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Chinatown, Washington, D.C.

Coordinates: 38°53′59″N 77°01′18″W / 38.8998°N 77.0217°W / 38.8998; -77.0217
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Chinatown's Friendship Archway, as seen looking east on H Street NW in November 2023
Chinatown's Friendship Archway, as seen looking east on H Street NW in November 2023
Chinatown within the District of Columbia
Chinatown within the District of Columbia
Coordinates: 38°53′59″N 77°01′18″W / 38.8998°N 77.0217°W / 38.8998; -77.0217
CountryUnited States
DistrictWashington, D.C.
WardWard 2
 • CouncilmemberBrooke Pinto
ZIP Code
Area code202
Map of Washington, D.C., with Chinatown highlighted in yellow

Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown is a small, historic area of Downtown Washington, D.C. along H and I Streets between 5th and 8th Streets, Northwest. The area was once home to thousands of Chinese immigrants, but fewer than 300 remained in 2017. The current neighborhood was the second in Washington to be called “Chinatown” since 1931. Originally, the first Chinatown was built in the Federal Triangle on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue some time after 1851, but was moved to the H Street area when a new federal building was built there.[1] In 1986, a Chinese gate was built over H Street at 7th Street. By 1997, prominent landmarks such as the Capital One Arena, a sports and entertainment arena, occupied the area. The neighborhood is served by the Gallery Place station of the Washington Metro.[2]


Map of Washington, D.C., with old Chinatown highlighted in red and the current Chinatown in yellow
7th Street NW, east side, looking north from G Street, circa 1900–1905, the current location of Capital One Arena

The Chinatown area was once home to many Chinese immigrants, who began to move into the area in the 1930s, having been displaced from Washington's original Chinatown along Pennsylvania Avenue by the development of the Federal Triangle government office complex. The newcomers marked it with Chinese signage and decorative metal latticework and railings. At its peak, Chinatown extended from G Street north to Massachusetts Avenue, and from 9th Street east to 5th Street.

Chinatown remained a strong community into the 1960s, but the 1968 Washington, D.C., riots that followed Martin Luther King's assassination, and the ensuing decline of D.C.'s downtown area, led many of the Chinese residents of Chinatown to move to suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.[3][4][5] Throughout the 1970s, Eastern Wind: The Asian-American Community Newsletter of Washington, D.C. published editorials and opinions reacting to the changing neighborhood. An "Open Letter to the Asian Community" advocated for political engagement from the community to preserve Chinatown, and a petition sought to protest the displacement of residents by new plans for development in the area.[6]

In the early 1980s, the D.C. government built a new convention center between 9th and 11th streets, displacing Chinese residents living in the area.[3] In 1982, the city built the Wah Luck House apartments at 6th and H Streets, NW, to accommodate the displaced residents. Designed by architect Alfred Liu, the apartment building introduced modern Chinese design motifs due to the red-paneled balconies.[7]

In 1986, the city dedicated the Friendship Archway, a traditional Chinese gate.[8] This was a collaboration between the Washington DC government and its sister city Beijing. It was intended to attract visitors in addition to recognizing the local Chinese residents.[9] As part of the same effort, the Metro station was given the name Gallery Place-Chinatown until 2011.

The MCI Center was completed in 1997 (renamed Verizon Center in 2006 and Capital One Arena in 2017). After the construction of the arena, AsianWeek said in 2000 that the neighborhood "barely" remains.[10]

Numerous writers have cited Chinatown as an example of gentrification[9][11][12][13] and an example of the commodification of culture.[14] In 2015, the Washington Post reported that only about 300 Chinese-Americans remained in the borough, and many of them were being forced out by their landlords.[15][16]

Annual parade


Each year the China Lunar New Year is celebrated with a parade that The Washington Post called, "one of the city’s signature events for more than 50 years". Lunar New Year is a celebration of light with honors family and is said to wipe away bad luck. The annual parade is described as a "massive parade" features dragon dances. The parade was cancelled in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.[17]

On February 10, 2019, the parade celebrated the year of the pig. "It featured traditional lion and dragon dances, firecrackers, beauty pageant winners and community groups".[18] The parade route runs along 8th Street NW and in 2020 it featured a person dressed as Caishen and another dressed as a Giant panda. 2020 was the year of the rat and some parade goers had small rat toys.[19]

Another parade which occurs in Chinatown is The Chinese Merchants Association parade. One such parade was hosted on September 10, 1957, William C. Beall was in the Chinatown section of Washington D.C. to photograph a parade. He worked as a staff photographer for The Washington Daily News.[20][21] Two-year-old Allan Weaver attended the parade and he approached police officer Maurice Cullinane to ask if he was a US Marine. The image was printed in many publications and it also appeared on the back cover of Life (magazine) and it won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for Photography. Beall named the image Faith and Confidence.[20][22]


