It is a known fact of social sciences that minority ethnic groups in a foreign country tend to bunch together, often for company and mutual protection — not to mention, for new immigrants, being able to talk to people. In the American West through the 1880s and '90s, mob violence against the 'heathen Chinee' living in smaller towns led to the survivors' leaving to live in a few Chinatowns in the larger cities.
One manifestation of this is "Chinatowns", which feature in countless cities worldwide. Streets with paifang
arches at the entrance, full of Chinese restaurants, shops, acupuncturists, and so on, they have become a rich source for scriptwriters (who for some reason have not noticed how modern day Chinatowns have become mostly pan-Asian affairs, with Chinese herbal stores, Japanese electronic stores, and Vietnamese noodle shops all next to each other).
Want to have Triad
members in a story? Have them in Chinatown. Ming dynasty vases being sold illegally? Chinatown. Opium Dens
? Chinatown. People who know martial arts
? Chinatown. You don't even need to leave your own city!
Additional note: if someone is trying to skip town in the Northeastern US, they may end up in Chinatown for the notorious—but cheap and until recently little-known—bus services
Expect a dragon dance
at some point even though those are only done during Chinese New Year
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Used extensively in Pet Shop of Horrors and its sequel, New Pet Shop of Horrors (re-titled Tokyo Pet Shop of Horrors by Tokyopop). The beginning of the mangas and of each volume clearly underlines that Chinatown is a mysterious, thrilling, and dangerous place to which people are basically attracted like moths to flames. And they're full of cruel exotic Chinese who might or might not be non-humans.
- Axis Powers Hetalia has one on a deserted island.
- China has one built in the Allied Powers' conference room one day. It would seem China has a team on call to build one whenever he wants dumplings.
- The Digital World has a Chinatown, as revealed in an episode of Digimon Adventure 02.
- Polanski's Chinatown, of course, though it appears as a setting only briefly.
- In Gremlins, Randall Peltzer buys Gizmo at the Chinatown in New York. In the sequel, Daniel Clamp (a bit of a Donald Trump parody) is buying property there to build a shopping centre.
- The 1994 film version of The Shadow - it's where Cranston meets with Shiwan after the latter sends a mind-controlled Margo to Cranston's home.
- Gangs of New York features the 1860s prototype to Chinatown.
- Tanguy features the French Chinatown, set in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. The title character briefly moves there, probably to indulge his Asiaphilia (he later moves to China proper).
- The setting of Big Trouble in Little China, as the title implies. San Francisco's Chinatown, be to specific.
- Amy Tan uses San Francisco's Chinatown as a setting for some of her stories. Waverly in The Joy Luck Club is named for Waverly Place. You can briefly see some Chinatown streets in the Young Waverly sequence of the film version. Mrs. Louie in The Kitchen God's Wife lives and has her flower shop there.
- Child of the Owl by Laurence Yep has the main character Casey being sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Paw-Paw, in San Francisco's Chinatown, and thereby getting connected with her Chinese roots. A number of other books by Laurence Yep are also set in Chinatown or have the characters visiting it.
- The Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
- The X-Files episode "Hell Money", one of the few episodes where the threat they face is largely unsupernatural (though still extremely weird). Chinese gangsters running a crooked betting parlour where desperate people wager away their eyeballs & internal organs. When these guys say "I left my heart in San Francisco", they ain't kidding!
- The Sopranos: The New York family that Tony's feuds with hangs out in Little Italy, which is rapdily being swallowed by Chinatown in real life. The characters comment on this.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent: "Chinoiserie"
- In general Chinatown is a fairly common setting in all parts of the Law & Order franchise. Commonly the plots involve Chinese gangsters and illegal prostitutes.
- Father Ted puts a Chinatown on Craggy Island.
- Magnum, P.I. and Hawaii Five-O often had stories set in Honolulu's Chinatown, not the least reason being the distinctive '30s architecture and the (until recently, Truth in Television) dangerous and seedy reputation of the main street in Chinatown, Hotel Street. In fact, the Wo Fat building, a Chinatown landmark, had its name borrowed by Hawaii 5-0's production staff for one of their recurring villains, a Chinese communist agent.
