Kolkata Chinatown dream takes shape

Finally, the city will have its own Chinatown. The state tourism development corporation and the tourism board of Kunming in south-east China’s Yunnan province have entered into an agreement to jointly promote Tangra as a tourist destination and develop it along the lines of the famous Chinese hubs in London, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, Manchester, Bangkok and Sydney.

West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) managing director TVN Rao confirmed that the state was ready to take the first step in promoting Tangra as a Chinatown‘ destination by building two gateways of typically Chinese architecture.

The gates will be set up at the two major entry points to Tangra to the west and south. While the western gate will be at the intersection of Christopher Road and Gobinda Khatick Road, the southern gate will be at the entry-point to Chinatown from JBS Halden Avenue, popularly referred to as Park Circus connector to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

Tangra already has a Chinese flavour with the presence of a vibrant Chinese population and scores of restaurants serving excellent Schezwan and Manchurian cuisine. Adding popular symbols and icons will give it the character of an authentic Chinatown and further enhance the flavour,” said Rao.

To ensure that the gates are architecturally authentic, WBTDC sought assistance from Kunmin mayor during his visit to Kolkata last month. Mao Siwei, Chinese consul general to Kolkata, has assured to pitch in. “We will be only too glad to offer any help required to promote a Chinatown in Kolkata,” he said.

The pagoda-style gates will be intricately carved with dragons and other Chinese figurines. To ensure authenticity and accuracy, only Chinese architects and craftsmen will work on it. Signposts and boards much like the ones seen in London’s Chinatown will be in Mandarin, English and Bengali.

WBTDC is also keen to build a community centre-cum-opera house with distinct Chinese architecture at Tangra but has been unable to negotiate a deal for land.

“A community centre would have been great to showcase traditional Chinese opera and cinema. It could also act as a training centre for martial arts and other Chinese performing arts. Though the Chinese are enthused about it, the inability to identify a plot has forced us to drop this project now,” explained Rao.

It so happens that a troupe from Kunming will perform at the state tourism festival in Kolkata early next month. Twenty-five performers will put up a scintillating show at Nalban on January 8 and 9. “This is the first time such a show will be presented before the public,” said Rishab Bapna of event management firm Cherry Tree.

The cost for the gates and the signposts is pegged around Rs 90 lakh. The Union tourism ministry has sanctioned Rs 10 lakh and the tourism department has agreed to fund the rest. “We have agreed to fund the project. If Tangra is redeveloped in a phased manner, it can emerge as a complete Chinatown,” tourism minister Manab Mukherjee said.

He has already held a round of talks with the Chinese community to assure them of the government’s intentions and hopes future talks will further boost their confidence and help realize the dream.

“No other city in India has a flourishing Chinese population. It is for Kolkata to harness the advantage and create a destination,” the minister said.

Large sections of the Chinese community acknowledge that they would have to redevelop Tangra to exploit the full potential of a Chinatown.

“The young generation would love to live in India but are migrating because they see no future here. If a Chinatown comes up with restaurants, hotels, parlours and stores, it will be a major tourist draw and entice the youth to come back,” said Big Boss owner Hsieh Ying Hsing.

While the strategic location of Tangra between Salt Lake and Kolkata proper is perfect for such a development, the lure of high gains if land is sold out to private developers and short-term losses that one would have to entail if a redevelopment is to take place is what is holding such ambitions at bay.

“The community is currently divided on the issue. In the absence of a clearly-defined leader, it will take a lot of persuasion to push the idea through,” said a community member on conditions of anonymity.
The urge for survival has driven Chinese residents at Territty Bazar, the original Chinatown, to forward makeover proposals to Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

“We plan to set up road signs in Chinese to identify Dr Sun Yet Sen Street and Lu Hsun Sarani. A bust of Lu Hsun, a revolutionary intellectual, has been donated by Shiao Xing City, the birthplace of Lu Hsun. We have identified a spot with the KMC to install the statue,” said Indian Chinese Association president Paul Chung.

Source: Times of India


  1. tt says:

    I was in tangra for the new year and yes it is good to see restaurants doing well but there is a lot to be done regarding hygiene and proper sanitation.If Tangra wants to develop as a major tourist attraction the first task must be a serious clean up operation.When it comes to cleanliness,most of the tangra residents don’t think beyond their compounds.What is the point of having a beautiful house in the middle of a garbage dump?Tangra has a great potential to be India’s only and prosperous china town but to make this into reality the govt and residents must make firm and longterm commitment.

