The Chinese Community in America

Chinese immigrants developed “voluntary” associations adapted from Chinese models to provide social contact, welfare services and political activism. These organizations helped migrants integrate into new communities and manage prejudice and discrimination.

Legal exclusion augmented by extralegal persecution drove many Chinese to self-reliant neighborhoods known as Chinatowns. These neighborhoods became the centers of a bachelor society until 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act.


The gold rush of the 1860s lured unskilled Chinese men from southern China to Oregon and other parts of the American West. Working in the mines, gold fields, and coastal fisheries, these men were able to survive blatant racial discrimination by taking refuge in neighborhood groups known as Chinatown. But as the economy weakened, they were targeted by the anti-Chinese movement. They were denied the right to vote, own property, testify in court, or marry non-Chinese.

As the Chinese community matured, its members began to move beyond the confines of Chinatown, establishing a presence in mainstream Portland and other urban communities. In time, the Chinese developed their own political and social institutions: lineage, clan or family associations; wooi-kun, district associations organized around shared geographic origins (much like counties); guilds and other professional organizations; and secret societies in the form of large fraternal lodges and smaller “fighting tongs”. They also brought with them a number of things that can still be seen today, such as restaurants, foods, and traditions.


In China, despite official disavowal of religion and the suppression of congregational practice, many Chinese practise traditional beliefs, including Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and other folk religious practices. The country also allows Muslims, Christians and others to conduct their activities without restriction within certain guidelines.

Among the most widespread of these traditions are ancestor veneration and respect for elders, as well as a belief in geomancy () and ghosts. In 2018 surveys, people were asked to choose which deities they believed in; the vast majority responded that they believe in multiple gods and goddesses.

The presence of local temples and shrines – measured in 2014 survey data by the percentage of neighborhood committees that have such sites – suggests that folk religious beliefs are fairly common in China. Often, folk religious temples are dedicated to local deities such as the mountain god or national heroes, although they may also house Buddhist and Taoist deities.


Chinese culture includes customs, traditions, cuisine, language and applied art. China is one of the world’s oldest countries, with a long history and rich cultural heritage.

The country’s vast size and complex historical development accommodates a diverse population with unique regional cultures. However, the majority of Chinese are Han, who identify with the dominant national culture.

In the United States, Chinatowns are places where the local community celebrates and preserves Chinese culture. They often feature specialized stores with food and products from home, restaurants that serve the community’s cuisine and various institutions such as churches.

Confucian doctrine emphasizes a close relationship with family and a community that is to be treated as an extension of the self. This leads to a strong sense of group identity that encourages the adoption of the goals and mentality of family, workplace and government in return for protection and security. It also reinforces the need for a strong sense of morality.


Despite the national promotion of Standard Chinese after 1912 as the official language, many spoken languages and dialects survived. The different dialects are mutually unintelligible, but written Chinese characters (a system of pictorial symbols) are common to all.

The current era of immigration by more educated Chinese has resulted in a newer Chinatown centered on the Di Ho Supermarket complex in Westmont and a scattered community of professionals in suburbs like Naperville, Schaumburg and Arlington Heights. Most of these residents identify as Mandarin speaking, and a few part time Chinese classes are available through the venerable Chinatown business associations and church affiliated groups such as the On Leong Tong and Hip Sing Tong.

In Edgewater, 1632 individuals reported themselves as Chinese and 1,519 used Chinese at home. Over 24 percent indicated that they or others in their household spoke English poorly, if at all. The spoken languages in the Chinese community belong to a large family of languages known as Sino-Tibetan, just as the Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish and Romanian) belong to the Indo-European grouping.

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