Cover image for Chinatown : a portrait of a closed society
Chinatown : a portrait of a closed society
Kinkead, Gwen, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : HarperCollins, [1992]

Physical Description:
xii, 211 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F128.68.C47 K56 1992 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A writer for The New Yorker, Kinkead accomplishes an astonishing feat by penetrating the mysterious world of New York's Chinatown to bring readers a fascinating portrait of this vibrant, chaotic piece of China entirely segregated from the rest of America. 8 pages of photographs.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Journalist Kinkead, whose name often graces the masthead of the New Yorker, tells us that "researching this book was like opening oysters without a knife." New York's Chinatown is indeed a closed, secretive, and defensive community. Many of its hardworking, frugal inhabitants do not speak English, have survived violence and terror in Asia, or are illegal aliens, and almost all distrust and avoid non-Chinese. But Kinkead persevered, eventually making contact with a street vendor, a Chinese herbalist, a merchant, and staff members of the all-powerful family associations. She captures the flavor of Chinatown's cramped, crowded streets, where the sweatshops run on 12-hour shifts and men live spartan, lonely lives in filthy one-bedroom apartments sliced by plywood partitions into as many as 10 tiny sleeping cells. Kinkead is fascinated by the Chinese love of money that motivates them to toil long hours, save well over half of their all-too-modest earnings, and then gamble with habitual abandon. Her fast-paced yet exacting portrait includes concise historical background and an analysis of the modus operandi of tongs and gangs and the lucrative Asian heroin trade. Kinkead is also attuned to the slow tide of changes in attitudes and expectations within this thriving, complex, and tough society. ~--Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Reading this, one feels like an urban explorer walking a few paces behind the author, agog at the mystery and magic of New York City's Chinatown. Doors open. Faces appear and recede. At the end of the dazzling journey in which a low faan (barbarian or white person) finds unusual access to backrooms, tongs (secret societies), family associations, gong si fongs (bachelor apartments), herbalists, family histories, hopes and dreams, Chinatown retains its elusive character. Kinkead, a New Yorker contributor, vividly relates her various guides' accounts, told sometimes in broken English or in the snappy police lingo used by detectives to describe tong and drug activity. The variety, poverty, resilience and frenzy of Chinatown and its residents are brilliantly described, from a Chinatown apartment where an old woman immobilized by bound feet looks out a window to a late-night gathering of chefs swapping recipes. Take the tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Journalist Kinkead presents a stilted account that highlights the seamier side of New York City's Chinatown. She takes the reader on a rambling tour of gambling, drug lords, extortion, murder, racial hatred, and intergenerational clashes yet makes little attempt to cover any of the more positive and life-enhancing aspects of Chinese family support, religion, or education in this society. She also draws no conclusions about the society. This is mostly due to Kinkead's New Yorker style of anecdotal reporting; not surprising, since she is a frequent contributor to the magazine. This book is little more than an armchair Chinatown travelog, offering the excitement and titillation of foreign vice in an alien landscape. Kinkead is at least honest in making no pretense that this is a balanced, scholarly, sociological investigation. Optional.-- Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.