Yingying (Emily) Zhang

Training Program

Professor Liang

August 2, 2003

The Changing of Music Chair:

Chinatown Old-timers and the New Fujianese


Chinatownís old-timers, more established Cantonese population, which includes immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and a southern province of China called Guangdong, is dying off, and continue to move into the suburbs. Meanwhile the neighborhood has had an influx of Mainland Chinese immigrants, Fujianese, who do not identify with the Chinatownís mainstream Cantonese culture. The Cantonese, who speak a different language and are more established, are often perceived as rougher and more money-oriented by the new Fujianese. In this project, I went to Chinatown and interviewed some old-timers about their feeling to the new Fujianese. Itís absolutely there lies assimilation between these two different generation immigrantsí groups when both of them want to be acculturated in the American society. Therefore, Itís necessary to contrast differences and similarities between the old and new immigration.


Summarize two literatures to make sure the assimilation is still useful in research of the contemporary immigration in the United State, and also is helpful to understand the conflict and association between the different generation immigrants within the same ethnic group. Speaking Cantonese, I conduct interviews with the Chinatown old-timers. According to the interview, I analysis the old-timersí attitude towards the new Fujianese in different levels, and emphasize the difficult but obvious assimilation between them.

Literature Review

In the article of "Rethinking assimilation theory for a new era of immigration," although much criticism think assimilation is hopelessly burdened with ethnocentric, ideological biases and as out of touch with contemporary multicultural realities, yet the author believe as long as amend the concept of assimilation, it still can make a powerful contribution to an understanding of the contemporary ethnic scene in the United States (Alba and Nee, 1997). The most important is to adapt the concept of assimilation to bear the contemporary migration situation. The new definition of "assimilation", involve the ethnic economy, the labor market, and the geographic concentration, and to make assimilation function on the specific individual. Only by contrasting difference and similarities between the old and new immigration will scholars gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of ethnic migration.

In the article of "Toward a reconciliation of assimilation and pluralism: the interplay of acculturation and ethnic retention", the author analysis the distinction and reconciliation between the acculturation and the retention within the different ethnic groups, and also indicates the study of the new immigration is not enough. The researchers keep a modified version of the present division between acculturation theory and ethnic retention theory. The author thinks this kind of polarization will become balanced followed by the newcomers continuously flow into America.

Most literature focus on how an ethnic minority melted into primary-group relationships with the majority group. There is the shortage of research on the different generation immigrants in the same ethic group in the contemporary migration study. Therefore, this is a new project to exam the assimilation between the old timers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Guangdong Province and the new Fujianese.

The Chinatown old-timerís Attitude to the New Fujianese

In general, in old-timersí opinions, there are polarized attitude about the Fujianese. One is advantage. Many old Chinese immigrants thought Fujianese are hard work, saving, and keeping an eye out for opportunity. It takes years to pay off the large smuggling fee; the new Fujianese should work 12 or more hours a day, and maybe frequently at two jobs. After the new Fujianese arrived, Chinatown has more banks per block than before. These banks often have lines of people waiting to make deposits. Some of these banks are opened in Sunday.

Swerdlow and Chang (1998) gave a Fujianese example in their article " New Yorkís Chinatown": Mr. Zan Ng entered the U.S at his 18, without proper papers and was jailed briefly but then released. Zan got his first job in a restaurant washing dishes. He taught himself to read Chinese and to speak and read English. Now he owns an advertising agency, a telemarketing firm, and several other businesses, employing more than 200 people.

Fujianeses also are uniting as one. Because come from the same place, as we all know like Changle, Fuzhou in the Fujian province, the geographic concentration makes a systemically social network in the Chinatown to let the new comers settle down easily. Generally, they gathered in the East Broadway, Chinatown, which is called as "little Fuzhou", with opening various businesses like restaurants, travel agent, translating company, and Immigration Company. All of these are service the better lives for new Fujianese adopt the American lives. The Fujianese have usually come first; after finding employment, they bring over their wives and children (Anderson, 2001).

Anther hand Chinatown old-timers feel about the Fujianese is negative view. Most of the new Fujianese have low education. They didnít go to the school or quit the school early when they are in China. They donít speak English at all and know a little about American rule. The old-timers often said they dislike Fujianeseí supermarket make a dirty environment and bad smell in the neighborhood, and donít like Fujianese spite everywhere, talking so aloud and cross the street but ignore the traffic signs. Due these reasons, old-timers thought sometimes the new Fujianese lost the whole Chinese faces.

Assimilation between the old-timers and the Fujianese

Manhattanís Chinatown is the oldest in New York City. Thirty years ago, about 20,000 Chinese lived in Chinatown, from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Guangdong China. Today, the new Fujianese population is now estimated at 250,000, compared with 30,000 in 1960 (Hall, 1999). There are different ideology between the old-timers and Fujianese. Because the most of old-timers came from Hong Kong and Tai wan, they keep the Capitalism and donít accept Socialism. On the other hand, the new Fujianese came from the Mainland China. They hold Socialism. Maybe Fujianese donít reject the Capitalism, but the old-timers will think the new comersí speaking and behaviors are some difference with them. Language is another problem for assimilation. There are different dialects between the two groups. The most old-timers speak Cantonese only, and donít speak Mandarin, however, the Fujianese speak Fuzhounece, and know some Mandarin. It makes some difficulties for them to acuminate.

