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Chinatown, Boston is a neighborhood located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It is the only historically surviving Chinese area in New England since the demise of Chinatown in Providence, Rhode Island after the 1950's. Because of the high population of Asian Americans living in this area of Boston, there are an abundance of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants located in Chinatown. It is one of the most densely populated residential areas in Boston, and is the center of Asian American life there. Chinatown borders the Boston Common, the Downtown Crossing, the Washington Street Theatre District, Bay Village, the South End, and the Southeast Expressway/Massachusetts Turnpike.



Because it is a gathering place and home to many immigrants, Chinatown has a diverse culture and population. According to 2010 census data, the total population in Chinatown is 4,444. This is almost a 25% increase since 2000, when there were only 3,559 people. The white population rose 241.7% from 228 in 2000 to 779 in 2010. The Black and African American population rose from 82 in 2000 to 139 in 2010, showing an almost 70% increase. The American Indian population dropped 75% from 2000 to 2010, going from 8 to 2 residents. The Asian population grew about 7.5% from 3,190 in 2000 to 3,416 in 2010. People who identified as another race grew from 18 in 2000 to 30 in 2010, which is an 66.7% increase. For those who identified as more than one race, that group grew from 32 in 2000 to 77 in 2010, which resulted in a 140.6% increase. With more white residents moving into Chinatown, there is worry over gentrification. For instance, the Asian population dropped to 46% in 2010. Another major concern is that historic towns and places are becoming more touristy and less cultural. Between Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Boston has shown the highest increase in non-Asian residents moving into non-family shared households with a 450% increase from 1990 to 2000.

As of 2010, the population of white residents in Chinatown has increased almost four times from 213 in 2000 to 752 in 2010 showing a 253% increase. The Black and African American population above 18 has increased from 49 in 2000 to 102 in 2010, showing a 108% increase. The American Indian/Alaskan Native population above 18 has shown a 75% decrease, going from 8 residents in 2000 to 2 in 2010. The Asian population has shown an 11% increase from 2,643 in 2000 to 2,939 in 2010. The total housing units in Chinatown has increased by 54% from 2000 to 2010. Chinatown went from 1,367 to 2,114 housing units. There has been an almost 50% increase in the occupied housing units in Chinatown from 2000 to 2010, going from 1,327 to 1,982. With the increase in occupied housing units, there has also been a 230% increase in vacant homes, going from 40 in 2000 to 132 in 2010.


Early history

Part of the Chinatown neighborhood occupies a space that was reclaimed by filling a tidal flat. The newly created area was first settled by Anglo-Bostonians. After residential properties in this area became less desirable due to railway developments, it was settled by a mixed succession of Irish, Jewish, Italian, Syrian, and Chinese immigrants. Each group replaced the previous one to take advantage of low-cost housing and job opportunities in the area. During the late-nineteenth century, garment manufacturing plants also moved into Chinatown, creating Boston's historic garment district. This district was active until the 1990s.

In 1870, the first Chinese people were brought from San Francisco to break a strike at the Sampson Shoe Factory in North Adams, Massachusetts. In 1874, many of these immigrants moved to the Boston Area. As history and tradition details, many Chinese immigrants would set up what is now known as Ping On Alley. The first laundries opened on what is now Harrison Ave in Chinatown. In 1875, as laundries were becoming more and more popular, the first restaurant, "Hong Far Low," opened. In the 1800s and the 1900s, many Chinese immigrants came to Boston looking for work and for new opportunities. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the immigration of Chinese immigrants was halted, and the population of Boston Chinatown remained mostly male. In 1903, an anti-Chinese sentiment led to the Boston Chinatown immigration raid, leading to the arrest of 234 people and the eventual deportation of 45 people.