Historical population
2010300 [23]
Chinese-American population [24]

In 2010, the census tract that contains Chinatown has around 3,000 residents. Chinatown is only 21% Asian, compared to 1990, when it had a majority Chinese American population. In 1990, its population was 66% Asian and 20% African American.[25] Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown is relatively small in terms of size and number of Chinese residents in comparison to other major Chinatown neighborhoods in the U.S., such as those in San Francisco and in Manhattan. Approximately half of Chinatown's residents live in the Wah Luck House, which has 153 units of apartment complexes. The closest Chinese supermarket, the Great Wall Supermarket, is fourteen miles west in Falls Church, Virginia.[26]

After the deadly 1968 riots following the April assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., many Chinese people sought a more economically stable and safe environment and moved out of Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown, relocating to suburban neighborhoods in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.[27][28] In 1970, there were roughly 3,000 Chinese residents in Washington's Chinatown; by 2016, the number was fewer than 600, many of them seniors residing in two low-income housing developments.[28] North Potomac, Maryland, is 18.4% Chinese American, the highest of any community within the Washington metropolitan area. The Maryland city of Rockville also has a significant population of residents of Chinese descent, at eight percent. In Virginia, sizable Chinese American communities are located in Centreville, Chantilly, and Floris, south of Washington Dulles International Airport.[25][29]

Businesses and establishments

The 700 block of H Street NW in Chinatown. Constructed in the 19th century, the buildings are designated as contributing properties to the Downtown Historic District.

Along with the development of the Verizon Center, historic buildings, mainly along the west side of 7th Street, were renovated and tenanted, primarily with nationally known brand shops and dining establishments. Within a short time, a significant mixed-use office-residential-retail development on the southeast corner of 7th and H streets commenced construction. These developments, which included restaurants, shops, a cinema complex, and a bowling alley, together with the Verizon Center, transformed the area into a bustling scene for nightlife, shopping, and entertainment. An anomaly is that most of the businesses are no longer representative of Chinatown, yet due to city design mandates put in place by the Chinatown Steering Committee in anticipation of urban development, even national chains hang their names in Chinese outside their stores. As a result, D.C.'s Chinatown can be categorized as semiotic landscape different than other Chinatowns.[14][30] Chinatown has become home to many high-growth technology companies, such as Blackboard, Blue State Digital, LivingSocial, and The Knowland Group.[31] It is also the location of the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut.

Sign outside the Capital One Arena (then the Verizon Center) in Chinatown

Chinatown's most prominent businesses are the approximately 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants, almost all of which are owned by Asian American families. Among the most well-known are Chinatown Express, Eat First, Full Kee, and Tony Cheng's. One of the restaurants, Wok & Roll, occupies what was once the Mary E. Surratt Boarding House — the meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators in Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Another is located in a house once owned by the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, which was among the first Chinese organizations to move into the neighborhood; today the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The neighborhood is home to a Chinese video store, several general stores, and numerous Chinese American cultural and religious charities. Chinatown has one Chinese church, Chinese Community Church, located at 500 I Street. Chinese Community Church was founded in 1935, initially at L Street, but relocated in 2006 to its current I Street location.[32] The Sixth & I Historic Synagogue has been restored and is the scene of cultural events.

The Washington DC Chinatown Community Cultural Center offers numerous activities, classes and services.[33]



The Gallery Place Washington Metro station (on the Red, Green, and Yellow Lines), which opened in 1976, serves the neighborhood.[27] The name of the station was changed to Gallery Place-Chinatown in 1986. Two important Metrobus routes cross at 7th and H Streets.

In culture


Within the FBI-commissioned film Game of Pawns the D.C. Chinatown is used as a stand-in for Shanghai.[34]

