A New Chinatown Rises in Flushing, Queens

Oct 23rd, 2008 | By ffolwell | Category: Feature Story

Video by Gong Jietong (Yamaha)

By Li Zixin (Tony), Gong Jietong (Yamaha) and Ma Jing (Masa)

New York City - Flushing, Queens has become a local enclave for all things Chinese: Chinese food, Chinese dialects, Chinese supermarkets, Chinese massages, Chinese music, and Chinese books.

The first overseas Xinhua Bookstore, the closest the Chinese get to Barnes and Noble, just opened last August here on Main and 39th. Its owner, Tonghua Shen, 50,  emigrated from Shanghai four years ago and said opening the bookstore was his greatest achievement.

“The store is not large enough,” said Shen, who was shuttling between his store and the adjacent Hong Kong Supermarket.

“Children’s books and books on antiques are displayed inside the supermarket,” he explained

More than half of Flushing’s 300,000 residents are Chinese. According to Shen, they are relatively well-educated and many of the mainland immigrants miss their Chinese readings.

“They miss their Chinese books. They also want to learn English,” said Shen.

The bestsellers include health and culinary books followed by dictionaries and Chinese history books. Works by the Zhongtian Yi, the historian, and Dan Yu, the Confucian scholar, are also popular.

All the books in the Xinhua Bookstore are imported from mainland China. Their prices are about 2.5 times higher than those sold on the mainland but they still cost less than US-printed books. 

The World Bookstore around the corner had to slash prices on its mainland selection to stay competitive. The bookstore has been in business for 23 years and operated under the Taiwanese syndicate The World Journal.

Most of its books are printed in traditional Chinese characters to reflect the erstwhile predominant Taiwanese readership in Flushing.

“Taiwanese Chinese used to make up 70% of the readership here,” said Zongjin Yang, the World Bookstore manager. “But now mainland readers make up the majority.” That is how the demand for books in simplified Chinese characters rose.

The taste buds of Flushing residents have also changed. Hong Kong-style Cantonese cuisine used to be the main staple of Chinese restaurants here. Now Lanzhou noodles, Sichuan hot pot, Shanghainese steamed dumplings are ubiquitous finds in Flushing.

Customers from as far as New Jersey now flock to this new gourmet paradise. And they are not alone.

Raymond Sokolov, The Wall Street Journal food critic,  wrote that he had to hop on the No. 7 train and come to Flushing’s Golden Szechuan Restaurant for a touch of spice. 

He complained he could not find one authentic Sichuanese restaurant in all of cosmopolitan Manhattan.

Along with its mushroom-like growth of Chinese spas, massage parlors, beauty salons, and karaoke bars, Flushing has become the land of Chinese living.

Flushing Then

The history of Flushing dates back to the 1600s, when it was first occupied by Dutch settlers in 1645 then by the British two decades later. Flushing at that time was no more than a hamlet. By the mid-1800s it had a population of 36,000.

Flushing began to truly flourish after hosting the 1939 and the 1964 World’s Fair. In the former, it introduced television and broadcast a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1964 The World’s Fair played host to Pope Paul VI, the first pope to visit the United States.

Between the late 1970s and 1980s, a tide of Taiwanese immigrants began arriving in Flushing. From the 1990s onward, Chinese students and new immigrants made up the second tide of Chinese settlement.

According to Congressman Jimmy Mong, businesses form the backbone of Flushing.  But living conditions of its residents still need improvement. Together, the two developments will enable Flushing to truly flourish into an enviable Chinese-American community.

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