The origins of Chinatown go back to the year 1910, which makes the Amsterdam Chinatown the oldest Chinatown in Europe.
The first Chinese arrived in The Netherlands around 1900. They worked as sailors, stokers in particular, on large Dutch steamships. Most of them came from poor areas, such as the South Chinese province of Quangdong, hit hard by war and famine.
In between contracts, the Chinese workers gathered in Amsterdam around the Binnen Bantammerstraat, Zeedijk and Nieuwmarkt. Up till this day, this is where the Amsterdam Chinatown is.
Selling peanut cookies
The Dutch got to know them better when the Chinese men who were too old or weak to work on the ships, started selling peanut cookies in the streets around the Binnen Bantammerstraat.
In 1928, the first Chinese restaurant ‘Kong Hing’ in the Binnen Bantammerstraat was opened. It was huge success. Even the American singer and dancer Josephine Baker visited the restaurant several times. There are photos of her in front of the restaurant.
During the crisis years, many Chinese lost their jobs on the ships. The Dutch government deported many Chinese back to China. But many started their own business as well: restaurants, laundry companies and textile businesses and some married a Dutch woman.
Gambling houses and opium dens
After the second world war, Chinese opened restaurants all over the Netherlands. Many Chinese who started a new life in the Netherlands were illegal though. The Chinese also opened their own pleasure houses: gambling houses, opium dens and clubhouses.
In the 60s, Dutch people discovered Chinese opium and added this new spice to their favourite drugs: hash and speed.
The 80s: the heroine years
In the 70s, heroine arrived. Brought by Chinese mob from Hong Kong and Singapore, it was cheap and very addictive. Chinatown Amsterdam was where junkies and dealers met.
In 1980, over 10.000 people in Amsterdam were addicted to heroine. Many died of overdose. After 1985, HIV/Aids arrived and the sharing of needles to inject heroine caused even more deaths.
In 1985, the area around Zeedijk and Chinatown was ‘swept’ clean, to end the illegal street trade in drugs and the Chinese neighbourhood started to flourish.
Nowadays Amsterdam is proud to have Chinatown. The Chinese new year is celebrated here with a festive parade of dragons and fireworks.
Amsterdam Chinese restaurants
You will find excellent authentic Chinese food in Chinatown: roast duck shops, Chinese pastry, supermarkets with Chinese spices and of course many good and cheap restaurants. You will also find Japanese, Indonesian, Thai and Korean restaurants.
There are Asian supermarkets, hairdressers, bookshops, massage parlours, travel companies and shops specializing in religious items.
In more recent years, the gay scene has taken a interest in Chinatown and there are now more and more gay bars to be found here.
He Hua Tempel
Heart of Dutch Chinese community is the Buddhist temple on Zeedijk, built in 2000 and officially opened by Queen Beatrix. The Fo Guang Shan He Hua Tempel is the largest religious building in Chinese style in Europe.
The design was made by a Dutch architect. Ornaments and roof tiles were flown in from China. The animals pictures on the roof represent the Chinese zodiac. The dragon represents the protection of the temple and its surroundings.
During the Buddhist memorial day of Vesak (in May or June), Dutch-Chinese from all over The Netherlands visit the temple to burn incense for Buddhist saints. A sculpture of Gautama Buddha is carried in a procession to Nieuwmarkt square.
The He Hua Temple offers a guided tour and is open for tourists as well as Buddhists for meditation.