Chinese Embassy Conference- ‘Revitalization of Nanking”


Come, let’s revitalize Nanking!

Good afternoon to everyone! It’s a great honour and I am privileged to be given the opportunity to speak in front of such distinguished guests and an august gathering of international scholars and intellectuals.

Today, I am going to express some of the aspiration of the younger generation of our community in Old Chinatown and my personal opinion and observation of the experience I had in Tangra while interacting with some friends and relatives.

The Old Chinatown I am referring here is the one that is located around Nanking Restaurant in Tiretti Bazar area. In its heydays the old Chinatown border roughly extended from Damzen Lane in the north to Bow Street in the south. From Central Avenue in the east to Bentinck Street and Rabindra Sarani in the west. The Old Chinatown has been in existence for more than 150 years and has been quite cosmopolitan. The Gujaratis and Marwaris, Jews, Parsees, Anglo Indians, Muslims, Biharis and Bengalis have all been coexisting around old Chinatown and have built their place of worship and community centres. My father as well as some elderly Dusadhs told me that during the Kolkata riot of 1946 that occurred before India’s Partition, the Chinese community checked the violence and tried to maintain peace in Old Chinatown. The Muslims from Colootola Lane were not allowed to enter the area, thus protecting the Dusadhs and Mochis who were living in Chattaguli Lane.

Nanking Restaurant and the six Chinese temples were built around early 1900s. There was a thriving Indian Chinese community around Nanking Restaurant. The neighborhood around Nanking Restaurant was more or less the indisputable epicenter of social life in old Chinatown. In its heydays, old Chinatown had 6 goldsmith shops, three herbal medicine stores, 5 barber shops and a beauty parlour, tailors, laundries, provisions stores and a dozen of eatery joints and restaurants in dingy lanes. Chinese traders used to travel to and fro to China to bring in exotic Chinese goods that were not available in India. When the two roads namely Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street and Lu Hsun Sarani were built, Old Chinatown was practically destroyed. The Indian Chinese community was in a state of unbelievable shock and apprehension. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunities the newly built roads offered, there was despair and mass exodus. The gradual undesirable decline was inevitable and a matter of time only.

We need to start somewhere and make concerted efforts to protect our cherished legacy. We must vigorously revive both the Chinatowns and preserve its cultural heritage. For the past few months since the Chinese New Year, there has been a series of hectic brain storming meetings of the Chinese clubs in old Chinatown. Under the dynamic leadership and guidance of Mr. Paul Chung, the president of the Indian Chinese Association, we discussed ways and means to develop the old Chinatown area and help the community to grow and contribute more positively and overtly into the mainstream society.

The Nanking Restaurant issue has apparently spurred the community to work together. If some concrete and drastic action is not taken immediately, gradually we will lose all our treasured legacies.

Nanking must be restored to its former pristine glory but in a new avatar! What is Nanking without the beauty and charm of Chinatown! Nanking cannot exist in total isolation! To create more awareness of the presence of Chinese and Chinese culture in Old Chinatown, the following plans were formulated to make a modest but constructive beginning in view of achievable goal.

To arrange guided tours of Old Chinatown

To place a bust of Lu Hsun at Lu Hsun Sarani close to See Ip Church

To place two road signs to mark the Morning Chinese Market and Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street

To request the Corporation to name the area where the Morning Chinese Market and the Annual Lion Dance and Cultural Show is organized as Zhongshan Square or Dr. Sun Yat Sen Square

To set up a Night Market with the permission of the City Fathers

To construct two Chinatown Gates as a memorial and a tribute to the once thriving community

To set up a museum at Tong On Church once the rightful ownership is won back.

To set up rows of stalls outside Tong On Church after it has been restored.

A plan was proposed to offer guided tours of Old Chinatown. The help of a knowledgeable local guide will be time saving and indispensable for a time bound discerning tourist. It will be an enlightening experience for the keen tourist or a thirsty researcher to get first hand information and lay his knowledge hungry eyes on never before seen quaint artifacts and jealously guarded antiques. All these are hidden in the six Chinese temples, clubs and other places of interest, waiting forlornly to unravel its charming mysteries and secrets. With prior consent, a visit to an Indian Chinese home can be arranged complete with a simple or sumptuous Chinese dinner and a lively interaction with the family. Some of you might have already experienced how difficult it is to strike the initial rapport with a skeptic community imbued as well as battered with so many years of negative feelings. Here, I need to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all you good Samaritans of the Indian Chinese. Your commendable initiative and tireless efforts as well as behind the scene scholarly works has generated immense local and international interest, good will, sympathy and support for the community. The community in turn is slowly coming out of its shell and slumber. Thank you very much!

