A Look at the Influence of Chinese Culture in Hawaii

The history of Chinese immigrants in Hawaii is a fascinating tale of migration, hard work, and cultural perseverance. Chinese immigrants began arriving in Hawaii in significant numbers during the mid-19th century, drawn by the prospect of working in the sugar and pineapple plantations. Today, the influence of the Chinese community in Hawaii remains significant.

History of Chinese Immigrants

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Hawaii in the 1850s as contract laborers to work on sugar plantations. Initially, they came from Guangdong Province in southern China, seeking better economic opportunities.

Like many other immigrant groups at the time, Chinese laborers came to Hawaii under a contract labor system. Plantation owners recruited them to work on their plantations for a fixed period, often several years. The working conditions were harsh, and they faced challenges in adapting to the new environment.

Despite the difficulties, the Chinese population in Hawaii grew steadily. Many laborers chose to stay in Hawaii after their contracts expired, contributing to the establishment of a permanent Chinese community.

Chinese immigrants played a crucial role in the development of Hawaii's agricultural industry. They brought their expertise in farming and introduced new cultivation techniques.

Despite facing discrimination and challenges, the Chinese community in Hawaii worked hard to preserve their cultural traditions and heritage. They established Chinese schools, temples, and community associations to maintain their language, customs, and religious practices.

Chinese immigrants continued to celebrate traditional Chinese festivals, such as Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year), in Hawaii. These celebrations have grown over the years and have become vibrant and colorful events.

In 1882, the United States enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which severely restricted Chinese immigration. This had a significant impact on the growth of the Chinese community in Hawaii, leading to a decline in the number of new immigrants from China.

As the Chinese community in Hawaii matured, later generations of Chinese Americans made significant contributions to various fields, including politics, business, arts, and education.

Over time, Chinese immigrants and their descendants integrated into Hawaiian society while maintaining their cultural identity. They became an essential part of Hawaii's diverse cultural landscape.

Today, the Chinese community continues to be an integral part of Hawaii's multicultural society, contributing to the state's rich cultural heritage and economic development. Their history is a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of challenges and adversity.

Influence of Chinese Culture in Hawaii


Chinese cuisine has had a profound and lasting influence on the culinary landscape of Hawaii. The presence of Chinese immigrants, who arrived in the mid-19th century to work on sugar plantations, played a significant role in introducing and popularizing Chinese food traditions in the islands. Over time, Chinese cuisine has become an integral part of Hawaiian culinary culture, evolving and integrating with local flavors to create a unique fusion of tastes.

Chinese dishes have become local favorites in Hawaii, with some becoming iconic Hawaiian staples. For example, "plate lunch," a popular local meal featuring two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and a choice of meat or seafood, often includes Chinese-inspired dishes like sweet and sour pork or chicken, and beef broccoli.

Chinese restaurants can be found throughout Hawaii, ranging from humble family-owned eateries to upscale establishments. These restaurants serve a diverse array of Chinese dishes, including Cantonese, Szechuan, and Hakka cuisines, among others.

Dim sum, a traditional Chinese meal consisting of various small, bite-sized dishes, has become a beloved culinary experience in Hawaii. Many Chinese restaurants offer dim sum on weekends, attracting locals and tourists alike.

Chinese noodle dishes, such as chow mein and lo mein, have become staples in Hawaiian cuisine. These dishes are often served with various combinations of meat, seafood, and vegetables.

During Chinese New Year celebrations, many Chinese restaurants in Hawaii offer special menus featuring traditional Chinese dishes believed to bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year.

Chinese cuisine in Hawaii has adapted and evolved to include local ingredients and flavors, creating unique dishes that cannot be found in China. For example, "Hawaiian-style" sweet and sour pork may incorporate pineapple, giving it a distinct tropical flair.

Influence of Chinese Culture in Hawaii


The influence of Chinese festivals in Hawaii is a reflection of the strong cultural ties and traditions maintained by the Chinese community in the islands. Chinese immigrants brought their rich heritage of festivals to Hawaii, and these celebrations have since become an integral part of the state's cultural calendar. The observance of Chinese festivals in Hawaii provides an opportunity for both the Chinese community and the broader population to come together, celebrate, and appreciate the diversity of the island's cultural heritage.

  • Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year): Chinese New Year is one of the most prominent and widely celebrated festivals in Hawaii. The festivities usually take place in January or February and mark the beginning of the lunar calendar. Vibrant and lively events, including lion and dragon dances, parades, fireworks, and traditional performances, are held across the islands. Red decorations, lanterns, and other symbols of good luck and prosperity can be seen throughout the celebrations.
  • Lantern Festival: The Lantern Festival, also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival, is another essential Chinese festival celebrated in Hawaii. It takes place on the 15th day of the first lunar month, marking the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. People gather to release lanterns into the sky, symbolizing the release of worries and hope for a brighter future.
  • Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day): The Qingming Festival, observed in early April, is a time when families in the Chinese community come together to pay respects to their ancestors by visiting their graves and tidying up burial sites. In Hawaii, this tradition is continued, and families take the opportunity to honor their ancestors and maintain connections to their cultural roots.
  • Mid-Autumn Festival: The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is celebrated in Hawaii, especially within the Chinese community. It occurs on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month and involves the enjoyment of mooncakes, sharing family reunions, and appreciating the beauty of the full moon.
  • Ghost Festival: The Ghost Festival, observed on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, is a time to honor and remember deceased ancestors. In Hawaii, this festival is recognized by the Chinese community, with rituals and ceremonies held to offer prayers and food to the spirits of the departed.


The influence of Chinese languages in Hawaii is most notable among the Chinese community, particularly those of older generations who immigrated to the islands in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the usage of Chinese languages has diminished over time due to language shifts and assimilation, there are still some aspects of their influence that can be observed.

Many older members of the Chinese community in Hawaii still speak Chinese languages, primarily Cantonese and Mandarin. These individuals have retained their native languages as a connection to their ancestral roots and cultural heritage.

Chinese language schools were established in Hawaii to preserve the Chinese language and culture among the younger generations. These schools, known as "Chinese language schools" or "Chinese schools," offered classes in Mandarin or Cantonese to teach Chinese language, history, and cultural traditions.

Within some Chinese households in Hawaii, Chinese languages continue to be spoken in family settings. Older generations may communicate with their children and grandchildren using their native Chinese language.

Chinese languages are often used in traditional religious ceremonies, such as those held in Chinese temples. These ceremonies may include prayers, chants, and rituals conducted in Cantonese or Mandarin.

During Chinese festivals and cultural events, Chinese languages are used in traditional performances, such as storytelling, theatrical plays, and opera. These performances play a crucial role in preserving and passing down Chinese cultural heritage.

Some places in Hawaii bear names of Chinese origin, reflecting the historical presence of the Chinese community on the islands. These names may have roots in Chinese languages and provide a reminder of their influence.

However, it's essential to acknowledge that Chinese language usage in Hawaii has declined over time, particularly among the younger generations. English has become the dominant language, and many Chinese Hawaiians may speak English or a mixture of English and Chinese in their daily interactions.


The influence of Chinese architecture in Hawaii can be observed in various historical buildings, temples, and cultural sites. Chinese immigrants who arrived in Hawaii during the 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them architectural styles and traditions from their homeland. Over time, these architectural elements have left a lasting impact on the built environment of the islands, particularly in areas with a significant Chinese community presence.

  • Chinese Temples: Chinese temples, often built in the traditional architectural style, can be found in different parts of Hawaii. These temples serve as places of worship and cultural centers for the Chinese community. They typically feature ornate decorations, colorful roof tiles, and distinctive architectural elements like curved eaves and intricate wood carvings.
  • Pagodas: Pagodas, which are multi-tiered towers commonly found in traditional Chinese architecture, can also be seen in some areas of Hawaii. These pagodas serve various purposes, such as religious or cultural significance or as decorative elements in parks and gardens.
  • Ancestral Halls: Ancestral halls are traditional Chinese buildings dedicated to honoring ancestors and preserving family histories. Some Chinese community centers or historical buildings in Hawaii may have been designed with elements inspired by ancestral halls.
  • Decorative Elements: Chinese architectural elements, such as dragon motifs, Chinese characters, and symbolic animals, are sometimes incorporated into the design of buildings and public spaces, adding a distinct Chinese touch to the architecture.
  • Roof Design: The distinctive Chinese-style curved roofs, adorned with vibrant colored tiles, can be seen in some older buildings in Hawaii. These roofs are both functional, providing protection from the elements, and symbolic, representing prosperity and good luck.
  • Traditional Building Materials: In certain structures, traditional Chinese building materials, such as wood, bricks, and stone, may have been used, reflecting the authentic architectural practices from China.
  • Historical Buildings: Some historical buildings and sites in Hawaii showcase architectural influences from various immigrant groups, including the Chinese. These buildings may have a blend of architectural styles that reflect the multicultural heritage of Hawaii.
  • Contemporary Architecture: Even in modern times, architects may draw inspiration from Chinese architectural elements when designing new buildings or cultural centers, further perpetuating the influence of Chinese architecture.

