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Flag of FranceParis Chinatown
13 arrondissement

Paris has 2 Chinatowns or “Quartier Chinois” as the French call them; one of the Chinatowns is in 13 arrondissement and another in Belleville, 20 arrondissement.

Birth of Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement

Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement was born in the 1970s and 80s as a result of overseas Chinese displaced by the new governments that emerged after the post colonial era. The most famous of these migrants are the boat people, overseas Chinese refugees fleeing Vietnam. Lesser known are Overseas Chinese in Laos, Cambodia, French Guiana, French Caledonia, and Mauritius who resettled in Paris.

When the migrants arrived in Paris, 13 arrondissement was a Chinatown waiting to be born. The high rise buildings constructed by the Gaullist government’s urban development program were shunned by Parisians. To the migrants, it meant cheap rent and an empty social space waiting to be shaped so they settled there.

Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement appears

Within the borders of avenue d'Ivry, avenue de Choisy and boulevard Masséna, Chinese businesses emerged to serve the cultural needs of this new Paris Chinatown; supermarkets stocked with familiar foodstuff from their former homelands, Chinese pastries shops offering popular and festive cakes, and of course many Chinese restaurants where dinners and banquets are held.

Many of the businesses have sign boards written in Chinese, French and depending on where they came from Vietnamese or Laos as well.

The most famous shop in Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement is 'Tang Freres' owned by brothers from a Laos Chinese family. Tang Freres is not just a Chinese shopping place but a major institution in this Chinatown attracting the other French population and tourists.

Because of the way Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement was developed, you cannot find any distinctively Chinese styled buildings. It does not mean that the traditional Chinese institutions (clan associations, temples, martial arts schools, Chinese schools…) are absent; they are just hidden beneath the physical façade.

The Chinatown is visibly at its most “Chinese” during the Chinese New Year. Being the major event celebrated, the streets are decorated with banners and New Year goods are displayed outside almost every shop. There are Lion dance performances, lighting of fire crackers and many performances to usher in the New Year. (See Chinese New Year eve in Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement). There is even a big Chinese new year parade put together by the residents and business owners attracting both the locals and tourists.

Diaspora of diaspora 

Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement can be described as the coming together of Chinatowns from French Indochina (Cholon or Saigon Chinatown, Vientiane Chinatown, Luang Prabang Chinatown and those in Cambodia).

Today, Paris Chinatown 13 arrondissement is now the largest Chinatown on continental Europe and it is still growing.

Who would have thought the once forsaken high rise buildings could emerge into one of the most colorful neighborhood in the space of four decades?

 

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