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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Boston’s Chinatown

While there is evidence of Chinese immigrants coming to Boston as early as the late 18th century, Chinatown was formally settled in the 1880s after C.T. Sampson hired 70 Chinese laborers to break a strike at his North Adams shoe factory. The following year, he continued to hire Chinese workers because of their high productivity level. After two or three years of this work, some Chinese renewed their contract, others returned to China, and still others moved to Boston. Some were employed to construct the Pearl Street Telephone Exchange and others came from the recently finished transcontinental railroad. These early pioneers created a tent settlement near Harrison Avenue and Oxford Place called Ping On Alley, creating one of the country’s earliest Chinatowns.

Discrimination and prejudice restricted the Chinese to living in an insular and geographically tight-knit community. There were very few Chinese women in the United States because of anti-Chinese legislation, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Discrimination also restricted job opportunities to those available within the Chinatown community such as groceries and restaurants—or to jobs few white Americans wanted in laundries.

Now, more than a century later, Boston’s Chinatown is a thriving immigrant community that serves as a cultural, social, economic hub, and social service center for ethnic Chinese and other Asian residents from across the greater Boston area. The Tufts School of Medicine, Tufts School of Dental Medicine, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences are all located in the heart of Chinatown, and Tufts students in the health sciences forge an especially strong connection with this unique community through service learning and other opportunities.
 
Learn more about some of our strongest partners in Chinatown: