Did you know about the Chinese newspaper & the Chinese Kali Bari? With the Chinese New Year just around the corner, we celebrate the interesting Chinese history of Kolkata.
HISTORY OF MIGRATION
In the late 18th century a Chinese tea trader by the name of Tong Achew landed near present day Budge–Budge on the banks of the Hooghly. Governor General Warren Hastings granted 650 Bighas of land for an annual rent of Rs.45 to Achew to set up a sugarcane plantation and sugar factory. Achew brought in a band of Chinese workers to work in his plantation and factory, thus forming the first Chinese settlement in India.
The place came to be known as Achipur after Tong Achew. Only a Chinese Temple and Achew’s horseshoe shaped grave is left of it. Once every year, on the Sunday after Chinese New Year, the Chinese of Calcutta make a pilgrimage to Achipur to pay tribute to the man, who started the first Chinese settlement in India more than 230 years ago. His workers left for the city of Calcutta and moved to the centre of Calcutta, where they settled in Tiretta Bazar. Later, when the tanneries were shifted to Tangra on the eastern part of the city, a large section of Calcuttan Chinese moved to form the New Chinatown.
The Chinese Breakfast is available for early-birds in the Chatawala Gali in Tiretta Bazar. The smell of delicacies like fish balls soup, momos, sausages, spring rolls, sweet buns and lot more wafts in the early morning air. Central Calcutta also has 7 Chinese temples or churches. There were 6 major Chinese communities in Calcutta and each built its own temple, attached to which was a social club that controlled a graveyard for the associated community. Read more about these temples here by Rangan Datta.
Now here are a few things we don’t think you knew about the Chinese history of Kolkata.
Kolkata is the only Indian city that has a clearly demarcated ‘Chinatown’, once home to 20,000 ethnic Chinese.
2) Oldest Chinese Resto
Nanking Restaurant established in 1924, is considered as the oldest Chinese Restaurant in Calcutta (Kolkata). Location:- Next to Kolkata Telephone Kendra, Near Indian Exchange Place (Extension).
3) Authentic Chinese Dishes
Another is Eau Chew-an 86 year old family run, fourth generation Chinese restaurant showcasing unadulterated Huang family recipes. This place serves original Chinese dishes.
4) Birthplace of the Kolkata-Chinese cuisine
Tangra/new Chinatown has its own special Chinese cuisine, more precisely it is the birthplace of Kolkata-Chinese cuisine. The community tweaked and improvised their food to suit the local Indian palate. This Kolkata-Chinese cuisine gained popularity all across the country. The best however, is still to be had at Kolkata’s Chinatown. We recommend Golden Joy.
5) Chinese Kali temple
The Chinese Kali temple in Tangra, Chinatown is a bridge between the Chinese & Indian communities. Sixty years back there were a couple of sindoor smeared black stones under an old tree. The story goes that a 10-year-old boy of the Chinese community was once very ill. His parents had lost hope and lay him down near the tree and prayed for several nights at a stretch. A miracle happened. The boy got well, and the site became special for the Chinese community. On Kali puja, rituals are all Hindu, but some Chinese traditions have also crept in. Tall candles, special Chinese incense sticks are lit and handmade paper is burnt to ward off evil spirits. For bhog, it is chop suey and noodles here.
6) A Chinese newspaper
There is a locally published Chinese newspaper(Mandarin language) called DaiLee.The circulation used to be 800,now it is 180.
The community in Kolkata is mainly involved in tea, leather, beauty parlours & restaurant businesses. Hand crafted shoes are sought out from the numerous Chinese owned stores in Bentinck Street & New Market.
8) On the silver screen
For the film-Byomkesh Bakshi the entire 1940’s Tiretta Bazar was recreated on the streets of Kolkata.
9) Wartime Woes
During Indo-China war of 1962, the then government headed by Nehru rounded up innocent Indian citizens of Chinese origin from Kolkata and interred them in camps in Rajasthan for years without any trial. The last internees were not released until 1967. Thousands more Chinese-Indians were forcibly deported or coerced to leave India. Nearly all internees had their properties sold off or looted. Even after their release, the Chinese-Indians faced many restrictions in their freedom. They could not travel freely until the mid-1990s.
10) Famous people
Meiyang Chаng: Indian actor and singer. Finalist for Indian Idol 3; Winner, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa 4
Lawrence Liang: Indian legal researcher and lawyer.
Nelson Wang: Indian restaurateur and founder of China Garden, Mumbai.
The Chinese community is dwindling in number because of migration for better prospects elsewhere. At one time, Grace Ling Liang English School had 90% ethnic Chinese students. But by 2003 the number had come down to 15% of the 1500 students. Many of the Chinese of Kolkata are Christians. They have completely integrated into Kolkata society. However, they are largely disillusioned with the political leadership that only courts them during elections.
Considering their cultural, economic and historical contribution to the city of Kolkata, we believe the Chinese community deserves all our respect. We hope the government and citizens will extend attention and help in preserving their priceless heritage.
And finally, Gong Xi Fa Cai and Gong Hey Fat Choy to everyone.
(For the uninitiated, we wished everyone a Happy New year in Mandarin & Cantonese)
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