Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Social problems in Chinatown
Like many other communities, the older Chinatowns have their share of social problems. Although Chinatowns are now generally viewed and valued as tourist attractions, their earlier reputation was that of dangerous or dilapidated ghettos and slums, sites of brothels, opium dens, and gambling halls.
In modern times, competing Asian street gangs and organized crime (such as the Tongs and the Hong Kong-based Triads) continue to plague the metropolitan Chinatowns worldwide where Triads have their operations, including London, San Francisco, New York City, Sydney, and Vancouver. Tongs are Chinese secret societies, which were prominent in the 19th and 20th centuries. There have been 'Tong wars' or Chinatown in-fighting, between the Tong groups in the older Chinatowns. A tong war occurred in a Chinatown could be spread to other Chinatown communities. Initially, many Chinatown gangs were formed to supposedly defend the community from the lo fahn (Cantonese word and transliteration for "Caucasians") but later turned on members of their own ethnic community.
The Chinatowns of the 1960s experiences a rapid influx of working-class immigrants from Hong Kong. In addition, some gangs were formed as a response to bullying of first-generation Hong Kong immigrants by multigenerational American-born Chinese, thus giving rise to the Chinatown gang culture. Since their inception in the late 1960s, the Hong Kong-born immigrant and mostly unemployed Wah Ching gang members began a campaign of harassment and assault of white tourists in San Francisco's Chinatown, which ultimately proved to be a predicament for the tourism-minded conservative Chinatown elite of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (the biggest problem is that the CCBA simply advocated more tougher policing against the gangs rather than resolve Chinatown social inequalities at the core). In North America, Chinese American street gangs often have connections with the tongs and triads. Examples of such street gangs include the Joe Boys and Jackson Street Gang (after the major street of San Francisco's Chinatown).
Turf wars have been common in the older Chinatowns. Gang rivalry among Chinatown gangs has sometimes had a high profile. As Chinatowns tend to be tourist attractions, tourists in Chinatowns have sometimes been victims of these gang warfare crimes. In 1977, a shoot-out occurred in a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant (where the rival gang were normally based), in which two tourists and several waiters were murdered by stray gunfire in a botched assassination attempt on a Wah Ching (華青) gang member. This incident is notoriously known as the Golden Dragon Massacre and it mobilized the San Francisco Police Department to create an Asian crime unit.
Seattle's generally pacific International District/Chinatown was rocked by one particularly spectacular incident of gang violence in 1983, when the Wah Mee massacre killed 13 people at an illegal gambling club, among them several prominent restaurant owners.
In the late 1970s, some amount of the ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam would also start gangs.
In the Los Angeles Chinatown of 1984, Chinese Vietnamese gang members shot and murdered a white LAPD officer in the line of duty and wounded his Japanese American partner. The officers were responding to a silent robbery alarm at a Chinatown jewelry store and a shoot-out ensued. A three-year trial concluded in 1988, and the killers received the verdict of life imprisonment.
And in Sydney in 1999 an Asian gang opened fire on the then un-suspecting minister of police, killing him instantly.
Racketeering by Triads and other the gangs against Chinese restaurants, shops, and other businesses is common in the older Chinatowns worldwide, especially during the Chinese New Year. In U.S. Chinatowns, many Triads and Chinese American teenage gangs – some are the younger native-born and others are slightly older foreign-born – often perpetrate the crimes. Failing to pay "protection money" to the gangs often resulted in either vandalism (such as broken windows), kidnapping, murder, or arson to the Chinese establishment or bodily harm to its owner. For example, on January 24, 2001, around Chinese New Year, two Chinese restaurants in the Richmond Chinatown district of San Francisco were firebombed almost simultaneously. Three teenagers were convicted of the crime and sentenced to six years each in prison.
Suburban Chinatowns are also not entirely immune from extortion. In the so-called "new Chinatown" of Richmond, British Columbia, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) arrested six male suspects in connection with extortion that involved assaulting a Chinese Canadian waiter and then vandalizing the restaurant in 1999. In the summer of 2003, in San Gabriel, California, Asian gunmen shot out a window of a Chinese restaurant, allegedly to send a message to the owner to pay protection; they killed a waitress, a Mainland Chinese immigrant. Triad extortion activity is also rife in several Chinatowns of Sydney, Australia. Chinese restaurants have especially been targeted in Sydney.
