From 1860 to 1885, changing material conditions in Oregon and elsewhere stimulated an expansion of Chinese community life. They transformed from transient migratory pioneers, anticipating a quick return home to structured, permanent ethnic communities.
They constructed governing bodies to maintain communal order and stability through lineage (or family) associations, wooi-kun (district or native place associations), and secret societies known as tongs.
Chinese immigrants in Oregon in the 19th century generally worked as laborers, in industries such as agriculture, salmon canneries, railroad construction and domestic service. Despite the racial discrimination they faced, they were able to prosper and maintain their cultural heritage.
Drawn to the United States through international trade and politics of empire, they sailed to the American West to seek their fortunes. There they encountered racial prejudice and “Yellow Peril” rhetoric, which made them objects of public scorn.
Following World War II and the end of the Exclusion Act, increasing numbers of Oregon’s Chinese were American-born, Cantonese-speaking or otherwise culturally assimilated. These tended to settle outside of Portland’s Chinatown, in suburban areas or other urban settings.
Culture encompasses the values, traditions, beliefs and behaviours that characterise a group. Chinese culture is based on Confucian teachings which stress loyalty, sincerity, morality and filial piety.
The concept of “face” – the quality that represents one’s reputation, influence, dignity and honour – governs Chinese interpersonal behaviour. Therefore, the Chinese are usually very careful not to lose face through displaying negative emotions or behaving in ways that might offend others.
After the 1980s a growing number of Chinese settled outside of Portland’s Chinatown, coming from Mainland China (Fujian, Shandong), Taiwan and Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia). These groups tend to be less interested in maintaining traditional practices and more open to modernisation.
In a city such as Richmond or the Greater Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area, you are likely to encounter Chinese people everywhere from local banks to grocery stores. You will also see Chinese characters used on signage, menus and other publications.
As with all cultural groups, there are differences in language use. The primary language of the Chinese community is a dialect of Mandarin that originated in southern China.
Other dialects, like Cantonese and the southern Min languages of Hokkien or Fujian are spoken in overseas Chinese communities. Many of these vernaculars are based on the same family of Chinese, and speakers can understand each other. However, a non-speaker of any of these varieties would have a very difficult time understanding them.
Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but China’s state-registered religions face heightened government control. Authorities monitor online activity and require registration of donations.
Those who practice folk religions blend practices from Buddhism and Daoism with worship of ancestors or local deities. These religious groups may be more tolerant of criticism, but authorities often harass them and force them to move houses.
Bitter Winter reported that on May 12, police interrupted a meeting at a house church in Fuzhou City and accused congregants of illegal gathering. They also ordered the church to remove its cross and closed the venue.
For many Chinese, food is more than just sustenance. It’s a symbol of family, culture and resilience. Restaurants were a central way for early immigrants to transplant the comforts of home while defying discriminatory laws and nativist sentiment.
Young Chinese consumers are increasingly health-conscious, with a preference for low fat and sugar foods. They also prioritize convenience, due to the 996 work culture that squeezes time for meal preparation.
It’s customary to serve 4-6 cold dishes and 8-10 hot dishes at a formal dinner. The choice of the foods conveys a sense of wealth and status.
China’s complex fashion industry is on the rise, fueled by KOLs and social media. But while Western brands might have the latest trends, more Chinese people are looking back to their own heritage for inspiration.
Hanfu, or traditional Chinese clothing, is making a comeback. It includes outfits from any era that Han Chinese ruled and can be worn by both men and women.
Hanfu was once considered a luxury only for the rich, but now it’s becoming more mainstream. Some people even open their own Hanfu stores online, especially on e-commerce websites such as Taobao.
As Chinese people live more and more far away from home, new types of charities and associations have developed to make them feel at home in their adopted cities. Traditional family associations are still active, but a new generation has embraced more secular and modern Chinese culture.
Overseas Han Chinese maintain cultural affinities to China’s ancient territories through clan associations that identify famous figures from history or myth as ancestors of current members. Similarly, they establish close ties with Chinese in their host locales through chinese restaurants and social clubs that serve a variety of purposes.