Chinatown, Now and Then

My new Lydia Chin/Bill Smith book, FAMILY BUSINESS, is set in Chinatown and concerns real estate. (Well, this IS New York.) To celebrate we’re showing some (mostly vintage) Chinatown photos here on the blog. The Library of Congress calls this one, from 1909, “Police Detectives Guarding Chinatown.” I may be wrong, but these guys don’t seem entirely on top of things…

Until the 1970’s the NYPD had virtually no Asian cops. The White officers and detectives at the 5th Precinct couldn’t speak Cantonese. As far as the NYPD was concerned Chinese crime wasn’t their problem unless it interfered with White tourists. The Chinese residents, for their part, didn’t trust the NYPD at all. They felt the cops couldn’t protect them from the tongs and gangs, and they were right. So both groups wanted to have as little to do with the other as possible.

Which is the true (and racist) meaning behind, “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”

For more on this photo:


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