Manhattan’s Chinatown is exotic, tasty, bustling, inviting, and above all, truly authentic. New York City is the home to several Chinatown neighborhoods, which collectively contain the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia.
Centered around Canal Street, Chinatown is a maze of crooked streets that were here before Manhattan was laid out in a grid. During the gold rush of the 1840s, Chinese workers hired to build the Central Pacific Railroad came to the West Coast. After its completion, quite a few of them came to New York to earn more money before returning to China. Chinese immigration to New York started in the 1870s, making Manhattan’s Chinatown the second-oldest Chinatown in the country after San Francisco.
Fearing the influx of Chinese immigrants, the US government instituted the so-called Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, specifically designed to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States by declaring the Chinese ineligible for naturalization. This law was the only racially biased legislation in US history. It lasted for 60 years and was repealed only in 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act allowed no families to join men working in the US. As a result, the Chinese population around 1900 was predominantly male, with restaurants and hand laundries as the only occupations available to them in New York.
In Chinatown, you can go shopping along Canal Street for jewelry, handbags, perfume, etc. You can wander the streets and see the oldest row house in Manhattan or view the 16-foot-tall Golden Buddha, which resides in the Buddhist Temple Mahayana. You can also visit Chatham Square, with its statue of Lin Zexu, who led the fight against Britain’s illegal importation of opium.
However, the main attraction of Chinatown remains its everyday hustle-bustle, with colorful street markets offering everything from fish to exotic fruit, its countless restaurants, its dizzying smells and sounds. Despite tourism and gentrification, Chinatown remains a world of its own, an exotic, living, breathing enclave of culture brought here from far away to become an integral part of New York City.