- Philadelphia has a large Chinatown that for some reason never appears in fiction. Except in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia the gang occasionally visit Philly's Chinatown. In one episode, the gang discusses how disappointed they are that Chinatown is nothing like Big Trouble in Little China, and Charlie is astounded by a group of men passing fish back and forth on the sidewalk. In another episode, Charlie and Dee seek out exotic meat at a grotesque Chinatown butcher shop and purchase some monkey.
- An odd, apparently Ripped from the Headlines plot began circulating on Police Procedural shows in 2008 that featured the ancient (and increasingly rare) Chinese practice of "ghost brides": the family of a young man who died before getting married had a spiritual Arranged Marriage with a deceased girl. The shows' plots revolved around the twist that whoever was arranging the ghost weddings ignored the deceased part for the prospective spiritual daughter-in-law. Shows that used this plot:
- NUMB3RS, using Los Angeles' real Chinatown
- Without a Trace
- The headline in question may have been the story of Luen-chow Chan and Ai-ling Li of Kuala Lumpur, which turns up every so often in "believe it or nots". It seems that they'd been engaged while alive, but he died of cancer and she subsequently killed herself. His mother dreamed that he asked her to arrange for a ghost wedding, and she complied.
- In Kung Fu: the Legend Continues, Caine lives in the Chinatown area of the show's nameless city, and unsurprisingly much of the action takes place there.
- Parodied on Arrested Development with Wee Britain.
- Twice in Castle. The first time, the team travels to Chinatown to infiltrate an illegal gambling club with Russian mobsters. The second time, the team clashes with a Chinese mob family when they are connected to a murder involving a cop's stolen gun.
- Episode 2 of Sherlock deals with a tong gang searching for a Chinese artifact stolen by a smuggler.
- This blog post points out several cliches of "Chinatown episodes."
- Flower Drum Song is about Chinese residents of "San Francisco, California, U.S.A."
- The Grand Theft Auto series has featured fictional counterparts of San Francisco's and New York City's Chinatowns. Grand Theft Auto V even had a Koreatown, based off of the one in Los Angeles.
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
- The Dinosaur King episode "Beast or Famine" ("Dinosaur Hotel" in Japanese), took place in one of Japan's Chinatowns.
- Chinatown is an arena in Backyard Football.
- A small portion of Millenium City in Champions Online has a Chinatown aspect, complete with martial arts baddies (and a low level NPC vigilante group), fireworks at night, and at least one Temple Arch. No dragon dances, however.
- The San Francisco of Fallout 2 prominently features a Chinatown, re-settled after the Great War by the crew of a Chinese submarine. It was a Chinatown before the war, too, but its inhabitants had fled or died before the Shi made landfall.
- One level in Batman Doom is set in Chinatown. Buddhist iconography, paper lanterns and shuriken-tossing Asian thugs abound.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, you can visit one of these by using a psychoanalytic jar to view the Suspicious-Looking Guy's Shady Past.
- A level in The Matrix Path Of Neo is set in one of the Matrix's Chinatowns. Most of the buildings are covered with Chinese symbols and paper lanterns. You have to rescue a herbalist from police and Agents, with some brief help by a local gang.
- In Jackie Chan Adventures, Uncle's Antiques Shop is in San Francisco's Chinatown.
- Played with on The Simpsons which has had at various points a Chinatown (which picks on Tibettown), a Russia-town, Little Italy, "Guidopolis", Lower West Side (read: Yiddish) and at least half a dozen nonsensical 'ethnic' towns.
- Also inverted, when the family visit "Americatown" while vacationing in Japan.
- Family Guy has Asiantown.
- The Fairly OddParents had "Little Ireland".
- New York City's Chinatown is in the southern part of Manhattan, next to Little Italy (a very Italian neighborhood) and the Lower East Side (home of Yiddish as a Second Language). That whole area of the island used to be cheap housing, so a lot of immigrants could afford to live there, and they naturally formed communities based on common language. (This also probably explains the stereotype of Jews eating Chinese food, particularly on Christmas.)
- Since the 1970's two more Chinatowns have sprung up, one around Flushing in Queens and another in Brooklyn.
- Historically, the London Chinatown was in Limehouse, it moved west to the Shaftesbury Avenue area.
