Reimagining Chinatown: An analysis of tourism discourse

Carla Almeida Santos, Yaniv Belhassen, Kellee Caton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Ever since Chinese immigrants began to move into big North American cities in the late nineteenth century, their ethnically segregated neighborhoods have been referred to as Chinatown and layered with negative and demeaning imagery. Through an analysis of the discourse circulating in neighborhood tours organized by the Chicago Office of Tourism, this paper illustrates how current tourism representations of Chicago's Chinatown are constructed through a process of negotiation with the infamous past imagery of this ethnic enclave. The paper identifies two discursive themes that work to exoticize this neighborhood, while simultaneously attempting to render it familiar and comfortable for tourists. It is argued that such an analysis illuminates how the process of touristification is governed by an ideological shift toward diversity in the globalized city. Moreover, it also illuminates the ways that present tourism discourse, which is produced within an ideological milieu that is celebratory of diversity and multiculturalism and within a political-economic milieu that recognizes the marketability of diversity, draws upon traditional characterizations of Chinatown as Other, while reconstructing this Otherness in a way that appears friendly to tourists. It thus contributes to our understanding of how discourse about an ethnic urban enclave evolves with changing ideological and political-economic conditions, such that traditional imagery is both reinforced and revised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1002-1012
Number of pages11
JournalTourism Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • Chinatown
  • Discourse
  • Ethnicity
  • Representation
  • Urban tourism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Transportation
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management


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