In the 1950s, Chinatown saw a major increase in the population after the Exclusion Act was abolished in 1943. Construction in the late 1950s, in what is known as the "central artery," affected many homes and businesses in Chinatown. The Mass Pike, construction in the 1960s, took away much of the land from Chinatown that had been used for businesses. After construction was done, many businesses and homes in Chinatown were affected. Despite this, the population there continued to grow by at least 25%. During the late 19th century, manufacturing plants began to emerge in Chinatown for the garment stores that were thriving there. This became known as the historic garment district in Boston. However, the garment district only lasted until the 1990s due to rising prices of rent, property sales, and the removal of homeowners.

Negotiations resulted in the provision of funds for the construction of new community housing in Chinatown. During this period, city officials also designated an area adjacent to Chinatown as Boston's red light district, also known as the Combat Zone. This zone, while still in existence, almost disappeared by the 1990s, due to many reasons. These causes included city pressure, the rise of marketing movies on VHS home video, and the move of night clubs to the suburbs where they became more upscale. A general increase in property values, which encouraged building sales and the removal of former tenants, also contributed. In the 21st century, much of the former Combat Zone has evolved into the Washington Street Theatre District.

Modern day

Chinatown remains a center of Asian American life in New England, hosting many Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants and markets. Chinatown is one of Boston's most densely populated residential districts, with over 28,000 people per square mile in the year 2000. Nearly 70% of Chinatown's population is Asian, compared with Boston's nine percentage of Asian Americans overall. Chinatown has a median household income of $14,289.

The traditional Chinatown Gate (paifang) with a foo lion on each side is located at the intersection of Beach Street and Surface Road. This was once a run-down area, housing little more than a ventilation-fan building for the Central Artery Tunnel; however, a garden was constructed at this site as part of the Big Dig project. The Gate is visible from the South Station Bus Terminal, and is a popular tourist destination and photo opportunity. Offered by the Taiwanese government to the City in 1982, the gate is engraved with two writings in Chinese: “Tian Xia Wei Gong,” a saying attributed to Sun Yat-sen that translates to “everything under the sky is for the people,” and “Li Yi Lian Chi”, an ancient Chinese proverb meaning a good person is one who understands “Manner,” “Loyalty,” “Honesty,” and “Shame.”

As of 2000, an area near Chinatown located at the mouth of an expressway tunnel was also a red light district. Starting in 2005, community-based civilian "Crime Watch" volunteers patrol the streets every day, to discourage and report crime. Chinatown has had issues with gang activity. In 1991, five men were shot and killed and a sixth man was wounded at a social club. The two gunmen were arrested in China in 1998 and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

There are two newspapers that are popular among the residents of Chinatown. One is The World Journal Chinese Daily Newspaper, World Journal Boston World Journal which is the largest, most influential daily Chinese newspaper in the United States. There is also the non-profit community newspaper, Sampan. It is published twice a month and provides both English-language and Chinese-language news and information about Chinatown.


The MBTA Orange Line stops at the Chinatown station and the Tufts Medical Center station, located within and at the southern edge of the district, respectively. Boylston station on the MBTA Green Line, is located just beyond the northwest corner of Chinatown. Just east of Chinatown, South Station is served by the MBTA's Red Line, Silver Line, and Commuter Rail. South Station also accommodates Amtrak, the long-distance rail to New York City and other cities on the Northeast Corridor and the west, including Chicago.

The bus terminal at South Station also handles regional buses to New England, New York City, Washington DC, Albany (New York), and other destinations. The New England destinations include Concord (New Hampshire) and Portland (Maine). The regional and national bus companies include Greyhound Lines, Peter Pan Bus Lines, Megabus, and Bolt Bus. In Chinatown itself, two Chinese-owned bus services (Fung Wah and Lucky Star/Travelpack) provide hourly connections with New York's Chinatown.

Entrance and exit ramps serving Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike are at the southern edge of Chinatown.

Health care

Tufts Medical Center occupies a large portion of the area and includes a full service hospital and various health-related schools of Tufts University including Tufts University School of Medicine, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.

