"Never could the mafia, despite its attempts, establish itself in Paris because we are fundamentally different from the Chinese in America."
     Soon afterward this Chinatown, the first large ethnic concentration ever in the modern history of France, raised some concerns. Is it or is it not a ghetto? asked several social scientists and journalists. The French are highly integrationist and any hint of an important ethnic neighborhood is considered un-French and suspect. France's media often mention the Chinatowns of San Francisco and New York, and the alleged Chinese mafias in these communities, as undesirable examples of ghettos to be avoided.
     Even Parision Chinese, whose ancestors came mostly from the Zhiuzhou region, disavow any comparison with Chinese Americans. "Never could the mafia, despite its attempts, establish itself in Paris because we are fundamentally different from the Chinese in America," said one Chinese to a reporter for France's Geo magazine. "They share the same origin and dialect, which are Cantonese." Bounmy Ratanavan, a wealthy Laotian Chinese merchant in the 13th Arrondissement, told Le Figaro not to confuse his district with New York's Chinatown. "Our parents were already imbued with French culture in Cambodia or Laos," he said. "Their children are even more so." Ratanavan himself went to a French lycée in Laos and finished his university degree in France. He now owns Tang Freres store, the largest Asian supermarket in France, perhaps all of Europe.
     Indeed, the Parisian Chinatown is nothing like the Chinatowns in New York, San Francisco or even Los Angeles. It is disappointingly scattered and plain. Covering 60 hectares (one hectare is 2.5 acres), the Golden Triangle has only modern structures, which, unfortunately, are of a utilitarian rather than chic modernity. The quarter is clean but uninteresting and even drab looking except when lit up with multicolored lights at night. This Chinatown has no brightly colored buildings with tile pagoda roofs to ward off evil spirits. And even thought the area displays Paris's highest density of eating establishments, it doesn't even come close to its American counterparts in terms of the number of restaurants.
     This is because the Parisian Chinatown isn't yet that the French would call a ghetto. Sixty percent of the businesses there are still owned by non-Asians. On all streets French still make up the majority of residents. Many Africans and French seek out the area for its inexpensive and exotic food products. The district's schools are also in demand due to the students' high level of achievement.
     What the Arrondissement lacks in ambience, it compensates in the colorfulness of its refugee inhabitants. Just look at the restaurants in the Triangle of Choisy and Belleville. Many are Sino-Vietnamese cum Laotian and Cambodian. They testify to the incredibly varied backgrounds of their owners, workers and patrons. "I am Chinese, you can tell it from my looks," said a person by the name of Lee to Geo magazine. "Zhiuzhou, you can hear it if you understand the dialect of my province. Cambodians by adoption, you can notice it in my accent. And French, of course, by naturalization."

     During the 70s and 80s Southeast Asian refugees who fled the communism in their homelands aroused much sympathy from the political right. Paris mayor Jacques Chirac, who is also president of the conservative la Rassemblement pour la Republique (Rally for the Republic) party, adopted a young Vietnamese girl. He is also a student of Chinese poetry. The political left, on the other hand, was distrustful. "If they [the refuees] fled, it's because they had gold ingots," said Marie Guichoux, a journalist for Liberation, summarizing the opinion at the time of some people on the left.
     Since then attitudes have reversed. In the 13th Arrondissement conservative politicians now fear a ghetto-like neighborhood that escapes French laws. Jacques Toubon, former mayor of the district who is also general secretary of the conservative RPR party, has tried to force Chinese restaurants to put French translations on their signs.
     Some leftist politicians and media, however, have come to the defense of Asian immigrants. The most positive articles on the Chinese community of the pat few years was published in Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly with an editorial policy close to that of the French Communist Party which, unlike its American counterpart, is a respected although declining party.
     Parisian Chinese are generally apolitical and therefore hold very little clout in politics. Chinese voters, even divided between the left and the right, are estimated to number 2,500 in the 13th Arrondissement. The government of mainland China and Taiwan, however, always try to exert influence over the community, creating division and distrust among residents. Chinese-language newspapers that circulate in Paris are classified according to political affiliation. Europe Journal is pro-Taiwan, Nouvelles D'Europe perhaps collaborates with Beijing, while Sing Tao is financed by Hong Kong and Long Pao is independent.
     By competing for ascendancy over the Chinese community, Beijing and Taipei hope that Parisian "sons of heaven" may one day become their economic and perhaps even political allies. Already the Triangle of Choisy is a very prosperous and popular quarter. The Tang Freres store, for example, employs 200 people, does 420 million francs (about $73 million) of business a year, and is one of France's most successful enterprises. The area has become a tourist spot that attracts shoppers from the suburbs, provinces, even other countries.
     The spectacular Chinese economic success arouses general admiration, but sometimes envy and suspicion. "The Chinese have a reputation for their great ability at economic integration," said Helene Raymond, a French economist in a recent interview. "Some of them got rich very quickly and made a great display of their wealth. You can see them in Belleville driving luxurious, superb convertibles. People sometimes wonder where they got all that money." PAGE 6

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