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Friendly Local Chinatown

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C'mon Jack, it's Chinatown!

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 enclaves 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. The odd Priceless Ming Vase 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.


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    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.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers 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.

    Comic Books 
  • In League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Devil Doctor is based in London's Limehouse district.
  • Subverted in Doctor Strange: The Oath, where Strange and Wong visit a disreputable pawnshop in Chinatown in search of a magical cure for Wong's ailment and nearly get mugged for their trouble.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Maxine Sterenbuch is sent to Boston's Chinatown as part of an attempt by Henry Armbuster to murder her so she can't interfere with his manipulation of her friend Valerie Beaudry. She ends up rescued and then kidnapped by Solomon instead.

    Fan Works 
  • This is what Wall Market basically is in Seventh Endmost Vision. The Wutai diaspora heavily settled the slums of Midgar after the Reactor meltdown in Wutai ruined it in the fic's backstory, and Wall Market has a heavy Wutai presence in the fic. The local gang, the Crimson Wings, even seem to mostly be Yakuza types, though unusually they are led by a white woman, Scarlet; given the particulars of the fic's ethnic relations, though, her being a Midgardian probably makes her acceptable. Given she hides her identity under "the Rosso" to the point that no one even knows her gender, much less her ethnicity, it never comes up.

    Films — Animation 
  • Turning Red: Much of the film is set in Toronto's Chinatown. It is depicted fairly faithfully with the major exception of Chinese lanterns being strung up above the streets.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 is buying property there to build a shopping centre.
    "Where business gets oriented."
  • 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.
  • Parodied in The Dictator, where one of the places Aladeen goes after being deposed is New York's "Little Wadiya" neighborhood, whose population seems to be entirely made up of people Aladeen had ordered executed, but escaped and fled the country.
  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a documentary about Abacus Federal Savings and Loan, a bank founded by Chinese-American Tom Sung to serve the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, which was prosecuted for crimes committed during the 2008 financial crisis. Much attention is given to the close-knit nature of the Chinatown community.
  • Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour regularly buys exotic plants at a discount flower shop in Chinatown, which is where he finds Audrey II. Implied in the stage version; definitely shown in the film version.
  • In The Love Bug, when Herbie runs away, Jim Douglas finds him hiding underneath a dragon in a parade at San Francisco's Chinatown. Herbie flees upon getting spotted, inadvertently smashing the grocery store belonging to Chinese-American businessman Mr. Wu, who becomes Jim's benefactor in the climactic El Dorado race.

  • 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. San Francisco Chinatown in 1902 is the setting for most of Dragonwings, pre- and post-earthquake.
  • The Night Mayor is set in the City, a virtual realm based on Film Noir movies, which has its own Chinatown full of thieves, opium dens and corrupt officials.
  • The heroine of Safe Haven flees to Philadelphia when escaping her abusive husband and heads to Chinatown, knowing she'll find cheap places to stay and plentiful waitressing jobs (it's the only skill she has).
  • The 1920s Los Angeles Chinatown shows up a few times in Bride of the Rat God in lavish detail.
  • London's Chinatown plays a minor part in the Rivers of London books. It has its own magical protector, Michael Cheung, who has business cards saying "Legendary Swordsman". According to Nightingale, someone has served in Cheung's role since at least the sixties (and that might just be when the Folly found out about it), but the whimsical business cards are new.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 rapidly being swallowed by Chinatown in real life. The characters comment on this.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Chinatown is a fairly common setting, such as in the episode "Chinoiserie." Commonly the plots involve Chinese gangsters and illegal prostitutes.
  • Father Ted puts a Chinatown on Craggy Island. Which is odd, since Craggy Island usually seems like a small, eccentric backwater that shouldn't be able to attract or sustain that many immigrants.
  • 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
    • Bones
    • 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.
  • Emerson Cod's detective agency in Pushing Daisies is above a Chinese restaurant in their city's Chinatown.
  • Deadwood: the town of Deadwood has a sizable Chinese population who are usually called "celestials, referring to the "Celestial Empire" of China. They live in "Celestial Alley," and are ruled by Mr. Wu, who runs a laundry (to clean out bloodstains), owns pigs (for handy corpse disposal), and sells opium.

