Centre for Social Science and Global Health

New Article by Jan Rath Explores the Idiosyncracy of Amsterdam's Chinatown

30 May 2017

In "Chinatown 2.0: The Difficult Flowering of an Ethnically Themed Shopping Area", Jan Rath et al. challenge orthodox perspectives on 'ethnic enclaves', approaching Amsterdam’s Chinatown as a themed economic space where Chinese entrepreneurs compete for a share of the market, and simultaneously, for the right to claim the area's identity.

Right in Amsterdam’s picturesque Canal Zone, on and around Zeedijk, Chinese entrepreneurs have carved out a presence in what seems like the local Chinatown. The businessmen have been targeting Asian and non-Asian customers by offering products that – to an extent – can be associated with Asia, China in particular. Since the early 1990s, individual entrepreneurs and their business organisations have campaigned for official acknowledgement of Zeedijk as an ethnic-only district and for governmental support for the enhancement of Chineseness.

Following Hackworth and Rekers' 2005 article “Ethnic Packaging and Gentrification: The Case of Four Neighborhoods in Toronto” (Urban Affairs Review 41(2): 211–36), the authors argue that the case of Amsterdam's Chinatown challenges traditional understandings of ethnic commercial landscapes. In sharp contrast to the current orthodoxy, which would conceive of the proliferation of such an ‘ethnic enclave’ as part of a larger process of assimilation, they approach Amsterdam’s Chinatown first and foremost as a themed economic space.

What is the historical development of the Zeedijk area, how did Chinese entrepreneurs and their associations try to boost Chinatown and negotiate public Chineseness, and how did governmental and non-governmental institutional actors respond to those attempts? Based on these questions, the artcle traces the unique trajectory and position of Amsterdam's Chinatown relative to common conceptions of Chinatowns in other world cities.

About the Author

Prof. Dr. Jan Rath received his MA Degree in cultural anthropology and urban studies and his PhD from Utrecht University. He is now Professor of Sociology, Member of the Center for Urban Studies and the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies (IMES) in the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) at the University of Amsterdam. He is, moreover, involved in the European Research Network IMISCOE, the European Chair of International Metropolis and a Member of the World Economic Forum. He has been an advisor of the Dutch local and national governments, the European Commission, the OECD, the United Nations, and various other organizations.

Article Information

Authors: Jan Rath, Annemarie Bodaar, Thomas Waagemakers and Pui Yan Wu
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Publication Date: May 29, 2017

Published by  AISSR