From China, With Love

Standing 40 feet tall over the intersection of Tenth and Arch streets, the Chinatown Friendship Gate is an anchor for Philadelphia’s historic Chinatown community and serves as a symbolic entrance to the neighborhood. 

In 1979, Philadelphia and Tianjin became sister cities after the United States established diplomatic ties with China. The tiles on the gate were provided by Tianjin and the construction of the arch was crafted by Chinese artisans, making the gate the first authentic Chinese gate built in America. The Friendship Gate was dedicated in 1984 to honor the new friendship between the two cities. It also paid tribute to the cultural significance of Chinatown.

Chinatown was established in 1871 when the first business, a laundry, began there. Kaia Chau is a co-founder of Students for the Preservation of Chinatown and says that Chinatown was created in response to the racism and discrimination that Chinese immigrants faced in the United States. Having nowhere else to go, Chinese immigrants built their own community where they could be accepted. 

“It’s really important to think about why Chinatowns exist in the first place, especially on the East Coast,” Chau says. “Chinatowns exist because when Chinese laborers came here in the 1800s, they were not welcome anywhere else. They were created by Chinese laborers who were escaping persecution from when they lived on the West Coast, they were escaping racial violence. And so Chinatowns have really been born out of segregation.”

Kenny Chiu grew up in Chinatown and says that the neighborhood provided his family with an important sense of belonging and community. “My mom and dad are immigrants,” Chiu says. “They settled in Chinatown because it was a place where they could find housing, they could find a job where they didn’t really need English, they could find their community, and at least some semblance of where they came from.”

In 2004, tiles on the gate were replaced along with the structure being stabilized following two decades of wear and tear due to being exposed to the elements. In 2008, the gate was repainted to restore it to its original glory. Artisans from Tianjin returned to Philadelphia to repaint the gate, and once again made sure to follow traditional methods and use traditional materials in the renovation. The city worked to find materials like pigs’ blood to use as part of the paint mixture and heavy rice paper for pattern transfer.

Sixteen years have passed since the gate was repainted, and it has been worn down again. In 2026, Philadelphia will see an influx of visitors due to major events coming to the city.

A new renovation is in store, as the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation wants to get ahead of the foot traffic coming for the World Cup, MLB All Star Game, and America’s 250th Celebration. 

“It definitely needs some work and definitely needs some repair,” says Haoyi Shang, a commercial corridor manager at PCDC. “So we want to renovate our Chinatown gate for 2026.”

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