In addition, South Cove Community Health Center operates the Chinatown Clinic at 885 Washington Avenue. Volunteers founded South Cove in 1972 to provide better health care for Asian Americans in the Chinatown area.

Community organizations

Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center

The Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) is a community center that primarily serves the immigrant Chinese community of Chinatown. The mission of BCNC is to ensure that the children, youth, and families that they serve have the resources and support to achieve greater economic success and social well-being. It helps provide child care, bilingual education, and youth recreation programs. For over 40 years, BCNC has served as a vital link for the Asian immigrant and Asian American community of Greater Boston. BCNC strives to provide the support and resources needed for participants to integrate into American society, while preserving the community's rich culture. Most of those served are immigrant Chinese, with low family incomes and limited English ability. In the year 2014, The Boston Foundation donated nearly 500,000 to support many summer programs and activities in the greater Boston Area. One of the many organizations that was funded during this time was Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center.

BCNC is located in the heart of Chinatown at two sites. The 885 Washington Street BCNC, is part of the Josiah Quincy School building. In 2005, BCNC created a permanent home at 38 Ash Street in a five-story community center and the first certified green building in Chinatown. The building meets the performance standards under the LEED Green Building Rating System.

The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center is also known for their annual Oak Street Fair that occurs every autumn. The event is aimed towards children and families and includes a variety of activities including their famous watermelon eating contest, Chinese dancers, pony rides, arts and crafts and a variety of games. Every year, thousands of people flock to the event to engage in fun, family activities while experiencing and celebrating the rich, vibrant Chinese culture present in Boston's Chinatown.

Other organizations

The Chinatown Lantern Cultural and Educational Center was formed by the Chinatown Cultural Center Committee (CCCC) in order to address the longtime lack of a public library in the neighborhood (the Chinatown branch of the Boston Public Library was demolished in 1956 to make way for the Central Artery). The Reading Room opened in April 2012, and provided library services, educational workshops, and cultural events to the Chinatown community. The Reading Room had a rotating collection of approximately 8,000 books in both English and Chinese and also ran a small art exhibit gallery. The Reading Room closed on Feb 25, 2013.

The Chinatown community and extended communities of Chinese around Greater Boston (including North Quincy and Wollaston in Quincy) are serviced by the Asian Community Development Corporation. The ACDC helps preserve the Chinatown culture, youth development, and economic development. It was established in 1987 and since then, has worked on addressing housing development concerns (such as the 2002 notable big dig construction), to gain back a piece of land lost due to urban renewal called the Parcel 24.

In 2006, Mayor Menino of the city of Boston opened up an area formerly owned by the BRA (Boston Redevelopment Authority). Itwill be a new home to the nonprofit organization Asian American Civil Association (AACA), and the Kwong Kow Chinese School (KKCS). These two groups will team up on this new project to build the education center. This new addition will include a day care center, a community room, classrooms, and office space.

There are many more organizations in the Chinatown area of Boston which provide community outreach and resources such as the Wang YMCA of Chinatown, the Chinese Progressive Association and many Grassroots organizations such as the CPC (Campaign to Protect Chinatown). There are over 75 organizations in Chinatown and most are ethnically based. Chinatown has always focused on organizations for the youth such as the YMCA, Marching Band, and Boy Scouts. In the 1930s, there was even a major development for culture and support for women in Chinese American girls.

Urban policies

One of the major difficulties facing Boston's Chinatown is the issue of gentrification. Construction of new housing and repair of existing housing may occur but if rental and purchase prices are raised, existing residents will be displaced. With property prices rising, this changes the demographics of many areas and is part of why even Chinatown is seeing more and more non Asians and more white residents.