A plan is afoot to install the bust of Lu Hsun near Sea Ip Church. The proposal has been submitted to Mr. Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the High Commissioner of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and is under consideration. The Indian business community in Shaoxing city, the birthplace of Lu Hsun has agreed to donate a bronze bust of Lu Hsun. There is a proposal to make Kolkata and Shaoxing sister cities. There is great scope to develop cultural and economic ties between the two cities.

The design for the road sign to mark the Morning Chinese Market and Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street has already been made. We need to get the sanction to install the signpost and choose an appropriate date for its installation.

The proposal to name the nameless road connecting Dr. Sun Yat Sen St and Lu Hsun Sarani as ZHONGSHAN SQUARE was submitted to the Chief Executive Engineer of Borough V. On this road the daily morning Chinese market as well as the Annual Lion Dance and Cultural Show is held. Three buildings, Poddar Court, C.I.T. Building and a residential building, flank the unnamed road. The Corporation mistakenly thinks the proposal is to rename Tiretti Bazar, which has an Italian history, linked to it.

The plan to set up a Night Market has drawn a very keen interest among the community. A lot of people who cannot make it to the early morning market for a feast of authentic homemade dimsums will get an opportunity to satisfy his voracious appetite in the evening. It will be a paradise for Chinese food lovers and gourmets alike.

A Chinatown without a Chinatown Gate is like Agra without the Taj Mahal! A landmark feature of almost all Chinatowns all over the world, we can construct a Chinatown Gate to convey the unique characteristics of the Indian Chinese community. It would be a nice idea to include an element of Indian design to blend with the architecture of the Chinese province the community originated from.

The community has decided to set up a museum of Indian Chinese once the rightful ownership of Nanking is restored to Tong On Church. It would be really wonderful even just to browse through its rare or common collections. Be it some nostalgic photographs of a simple wedding or a strange and unusual Chinese ritual of the bygone era. A museum at Nanking would be an ideal place for information as well as preservation of Indian Chinese cultural heritage.

Presently the road outside Nanking is jam-packed with goods vehicles. It would be a dream comes true, if rows of stalls with typical Chinese designs can be set up on this stretch, once the museum is activated. The two Chinatown Gates can be built on either sides to add to its overall beauty and attraction.

The rejuvenated Chinatown will rise again like the proverbial phoenix! But the newborn baby needs to be nurtured till it can stand on its own feet!

It would be very helpful if the government can give generous grants and subsidies as well as incentives that are being given to eligible tourism and new industrial units. Tax holidays would be a great boon and would be like ambrosia for the resurrected Chinatown. It can then afford to offer its unique dainties and exquisite novelties at reasonable prices, which is so typical of a Chinatown!

Funds for all these development work could either be sponsored by big business or corporate houses or loaned by the banks. There could be joint ventures too.

Regarding Tangra, Mrs. Monica Liu would be able to give a clearer picture. I found to my chagrin, some individuals of our community, very insecure and in despair, especially those who were living under Thika Tenancy. Now that the wet tanning business is banned in Tangra, they are afraid one day they will be chased away from their homes too, because they do not have legal titles to their properties. Their future seems very hopeless and bleak. This is one of the main reason, some of them do not dare to think of another new venture as they feel their efforts will end up in vain. They do not know how to go about to obtain the required documents to legalize their holdings.

As there is no proper public drains in some parts, there are problems of flooding and disputes. About two months ago, I came across an incident in which a person was illegally filling the main public drain affecting more than 30 families including myself. I felt helpless as the rest of the affected people were scared to take any action.

I personally feel, it would be a great help to the community if a guideline can be put together with the help of the concerned department, giving details of the procedure to legalize the bonafide tenants. This can be printed and distributed to the affected people.

Once this stressful and despairing problem of land and drain is solved. The concerned person will feel secured and free to think of future plans and development.

Ah! Tangra Chinatown can then be developed on a grander scale! Why not two revitalized Chinatowns in Kolkata when Toronto can afford six! I could already imagine the influx of both tourists and investors as well as the return of Indian Chinese from abroad.

Dominic Lee


  1. Bill says:


    Great to hear that there’s a plan afoot to re-vitalize Old China Town. At one time, the Chinese population in this area is as big, if not bigger than that in Tangra. Hope the plans come to fruition. Great blog, Dominic.


