History of The Earliest Chinatowns By RegionSee also: List of Chinatowns
Trading centres populated predominantly by Chinese men and their native spouses long existed throughout Southeast Asia. Emigration to other parts of the world from China accelerated in the 1860s with the enactment of the Treaty of Peking, which opened the border for free movement. Early emigrants came primarily from the coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian (Fukien, Hokkien) – where Cantonese, Hakka, and Chaozhou (Teochew, Chiu Chow) and Hokkien are largely spoken — in southeastern China. Initially, the Qing government of China was unconcerned by the emigration of this population as they were likely considered socially undesirable and "traitorous" to China. Trading and moneymaking was considered vulgar and consequently frowned upon in Confucian China, in which Chinese migrants were intending to earn wages as sojourners. However, the Chinese were not strictly united as a group but were divided along sub-ethnic/linguistic lines and friction between those of Cantonese (Punti) and Hakka stocks were common occurrences. Generally, there were also mild but recognisable sub-divisions based on Chinese clans/surnames.
Taishanese people and Cantonese settled in the first North American, Australian, and Latin American Chinatowns. Most of them were brought as contract coolies to build the railroad, but many had come originally in pursuit of gold. As a group, the Cantonese are linguistically and ethnically distinct from other groups in China with migrants especially coming mostly from the Siyi and Sanyi regions (with various variations of spoken Cantonese) of Guangdong; Cantonese remained the dominant language and heritage of many Chinatowns in Western countries until the 1970s. Due to laws in some countries barring the importation of Chinese wives (for fear of the perceived Yellow Peril), some Chinatowns emerged as bachelor's societies where males dominated and the male-to-female ratio population was generally skewed. In Latin America, many Cantonese-speaking migrants arrived as indentured labourers particularly in Peru (to work in the deadly guano fields) and Cuba (to labor in sugar plantations) giving those countries substantial Chinatowns.
The Hokkien and Chaozhou (both groups speaking the Minnan sub-group of Chinese dialects), along with Cantonese predominate in Southeast Asian Chinatowns. Chinese migrants also pioneered some major Southeast Asian cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and hence Chinese influence is felt there. The Hakka groups established Chinatowns in Africa (particularly Mauritius), Latin America, and the Caribbean. Northern Chinese settled in Korea in the 1940s.
In Europe, early Chinese were generally seamen who jumped ship and began to provide services for other Chinese mariners. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the United Kingdom treated China as part of its unofficial Empire employing Chinese in its merchant marine in significant numbers. Consequently, from the 1890s onwards, significant Chinese communities grew up in London and Liverpool – the main ports for the China trade. However, these communities were a mixture of Chinese men, their British wives and their Eurasian children. Moreover, they were generally inhabited by those Chinese catering for Chinese seamen. The majority spread throughout these cities usually operating laundries at this time.
France received a large settlement of Chinese immigrant laborers, mostly from the city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province of China (to this day, France continues to attract many Chinese immigrants from this particular province; Paris, Chinatowns in Belleville, and the XIIIème arrondissement of Paris, both making the Paris Region home to the largest Chinese population in Europe. Chinatowns also appear in the Indian city of Kolkata (See article) (once Hakka-influenced) and formerly in Mumbai (See article).
By the late 1970s, the Vietnam War also played a significant part in the development and redevelopment of various Chinatowns in developed Western countries. As a result, many Chinatowns have become pan-Asian business districts and residential neighborhoods. By contrast, most Chinatowns in the past were solely inhabited by Chinese from southeastern China.
Historic Chinatowns - such as that in San Francisco, California - have had a significant influence on the perception of Chinatowns in western countries, although it and other North American Chinatowns fall outside the tradition of Chinese settlement in having significant numbers of Chinese women.
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