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Chinatown 1972

5 March 2008 - In 1972, photographer Ab Koers and journalist Nico Polak gained access to the closed Chinese community in the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood. A selection of Koers’ photos has now been published at the website of the International Institute of Social History (IISH).

The Chinese community originally consisted of cheap sailors working at the steam ships of shipping companies such as the KNSM. In between contracts, they stayed at boarding houses around the Binnen Bantammerstraat. When steam ships became obsolete, the sailors lost their jobs. Some one thousand are believed to have been forcibly repatriated.

Others survived by opening restaurants. In 1928, the first Chinese restaurant, Kong Hing, opened at the Binnen Bantammerstraat. It was frequented by American singer Josephine Baker. By 1980, the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimated that every Dutch town with more than 10,000 inhabitants had a Chinese restaurant.

Meanwhile, the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood had been hit by the loss of its Jewish population during the Second World War and the demolition work that had taken place for the construction of the metro. Besides restaurants, the Chinese operated opium dens and gambling houses that were only open to the Chinese.

In that period, Koers and Polak portrayed the neighbourhood for an article in Avenue magazine. Nine photos and an introductory text have now been published at the IISH website.

IISH website. Image: Gambling house (photo: Ab Koers / collection IISH)


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