God in Chinatown

Religion and Survival in New York's Evolving Immigrant Community

225 pages

21 illustrations

August, 2003

ISBN: 9780814731543



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Kenneth J. Guest is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College, CUNY, and Senior Research Consultant at the International Center for Migration, Ethnicity, and Citizenship.

All books by Kenneth J. Guest

God in Chinatown is a path breaking study of the largest contemporary wave of new immigrants to Chinatown. Since the 1980s, tens of thousands of mostly rural Chinese have migrated from Fuzhou, on China’s southeastern coast, to New York’s Chinatown. Like the Cantonese who comprised the previous wave of migrants, the Fuzhou have brought with them their religious beliefs, practices, and local deities. In recent years these immigrants have established numerous specifically Fuzhounese religious communities, ranging from Buddhist, Daoist, and Chinese popular religion to Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

This ethnographic study examines the central role of these religious communities in the immigrant incorporation process in Chinatown’s highly stratified ethnic enclave, as well as the transnational networks established between religious communities in New York and China. The author’s knowledge of Chinese coupled with his extensive fieldwork in both China and New York enable him to illuminate how these networks transmit religious and social dynamics to the United States, as well as how these new American institutions influence religious and social relations in the religious revival sweeping southeastern China.

God in Chinatown is the first study to bring to light religion's significant role in the Fuzhounese immigrants’ dramatic transformation of the face of New York’s Chinatown.


  • “This path-breaking work offers a new angle from which to appreciate the resiliency of new immigrants. The Fuzhounese are shown using religious institutions to build supportive networks to help them cope with debt burdens, family separations, tenuous immigration status and the dehumanizing effects of working under sweatshop conditions.”

    —Peter Kwong, author of Forbidden Workers: Chinese Illegal Immigrants and American Labor

  • “Chock full of great quotes and insights, Ken Guest’s eight years of fieldwork and research has produced a wonderful study on the role of religious networks in transnational migration. While mindful of exploitation and geopolitics, Guest zeroes in on the decisions and meanings migrants make of their own lives for themselves and for their families.”

    —John Kuo Wei Tchen, author of New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Making of American Culture, 1776-1882

  • “The excellent vignettes throughout the book further show, in striking detail, how immigrants from Fuzhou use the language and ideas of their faith traditions to make sense of their journeys and their daily lives in the United States. This book is a welcome addition to recent research about religion and the post-1965 immigrants.”

    Contemporary Sociology

  • God in Chinatown is useful for historians as well as those interested in the sociology of religion, the Chinese Diaspora, or New York City.”

    Religious Studies Review

  • God in Chinatown is an important study for historians and social scientists. Guest has . . . expanded the horizons of students of ethnic history.”

    Journal of American Ethnic History