The Chinese Community in Oregon

During the last several decades, new waves of Chinese have settled in America. They come from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Many of them have also come since 1965, when America lifted its quotas on immigration from Asia.

They have encountered hostility and discrimination like no other group before them. They have also established a variety of community organizations for support and cultural preservation.


By the mid-1860s, Oregon had a small but growing Chinese community. Originally employed as cooks on the ships of the Blue Funnel Line and the East India Company, these men came from various clans, dialect groups and places of origin. Their common experience in new environments helped shape their idiosyncratic identities. Their efforts to adapt to their new surroundings, and the influences of travelling revolutionaries like Liang Qichao and Sun Yat-sen who sought to make China modern, shifted these parochial identities towards a national Chinese identity.

The several thousand Chinese in Oregon today can be divided into three groups based on their place of origin, socio-economic standing and degree of cultural assimilation. The first group consists of foreign-born, less affluent, nonlimited English speakers who come chiefly from Mainland China and Southeast Asia (including Indonesia). This group typically resides in urban areas and gravitates toward the service sector. The second group consists of more well educated, affluent and highly culturally assimilated professionals and business owners who come principally from Hong Kong, Taiwan and major cities in mainland China, South Korea, Japan and Latin America.


As one of the world’s most linguistically diverse countries, China has a wide variety of spoken and written languages. Although Mandarin is the most widely spoken Chinese dialect, it can vary considerably from region to region. Each dialect has its own unique pronunciation and vocabulary. In addition, the use of tones to distinguish words makes each language distinctly different from other Chinese dialects.

In the earliest times, each Chinese character represented a monosyllabic Chinese word or morpheme such as Ren ; ; ‘human’, Ri ; ; ‘the Sun’ or Shui ; ; ‘water’. The characters have evolved since then into a complex system of ideographs, compound ideographs and phonetic loans.

The vast geographic scope of China has isolated its many regions from each other and encouraged them to develop their own distinct cultures and languages. These cultural differences have led to the evolution of differing dialects of spoken Chinese, with written Chinese remaining relatively stable and resulting in a highly respected literature known as Classical Chinese.

Family structure

The Chinese place a high value on family. It is not uncommon to have grandparents living in the home or for young children to be very close with their cousins.

Historically, the emphasis placed on male descendants made it very important for families to have sons. Women were largely secondary to men and their role was largely limited to marriage and raising children. In some cases, female children were killed at birth or given up for adoption because they could not carry on the family name.

Today, however, the preference for sons is less prevalent and there is a better understanding of gender equality in the family. Mother-in-law and daughters-in-law still tend to be favored, but fathers are not nearly as dominant as they once were. Because of this, you will hear Chinese people addressing their female cousins as Ge Ge (), Di Di () or Mei Mei (), based on their relative age and relationship to the family head.


Chinese culture is a mixture of traditional values and modern aspirations. While Confucian concepts such as modesty, obedience and loyalty are still deeply ingrained in the society, traditions are evolving to make room for change.

Historically, Chinese immigrants sought to preserve their heritage and create a sense of community through the establishment of self-reliant neighborhoods known as Chinatowns. Those communities offered a place to buy familiar foods, worship in their native temples and communicate with family back home. They also provided a source of economic stability because Chinatowns were often the only places that hired Chinese workers.

As of 2001, Canadians of Chinese origin were concentrated in Toronto and Vancouver. In both cities, over half of the population was Chinese. The majority of the Chinese population in Canada identifies as Buddhist. Like the rest of the country, most Chinese Canadians are women. They are also slightly older than the general population. In 2001, women over 65 accounted for 56% of seniors who were Chinese.

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