a new and better life; they have fought against deeply rooted prejudice and have built cultural referencing places that embody the vibrancy and celebratory aspects of their own culture. Without these globally varying Chinatowns, Chinese people would lose sense of their own cultural background whilst assimilating into something they may not completely identify with. We say honour your identity in every way, shape and form!