PortCities London

The port in literature

'Chinatown' literature

An invented community

A Chinese shop (Limehouse).
View full size imageA Chinese shop in Limehouse. © NMM
A favourite subject for many writers and journalists was London's original Chinatown in Limehouse. This was a compact area in which several small Chinese-run businesses catered for the mainly transient Chinese seafaring population.

Unfortunately, most Chinatown literature was not a portrait of a real community. Instead, writers and journalists thrilled their middle-class readers with lurid descriptions of a world of crime, opium dens and gambling joints.


Sax Rohmer and Thomas Burke

Opium smokers
View full size imageOpium smokers. © NMM

Some great writers, including Oscar Wilde (in The picture of Dorian Grey) and Conan Doyle (in the Sherlock Holmes story 'The man with the twisted lip'), portrayed opium dens in the