The surprising reason behind Chinatown’s aesthetic


The iconic “Chinatown” look started as a survival strategy.

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From London, to Manila, to Melbourne, Chinatowns in cities around the world share similar design elements. And that’s on purpose. Their distinct “Chinatown” style can be traced back to a single event: the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which came on the heels of decades of violence and racist laws targeting Chinese communities in the US. The earthquake devastated Chinatown. But in the destruction, San Francisco’s Chinese businessmen had an idea for a fresh start: a way to keep their culture alive, by inventing a completely new one.

Chinatown carved out a place for itself under the threat of hate and violence. Today, that legacy is staring us in the face.

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Check out more resources from the Chinese Historical Society of America:

Learn more from Bonnie Tsui’s book, American Chinatown:

Philip P. Choy’s book, San Francisco Chinatown:

and Jean Pfaelzer’s book, Driven Out:

Listen to 99 Percent Invisible’s podcast on the history of Chinatown:

These are some archives about the rebuilding of Chinatown:

Check out more of Vox’s coverage of Asian American identity:

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