Many Chinese victims in Chinatown are reluctant to report any incidents of gang harassment to authorities because they fear possible retaliation. First-generation immigrants, who often speak limited English, may be in the country illegally, or have a general distrust of the police or of government in general. Many immigrants emigrated from countries where the police routinely intimidated the population – such as with Communist China and Taiwan under President Chiang Kai-shek's martial law – or where the government persecuted the population, as with Vietnam. In Hong Kong, until recently, the police were often corrupt and ineffective.
Also compounding to the problem is the fact that Chinese immigrant restaurateurs and storekeepers sometimes dismiss the exploitative extortion as another cost of doing business in the form of a "business tax" and thus, simply shrug it off. In Hong Kong and many areas of Mainland China, extortion is figured into the cost of running a business, and many immigrant business owners presume that it is the same in their newly adopted country as well.
Smuggling of immigrants
The Triads are also primarily responsible for smuggling illegal immigrants into the Chinatowns of Australia, Europe, and North America, often from China and Vietnam. These Asian smugglers are called "snakeheads". In order to pay for their passage, many of these immigrants end up indentured in "under the table" low-wage (often lower than the minimum wage) service jobs, e.g., as restaurant waiters or dishwashers, masseuses in massage parlors, prostitutes, and garment sweatshops.
Such social problems have been the subject for several Hollywood police films such as The Corruptor (set in New York's Chinatown but filmed in Toronto's), starring Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat, and Year of the Dragon with Mickey Rourke.
Whereas a few Chinatowns, notably the ones in Manhattan and Chicago, have been experienced population growth and urban renewal, many others (such as San Francisco, Houston and Vancouver) have been declining over the years. Social ills such as homelessness and drug-related problems occur with some Chinatowns in urban areas. Many vagrants – oftentimes non-Chinese – are seen aggressively panhandling and sometimes causing a nuisance on the streets of older Chinatowns, making them unattractive for investment.
Homelessness has been a problem in the Chinatowns of Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and especially Vancouver's Chinatown, which neighbors the notorious drug-infested Downtown Eastside. In Vancouver, Los Angeles, and other cities where the Chinatown is widely perceived as part of an unsafe inner city, few people will venture there at night, so many Chinatown businesses close around 5 or 6 pm; only a handful of restaurants remain open. These Chinatowns become virtual ghost towns in the evening. By contrast, the vibrant suburban Chinatowns in North America have a bustling nightlife with a number of restaurants with longer business hours, and the Chinatowns in New York City, Seattle, and London remain popular late-night destinations.
There have been programs such as graffiti removal, in which Chinatown community members and the local police work together to improve the safety and aesthetics of Chinatowns, and, as police forces diversify, many have made more successful outreach to Chinatowns than in the past. As a case study, Chinatown in Los Angeles has improved notably in these respects although there has been political wrangling with the Chinatown leaders and city of Los Angeles. However, several revitalization plans have failed to take off due in the past to low funding.  Vancouver's Chinatown has attempted to counter parking problems by erecting a large parking structure, but drug problems and perceived police ineffectiveness to clamp down on property crime in Chinatown have hampered efforts. 
The exodus of ethnic Chinese from Chinatowns and their gradual acculturation into the larger society, has caused some loss of revenue. Elderly Chinese-speaking customers remain in Chinatowns and patronize Chinatown businesses, but without a large immigrant and descendant population to sustain their communities, Chinatowns increasingly rely on tourism. The Chinatown of Havana, Cuba (otherwise known as the barrio chino) with its small and declining population of Chinese origin, promotes its exotic image to the tourist trade.
Social problems aside, several longtime popular and historic Chinese restaurants have also closed in the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto, thus leading to the decline.
