History of the Chinese Americans in Metro Detroit

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As of 2002 Ethnic Chinese and Chinese American people are second largest Asian-origin ethnic group in the Wayne-Macomb-Oakland tri-county area in Metro Detroit. As of that year there were 16,829 ethnic Chinese, concentrated mainly in Troy, Rochester Hills, and Canton Township.[1] As of 2012 Madison Heights also hosts a significant Chinese community.[2]

Within the city of Detroit, the area north of Downtown Detroit; including the region around the Henry Ford Hospital, the Detroit Medical Center, and Wayne State University; has transient Asian national origin residents who are university students or hospital workers; most of these Asians are Chinese and Indians. Few of them have permanent residency after schooling ends.[3]

As of 2011 the largest still-operating Chinatown in proximity to Metro Detroit is located in the Chinatown of Windsor, Ontario.[2]


Ah Chee arrived to Detroit in 1872 and established a laundry business. Ah Chee was the first Chinese person in Detroit.[4] The first Chinese businesses were established in Metro Detroit in 1879, making the Chinese the Asian immigrant group with the longest presence.[1] Many Chinese coming to Detroit after Ah Chee established laundry businesses.[4] At one time Detroit had its own Chinatown.[1] In 1905 the first Chinese restaurant opened in Detroit.[4] In the early 20th century Henry Ford had recruited some ethnic Chinese living in Hawaii to work at his automobile plants.[5] In the 1920s Detroit had 300 Chinese laundry businesses and 12 Chinese restaurants. Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, wrote that during the 1920s the Chinese business community in Detroit had its peak.[4]

Some Chinese people moved to Detroit in the 1930s.[5] The Chinese business and the population of Detroit's Chinatown decreased after the 1920s.[4] Much of the Chinatown was demolished in the 1950s so the John C. Lodge Freeway could be built.[6] In response Chinatown moved to an area in the southern Cass Corridor focused on the intersection of Cass Avenue and Peterboro Street.[7] In 1951 about 2,000 Chinese lived in the Detroit city limits.[8]

The highly educated ethnic Chinese who moved to Detroit after the Immigration Act of 1965 moved to suburbs, bypassing Detroit and the Detroit Chinatown. The previous laundry and restaurant owners who had children who, instead of staying in the Chinatown, moved to Metro Detroit suburbs and to other cities and moved away to attend universities.[4] The 1980 U.S. Census counted 1,213 ethnic Chinese in the City of Detroit. Zia wrote that the figure was "surely an undercount" but that the Chinese population in the City of Detroit "was unquestionably small."[4] The family-owned businesses in the Detroit Chinatown had declined by the 1980s. Zia wrote that by that decade, the "shrinking base" in the Detroit Chinatown "reflected the diminished role of the merchants."[4]

In 1982, in Metro Detroit autoworkers killed Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken as a Japanese American. An October 27, 2009 article by the Detroit Free Press stated that "It took the slaying of[...] Vincent Chin by a disgruntled autoworker in 1982 to awaken Detroit of the ugliness and danger of anti-Asian racism."[9] Cynthia Lee, a Chinese American from Hawaii who worked as a reporter for The Detroit News, interviewed Metro Detroit Chinese Americans who criticized the verdict given to the two men, who pleaded guilty and received probation and fines. The Chinese Americans interviewed by Lee stated that the sentences were too light.[10]

Cultural institutions

The Association of Chinese Americans (ACA, traditional Chinese: 美華協會; simplified Chinese: 美华协会; pinyin: Měihuá Xiéhuì[11]) is the Detroit chapter of the OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates. In the northern hemisphere fall of 1971 Dr. Andrew Yang invited a group of Chinese Americans in Metro Detroit to hear K.L. Wang's presentation that advocated for the establishment of a national Chinese-American association. The members of the ACA held its first meeting in 1971 in order to establish the organization.[12] The organization was founded in 1972.[13]

The Chinese Community Center (CCC, traditional Chinese: 美華協會華人中心; simplified Chinese: 美华协会华人中心; pinyin: Měihuá Xiéhuì Huárén Zhōngxīn[14]) of the ACA is located in Madison Heights.[5] The center opened on August 8, 2005.[12]