See also



  1. ^ "The rise and fall of DC's Chinatown". Archived from the original on 2019-10-16. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  2. ^ "History of Washington DC -Chinatown" Archived 2014-12-13 at the Wayback Machine Chinatown Community Cultural Center Retrieved 12 December 2014
  3. ^ a b "Downtown Historic District (Chinatown) Washington, D.C." U.S. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 4 October 2023. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  4. ^ "Through Chinatown's Eyes: April 1968". Maryland Public Television. Public Broadcasting Service. Archived from the original on 20 November 2023. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  5. ^ Simons, Sasha-Ann. "Black, White, And Asian — Three Reflections On The 1968 D.C. Riots". WAMU 88.5. NPR. Archived from the original on 16 November 2023. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  6. ^ Khoo, Evelyn. Under the Arch of Friendship: Culture, Urban Redevelopment and Symbolic Architecture in D.C. Chinatown, 1970s–1990s. 2009. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  7. ^ Harrison Lee papers Archived 2020-07-29 at the Wayback Machine, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University.
  8. ^ DeFerrari, John (February 9, 2011). "Chinatown's Friendship Archway". Greatergreaterwashington.org. Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Leeman, Jennifer; Gabriella, Modan (June 2009). "Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 13 (3): 332–362. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2009.00409.x. Archived from the original on 2024-02-27. Retrieved 2019-09-04.
  10. ^ AsianWeek Staff and Associated Press. "Philadelphia Chinatown Wins Stadium Fight Archived September 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. AsianWeek. November 24–30, 2000. Retrieved on November 8, 2011.
  11. ^ Lewis, Aidan (2014-02-04). "The slow decline of American Chinatowns". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2023-03-27. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  12. ^ Hackman, Rose (2017-01-03). "'Here until they take me out': DC tenants use the law to fight gentrification". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2017-06-17. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  13. ^ Cohen, Rick (2015-06-30). "The Remaining Chinese in DC's Chinatown Fight for Their Sense of Community". Nonprofit Quarterly. Archived from the original on 2017-08-17. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  14. ^ a b Leeman, Jennifer; Modan, Gabriella (2010), "Selling the City: Language, Ethnicity, and Commodified Space", Linguistic Landscape in the City, archived from the original on 2024-02-27, retrieved 2018-12-19
  15. ^ Wang, Yanan (2015-07-16). "D.C.'s Chinatown has only 300 Chinese Americans left, and they're fighting to stay". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 2023-05-15. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  16. ^ Stein, Perry (23 June 2015). "Remaining Chinese residents fight to stay near Chinatown neighborhood". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2017-08-18. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  17. ^ Robinson, Chase F. (12 February 2021). "A different Lunar New Year celebration in D.C." Washington Post. Archived from the original on 12 February 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  18. ^ Malet, Jeff (11 February 2019). "Celebrating the Year of the Pig in Chinatown (photos) | The Georgetowner". The Georgetowner. Archived from the original on 28 December 2023. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  19. ^ Natanson, Hannah (27 January 2020). "At Lunar New Year parade in D.C., festivities mix with face masks and fear of coronavirus". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 3 April 2020. Retrieved 28 December 2023.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  20. ^ a b Kelly, John (19 May 2023). "Meet the people behind a famous D.C. photo". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 16 August 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2023.
  21. ^ "William C. Beall of Washington (DC) Daily News". www.pulitzer.org. The Pulitzer Prizes. Archived from the original on 2022-10-16. Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  22. ^ "The Pulitzer Prize Photographs NCSU Libraries, 2003". www.lib.ncsu.edu. NCSU Libraries. 10 May 2003. Archived from the original on 7 January 2024. Retrieved 27 December 2023.
  23. ^ "Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown has just 300 Chinese-American residents left". Archived from the original on 2016-05-14. Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  24. ^ "Downtown Historic District (Chinatown) Washington, D.C." Archived from the original on 2016-04-26. Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  25. ^ a b "Interactive: Mapping the census". U.S. Census. Archived from the original on May 13, 2011. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  26. ^ Nakamura, David (July 10, 2011). "Wah Luck House maintains culture in dying D.C. Chinatown". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 22, 2011. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  27. ^ a b Cambria, Jak. "Washington, D.C. Chinatown USA". Chinatownology.com. Archived from the original on December 4, 2012. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  28. ^ a b Anna Spiegel (May 23, 2012). "The Great Fall of Chinatown". Washingtonian. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
  29. ^ "U.S. Census website". U.S. Census. Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  30. ^ Jia, Lou. “Revitalizing Chinatown Into a Heterotopia: A Geosemiotic Analysis of Shop Signs in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown.” Space and Culture, vol. 10, no. 2, 2007, pp. 170–94, https://doi.org/10.1177/1206331206298547.
  31. ^ Heath, Tom (March 20, 2011). "The Buzz: Sinking Wizards, rising ticket sales". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on May 4, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011.
  32. ^ "About Us". Chinese Community Church. Archived from the original on November 20, 2012. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  33. ^ "Chinatown Community Cultural". Chinatown Community Cultural Center. Archived from the original on 26 September 2023. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  34. ^ Stein, Perry. "Chinatown Passes for Shanghai in the FBI's Eyes Archived 2019-01-31 at the Wayback Machine." Washington City Paper. April 15, 2014. Retrieved on August 6, 2016.

38°53′59″N 77°01′18″W / 38.8998°N 77.0217°W / 38.8998; -77.0217