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Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclave, Global Change

Jan Lin
Volume: 2
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt26t
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  • Book Info
    Reconstructing Chinatown
    Book Description:

    In the American popular imagination, Chinatown is a mysterious and dangerous place, clannish and dilapidated, filled with sweatshops, vice, and organized crime. In this well-written and engaging volume, Jan Lin presents a real-world picture of New York City’s Chinatown, countering this “orientalist” view by looking at the human dimensions and the larger forces of globalization that make this vital neighborhood both unique and broadly instructive.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8788-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Chinatown has traditionally occupied a chimerical position in the American popular imagination. As an urban locale, Chinatown has historically represented an extreme archetype of the clannish closed society, an immigrant enclave crowded with unassimilated newcomers who live a life of marked separation from the American mainstream.¹ An Orientalist patina of mystery and danger surrounds Chinatown; people are somewhat fearful and wary when walking there. Popular films such as Roman Polanski’sChinatown(1975) and Michael Cimino’sYear of the Dragon(1985) have contributed to this iconic representation. Urban residents often mentally situate Chinatown alongside the “combat zone” or “red light district”...

  6. 1 From Bachelor Society to Immigrant Enclave
    (pp. 23-56)

    Chinatowns have historically been enclaves of petty capitalism and proletarian labor, like many other ethnic communities of the American city, such as Little Italy or Greek Town. Unlike European immigrants, however, Chinese arrivals were excluded from American citizenship by the Naturalization Law of 1790, and remained in the status of resident aliens until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.¹ The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, furthermore, prohibited new arrivals for six decades, and Chinatowns were frozen in the status of bachelor societies of “sojourners” until immigration laws were liberalized in the mid-twentieth century. After a period of participation in frontier industries...

  7. 2 Labor Struggles: Sweatshop Workers and Street Traders
    (pp. 57-78)

    The working people of contemporary Chinatown are highly concentrated in employment in the sweatshops of the garment and restaurant industries and small retail trade establishments. Sweatshops may be defined as workplaces where employees are paid low wages, with few benefits and little employment security, under poor occupational conditions of light, health, and safety. Sweatshops often evade government regulation and labor law and may frequently shift location in order to evade investigation. Strong ties of ethnicity, kinship, and paternalistic social relations nevertheless permeate workplace affairs in the garment and restaurant sweatshops. Immigrant Chinese workers obtain employment largely through word of mouth...

  8. 3 The Nexus of Transnational and Local Capital: Chinatown Banking and Real Estate
    (pp. 79-106)

    Toward the end of the 1970s and increasingly in the 1980s, journalists’ attention was drawn to the phenomenon of overseas Chinese investment capital flowing into banks and real estate development in Chinatown and other districts of New York City (Wang 1979; Gargan 1981a, 1981b; Scardino 1986; Chan 1989). Foreign direct investment seemed to be taking place at an accelerated pace throughout the New York metropolitan region, and inflows of labor and capital were originating from a number of different world regions. Chinatown, unique as an ethnic enclave where both sweatshops and foreign investment were simultaneously occurring in concentrated form, received...

  9. 4 The Growth of Satellite Chinatowns
    (pp. 107-120)

    The emergence of satellite Chinatowns in the outer boroughs of New York City is mainly an outcome of congestion in the core Chinatown of Manhattan. The satellites are extensions of both the lower and upper circuit of the enclave economy; restaurants and garment sweatshops can be found in satellite Chinatowns, as well as transnational banks and foreign investors. Residential and economic decentralization on a fundamental level is determined by ecological variables of population density, scarcity of housing, and high land values in the urban core. Residential out-movers are additionally motivated by preferences for privacy and space; their outward geographic mobility,...

  10. 5 Solidarity, Community, and Electoral Politics
    (pp. 121-146)

    The dramatic demographic and economic changes in New York’s Chinatown since the end of the exclusion era have been accompanied by equally significant shifts in its social and political structure. The major shift is the emergence of contemporary workplace and community organizations, many led by second-generation Chinese Americans; their growing power has challenged the longtime hegemony of the traditional family and clan associations in the enclave polity. The staff and leaders of these contemporary organizations mediate the relationships of enclave residents with the wider society. These organizational actors essentially broker the provision of resources, many provided by the state, to...

  11. 6 The Enclave and the State
    (pp. 147-170)

    New York’s Chinatown is geographically adjacent to the local and federal government complex surrounding City Hall as well as the finance, world trade, and producer services complex of the Wall Street and Battery Park City districts of lower Manhattan. Until the 1970s, the workers and business leaders of the enclave had relatively little impact on urban policy and redevelopmental matters taking place in the district. In the past twenty years, however, there has been a series of political conflicts between the enclave and the state over matters of social policy and urban development. These confrontations are partly the by-product of...

  12. 7 Encountering Chinatown: Tourism, Voyeurism, and the Cinema
    (pp. 171-188)

    The typical American encounters Chinatown as part of a process of alimentary gratification. Aside from providing a break from normal culinary routine, the prospect of eating Chinese food in association with a journey into the central-city district of Chinatown also affords the diner the opportunity of experiencing the exotic Orient without undertaking transpacific travel. The local cheap amusement substitutes for the cosmopolitan global junket. These pedestrian acts of urban tourism may include a foray into a Chinese grocery, curio shop, martial arts establishment, or herbal medicine store. During the weeks of firecracker excitement leading up to the Chinese New Year,...

  13. 8 Community Change in Global Context
    (pp. 189-206)

    Americans are increasingly sensitive to the forces of globalization on the economic livelihood and cultural fabric of their communities and cities. The acceleration of economic and cultural change is pervasive; few localities have not been affected to some degree. It may be observed, however, that globalization has been concentrated in particular “global cities” and other immigration gateway cities that have recently become principal nodes in the cross-border flow of immigrant labor, capital, and commodities.¹ These cities have acquired a multiracial demography and urban ecology that provoke contrasting sentiments of disquiet or approbation in a range of interrelated public discourses and...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 207-218)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-248)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-249)