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Chinatown, Boston facts for kids

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The paifang gate in 2013
The paifang gate in 2013
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Suffolk
Neighborhood of Boston
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern)
Zip Code
Area code(s) 617 / 857
Chinatown, Boston
Chinatown, Boston
Traditional Chinese 波士頓唐人街
Simplified Chinese 波士顿唐人街
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 波士頓華埠
Simplified Chinese 波士顿华埠

Chinatown, Boston is a neighborhood located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It is the only surviving historic ethnic Chinese enclave in New England since the demise of the Chinatowns in Providence, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine after the 1950s. Because of the high population of Asians and Asian Americans living in this area of Boston, there is an abundance of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants located in Chinatown. It is one of the most densely populated residential areas in Boston and serves as the largest center of its East Asian and Southeast Asian cultural life. Chinatown borders the Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, the Washington Street Theatre District, Bay Village, the South End, and the Southeast Expressway/Massachusetts Turnpike. Boston's Chinatown is one of the largest Chinatowns outside of New York City.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1990 4,881
2000 5,242 7.4%
2010 5,848 11.6%
Asian American population

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 an almost 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, a 66.7% increase. Those who identified as more than one race grew from 32 in 2000 to 77 in 2010, as increase of 140.6%.

With more white residents moving into Chinatown, there is worry about 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. Among 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.

The total number of 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.

Race and ancestry

Chinatown/Financial District/Leather District (02111) Racial Breakdown of Population (2017)
Race Percentage of
Percentage of
Percentage of
United States
ZIP Code-to-State
ZIP Code-to-USA
Asian 51.9% 6.9% 5.8% +45.0% +46.1%
White 41.7% 81.3% 76.6% –39.6% –34.9%
White (Non-Hispanic) 38.1% 72.1% 60.7% –24.0% –22.6%
Hispanic 4.5% 11.9% 18.1% –7.4% –13.6%
Black 2.8% 8.8% 13.4% –6.0% –10.6%
Native Americans/Hawaiians 0.0% 0.6% 1.5% –0.6% –1.5%
Two or more races 2.7% 2.4% 2.7% +0.3% +0.0%

According to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the largest ancestry groups in ZIP Code 02111 are:

Ancestry Percentage of
Percentage of
Percentage of
United States
ZIP Code-to-State
ZIP Code-to-USA
Chinese 43.75% 2.28% 1.24% +41.47% +42.51%
Irish 9.65% 21.16% 10.39% –11.51% –0.74%
Italian 4.80% 13.19% 5.39% –8.39% –0.59%
English 4.65% 9.77% 7.67% –5.12% –3.01%
German 3.44% 6.00% 14.40% –2.57% –10.96%
French 3.42% 6.82% 2.56% –3.40% +0.87%
Polish 2.97% 4.67% 2.93% –1.69% +0.04%
Arab 2.38% 1.10% 0.59% +1.28% +1.79%
Asian Indian 1.96% 1.39% 1.09% +0.57% +0.87%
Korean 1.73% 0.37% 0.45% +1.36% +1.28%
Norwegian 1.64% 0.51% 1.40% +1.13% +0.24%
Swedish 1.63% 1.67% 1.23% –0.04% +0.40%
Filipino 1.51% 0.19% 0.86% +1.32% +0.65%
European 1.30% 1.08% 1.23% +0.21% +0.06%
Sub-Saharan African 1.26% 2.00% 1.01% –0.74% +0.24%
Scottish 1.18% 2.28% 1.71% –1.11% –0.54%
American 1.15% 4.26% 6.89% –3.11% –5.74%
British 1.12% 0.48% 0.43% +0.65% +0.69%


Early history

Part of the Chinatown neighborhood occupies a space that was reclaimed by filling in 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.

North Adams strike breakers
Strike breakers outside of Sampson's Mill, some of whom would later move to found Chinatown

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 settled in 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, Chinese immigration was halted, and the population of 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.

In the 1950s, Chinatown saw a major increase in 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 Massachusetts Turnpike, constructed in the 1960s, took away much of the land from Chinatown that had been used for businesses. After construction was completed, 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 the rising cost 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. 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 percent of Asian Americans overall. Chinatown has a median household income of $14,289.

Paifang Boston Chinatown 1
A view from within Chinatown looking towards the paifang

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 as "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".

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 Newspaper, which is the largest, most influential Chinese daily newspaper in the United States. There is also the non-profit community newspaper, Sampan published twice a month which 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. Entrance and exit ramps serving Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike are at the southern edge of Chinatown.

The bus terminal at South Station handles regional buses to New England, New York City, Washington, D.C., 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, Chinese-owned bus service Lucky Star/Travelpack provided hourly connections with Chinatown, Manhattan in New York City.

Community organizations

Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center

The Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) is a community center that serves the immigrant Chinese community of Chinatown primarily. The BCNC's mission is to ensure that the children, youth, and families they serve have the resources and support to achieve greater economic success and social well-being by providing child care, bilingual education, and youth recreation programs. 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 its annual Oak Street Fair that occurs every autumn to celebrate Chinese culture in Boston's Chinatown. The event is aimed at children and families, and includes a variety of activities.

Chinese New Year festival in Boston's Chinatown, 2009

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 Chinatown's culture, and foster youth and economic development. It was established in 1987 and since its inception has worked on addressing housing development concerns (such as the notable 2002 Big Dig construction) to gain back a piece of land lost due to urban renewal called the Parcel 24.

In 2006, Boston's Mayor Menino opened up an area formerly owned by the BRA (Boston Redevelopment Authority). It will 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 which 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 ng YMCA of Chinatown, the Chinese Progressive Association, and many grassroots organizations such as the 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 and Chinese American girls.

Urban policies

One of the major difficulties facing Boston's Chinatown is the issue of gentrification. Construction of new housing and the repair of existing housing may occur, but if rental and purchase prices increase, existing residents will be displaced. As property prices rising, the demographics of an area may change, and this partly explains why Chinatown is seeing more and more non-Asians and white residents.

Chinatown faces several major issues including: 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 that 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 that 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 Street development (240 units), the Hong Kok House at 11-31 Essex Street (75 assisted living units), Kensington Place at 659-679 Washington Street (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 return. 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 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 of 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.

Community events and celebrations

Lion dancer at Chinese New Year festival in Boston's Chinatown

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 the Chinese Opera performs during this time. There is 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 who often wear lions or dragon costumes. The dance is part of the parade each year. 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 the community together to help clean up 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.

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