History of Philadelphia Chinatown

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The birth of Philadelphia Chinatown can be dated back to the 1870s. The 900 block of Race Street can be considered the focal point of how it all started. Lee Fong’s laundry at 913 Race Street, owned by the one and only Lee Fong of course, was the first established business in this town. 

This stretch of the block paved way to a string of other businesses mainly starting off as laundromats, grocery stores, and restaurants. Many of the Chinese who first ventured over to Philadelphia’s Chinatown and opened up these businesses came from the American West and the gold rush era. Facing hostility and discrimination out West along with anti-Chinese views and legislation such as the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, forced many to travel to cities in the East. Philadelphia’s Chinatown, like many chinatowns throughout the country were then created as a small society within a larger society as a self-sufficient safe haven from external pressures. Mostly made up by men who were laborers unable to establish families or bring over wives and children under the written rules, a “bachelor society” was emerged.

It was not until after World War II did the tables finally turned, improvement was on the horizon as the country’s distaste on the Chinese notably lessened. They were perceived now as allies during the war and the Chinese Exclusionary Act was also repealed. Because of this, over time community and business life in Philadelphia’s Chinatown improved and expanded with new waves of Chinese immigrants and merchants. 

Today, Chinatown is an important cultural and economic neighborhood for the city of Philadelphia. Modern day Chinatown is a full blown community with bright lights and colors all around town. As one of the most vibrant places in the city, Chinatown is a huge dining and tourist attraction as well. Trendy new shops seem to pop up left and right, and even though some places may have vanished, there’s still long standing businesses and landmarks that endured into present day. For what was once a place dominated by Chinese food is now a melting pot for all kinds of asian cuisines ranging from Malaysian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and more.