Farewell to the fairy palace: are Chinatowns obsolete?

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As they migrated around the world, many Chinese people responded to prejudice by developing parallel civic societies. But in globalising and multicultural cities, does that strategy still make sense?

When we were young, my sister and I were members of Vancouver Chinatown’s traditional dance troupe. Dressed as peacocks and tea pickers complete with swirling ribbons or painted fans, we were joyful and colourful ornaments in a neighbourhood that, in the early 1980s, was impoverished but proudly vibrant.

My family had arrived in Canada, via Hong Kong and Malaysia, in 1974. My parents worked multiple jobs and sent us to school on the edges of Chinatown. Daily Chinese classes failed to dent our English selves – we refused to speak Cantonese, except to order food when, briefly and miraculously, we became fluent. For my parents, the Chinatown enclave was both a magical kingdom and a refuge, perhaps the only place they could forget their worries for a while.

Chinatowns were politicised spaces where competing visions for China’s future were vociferously argued

Related: ‘I’m very sceptical’: residents of China’s growing cities discuss life amid change

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