  2. mk says:

    Well observed tt.
    This is a wake-up call ( loud and clear ) for the community that crave to call Tangra “HOME” but without one unanimous desire to transform it to become one of the prosperous Chinatowns in India – where one can proudly claim to be from it and form part of it.
    There is still a long way to go, let’s start now – today……..to make this dream comes true.

    1. leon says:

      the people are doing all they could, if you see at the roads it’s all make by the community itself and that place was once a wetland if you look back half a century ago and they have pour all their hard earn money in building up roads and “home” for themselves .

  3. leen says:

    The above article analyzed the crux of issues & roadblocks of interested parties, i.e. State Government & Indian Chinese with assistance from Chinese Consulate & Kunming Tourism Board.

    While State Authorities can provide funding, allocation of land & necessary infrastructure, the Indian Chinese should work abreast with them towards a win-win effort.

    In old Chinatown at Tiretti Bazaar, redevelopment is a less daunting project merely because of less contention & division among Indian Chinese there which had dwindled to a handful due to exodus.

    In Tangra, the community at large is divided without a cleraly defined leadership for goal congruence.

    The community need to re-surface & internalize this problem & not sweep under carpet…..for resolution.

  4. chris says:

    Calcutta set to host Chinese writer’s statue

    Courtesy: SCMP
    S. N. M. Abdi in Calcutta
    Feb 11, 2009

    India’s ethnic Chinese community is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a statue of Lu Xun, the celebrated Chinese novelist and essayist, that has been sent by mainland authorities.

    Mao Siwei – consul general of China in Calcutta, where the statue will be prominently displayed – said it was a gift from Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, Lu’s birthplace, to the eastern Indian port with the largest Chinatown in the country. Lu lived between 1881 and 1936.

    “It was shipped two weeks ago from Shanghai and is expected to land here next week,” Mr Mao said.

    The Calcutta Municipal Corporation renamed a key road after Lu 20 years ago. In 2005, Indian Chinese Association president Paul Chung petitioned the corporation to install the author’s statue by the road bearing his name.

    When the corporation told Mr Chung to arrange for a statue he approached the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.

    “Our wait is over. The statue is now finally on its way. Better late than never,” said Mr Chung, a retired teacher, who has persevered on the project.

    Mr Mao said: “He [Mr Chung] deserves all the credit. We stepped in as facilitators.”

    Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who heads the corporation, said that the writer’s statue would be formally installed during a high-profile ceremony.

    “Mr Lu’s works have been translated into Bengali, and book lovers in Calcutta relish the rebellious spirit of the Chinese literary legend,” he said. Calcutta is the capital of West Bengal province – ruled since 1977 by the Communist Party of India, which has strong ties with the Chinese Communist Party.

    The Bengal government is wooing Chinese investors to boost industrialisation and rejuvenate the stagnant provincial economy.

    Last year, China reopened its consulate in Calcutta after 46 years. It was shut during the India-China war of 1962.

    Now the proposed installation of Lu’s statue has given the shrinking ethnic Chinese community another reason to smile.

    Calcutta’s Chinatown had 50,000 people in its heyday. Now it is down to 3,500, but it has retained its cultural identity – even publishing a daily newspaper focusing on the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    Analysts say that the 1962 war dealt such a massive blow to the ethnic Chinese that they never recovered. The prosperous were hounded; their bank accounts frozen, properties seized and restrictions enforced, including the compulsory renewal of residential permits. Thousands were imprisoned or deported for anti-Indian activities – a charge never proved.

    The unconstitutional treatment – reminiscent of American action against ethnic Japanese after the 1941 Pearl Harbour attack – triggered a wave of emigration to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Britain that shows no signs of abating despite improvement in political and trade relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

  5. Lu says:

    The article below is old, yet nothing has changed.

    Squalor and neglect bog down Chinese hub
    – A dwindling community fights administrative apathy to keep its restaurants running
    Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata

    It used to be that wretched strip of swamp to which petty criminals were banished and where even “stray dogs didn’t go to shit”. Squalor and neglect continue to dominate Chinatown in Tangra, despite its lure of chowmein and chilli chicken.

