Chinatown 2.0: the difficult flowering of an ethnically themed shopping area
By Jan Rath, Annemarie Bodaar, Thomas Wagemaakers & Pui Yan Wu
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2017, 44 (1): 81-98
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 of the enhancement of Chineseness. Following Hackworth and Rekers. [(2005). “Ethnic Packaging and Gentrification. The Case of Four Neighborhoods in Toronto.” Urban Affairs Review 41 (2): 211–236], we argue that this case challenges traditional understandings of ethnic commercial landscapes. In sharp contrast to the current orthodoxy, which would conceive the proliferation of such an ‘ethnic enclave’ as part of a larger process of assimilation, we have approached Amsterdam’s Chinatown first and foremost as a themed economic space: Chinese and other entrepreneurs compete for a share of the market and in doing also for the right to claim the identity of the area. 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?