A few major things that need to be worked on and fixed in Chinatown is the upkeep of houses, keeping trash off the streets, and keeping the place up to date. With parts of Chinatown looking like they are falling apart, it almost implies a historical struggle for survival. According to Kairos Shen, a planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), "the fact that so many Asians — roughly 5,000 residents, according to US Census data, with the vast majority of them Chinese —– still call Chinatown home is no accident, resulting from a decades-long effort by the city to find a right balance between providing affordable housing and encouraging development projects aimed at revitalizing the neighborhood". The idea for Chinatown is to provide more affordable housing to make it seem less gentrified. There are already a number of projects that have been worked on and are still being built.

Long time residents fear they may lose their homes due to construction.One of the main goals of urban policy is to create and sustain businesses in Chinatown so residents have a place to work. In 2010, Chinatown was granted $100,000. This new development hopes to partner with the BRA and the Asian American Civic Association (AACA) to address many issues Chinatown is facing. Some of these include a "project to help Chinatown businesses address the issues of rising energy, water, and solid waste management costs by providing practical and affordable solutions to help business owners save money and reduce environmental impacts, while building long term sustainable business expertise capacity in the community".

Community involvement and programs in Chinatown help jobs and community organizations. As of October 2014, many Boston residents including Chinatown residents received aid for jobs and support. As referenced by the BRA, "All told more than 200 Boston residents will receive job training under these grants". Many places and Businesses in Chinatown received funding through this grant. The AACA received $50,000 and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) received $50,000 as well. Additionally, the YMCA, which many Chinatown residents use, received $50,000. Many projects have been and are still in works in Chinatown, such as "the 120 Kingston St. development (240 units), the Hong Kok House at 11-31 Essex St. (75 assisted living units), Kensington Place at 659-679 Washington St. (390 units and retail space), and Parcel 24 on Hudson Street (345 units), among others". However, not all of these units will be affordable for Asian Americans.

Tunney Lee, a professor of architecture and urban studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he sees Chinatown maintaining its ethnic and economic character well into the future. “Immigration is still strong and keeping Chinatown vibrant." This can make the culture and liveliness of Chinatown come back. These types of housing projects aim to solve the issues of affordability and gentrification, which would keep pushing out Asian residents. Tunney Lee also said, "The various developments now under way in the area, while welcome and a sign of economic vitality, are putting pressures on the neighborhood and will lead to an influx of more non-Asian residents." Lee added. “But I think the number of Asian-Americans will stay constant as the total population goes up.”


As of 2016, Chinatown is experiencing gentrification. Large, luxury residential towers are built in and surrounding an area that was predominantly small three-to-five story apartment buildings intermixed with retail and light-industrial spaces. A property developer has purchased the Dainty Dot Hosiery building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, with plans to transform it into condominiums. Chinese community organizations such as the Asian Community Development Corporation are also building housing developments which offer mixed-and low-income housing.

The Hayden Building, located on 681-683 Washington Street, is a historic building designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. Originally constructed in 1875, the Hayden Building building remains one of the last commercial stores for retail in Boston's Chinatown, and is the last remaining one built by Richardson. it was added to the National Historic Register in 1980.The building was purchased by Mayor Menino and the city of Boston in 1993, and has since been restored with the intent marketing it to tenants as of 2014. On March 1, 2013, Menino along with Historic Boston Inc., teamed up to revitalize, refurbish. and reopen this building with a contribution of $200,000, which is part of the Boston's and Chinatown's trilogy fund. The bottom floor of this building has been redone as a Liberty Bank. In the future, projects costing $5.6 million will be used to turn the upper levels of this building into apartments.

Businesses and shops

One of the major reasons people visit Chinatown is to see how immigrants live and work today. They can see how the job market has grown as immigrants made a life for themselves from the early markets to the laundries that opened when the settlers first arrived in Chinatown.

