A “Chinatown” is perceived as a Chinese quarter of any city outside China. During the 19th century, San Francisco, Victoria and Vancouver were the major Pacific points of entry to North America from China. After the Chinese immigrants arrived in these port cities, they confined themselves to one or two streets, which the Chinese people called Tangren Jie (Chinese street), and the white public called “Chinamen’s quarters”, or “Chinatown”.
'Chinatown' was coined in the 19th
century as a European concept to signify an undesirable neighbourhood full
of vice, and peopled by an inferior race. Soon thereafter, the term
was used by the media and the public with negative connotations.
The Chinese-living quarters in the gold-mining towns were also known as Chinatowns. In the beginning, Chinatowns were dominated by single male labourers. Over time, they came to include Chinese domestic servants, laundrymen, market gardeners.
A Chinatown was usually the Chinese
quarter located in the remote areas of town. This was where the Chinese
lived and operated their businesses.
Racism was one factor in the creation of a Chinatown. White landlords would not sell or lease properties to the Chinese unless the lands were marginal or on the fringe of town. Economic factors also shaped the growth of a Chinatown. For economy’s sake, many built or leased shacks in cheap parts of town, and operated stores and restaurants to serve their community’s needs. These cluster of buildings constituted the nucleus of a budding Chinatown.
Eventually, the word “Chinatown” was so commonly used that it became a standard term. As populations increased and economic activities expanded, the Chinatowns extended beyond its boundaries. Over time, they functioned like self-contained towns. These self-contained Chinese towns had its own ‘government’ led by umbrella organizations like the CCBA.
Over time, 'Chinatown' became entrenched
in the mainstream vocabulary, and was associated with 'Chinese culture'
or a 'Chinese place'.