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Human Geography Research on Chinatowns

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Submitted By sjhit
Words 1154
Pages 5
Kanyun Hong
Atlas Report
Human Geography
March 19th 2012

Human Geography Research on Chinatowns
Chinatown was first called “Tang Street”. The earliest record about Chinatown is by a Qing literature in 1673 Chinatowns are regions where Chinese people living together overseas (Baidu). As a minor ethnic in other countries, these Chinese chose to stay close in face of the entirely new environment, and Chinatowns were formed as time passed by. Nowadays, Chinatowns are everywhere all over the world. As one of the countries that have the closest relationship with China. American Chinatowns are important witnesses of a combination of western and eastern cultures.
In order to make my research more organized, the information was searched in the order of the four themes, and I tried to combine them together in a logical way. Most information was from the internet. I also interviewed my friends who had been to some Chinatowns in the United States.
To learn about the Chinatowns in the United States, I first have to learn regions with the significant Chinese populations in America. After searching online, I found lists of American cities with the biggest Chinese populations. As illustrated in the list, California Chinese population makes up nearly thirty percent of the top big cities with the largest Chinese population (China History Forum). Below is a map for the Chinese population in the whole United States. It is apparent to see that the western coast is the region with the most Chines people.
Chinese population regions in the United States
Chinese population regions in the United States Go without saying, there are many significant Chinatowns. San Francisco is the oldest Chinatowns in North America since it was established in 1848 (Ward 2009). The first group of Chinese immigrations came here as labors to exploit the western coast. In the face of an entirely new environment, they formatted their own community based on the same cultural background. As one of the most famous Chinatowns in the world, San Francisco Chinatown remains its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and other identities to distinguish itself from other ethnic groups in this ethnic melting pot.
However, placelessness exists among Chinatowns. There are always traditional Chinese buildings and bilingual signs both in English and Chinese. It is normal to see dragons or lions as decorations. The streets are always crowded. Along the streets are a lot of Chinese restaurants. When looking at the Chinatown cities in the United States, it will be hard to tell the Chinatowns because they look almost the same.
Although placelessness does exist, Chinatown landscapes are still quietly distinctive in American cities. In my opinion, landscape is the basic to learn other themes because it directly influences people’s perceiving of a place. This is also the reason I chose this theme as the major theme for my Atlas Project map. Landscapes in Chinatown reflect the diversity of cultures, mainly the eastern and western cultures. As described by Alexander Keim for Boston’s Chinatown, “Chinese characters shouts from building facades and shop windows, the aroma of food permeates the atmosphere, the sound of people from all over the Asian world speaking in their native tongues fills the ears of passers-by” (Keim 2007). All of these characteristics reflect not only the differences of Chinatown cultures from American culture, but also the differences from China. The biggest differences are the bilingual phenomenon. You can not only see the bilingual signs along the street. If you go to a Chinese restaurant there, you will also see the Chinese menus and hear the bilingual or even multilingual sounds. If you are in China, you can hardly hear other languages.
What surprises me is that from the pictures, I feel the Chinese elements are strengthened by the people. For example, the Los Angeles East West Banks is constructed in a traditional Chinese shape. The western gate of the same Chinatown looks very old, but it is actually a gift from the Republic of China in 1969. An inscription on the gate by Dr. Sun Yat-sen reads "All under heaven is for the food of the people" (Calvert 2012). This phenomenon reflects these oversea Chinese’s desire to keep their Chinese identification. Although these Chinese people had immigrated to the United States for a long time, they still value their Chinese roots and culture.
When looking for information on Chinatown landscapes, I found a video of a food tour in San Francisco Chinatown. However, what interests me is not the delicious food, but a fragment in a Chinese medicine shop. This reminds me of the folk medicine in nature-society theme in our class. In old Chinese times, people emphasize the combination of nature and society. The Chinese herb medicines are good examples. Nowadays, Chinatown people are still using herbs as medicines and they also use them in making foods. Besides herbs, Fengshui is a significant factor in Chinatown culture. As we mentioned in class, Fengshui is a Chinese system of geomancy believed to use the laws of both Heaven and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive qi. Fengshui is a typical example in Chinese culture to combine the nature and people’s social life together. Nowadays, Fengshui is still popular in Chinatowns. Even a lantern on the roof can be associated with Fenshui. Below is a photo of a Fengshui store in Honolulu Chinatown.
Honolulu Fengshui Store
Honolulu Fengshui Store

Although I did not find a lot of information about diffusion of Chinese culture, I believe that Chinatowns are vital for the diffusion of Chinese culture in America. Chinatowns nowadays are more than living communities for Chinese people. They are important business districts and tourist areas in America. Many Americans went to Chinatown to enjoy the Chinese cultures. Chinese cultures are spread during their tours. People who go to Chinatowns can also learn Chinese cultures from the buildings, the food, the languages, and the customs.
It’s a special experience as a Chinese student in America to do such a research. It is also surprising to learn about Chinese culture which is mixed with American culture. I am really lucky to learn about my own culture overseas and also learn other cultures through the google map we made up together. This is also my favorite part of the research. It is fun to let others see what I think is interesting in a map. It is also fun to see others’ pictures in the map. I really like the topic of uncontacted people in the world. The landscapes of those uncontaceted places are so different from what we see everyday. That world seems so mysterious and I want to know more about them. I will change some details of my items on the map to make them more attractive and understandable. It is really lucky for me to participate in such a cultural project and to know more about the world through it.…...

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