A notable shopping and food store in Boston's Chinatown is Kam Man Foods market. This store specializes in selling Chinese foods, spices, herbs, and more. Originally founded in 1972, this was the first Chinese supermarket located on the east coast. Kam Man Food’s stores carry the widest selection of Asian and non-Asian food products including seafood and meats, fruits, vegetables, sauces, rice, cookies, candies, snacks, dry and fresh noodles, canned foods, teas and other beverages, seasonings, spices, and frozen foods including dumplings and ready-to-eat items. In addition to food products, Kam Man Food also offers Asian housewares and gift items. Located on 219 Quincy Avenue in Boston's Chinatown, this shopping store is one the popular and culturally accurate stores in Chinatown, serving the residents who live there.

Other notable places of business in Boston's Chinatown are the authentic Asian restaurants including the New Jumbo Seafood Restaurant. As one of the most popular places to eat and buy seafood in Chinatown, New Jumbo Seafood Restaurant is an exotic eating experience for many residents of Chinatown with authentic Chinese cuisine. Other notable restaurants and places of business for Chinatown are China King, which offers affordable 3-course meals including Peking duck, Wai Wai, which offers ice cream and roasted meats, the Gourmet Dumpling house, which offers dumplings, and the Ho Yuen Bakery, which offers moon cakes and a variety of other pastries.

Community events and celebrations

A major part of the culture and history of Chinatown are the events celebrated by the people who live here. There are many community programs and events held in Chinatown annually, but the most noted are the New Years celebration, the Lion Dance Festival, and the August Moon Festival.

One of the biggest festivals of the year celebrated in Chinatown, is the August Moon Festival. This festival is often held in the middle of August and usually lasts for the entire day. During this Festival, there are vendor booths for handmade and traditional Chinese items and plenty of traditional food for sale. Chinese dough art is taught for those interested in learning the art. Additionally, one best Chinese shows around, the Chinese Opera, performs during this time. There are also children’s Chinese folk dancing, martial arts performances, and lion dancers from around Chinatown and throughout the world, many who come just for the festival.

Another notable celebration that happens every year in Chinatown, is the New Years Parade, also known as the "Lion Dance Festival." The Chinese New Year Parade marks the biggest annual celebration in Boston's Chinatown and each year a new animal of the Chinese zodiac is celebrated. The name "Lion Dance" comes from the costumes worn by those in the parade that are often represented as lions and dragons with traditional Chinese culture. The Lion Dance also refers to the traditional Chinese dance done and shown during the parade each year, which many flock to see. In China, this celebration begins on the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar traditionally used in much of Asia. It is sometimes called the Lunar New Year, but it is different in Boston's Chinatown based on when spring begins.

Another popular event is Fall Cleaning Day, which brings together the community to help clean up the town of trash and litter. It is seen almost as an Earth Day for Chinatown.

Additionally, there is the annual Lantern Festival which is one of the largest tourist attractions and includes Lion Dances, Asian folk dances, martial arts performances, and traditional Chinese singing.

Satellite Chinatowns

A new satellite Chinatown has emerged on Hancock Street in the neighboring city of Quincy, about ten miles (16 km) to the south of the original Chinatown. This is due to a rapid influx of Hokkien-speaking Mainland Chinese immigrants from the province of Fujian, as well as a large and growing ethnic Vietnamese population. There are already several large Asian supermarkets such as the Kam Man Foods and Super 88 supermarket chains, and other businesses that are competing with Boston's Chinatown. Several businesses operating in Chinatown now have branches in Quincy. The MBTA Red Line connects via either South Station or Downtown Crossing near Boston's Chinatown, to three rapid transit stations in Quincy, including Quincy Center station.

A similar, but much smaller, enclave has developed in Malden to the north of Boston. Malden Center station is directly connected via the MBTA Orange Line to Chinatown station, in the original Chinatown.

Unofficial websites

  • Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center
  • Asian American Civic Association
  • Asian Community Development Corporation
  • Chinatown Main Street, a Boston Main Streets initiative
  • Patriot Ledger Special Report: Chinatown South
  • Boston Chinatown Pics
  • Chinese Newspaper in Boston and Chinatown
  • Chinatown Park


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