Chinatown is a widespread phenomenon in the world. It is a kind of Chinese cultural “enclave” spanning several districts in length and a couple of blocks in width where migrants from China have been living for centuries. There are Chinatowns in North America, Europe, and much of Southeast Asia.
Phenomenon of Migration
The phenomenon of Han migration is not new. In the first two centuries of C.E., small groups of enthusiasts decided to go west along the Silk Road. This began during the Tang Dynasty when peasants and artisans moved to the South to find a better place to live and get a job. From the southern coast, they settled throughout Southeast Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia) where they successfully traded tea, porcelain and spices. The first Chinese communities appeared there.
When the first Europeans came to China and began exploring the new sea lanes, some merchants engaged in trade between locals and foreigners. However, the Chinese government did not like it, which resulted in a prohibition on any private trade. Due to the laws of the ruling elite, many merchants could not legally return to their homeland, which resulted in their migration.
By the middle of the 19th century, the number of Chinese people who left the country was over one million. They were looking for a better life outside of the Celestial Empire. Some Chinese managed to migrate to the east coast of the USA and Canada, some joined Chinese communities in Asia, and a few groups of migrants rushed to explore Australia and New Zealand.
In the 20th century, the flow of migration was interrupted by the government of the newly formed People’s Republic of China, and in the late 1970s, migration was even viewed as a betrayal of the Motherland.
Due to their precarious position, vague prospects and adherence to tradition, most Chinese migrants did not rush to merge with the locals. All this led to the isolation of the Chinese community, which became a part of the well-known Chinese diaspora.
The old-timers did their best to help their newly arrived countrymen to find a job. And that is how Chinatowns appeared where traditions have survived through centuries.
Any Bangkok tourist guide will refer to its local Chinatown. It is located on Yarowat Street and the surrounding area. This is a fairly large semi-pedestrian area of Bangkok, but it will take you an hour and a half to walk around. For people who are familiar with Chinese culture and the language, the place is unmistakably Chinese - neon signs in traditional characters, an abundance of Chinese restaurants, hundreds of markets with Chinese goods and many opportunities to practice Mandarin. You can see what China was like before it modernized, and you can appreciate the local architecture.
Even after living for four year in China, I was still impressed by Bangkok's Chinatown. The locals seem pretty different from the mainland Chinese. Clearly, they have assimilated with the Thai people, yet there is still an essence of Chinese culture and tradition that will always remain.
Article by Christina Lee