Historically, in the Chinese community of Detroit the Chinese Welfare Council and the On Leong Merchants Association had served members.[4] In Detroit the On Leong had social functions.[15] The Detroit Chinese Welfare Council attended political functions and represented the interests of Chinatown to the city government.[4]


The American Chinese School at Greater Detroit (ACSGD, simplified Chinese: 底特律中文学校; traditional Chinese: 底特律中文學校; pinyin: Dǐtèlǜ Zhōngwén Xuéxiào[16]), a supplementary Chinese school, is located in Birmingham.[17] The first school year was 1972-1973.[18] Other supplementary Chinese schools in Metro Detroit include the Canton Plymouth Chinese Learning Center (S: 凯通中文学校, T: 凱通中文學校, P: Kǎitōng Zhōngwén Xuéxiào) in Canton, founded in September 1996; and the Michigan New Century Chinese School (S: 新世纪中文学校, T: 新世紀中文學校, P: Xīnshìjì Zhōngwén Xuéxiào) in Livonia, founded in January 2000.[19]

Healthcare and elderly services

The Association of Chinese Americans operated a Chinatown clinic in the Cass Corridor Chinatown from September 9, 1973 until 1996.[12]

The Detroit Drop-In Center, a center providing services to older Chinese Americans in the Cass Chinatown, opened in October 1990. In 2005 its operations in the Canton and Plymouth areas opened. In January 2011 the main center moved to a new location in the Hannan House along Woodward Avenue.[12]

Notable people

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Metzger, Kurt and Jason Booza. "Asians in the United States, Michigan and Metropolitan Detroit." Center for Urban Studies, Wayne State University. January 2002 Working Paper Series, No. 7. p. 12. Retrieved on November 6, 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Best Chinese Arts & Culture Events In Detroit For The Lunar New Year." (Archive) CBS Detroit. January 23, 2012. Retrieved on December 3, 2013.
  3. Metzger, Kurt and Jason Booza. "Asians in the United States, Michigan and Metropolitan Detroit." Center for Urban Studies, Wayne State University. January 2002 Working Paper Series, No. 7. p. 8. Retrieved on November 6, 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Zia, p. 62.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Steele, Micki. "Asian-Americans settle in Metro Detroit enclaves." The Detroit News. April 19, 2011. Retrieved on December 3, 2013. "And Henry Ford recruited Chinese workers from Hawaii to work in his auto plants in the early 20th century, while others came later in the 1930s, and some started laundries."
  6. Delicato and Demery, p. 28.
  7. Delicato and Kahlil, p. 62.
  8. Mayer, p. 11. "There are approximately 2,000 people of Chinese extraction living in the city of Detroit."
  9. Darden and Thomas, page unstated (starts with "Dingell was not alone in the sentiment[...]")
  10. Zia, p. 60.
  11. "美華協會成功舉辦四十週年慶祝晚會." (Archive) Association of Chinese Americans. Retrieved on December 3, 2013.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "History of Association of Chinese Americans." (Archive) Association of Chinese Americans Detroit. Retrieved on December 3, 2013.
  13. "About ACA." (Archive) Association of Chinese Americans Detroit. Retrieved on December 3, 2013.
  14. "Welcome to the Association of Chinese Americans." (archived from the original) Association of Chinese Americans. Retrieved on December 3, 2013.
  15. Zia, p. 61.
  16. "Home" (Chinese) (Archive). American Chinese School at Greater Detroit. Retrieved on December 9, 2013.
  17. "Home." (Archive) American Chinese School at Greater Detroit. Retrieved on December 9, 2013. "1300 Derby Road, Birmingham, MI 48009"
  18. "School History." (Archive) American Chinese School at Greater Detroit. Retrieved on December 9, 2013.
  19. "CSAMi Member Schools 会员学校名单." (Archive) Chinese School Association of Michigan. Retrieved on December 9, 2013.
  20. "Anita Lo." "Most Powerful Women in New York 2007." Crain's New York. Retrieved on September 6, 2014. "Born in Birmingham, Mich., to Chinese immigrant parents,[...]"

Further reading

  • Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. The Detroit Chinese: A Study of Socio-cultural Changes in the Detroit Chinese Community from 1872 Through 1963. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1964.

External links