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Chinatown's beginnings
Hawaii's first Chinese
Chinatown takes shape
Chinatown's other communities
Chinatown fire of 1886
Chinatown fire of 1900
Chinese culture
A`ala Park
Cultural and economic changes
Chinatown's rejuvenation
Chinatown today
Bibliography - Chinatown



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Chinese culture

The Chinese of Chinatown formed a distinct and separate social unit despite constant traffic and business with the population of greater Honolulu and intermarriage with native Hawaiians and others. While plantations welcomed Chinese as affordable and hardworking field hands, Chinese were also derided as secretive, immoral, involved with gambling and opium-smoking, and holding repugnant or dangerous non-Western ideas. In a faint echo of anti-Chinese sentiment prevalent along the American West Coast, the Hawai`i legislature passed "An Act Restricting Chinese Immigration" in 1882. When Hawai`i became a U.S. Territory in 1900 under the Organic Act, the Islands became subject to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress; this act suspended importation of Chinese labor for 10 years.

To counter some of the discrimination they endured and provide services to their community, Chinatown sprouted dozens of benevolent societies and associations. Many also promoted and preserved Chinese culture. Associations often gathered together Chinese originating from the same province or family clan. Examples are Leong Doo organized for Chinese emigrating from Leong Doo precinct in Chung Shan District of Kwangtung Province, and the Lum Sai Ho Tong established in 1889 for members of the Lum clan. The Chinese Physical Culture Association strove to preserve the art of kung fu, lion dancing and other Chinese arts. Other organizations had political aims like the Kuomintang which supported the overthrow of the Ching Dynasty and the restoration of the Ming Dynasty. Unlike similar associations on the American mainland, Chinese organizations in Hawai`i did not resort to violence to settle disputes among themselves. Most focused on mutual welfare and the support and protection of their members.

Chinese also began the first foreign language press in Hawai`i. Their first newspaper, T'an Shan Hsin Pao (Hawaiian Chinese News), appeared in 1881. By 1900, T'an Shan Hsin Po Lung Chi (Hawai`i Chinese News) was joined by Wah Hu Bo (Chinese Times) and Lai Kee Bu (Beautiful News). They kept the Chinese community informed and were very popular. Local Chinese papers were often financed by political parties or literary groups so were not dependent on subscriptions for income. Writers and editors came from the community's professional and intellectual sector.

Like the Western sailors before them who introduced liquor, Chinese immigrants brought a new vice with them: opium. Opium, like alcohol, offered an escape from sordid lives, often developing into a life-ruining habit. Chinese imported opium and some businesses offered rooms for opium addicts (usually hidden on an upper floor). The government attempted to regulate the industry as problems of addiction grew. After 1856, import and sale of opium was illegal except when prescribed by a doctor. From 1860 to 1874, Chinese merchants were restricted by licenses authorizing them to sell opium only to other Chinese. Such licenses were highly lucrative and the government made good money auctioning them to the highest bidders. A license up for auction in 1874 fetched almost $47,000. Maureen Small, writing on Chinatown's history of crime and violence, noted King Kalakaua and his government, leading the most spendthrift reign of the Hawaiian monarchy, were involved in taking illegal bribes for licenses up to $80,000. Although illegal, a booming opium trade continued into the 1930s.

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