    The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) recent pledge of correcting a “serious aberration” and extending basic civic infrastructure to Chinatown has brought into sharp focus the plight of the city’s ethnic Chinese community, that has shrunk from 15,000-plus three decades back to 1,500-odd now.

    Metro goes to Chinatown…


    “The outlook was not so grim when I shifted to Chinatown in the early 1970s,” recalls Ying W. Chu, the secretary-general of the Huan Bao Tannery Owners’ Council, comprising the 50-odd members who have agreed to shift to the Bantala leather complex council. The 64-year-old tannery owner was born and brought up on Bentinck Street, part of the 100-odd Chinese families living on the stretch between Paradise cinema and the Chitpur mosque.

    “In 1971-72, there was a revolution in the leather industry and there was suddenly a lot of money to be made from selling semi-finished leather to exporters,” recalls Chu.

    The “Wet Blue” variety of semi-finished leather from Chinatown was exported to France, the UK and the East Bloc nations and fresh money got injected into the community. “The ethnic Chinese of Chinatown also developed a glazed-finish type of leather called the China Chrome, their biggest contribution to the Indian leather industry. They were the sole suppliers and it was sold at a premium in the London market,” remembers Ajit Kumar Sen, the honorary director of the council.

    The 77-year-old leather expert, who joined the United Nations as a consultant in foreign trade after retiring from the Indian Civil Service, says Chinatown used to produce 70-80 per cent of the leather in the Indian industry in the 70s.

    “But they didn’t have any marketing skills and could never really capitalise on the boom,” laments Sen, tracing the neglect of the community back to the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.

    The trickle of people leaving Chinatown became a flood after 1975, when quota restrictions triggered a slowdown.


    “Neither the state government, nor the CMC, has ever done anything for us and we live in the same neglect today as we did five decades ago when I arrived here. There’s no drainage system, we don’t have filtered drinking water, there are no streetlights and no garbage disposal,” complains 65-year-old Chee Chieng.

    The lanky leather merchant landed at Dum Dum airport a 13-year-old, making the journey from Hong Kong cramped with dozens of others on a small propeller plane.

    “Almost all of us came from the Meihsien district in the state of Canton. It was an arduous bus ride from Meihsien to Guang Zhou, from where we took the boat to Hong Kong,” smiles P.L. Chen, who was on the same ferry to Hong Kong as Chieng, and has been living in Chinatown for the past 52 years.

    Chen, a champion on the national veterans’ table tennis circuit, is in the tannery trade, battling the “step-motherly attitude” of the authorities.

    “What is galling is that we are all Indian citizens with voter IDs, part of the same taxation structure as the rest of Calcutta, but without basic facilities. We have to fend for ourselves in every sphere, even safety and security of our folk. Look at the condition of the roads here — even taxi drivers refuse passengers to Chinatown,” points out Yeh Chi Yen, the president of Huan Bao council.

    Most tannery owners who didn’t relocate to Bantala have converted their premises into eateries and so Chinatown is now dotted with over 40 restaurants, big and small.

    Others are desperately trying to eke out a living by making fishballs from the top half of the chitol fish — a hit with the city’s diplomatic community — or conjuring up varieties of sauces, or seeking other non-polluting sources of income in a small-scale industry format.


    Chee Chieng’s two sons, Yung and Chih, are in Canada. Ditto with P.L. Chen Chen’s sons, Kuo Yen and Kuo Piao. Both the fathers are hoping they’ll return to bolster the family business.

    Some boys have indeed returned, fanning hopes of a reverse traffic. For 23-year-old Clayton Lee, who is back after doing his BBA in Toronto, time has stood still in Chinatown since he left it to study abroad. Like Alice Seeli, who has returned after studying banking and finance in Taiwan, Clayton feels the place “desperately” needs a makeover and the mindset of the community needs to change.

    “We have been working on a plan for an integrated makeover, so that Chinatown becomes a tourist attraction as in major western cities like San Francisco and Vancouver,” says Robert Lee, Clayton’s father and a leading leather merchant.

    “Chinatown is located en route to downtown Calcutta from the airport. With careful planning and proper civic infrastructure, we can engineer a total urban renewal which can not only make it a tourist draw, but also weave the gated community into the city’s mainstream,” believes veteran architect Dulal Mukherjee, who has been working on a concept urban design for Chinatown’s revival.

