Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chinese Cultural Center

Chinese Cultural Center, garden and main building, 2011 (photo by Lucas Marks)

Architectural design drawing of the Chinese Cultural Center, 1996 (Source:
668 N. 44th St., Phoenix, AZ 85008 

The Chinese Cultural Center was the brainchild of the BNU Corporation, with initial development begun in October 1995. The approval of parent company, COFCO, came in early 1996, and a design by architectural firm Cornoyer Hedrick was accepted by the City of Phoenix shortly thereafter. Construction proper began in February of 1997, and the main structure was completed by December of that year, though the grand opening was not until a year later.

Nowadays, the center is marketed as “a uniquely up-scale cultural, culinary and shopping attraction” and is home to the Ranch 99 supermarket, three restaurants featuring different regional cuisines, and retail shops, the most noteworthy of which are the Chinese herbalist, Asian audio/video, and two ‘gift’ style stores selling home décor and furniture ( The center also features gardens which are modeled off of those in ancient Chinese cities. Madame Ye was responsible for their design, and construction was completed in 100 days, begun in August, 1997. Finally, the center hosts an annual Chinese New Year celebration, and has also been involved with both the mid-autumn and mid-summer (Moon and Dragon Boat) festivals.

COFCO is a state-owned enterprise of the People’s Republic of China. It is primarily a foodstuff importer/exporter, but is also involved in “real estate (there are COFCO centers in Beijing and Shanghai as well), hotel, business, and financial services” ( COFCO handles domestic brands like Fortune food oils, Great Wall wine, and Le Conte chocolate, but is also the largest handler of Coca-Cola, and was responsible for re-introducing the beverage to the Chinese market back in 1979. In its other ventures, COFCO administrates expensive Gloria hotels within China, and is partnered with British company Aviva to deliver life insurance to Chinese nationals. It is truly a diversified company with such multifaceted branches.

The clash of race and space is most evident when one considers that the Chinese Cultural Center is a piece of American real-estate owned, in-effect, by the Chinese government. Thus its image is one chosen to be representative of China by the state of China. Anderson reminds us that ‘Chinatown’ is less about Chinese occupation, and more about European (or American) imagination; a socially constructed “boundary between ‘their’ territory and ‘our’ territory” for white people (Anderson 583). The website for the center is “,” and the presentation of this ‘exotic’ and ‘ethnic’ space amidst an otherwise devoid (or white) landscape perpetuates the permanent otherization of Chinese and other South Asian demographics. It is a marketing strategy on the part of COFCO which consciously or unconsciously profits from the American racialization of these groups. The choice to present ancient architectural stylings and holidays, authentic cuisine and produce, and traditional medicine are undoubtedly attempts to celebrate Chinese heritage and culture, but in the American landscape, these celebrations have a way of being diminished into caricature vis-à-vis the history of actual Chinatowns within the United States.

- Lucas Marks

Chinese Cultural Center. 2010. 25 April 2011 <>.

COFCO Limited. 25 April 2011 <>.

Anderson, Kay J. “The Idea of Chinatown: The Power of Place and Institutional Practice in the Making of a Racial Category.” Annals of the Association for American Geographers 77.4 (1987): 580-598.

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