Reconstructing Chinatown

Reconstructing Chinatown

Ethnic Enclave, Global Change

Jan Lin

An exploration of this fascinating community as a window on globalization.

272 Pages, 6 x 9 in

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Reconstructing Chinatown

Ethnic Enclave, Global Change

Series: Globalization and Community

Jan Lin

ISBN: 9780816629053

Publication date: July 1st, 1998

272 Pages

9 x 5

An exploration of this fascinating community as a window on globalization.

In the American popular imagination, Chinatown is a mysterious and dangerous place, clannish and dilapidated, filled with sweatshops, vice, and organized crime. In this well-written and engaging volume, Jan Lin presents a real-world picture of New York City’s Chinatown, countering this “orientalist” view by looking at the human dimensions and the larger forces of globalization that make this vital neighborhood both unique and broadly instructive.

Using interviews with residents, firsthand observation, archival research, and U.S. census data, Lin delivers an informed, reliable picture of Chinatown today. Lin claims that to understand contemporary ethnic neighborhoods like this one we must dispense with notions of monolithic “community.” When he looks at Chinatown, Lin sees a neighborhood that is being rebuilt, both literally and economically. Rather than a clannish and unified peer group, he sees substantial class inequality and internal social conflict. There is also social change, most visibly manifested in dramatic episodes of collective action by sweatshop workers and community activists and in the growing influence of Chinatown’s denizens in electoral politics.

Popular portrayals of Chinatown also reflect a new global reality: as American cities change with the international economy, traditional assumptions about immigrant incorporation into U.S. society alter as well. Lin describes the public disquiet and official response regarding immigration, sweatshops, and the influx of Asian capital. He outlines the ways that local, state, and federal governments have directed and gained from globalization in Chinatown through banking deregulation and urban redevelopment policy.

Finally, Lin puts forth Chinatown as a central enclave in the “world city” of New York, arguing that globalization brings similar structural processes of urban change to diverse locations. In the end, Lin moves beyond the myth of Chinatown, clarifying the meaning of globalization and its myriad effects within the local context.

Jan Lin is associate professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He previously taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston.