Vancouver's Chinatown offers an exciting interpretation of a locality whose significance extends far beyond the boundaries of Chinatown into the contemporary public affairs of any society in the Western world that receives immigrants.
Popular wisdom maintains that the colourful Chinese quarters of Canadian, American, and Australian cities owe their existence to the generations of Chinese immigrants who have made their lives there. The restaurants, pagodas, and neon lights are seen as intrinsically connected to the Chinese and their immigrant experience in the West. Kay Anderson argues, however, that "Chinatown" is a Western construction, illustrative of a process of cultural domination that gave European settlers in North America and Australia the power to define and shape the district according to their own images and interests.
Anderson charts the construction of Chinatown in the minds and streets of the white community of Vancouver over a hundred year period. She shows that Chinatown -- from the negative stereotyping of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to its current status as an "ethnic neighbourhood" -- has been stamped by changing European ideologies of race and the hegemonic policies those ideas have shaped. The very existence of the district is the result of a regime of cultural domination that continues to exist today.
Anderson clearly rejects the concept of "race" as a means of distinguishing between groups of human beings. She points out that because the implicit acceptance of public beliefs about race affects the types of questions asked by researchers, the issue of the ontological status of race is as critical for commentators on society as it is for scientists studying human variation. Anderson applies this fresh approach toward the concept of race to a critical examination of popular, media, and academic treatments of the Chinatown in Vancouver.