  6. koon says:

    To make this blog more interesting. A good suggestion, maybe, is to do a presentation of a sight and sound every week in this blog with pictures and video showing both the old Chinatown in Tiretti Bazaar and Dhapa, Tangra, i.e. the temples, the Associations, the market, street food stores/stalls, the mahjong house, the school, the living households, transport, the streets, etc..with a story to tell or share.
    This will give good opportunity to train our Indian Chinese youths on practical writing skills and photography/video making capabilities.

  7. Gloria says:

    An interesting article:

    Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata

    – Calcutta is the spearhead of a new drive involving China
    Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

    India is looking east again with Calcutta the spearhead of a thrusting new drive. That is gratifying for a city that consoles itself for the loss of its capital role with the myth that Lenin placed it on the global revolutionary trail between Peking and Paris. All the more reason for saving the burst of energy from the inertia and worse that have destroyed Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s brave new ventures.

    Last weekend’s Bimstec seminar — organized by the external affairs ministry, the Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development and the Indian Chamber of Commerce — was a curtain-raiser to this week’s summit in New Delhi. It was also intended to press Calcutta’s claim to host the seven-nation organization’s proposed permanent secretariat. A secretariat is life insurance because civil servants tenaciously protect their jobs: a wobbly Commonwealth was thought to have been rescued from extinction in 1965 when Arnold Smith was appointed the first secretary-general. But it did not pass unnoticed at the Bimstec seminar that the seat reserved in the centre of the dais for Sabyasachi Sen, West Bengal’s principal secretary, commerce and industries department, who was scheduled to deliver a “Special Address”, remained empty. Pranab Mukherjee came; so did Bhattacharjee. The principal secretary’s non-appearance was not explained. His “Special Address” was not read out by someone else or circulated, as is usual when a speaker is unavoidably absent.

    A brilliant splash of acrobatic dancing two days later, followed by a superb Chinese dinner, was marred only by the tedious ramblings of West Bengal dignitaries. “The Evening of Colourful Yunnan”, as it was called, celebrated by Yunnan’s provincial governor, Qin Guangrong, and a team of performers and trade and tourist officials, recalled another peculiarly Calcutta hazard. One of the three memoranda signed that evening was for Kolkata-Kunming cooperation that Ma Siwei, China’s quietly pushing consul-general, expects to blossom into a “sister city” relationship. One hopes this will mean more than our political and bureaucratic luminaries whizzing off every so often at the taxpayer’s expense to disport themselves among the lakes and hills of Yunnan. This is not a wild charge. A former mayor suggested to the American consul-general that Calcutta should be twinned with San Francisco. When the surprised American replied that Calcutta already had a twin in Odessa (not that it’s ever done any good to anybody), the mayor explained that he needed a reason to go officially to California where his son lived.

    The two other memoranda signed that evening between tourism authorities in Yunnan, India and West Bengal may yield more. Travellers from all over India may not flock to Dum Dum to catch the China Eastern Airlines. Nor will its three weekly flights immediately disgorge hordes of Chinese tourists. But Singapore, now Calcutta’s favourite foreign destination, can expect tough competition as Calcuttans discover the novelty of a Chinese holiday and business houses make Kunming the prize for promising salesmen.

    An August seminar on Indian and Chinese planning exposed another anomaly as speakers gushed about restoring Chinatown with gates and statues, fantasies that were repeated during the Yunnan evening. Those who remember Chinatown’s glory and Henry Au of the Nanking restaurant with his annual tributes to Bhaiya (Maharaja Jagaddipendra Narayan) of Cooch Behar (I caught only the tail end of that era) know there can be no return along history’s one-way street. Chinatown has nothing left to restore. Having watched Chinatowns emerge from nothing in Manchester and London, I know that physical extravaganza is an expression of the hard work and success of a growing and increasingly prosperous Chinese population with the surplus wealth to create a gaudy new environment. Calcutta has travelled in the opposite direction with its 50,000 Chinese dwindling to perhaps 3,000, and those banished to Tangra.