  • The Opium Den-filled Chinatown in Cab Calloway's songs, such as "Minnie the Moocher" and "Kickin' the Gong Around", is at an unspecified city.
  • Also unspecified is the location of the "funky Chinatown" in Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting"
  • "Chinatown, My Chinatown" is a classic Tin Pan Alley song from the 1910s. Col. Potter sings it in a M*A*S*H episode when he's going to Tokyo on leave.
  • In the "Hot Hot Hot" video, Buster Poindexter and his retinue conga through New York's Chinatown, with a small amount of dragon motif paraphnalia.


    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Similar to the above, the first two Saints Row games have a Chinatown in Stilwater.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: One chapter of the game takes place in Chinatown.
  • 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 of the levels in Batman Doom is set in Gotham's 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.
  • MadWorld's second level is supposedly one of these, made up of a medley of Chinese and Japanese stereotypes. Jack's Voice with an Internet Connection snarks that "Asian-Town" looks like a more like a garish theme park attraction and doubts that its designers had ever actually been to a real Chinatown, let alone anywhere in Asia.
  • One of the neighborhoods in Sunset Overdrive's Sunset City is "Little Tokyo", complete with a large Japanese History Museum at its center. You wind up visiting there several times in the story, since the museum is where one of your allied groups, Troop Bushido, have made camp.
  • Lee Pai Long's stages from the first two Art of Fighting games were both located in South Town's Chinatown.
  • Likewise, Xiangfei from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 has South Town's Chinatown as her stage.
  • Racing Lagoon has a street racing gang residing in the local Chinatown of South Yokohama, where they holds drag-race tournaments.
  • BlazBlue has Orient Town, a city full of Chinese-related stuffs, as you can see them doing Chinese martial arts katas or some of them delivering meat buns being the background, and also the temporary home of Litchi Faye-Ling, whom the town seems very enarmored to. They're located at the 1st and 2nd game's setting, the 13th Hierarchical Town Kagutsuchi.
  • Parasite Eve has one section of the game taking place in the actual Chinatown of New York City, although it is a very brief section before the much longer sewer portion.

    Web Original 
  • Britsune Garden has Nihontown, a Japanese version of London’s Chinatown, due to the high population of Japanese immigrants and people with Japanese heritage (including the main characters themselves).

    Western Animation 
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, the three main protagonists (Jackie, Jade, and Uncle Chan) are immigrants from Hong Kong who live and work in an antique shop (Uncle's Rare Finds) located in the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco.
  • Played with in The Simpsons, which has had at various points a Chinatown (which picks on Tibettown), a Russiatown, Little Italy, "Guidopolis", Lower West Side (read: Yiddish), and at least half a dozen nonsensical 'ethnic' towns.
    • Spoofed in one Treehouse of Horror episode when they visit an immigrant neighborhood generically named "Ethnictown". Its residents include a Romani witch and an Irish leprechaun.
    • Also inverted, when the family visit a restaurant called "Americatown" while vacationing in Tokyo, Japan.
  • The Legend of Korra has a fantasy variant in Little Ba Sing Se in Republic City, a miniaturized version of the actual city in the Earth Kingdom, complete with mock walls.
  • Family Guy: When the Griffins went on the run after breaking Lois out of prison (she'd gotten four years for shoplifting due to the judge getting angry at Peter), the family hid out in Asiantown. It even features it's own tv channel with a localized version of the Trix Rabbit, who beats the kids to death with martial arts for not sharing their cereal.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: In "Misfortune Cookie", Dexter and Dee-Dee are forced to visit the local Chinatown after they get stuck in a chinese finger trap Dee-Dee found in a box of fortune cookies. Dee-Dee acts like this trope is in effect, even though it's a normal neighborhood (the "ninja" they encounter is a guy buying a novelty costume, their mysterious quest is just running errands for a shop owner, and removing the finger trap is completely mundane, they just hadn't thought of it).

