Reading Beyond Chinatown: Books from the Chinese Diaspora

By Michelle Lee
July 8, 2020
Chatham Square Library

Written in collaboration with youth librarians Christy Lau, Chatham Square Library; Crystal Chen, Woodstock Library; and Susen Shi, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.

A view of Chinatown’s Doyers Street in New York City, 1909. Photo Source: The Library of Congress.

For some New Yorkers, Chinatown is the place to get authentic “cheap” food and unfamiliar snacks—a place where they can gawk at busy sidewalk markets and experience a vibrant culture without really leaving the comforts of their city. But to many people of the global Chinese diaspora, however, Chinatown is something more, its liminality defined by symbols of a nostalgic, imagined homeland and a fraught, racist history. Whatever the experience, Chinatown is an embedded and important part of the Chinese diasporic memory, but not the only topic worth considering.

“Today's Asian immigrant journeys are fluid, multidirectional, and global. Similarly, identities are not tied to one place, but to many places at once." ― Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America

Below is a small collection of contemporary titles and authors that encompasses a wide range of narratives and genres spanning the global Chinese diaspora experience.* The list begins in Chinatown but ends in many places, showing the “fluid, multidirectional” identities that continue to thrive and flourish.

*Note: For the purposes of this blog post, we took an expansive view of the Chinese diaspora and defined it based on the shared ethnic ancestry of those outside mainland China, but we recognize that the full complexity of the diaspora is beyond the scope of this article.  

For more reading recommendations, check out these blog posts:

Additional NYPL resources:

  • Chatham Square Library’s Chinese Heritage Collection: a repository of Chinese and English language reference materials on Chinese history and literature, with emphasis on the Chinese experience in the United States. Please note that the materials in this collection are for reference only and must remain at the branch.
  • The New York Public Library Community Oral History Project’s Chinatown Legacy Project
  • Seward Park Library’s Lower East Side Heritage Collection

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you'd recommend. And for more recommendations, check out our Staff Picks browse tool!