- Washington DC has a Chinatown, which features as a fixed address destination in just about every show set in DC, despite being really puny. (Same with "the red-light district"). Its problem is that it's right next to the massive Verizon Center sports arena and entertainment complex. Though, it does have the largest Chinese arch, and in order to prop up the bit of non-corporate culture in the area, the city has passed a law requiring all non-Chinese chain stores in the area (and the German Cultural Center) to post signs in Chinese.
- Vancouver's Chinatown, which subbed for the real deal in the horror film Live Feed, is home to the skinniest building in the world (the Sam Kee Building). A minor point of irony is that while Chinatown is still overwhelmingly Chinese, complete with gates at some entrances and odd little medicine shops, downtown is seen as a fairly "white" part of the Greater Vancouver Area, and the City of Richmond to the south is far more predominantly Asian. To be fair, Vancouver actually has a large population of Asians, most likely due to being located on the West Coast.
- Toronto has a large Chinese population, with six Chinatowns in the Greater Toronto Area, most featuring signage in Chinese and other East Asian languages. Much like in other North American cities, the oldest Chinatown in downtown Toronto is steadily becoming more Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Chinese.
- The Windy City also has one, which too is imaginatively referred to as Chinatown.
- São Paulo has Bairro da Liberdade which is something like this, but with a little twist, instead of Chinese people—it has Japanese people.
- Another "Japantown" can be found in Düsseldorf, Germany.
- Boston's Chinatown made an appearance in The Departed; it used to have something of a reputation, but nowadays is no more dangerous than any other major urban center.
- And of course San Francisco has the largest, oldest, and most famous Chinatown in America.
- Seattle's Chinatown, like Vancouver's, hasn't really appeared in anything, but like Boston's used to have a more unsavory rep, partly due to the Wah Mee Massacre. Of interesting note is that Chinatown isn't even very Chinese; while the largest Asian population within it is Chinese, there's still a very large amount of Vietnamese and Japanese scattered within it, along with every other conceivable Asian population. Again, however, like Vancouver, there are places in Seattle which are still more Asian than the Chinatown: Beacon Hill comes to mind.
- Historically, nearly every City and small town in California had a Chinatown (Pasadena and Santa Barbara's were single city blocks). Even Bodie had one with a population of 228.
- Manila's Chinatown is the first and oldest existing one, dating back to 1594. Formerly called Parian, it was now called Binondo.
- Houston has two, the original east of downtown (aka. East End or EaDo) and the second in southwest Houston which is far bigger and has Vietnamese and other Asian populations as well.
- There's also not one, but three Chinatowns in Japan. The largest of these, and the largest in the world, is located in Yokohama; the oldest one is in Nagasaki and is probably the second-oldest in the world after Manila's, dating back to the 16th century.
- In an aversion the Max transit stop in Portland Or, "old town/chinatown" is not just not a Wretched Hive of Tongs, and Opium Dens, it is not even Chinese at least in appearance. For the matter of that it doesn't look very old either. There would have been a lot of Chinese immigrants in Portland in old times though, so perhaps a real chinatown was simply overbuilt.
- Chinatown in Philadelphia is rather interesting for three reasons:
- It has successfully fought off what its residents consider several different attempts to destroy it, including several highway-construction projects and an abortive attempt by the Phillies to build a new stadium there in the 90s. The highway project-thwarting probably kept Center Citynote from the corrupting influence of expressways, so a lot of historic Philly has Chinatown to thank for still existing, or at least for having a nice view.
- It contains/is right next to (depending on your definition) the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Seriously. The library built next door has Chinese signage on it.
- It contains a rather high number of Hong Kong-style bakeries, which are a somewhat unusual sight in modern American Chinatowns.
- Inverted in the case of The Bund in Shanghai as a Western (chiefly Britain and its various subjects, with American and French influence making up much of the rest; there was also German, Russian, Belgian, Dutch, Danish, Italian, and later Japanese presence) enclave of architecture and culture within a Chinese city. Arose with the opening of several Chinese cities via the Unequal Treaties of the mid- and late-19th Century (Shanghai becoming the most prominent center of Western-driven finance and trade) and persisted until the Second Sino-Japanese War and the establishment of the People's Republic of China a few years later (which led to all those trading and banking institutions moving to Hong Kong).
- Tianjin, which is also a port city in China, but further north and closer to Beijing, has similar places. Known as Concessions of Tianjin, the area saw similar history as the Shanghai one, although the buildings are preserved and serve as the old district of Tianjin.