Perpetual Chinatown
October 2020


A symbol set and reproducible pamphlet inspired by personal research on community efforts of individuals and businesses to prop up Chinatowns around the country, in light of barriers i.e., anti-Asian and xenophobic sentiment, economic and societal stressors including COVID-19 and rampant gentrification.

Eight symbols were derived from the eight fundamental strokes that comprise Chinese characters, and are the exact ones used to form the Chinese character for ‘forever’ (永). By borrowing dotted visual languages of calligraphic worksheets for learning Chinese writing, the symbols represent a storytelling device that dot a family’s journey from motherland to foreign homebase—unfolding the act of building and rebuilding.

The strokes each plot a theme of this narrative, in the order of the necessary stroke. Workable both in Chinese and English:

1. 下脚点 (arrival)
2. 奋斗 (struggle to strive)
3. 中心 (pulse/the pillar of association)
4. 方言 (dialect vs "topolect")
5. 提升 (uplift)
6. 适应力 (resiliency)
7. 守护传承 (gatekeepers)
8. 爱广泛而深入 (love wide and deep)

By collecting the symbols into a broadside-fold booklet, the object can generate dialogue about the intergenerational impact of Chinatowns for resilience of heritage and tradition for Chinese diaspora. The object also presents a generalized guided inquiry into the oral histories of immigrant families. You can download and print a PDF copy of the booklet.

I also conducted an oral history with my parents on their immigrant journey passing through New York’s Manhattan Chinatown, even as we moved away to Georgia. Listen in Cantonese Chinese on Soundcloud.


Crystal Bi and Lily Xie, “Dream Chinatown". 
Experience Chinatown Arts Festival in Boston, 2020. Photo from BCNC.


Screenshot from Instagram feed for @chinatownpretty.
Zoom with my parents

Reusuable bags like these are durable representations of the immigrant story, and iconic for Chinese grandmas to store groceries and ingredients to boil herbal soups for their grandkids. The 婆仔袋.

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