  2. Jayani says:

    Hello everyone,
    I am doing my Phd on Kolkata’s Chinese community- many of you might already know me as I have talked to a quite a few people.
    Its great to see the younger generation so interested in the future of the community in Calcutta. I was just wondering are all of you Calcutta-based or Toronto-based? I was amazed at how much I had come to know of the community from my interviews in Toronto (infact got this link through someone I had met in Toronto!). The young especially seem to be well-connected through the internet.
    So congratulations on the new website…just one question- why did you decide to call it Dhapa?

  3. Jayani says:

    Hello everyone,
    I am doing my Phd on Kolkata’s Chinese community- many of you might already know me as I have talked to a quite a few people.
    Its great to see the younger generation so interested in the future of the community in Calcutta. I was just wondering are all of you Calcutta-based or Toronto-based? I was amazed at how much I had come to know of the community from my interviews in Toronto (infact got this link through someone I had met in Toronto!). The young especially seem to be well-connected through the internet.
    So congratulations on the new website…just one question- why did you decide to call it Dhapa?

  4. leon says:

    Hi Dominic & Jayani

    First of all Thanks for dropping some words of encouragement.

    Well we are Calcutta-based, Toronto-based and even Taiwan-based.

    locally we call that place “dhapa” but popular known as tangra.

    if you have any more question we would be more than happy to answer it and don’t forget to add this site in your paper 😉

  5. Jayani says:

    Hi Leon
    Yeah I know that Dhapa is the same as Tangra- I am from Calcutta too. But I was wondering whether this is just a venture of ‘Tangra’ young people, mainly Hakka…or do you have some Calcutta Cantonese in this as well? and also whether there are Chinese from other parts of India?
    My research is on the community in Calcutta specifically and I am exploring the community’s relationship with the city…looking at attachments, memories and sense of belonging to Calcutta- this is why I was wondering whether all of you have the ‘Calcutta connection’ 🙂
    I know that wowchinese had a Hakka forum where some Calcutta Chinese also corresponded…what are the other community websites/chatsites that are used by the Calcutta Chinese?

  6. Thien says:

    hi leon,
    im not dominic, dominic is my uncle . He fowarded me this mail so i posted in ure blog hehe..

  7. Bill says:

    The Indian Telegraph recently had an article regarding the attempted sales of the Tong On Church by the Au family. Fortunately, the sales has been put on hold by the Authorities. This Church has been listed as an Heritage site. This is good news. The Church should be preserved and not sold for an individual’s profit.


  8. Dominic says:

    Really was surprised to learn about this website from Jayani. Leon ! You have done a good job in setting up this great website. Keep it up! Our communnity need people like you. Thanx Thien for publishing. But imagine this article has come out even before the lecture is delivered! LOL! Have fun! Strive to rise higher!

  9. leon says:


    we do have a couple of calcutta cantonese chinese here as well and some from hyd and around the world. yea we have one thing in common. we are all “indian chinese”.

    use to have a chatroom called “chinagate” in pirch but that died out. we are thinking of creating a social networking site in future if we have enough members.

  10. Eric says:

    I just returned from Calcutta last week. This time I wandered around the old chinatown in Tieretti Bazaar. Saw the morning market with sellers hawking their steam buns, dim sum amongst vegetable stalls. This occurs every morning from 7-11 am. There is even a small shop selling roast pork.
    I also chatted with the many chinese older men that were sitting inside the various chinese buddhist churches as they played cards and sipped tea. There are some 6 old churches in close proximity and an easy walk will cover them. Usually the caretaker will open up the doors for you to take pictures or videos. It is customary to leave them a tip for this or for the upkeep of the place. In one church, they even record your name, donation and date in a manual for all to see. This is the See Ip church built in 1905 and is behind Nanking restaurant which incidentally is no longer a restaurant.
    Nearby is Tung Nam restaurant which I ate at several times. The food is authentic, cheap and good. You will also run across the odd chinese face on the streets in a rickshaw, motorbike or even walking along the alleys.
    The current pastor of Ling Liang Church is Rev. Clifford Lee. He looks young, perhaps in his late thirties. He showed me the sanctuary which Rev. David and Mary Lamb built some 50 years ago. There is a thriving coed school in the adjacent ‘Block of Tears’ building. Rev. Lee also conducts 9am sunday service at the other Ling Liang in Tangra and then holds a 3 pm service at the Calcutta church.
    Interestingly too that the padre/pastor of the large Carey Baptist Church on Bowbazaar St. is Jack Chen who arrived in Dec 2008 to assist with a 5 yr term. He and his wife Dolla were born in Calcutta but left for Toronto in the 70’s but has returned back to take the call. I met him twice.
    I enjoyed my stay – spent some 2 weeks exploring Kolkata, it’s streets, markets and mega malls, chatting with the locals and even attending worship services at the AG Church on Park Street. What a city! It is not for the faint-hearted traveller but it is truly the City of Joy for others who go out of their way and feel the pulse of this vibrant megapolis. More next time…………. Nov 2009.

