In the 1870s, many Chinese laborers in western states migrated east, driven by violence and intimidation to find a new home. Many found their way to Philadelphia and by 1900 the neighborhood we now know as Chinatown was firmly established. Today there are more than 30,000 residents of Chinese descent in the city, making Philadelphia the U.S. city with the 10th largest number of Chinese American residents. Located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Center City, Chinatown has been boxed in and threatened by major development projects even as its population continued to grow.
In this neighborhood at 10th and Arch Streets stands an enormous 80-ton Friendship Gate, which was commissioned by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Public Property and dedicated in January 1984. It was built by Chinese artisans and contains several symbols, such as the phoenix, symbolizing good luck, and the dragon, symbolizing control over water. The gate celebrates the neighborhood and commemorates the relationship between Philadelphia and Tianjin, China, its sister city. The gate was restored and rededicated in 2008.
The history and activism of Philadelphia’s Chinatown is the topic of a free panel discussion at the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School on November 8. Register online at www.hsp.org.
HSP has several collections that highlight Chinatown's history and growth, such as the Rev. Dr. Yam Tong Hoh papers (MSS126) and the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church papers (MSS030). Numerous publications on Chinatown can also be found in our library.
Image: “Gateway to Chinatown,” photograph by Joseph V. Labolito (1988)