    Real Life 
The Americas
  • 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 Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
    • And since then, even more mini-Chinatowns have sprung up across NYC, most notably in Elmshurst (approaching the size of Sunset Park's Chinatown now), Bensonhurst, and a chunk of the East Village.
  • 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 Capital One Arena 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, although it's increasingly facing issues as immigrants are more likely to set up in Richmond than in Chinatown, thanks to the latter being right next to Eastside.
  • 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, complete with a huge pagoda along the river in Ping Tom Park.
  • São Paulo has Bairro da Liberdade which is something like this, but with a little twist, instead of Chinese people—it has Japanese people, thus making it a Japantown instead.
    • 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.
  • Houston has three: the original east of downtown (aka. East End or EaDo), the second in southwest Houston's Alief district which is far bigger and has Vietnamese and other Asian populations as well, and the newest "Katy Chinatown" in the eastern part of the Katy district.
  • 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:
    1. It is in Center City—Philadelphia's downtown district. It's just two blocks north of the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Seriously. The library built next door has Chinese signage on it. The firehouse that covers the heart of Center City (including City Hall) is in Chinatown and goes by the nickname "House of Dragons".note  It also directly abuts the massive Pennsylvania Convention Center, so it's ludicrously common for conventioneers to go to Chinatown for lunch (especially if they know how crowded Reading Terminal gets at the lunch rush).
    2. Unlike some American Chinatowns, it remains a thriving center of the city's Chinese-American community (and other East Asian-American communities, as well; the Korean and Vietnamese contingents are also pretty large).
    3. 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 City 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.
    4. It contains a rather high number of Hong Kong-style bakeries, which are a somewhat unusual sight in modern American Chinatowns.
  • The commercial venue Patronato from Santiago, Chile is an interesting example. It didn't start as a Chinatown, but as a general commercial district with Middle-Eastern influences note  but from The '90s onwards it attracted Chinese and South Korean families that opened their business there. Anyone can find several Asian owned stores where they sell clothing, accessories, gifts, traditional foods and apparel, etc. Many of these shops have an Asian architecture and some are exclusively catered toward Asian costumers, like stores selling unsubbed Korean doramas (and recently, subbed ones for Chilean fans). However, several other stores are owned by Chilean families and one can even find shops that sell products from all over the world, and there are still many Middle-Eastern themed places as well.
  • Many smaller Southern California towns that were based on citrus farming had Chinatowns. The Chinatowns in Riverside were killed off by fires (arson or accident?) and the Exclusion Act. There's still a tiny pavilion on the grounds of the public library and a historical society dedicated to it.


  • Historically, the London Chinatown was in Limehouse, it moved west to the Shaftesbury Avenue area. Contrary to the anti-Chinese rumors, it looks like it did not have any opium dens.
  • Liverpool also has the oldest Chinatown in Europe that dates back to the early 19th century.
  • Even Newcastle has a Chinatown. It consists of a single small street near to St James Park, with a couple of Chinese restaurants and a Chinese supermarket. However, a very ornate gate will fool you into thinking it's bigger than it looks. It does extend onto Gallowgate and Newgate Street.


  • Manila's Chinatown is the first and oldest existing one, dating back to 1594. Formerly called Parian, it was now called Binondo.note 
  • 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. (The third one is in Kobe, for those who wonder)
  • 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.
  • South Korea has several of those, but the most notable ones are in Seoul and Incheon. The original Chinatowns formed a century ago when the country opened its gates have only traces of it left, due to the harsh policies of the military government towards overseas Chinese who they thought would be a major threat as they gained massive financial power in Southeast Asian countries over time. The new ones are being populated by Korean Chinese, who are ethnically Koreans but culturally Chinese as they were born in China and have spent their entire lives there.


  • Sydney's Chinatown is the largest in the country and is part of a chain of smaller satellite Chinatowns such as Cabramatta or Chatswood. Noted worldwide for being one of the safest and cleanest Chinatowns in the world, it also has the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a gift to Sydney from its sister city Guangzhou.
  • Melbourne has the longest continual Chinatown in the entirety of the western world, centered around the eastern half of Little Bourke Street. Victoria Street in Richmond is a prominent Vietnamese area. The suburb of Box Hill also has a prominent Chinese population. Bendigo also has Chinese descended from the miners during the Victorian Gold Rush.

Alternative Title(s): Friendly Neighborhood Chinatown