    The exuberance of the August seminar recalled 1962 when not a single Chinese hairdresser would willingly participate in an AIR documentary on Chinatown. Eventually, Special Branch lined up a beauty-salon owner in its headquarters! AIR then complained that my interviews and music from Tangra’s Chinese schools would feed enemy propaganda because the teachers were Taiwan-educated. The purpose was to show that though Calcutta’s Japanese businessmen plastered JAPAN stickers on car windscreens for safety, no one was more happily content here than mainland Chinese expatriates.

    Too many Indians and Chinese visit one another’s country now for such games. Business is booming. Mao Siwei is exultant that Sino-Indian trade will exceed US-India trade whether or not India buys Boeing aircraft. India’s burgeoning middle class provides a bottomless market for inexpensive Chinese consumer goods. Even our gods — attractive and affordable plastic figures of Ganesa or Lakshmi — and rakshabandhan bracelets are manufactured in China. Trade will continue to forge ahead without (or despite) West Bengal and in spite also of the background rumblings of the last few days. That’s mainly for the record, to establish what a great concession the Chinese are making if and when Zhou Enlai’s old proposal to exchange Arunachal Pradesh for Aksai Chin materializes. Mukherjee’s reference to the “challenge” of “a new China” that “seeks to further her interests more aggressively than in the past” is more — but not all that much more — significant. It is less warning of a hard new line at the expense of commercial bridge-building than articulation of the underlying rationale of strategies like closer ties with the US, Japan and the Association of South-east Asian Nations and its extended family, which includes Australia and New Zealand.

    Bimstec, “a poor man’s club” to quote Jayanta Sarkar at the seminar, is the problem and not only because its “economies are not totally immune to the spillovers of the ongoing global meltdown”, to repeat the CSIRD/ICC’s Bimstec cooperation report’s massive understatement. Bimstec countries have little sense of community and trade more with countries outside the region. Connectivity is extraordinarily poor. There were hopes that the highly popular 2004 India-Asean car rally, when 60 cars covered 8,000 kilometres in six countries under the slogan “Networking People and Economies”, would become a regular event, but it proved a flash in the pan. Jaswant Singh’s Mekong-Ganga plan is another unfulfilled promise.

    Ranjit Gupta, India’s ambassador in Bangkok, tells how New Delhi poured cold water on his proposal for an association of countries fringing the Bay of Bengal to develop the Northeast, which was bristling with rebel movements, and facilitate cooperation with Bangladesh under a multilateral umbrella. Later, Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Supachai Panitchpakdi, a respected economist who became director-general of the World Trade Organization, took up the idea that in 1997 became the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation forum. When Nepal and Bhutan joined, the name was cleverly changed to Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation so as to retain the old acronym.

    The CSIRD/ICC’s report talks of a customs union, free-trade agreement and economic union. Mukherjee says Bimstec should create a “regional architecture”. Bhattacharjee expects much from the Asian Development Bank. With membership overlapping, Bimstec can link the moribund South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the somewhat more active Asean. There is need for a concerted effort to counter terrorism, tsunami and narcotics trafficking. Bhattacharjee calls for a kind of South-South cooperation against hunger, disease and illiteracy, manifestations of the poverty that is the most daunting challenge of all.

    Sounding like Lee Kuan Yew, he thunders that “globalization is a must.” Industrialization certainly is, for a poor man’s club can be only a transitional description. Prosperity alone can breathe life into dead Chinatown. It might bring back the Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Anglo-Indians and others who fled to escape Calcutta’s suffocating poverty. Industry would justify expectations of a dynamic role in respect of both China and Bimstec. But as Singur highlighted, the hapless chief minister is not his own master. He cannot fight his political opponents if his own mayors and secretaries serve him so badly.

  8. ycl1688 says:


    You are absolutely right about Chinese hairdresser not participating your show, it reminds me in mid-70s I had a chance to help Indian friends to make a documentary of Tangra tanneries livelihood, yet the Chinese owner back out mentioning they do not trust the authorities, maybe they feared that if they voice their opinions, tax department or some security control will be after them, the opportunity was lost.

    Had the documentary been successful, I would still be accused of aiding Indians to harass our own comrades. Well, that was then this is now, I am glad the local Chinese would not have to fear of the almighty security control set up by the Indians, they are partly to be blamed for the exodus of Chinese in India. Those days if you were stateless, they could be under the gun all the time.

    At lease the Government is getting smarter allowing people of india origin to hold person of indian origin status, that is the positive.