  11. ycl1688 says:


    It is a nice account of your visit.

    Tung Nam current owner happened to be hauled from my old neighborhood, he has been chef overseas. He could bring the authentic flavor of chinese food, that is good to the hood. With the closing of Sam Kee at weston street, he must be doing good business.

  12. stephen says:

    I agree with you ycl Tung Nam food is great at that price, its sure worth every penny. Do you know his winter special is Lap Cheong Faan. I was there last year and got the opportunity to tried it. It kind of chinese thali which has sliced chinese sausage, rost pork (cha sau), stir fried phak choi, 1/2 salty egg. and of course steam rice. awesome. I loved it.

  13. Esther says:

    Hi Eric,

    Your comments brought back nostalgic feelings on the City of Joy – also my birthplace. Your description of the sights and sounds is really interesting. I look forward to some more stories in your next account.

    It’s a small small world! (Disney theme) Although I do not know Jack and Dolla Chen personally, I do know who they are. Jack’s sister is Mary and both Mary and Dolla studied in Welland Gouldsmith School, which is slightly opposite Carey Baptist Church in Bepin Behari Ganguly Street or Bow Bazaar Street. So, both are contributing back to the city.

    I haven’t a clue of Tung Nam Restaurant or Sam Kee in old Chinatown, but know other older Chinese Restaurants name that have closed down soon after 1962. Nice to hear that there is still a small roast pork stall there.

  14. Sumit Roy says:


    I am Calcutta Chinese by marriage. Married Katy Lai. Eric (above) knows the Lai family and therefore traced us in Kolkata. Sorry, Calcutta.

    It was great to see Calcutta through Eric’s eyes when he came visiting this month, what it reaffirmed for me was the wise move we made of moving back to Calcutta after being away for 14 years.

    One can make money in various places in the world. But there is a sense of sharing where almost everyone in Calcutta becomes part of your family.

    Jack and Dolla Chen has the right idea. Come back.

    Money doesn’t make the world go round. People do.

    Our traffic habits are terrible, but we have less highway pile ups.

    Our sanitation is awful, but our immunity to disease is great.

    Our Marxist politics still drives capital out. (Now there’s a new “M”, Mamata, who is even worse for anyone wanting to start a business here.) But the broadband facilities come without “bandhs”. You can work, online, anywhere in the world and still live in the City of Joy.

    I do.

    We moved back in 2001 and have not regretted it for a day.

    Sumit Lai Roy

  15. Rangan Datta says:

    Inspired by the article I visited the 6 Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar. Here are the photos


  16. Mo Ahmed says:

    I ate at old Nanking Restaurant, owned by the Au family. I was only 8 years old. My father was a doctor, and treated members of the Au family. In fact “Au Saheb” had connections with the American armed forces in Calcutta – I believe he was administered with very rare “penicillin” antibiotic from the US sources.
    I have fond memories of “Calcutta” and the hard working Chinese community in Tangra and Tiretti Bazaar. “Dhapa” was a dump – smelly.
    The beautiful building with Tong On church and the old Nanking Restaurant is a distant memory.
    I live in California – with our own Chinese communities from China, Hong Kong, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Singapore, Bangkok and former French Indo China.
    I was born in Calcutta, lived in Alipore. My father was a former “Police Surgeon” of Calcutta.
    Mo Ahmed/San Juan Capistrano/California USA

  17. Mo Ahmed says:

    We have our own Chinatowns in Los Angeles, San Francisco etc – but it lacks the color and smell of Calcutta Chinatown!
    I am Calcutta-born – left Calcutta in 1948.
    Mo Ahmed

  18. Anisha Jogani says:

    Did this proposal or any part of it ever materialise? I’m currently doing an architectural research project on the Tirretta Lane Breakfast market and am very curious to know. I’m an architectural designer, and urbanist brought up in London but was born in Calcutta and go there often. [Suppose why my research interests are drawing me back to parts of the city that are fascinating and need a lot of work to be put out there around it. ]

  19. Mike Fong says:

    Hi Anisha ,

    As an ex-Kolkata chinese (Now living in Taipei), I doubt any proposal will materialise due to political issue . Ever since leaving the city
    for past the 20 years , and have return for holidays ,several times ,I have observed , there is not much changes .
    So in order to make changes , the city Goverment must have determination in doing so ,instead of just words.