Chinese Culture and Hawaii

Cultural Organizations

Chinese cultural organizations in Hawaii play a vital role in preserving and promoting Chinese culture, heritage, and traditions within the local community. These organizations serve as hubs for social, educational, and cultural activities, fostering a sense of unity and identity among the Chinese diaspora in the islands. They also contribute to the broader Hawaiian society by organizing events and programs that celebrate diversity and multiculturalism. Here are some key aspects of Chinese cultural organizations in Hawaii:

  • Chinese Benevolent Societies: Chinese Benevolent Societies, also known as "huiguan" or "hui guan," are community-based organizations that provide social support and assistance to Chinese immigrants and their descendants. These societies have a long history in Hawaii and were established to help newcomers navigate life in the new land, provide mutual aid, and preserve cultural practices.
  • Chinese Language Schools: Chinese cultural organizations often run Chinese language schools that offer classes in Mandarin or Cantonese. These schools aim to teach Chinese language skills to children and adults, ensuring that the language is passed down to future generations.
  • Cultural Performances and Festivals: Chinese cultural organizations in Hawaii organize traditional performances, including lion and dragon dances, Chinese opera, martial arts demonstrations, and cultural shows during Chinese festivals such as the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
  • Art and Cultural Exhibitions: Chinese cultural organizations may host art exhibitions, calligraphy workshops, and other cultural events to showcase Chinese artistic traditions and craftsmanship.
  • Community Celebrations: These organizations often take the lead in organizing community celebrations for major Chinese festivals, providing a platform for the community to come together and celebrate their cultural heritage.
  • Scholarships and Educational Programs: Some Chinese cultural organizations in Hawaii offer scholarships and educational programs to support students in their academic pursuits and promote cultural learning.
  • Cultural Exchange and Dialogue: These organizations engage in cultural exchange initiatives, collaborating with other cultural groups and community organizations in Hawaii to promote understanding and appreciation of different traditions.
  • Heritage Preservation: Chinese cultural organizations actively work to preserve Chinese cultural heritage by documenting historical narratives, preserving artifacts, and maintaining cultural spaces like Chinese temples and community centers.
  • Community Services: Besides promoting culture, some Chinese cultural organizations engage in community service activities, supporting charitable causes and giving back to the broader Hawaiian community.

Martial Arts and Traditional Arts

The influence of Chinese martial arts and traditional arts in Hawaii can be seen in various aspects of the islands' cultural and recreational activities. Chinese immigrants who arrived in Hawaii brought with them their rich traditions of martial arts and other traditional arts, which have since become integral to the local cultural landscape. These arts have not only preserved their cultural heritage but also fostered a sense of community, discipline, and well-being among practitioners.

  • Martial Arts Schools: Chinese martial arts schools, often referred to as "kung fu" or "wu shu" schools, have been established throughout Hawaii. These schools offer instruction in various styles of Chinese martial arts, such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Wing Chun, and others.
  • Performance and Demonstrations: Chinese martial arts performances and demonstrations are common during Chinese festivals and cultural events in Hawaii. These dynamic displays showcase the beauty, athleticism, and cultural significance of traditional martial arts.
  • Tai Chi in Parks: Tai Chi, a Chinese internal martial art known for its slow and graceful movements, is practiced in parks and public spaces across Hawaii. Many people, including both Chinese and non-Chinese practitioners, engage in Tai Chi for its health benefits and meditative aspects.
  • Martial Arts Competitions: Hawaii hosts martial arts competitions, including Chinese martial arts tournaments, where practitioners can showcase their skills and compete in forms and sparring events.
  • Cultural Exchange: Chinese martial arts provide a platform for cultural exchange between the Chinese community and other cultural groups in Hawaii. People from diverse backgrounds may come together to learn and appreciate the beauty of these traditional arts.
  • Traditional Arts and Crafts: Chinese traditional arts and crafts, such as calligraphy and Chinese painting, are taught and exhibited in various cultural events and workshops, further enriching the local cultural scene.
  • Lion and Dragon Dances: Lion and dragon dances, which are integral to Chinese cultural celebrations, are performed in Hawaii during Chinese festivals. These vibrant and energetic performances showcase the artistry and coordination involved in these traditional practices.
  • Health and Wellness: Besides the martial aspect, practices like Tai Chi are embraced for their health benefits, promoting physical well-being and stress reduction in the community.


As you can see, the influence of Chinese culture in Hawaii has been significant and enduring. Chinese immigrants first arrived in Hawaii in the 19th century, primarily as laborers for sugar plantations. Over the years, they have become an integral part of the Hawaiian community, contributing to the cultural diversity and heritage of the islands.

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