The Amsterdam Chinatown lies in the heart of the city around Nieuwmarktplein square. It is one of the oldest Chinese neighbourhoods i Europe, dating back to around 1910. The first Chinese arrived in The Netherlands around 1900. They worked as sailors, stokers in particular, on large Dutch steamships.
History of Amsterdam Chinatown
Most of the Chinese sailors came from poor areas, such as the South Chinese province of Quangdong, which was hit hard by war and famine. In between contracts, the Chinese workers gathered in Amsterdam around the Binnen Bantammerstraat, Zeedijk and Nieuwmarkt. First they stayed mainly indoors in small cramped boarding houses.
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.
Josephine Baker in Amsterdam
During the crisis years following the oil crisis of 1928, many Chinese lost their job on the ships. The Dutch government deported many Chinese back to China. But many Chinese people stayed and started their own business around the area of Nieuwmarkt in the heart of Amsterdam: restaurants, laundry companies and textile businesses. Some married a Dutch woman.
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.
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 1960s, Dutch people discovered Chinese opium and added this new spice to their favourite drugs: hash and speed.
Amsterdam heroine years
In the 70s, heroine arrived. The Chinese mob brought the drugs from Hong Kong and Singapore. It was cheap and very addictive. Chinatown in Amsterdam was where junkies and dealers met. In 1980, over 10.000 people in Amsterdam were addicted to heroine. Many people 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
Amsterdam Chinatown is where you can find authentic Chinese food: 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 Amsterdam gay scene has taken over many of the old bars in this old harbour district of Amsterdam.
He Hua Tempel
Heart of Dutch Chinese community is the Buddhist temple on Zeedijk. The He Hua Tempel was built in 2000. Dutch Queen Beatrix performed the official opening ceremony.
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. The Amsterdam Chinatown area is located around Nieuwmarkt Square and Zeedijk.