Most Cantonese speakers who have lived here for several generations think assimilation to the majority American society is difficult for the Chinese. "No matter what we achieve and where we live, people still see us as Chinese," one businessman tells me. Therefore, assimilation in Chinese different generation immigrants becomes to be more important. In the political level, as I just said, the association created by Old-timers will defeat the Mainland China. But the Fujianese organizations are close to the Mainland China. Followed with the power of Fujianese get stronger and stranger in the economical and social status, both of two groups increased the cooperation in lots of social actives. They will hold celebration together in the important Chinese festivals. Definitely, there are lots competition in the old-timers and new Fujianese. While many Fujianese continue to open traditional businesses like restaurants and grocery stores, old-timers have begun to break the mold. For example, Cantonese are opening construction companies, driven by the increasing need for new and renovated housing to shelter the growing number of new residents. In the social level, the harmonization goes smooth between the two groups. Because all of them are Chinese, they make friend each other. Old-timers will go shopping in the Fujianese super markets. Fujianese will eat dinner in the Cantonese restaurants. The new comers want to learn the rule of life in the America from the Old-timers. The old-timers want share their sadness immigration history with the fresh people.

The interview with the Chinatown old-timers

In order to know a lot about the assimilation between the old and new immigrants, I conduct several interviews with the Chinatown old-timers. I speak the Cantonese with them. The same language is the most important tie to close the distance between the interviewee and me. I had been to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and different churches. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association is the most power place in the Chinatown in the political, economic and social level. The churches are full of the friendly common people. The interviewees I contacted were middle-old age, lived here for ten or more years, and came from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Guangdong province.

These are three typical cases of my interview:


This investigation has revealed the old-timers willing to assimilate with new Fujianese, since economic cooperation and social community is unavoidable. These are some typical cases of my interview:

1. Male, about 50 years old, come from Hong Kong, a restaurant owner, Bachelor Degree, stayed in the U.S. for 16 years. He told me he hired and prefer Fujianese. They are young, simple and hard working. The aim for their lives is just to making money and paying the smuggling fee. Fujianese are very united. The old employee will recommend the other Fujianese to me if I need more employees. He also wanted to rent the house to Fujianese, because they just have a sleeping in the rental room, and then go out working for almost whole day. It will save lots utilities for the landlord.

2. Male, 52 years old, a worker in the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), Junior high school, stayed in the U.S. for 20 Years. He thought Fujianese have no education and have no knowledge. They donít know the American rule and spite everywhere. Because Fujianese enter the America just for several years not like those old-timers come here already for ten or twenty years. So Fujianese should take time to learn lots of American rule and knowledge and get assimilation with the old-timers. In general, there are no difference between the old-timers and the new Fujianese, because all of us are Chinese.

3. Female, 42 years old, a nurse, high school, stayed in the U.S. for 18 years. She told me her hired a Fujianese to fix the leak bathroom. Although he was hard- working, he could not guarantee the qualities, because after one month, the bathrooms leak again. But she also thought Fujianese are very successful. Lots Fujianese come here without any money, but can open their own restaurants in here after several years.

4. Female, 46 years old, a dentist, DDS., stayed in the U.S. for 22 years. She has a Fujianese friend is working in UNANY, a Fujianese organization service to help new Fujianese in everything. She told me, actually, these organization related to the politics was arranged very reasonable. Although those people are farmer before, you couldnít look down them, they have lots ideas, and they have courage to against the CCBA. They get along with policemen in the fifth precinct. Now UNANY has a power in the political stage, even influence the vote for Chinese council in the city. But, she never went to the Fujianese supermarket, because she thought the environment is too dirty.

5. Male, 50 years old, an attorney, Esq., stayed in the U.S. for 19 years. He has lots of Fujianese clients. He thought lots of his clients are pitiable. They use every method, legal or illegal, just want to have a legal American status. Sometimes, Fujianese are terrible, because the idea of Kin is too strong impact them. If the attorney didnít help them win a case, all of this clientsí relatives in Chinatown would flood into his office. Sometimes, this was a kind of threat. He thought this is because the education background for Fujianese is too low. Itís better for them to reenter the school and get improvement.

6. Female, 48 years old, a teacher, MD., stayed in the U.S. for 15 years. She is a part-time tutor in a private school. Some of her students are new Fujianese. She told me, in fact, those Fujianese are eager to improve their English skills, and they know if they couldnít speak English, they couldnít get a better job. However, in one week, just two hours in Saturday practicing English in the school is too least for them. She knows this is because those Fujianese should work in the weekday, should to pay off their debts to smugglers. If just follow this situation, she said, she donít know when those Fujianese can get out of East Broadway to join the American society.

7. Male, 64 years old, owner of a street vendor, elementary school, stayed in the U.S. for 22 years. He doesnít like Fujianese, because more and more Fujianese also run a street vendor like him. Fujianese make his profit of the business dropped sharply in last year. He said, those Fujianese occupied places in the garment factories, lots of his old friends lost jobs in the garment factories because the younger Fujianese flow in.


In some cases, the Chinatown old-timers look down on the new Fujianese because different ideology, language, and background. Itís obviously, respondents with the high education background is easy to express their options in an objective way. They thought Fujianese is hard-working, and smart. Some of the bad behavior of the Fujianese is able to be understood for them. This kind of old-timers show sympathizes with Fujianese and willing to help and get along with them. In contrast, the lower education respondents convey some hostility to new Fujianese, because both of them share the same labor market. The coming of Fujianese definitely deteriorates the working condition in Chinatown.

This study is important because it goes beyond the case of assimilation between Chinatown old timers and the new Fujianese because the shortage of research on the different generation immigrants in the same ethic group.


  1. Swerdlow, Joe L. and Chang, Chien-Chi "New Yorkís Chinatown" National Geographic; 194:2 :20.
  2. Hall, Bruce Edward "Chinatown" American Heritage; 50:2:15.
  3. Anderson, George M "Of many things" America 185:20:2.
  4. Richard Alba and Victor Nee, "Rethinking assimilation theory for a new era of immigration," International Migration Review 31 (Winter, 1997): 826-92.