The old Chinatowns now face heavy competition from the ethnic Chinese and pan-Asian large supermarkets, shopping centers, and mini-malls found in the suburbs. Indeed, many old Chinatowns have experienced declining revenue. For example, in California the Chinatowns of San Francisco and Oakland compete with the large shopping centers in Cupertino and Silicon Valley, and the Los Angeles Chinatown faces distinct challenges from the San Gabriel Valley's multiple Chinatowns. With a multitude of acclaimed Chinese cuisine restaurants, the gleaming suburban Chinese Canadian business district of Richmond, British Columbia has nearly rendered the aging Vancouver Chinatown obsolete for business and revenue, superseding it as the focal point of Chinese culture in greater Vancouver; its influence is felt even across the border in the Puget Sound area. Manhattan's Chinatown continues to grow (having almost completely surrounded Little Italy) but its ever higher property values have driven many Chinese New Yorkers – both businesses and customers – to the new Chinatown in Flushing, Queens. In South Africa, Johannesburg Chinatown has fallen victim to crime in that city and is being largely replaced by a new Chinatown in suburban Cyrildene .  In Sydney, Australia, there are also multiple quasi "Chinatowns" in the suburbs, notably in the communities of Cabramatta, Chatswood, Paramatta, among others, which are rapidly outpacing the old Chinatown in Sydney proper. 
Gentrification has reversed decline in Chicago's Chinatown and it may reverse that of Vancouver as well, as the downtown condo tower boom of that city is now moving toward its Chinatown. New upscale 40 story condo towers are being constructed, as are urban retail centres. It is believed that with yuppie Asian and non-Asian population returning to the area, Chinatown will not only survive but will become the centre-piece of Vancouver's mosaic of diversity and neighbourhoods.
But gentrification and urban renewal are a double-edged sword. There are fears that non-Chinese-inspired gentrification will change Chinatowns into something entirely different. Hence, there have been various organized vocal opposition and protests in the Chinatowns. Proposals for London's Chinatown include development of posh shops and relocation of its historic pagoda structure. In San Francisco's Chinatown, a proposed development of luxury apartments amidst a large working-class community was thwarted. In Los Angeles, development of an artist colony with non-Chinese-owned art galleries in Chinatown has altered the landscape. Toronto's Chinatown is also facing the prospect of inevitable gentrification, with a declining Chinese population. The politics of gentrification has also been felt in the Chinatowns of Philadelphia (where a Philadelphia Phillies baseball stadium was once proposed), Boston, and Washington, DC (where the MCI Center has signigicantly shrunken the Chinatown). The local population of Montreal's Quartier Chinois has thwarted a scheme that would have placed a casino within the district.  For the most part, Los Angeles's Chinatown has actually embraced bohemian gentrification without much vocal opposition; Seattle's Chinatown/International District, which has long been more a commercial than a residential neighborhood, has seen a great deal of new construction and some gentrification; nearly all of this recent development is by Asians or Asian Americans, if not always by Chinese.
Because Toronto has become the home for a large number of Chinese immigrants, many Chinese Canadians tend to travel to and from Asia on a regular basis. In 2003, several deaths attributed to the outbreak of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus in Toronto prompted a major scare as it was spread by a Chinese Canadian woman who had visited Hong Kong, managed to contract the virus during her visit, and died upon her return to Canada. A panic spread across cities with Chinatowns in Canada and in the United States as many Chinese businesses urged people who had recently been traveling in China (where SARS was first reported) or Hong Kong to stay away. In addition, many Chinese restaurants and shopping centers, especially in the Chinatowns of Toronto and Markham, saw a reduction in business because of the perceived SARS threat.
As a result, many Chinese Canadians and even Chinese Americans faced an economic impact on their businesses. (During the peak of the hype, several businesses in Chinatowns old and new even capitalized on the fear by selling face masks and SARS "survival kits".) To allay some of the public fears in Canada and worldwide, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman had lunch in a Toronto Chinatown restaurant to show that the restaurants and Chinatown in general were safe for tourism.
There were rumors circulating around Chinese communities and the Internet (especially with e-mail chain letters) to avoid certain Chinese restaurants and supermarkets in many urban and suburban Chinatowns because they could allegedly contract the virus. Some authorities have theorized these warnings were initiated by rival competing Chinese businesses. There was no factual basis found for these claims.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details