Two Cities, Two Tales.
Case study of Antwerp and Brussels Chinatowns
Paper prepared for Rabat Workshop
Ethnic Neighborhoods as Places of Leisure and Consumption
10-12 May 2007
Ching Lin Pang,
Senior researcher, IMMRC KU Leuven
Lecturer, HEC Uliege
There is a general consensus that the rapid development of immigrant entrepreneurship,
especially in the commodification of ethnic-cultural symbols, has shaped urban landscapes,
transforming them into ethnoscapes (Appadurai 1990) or ethnic precincts (Collins 2006) of
leisure and consumption (Conforti 1996; Shaw, Bagwell and Karmowska 2004; Rath 2007:
Taylor 2000). One of the most emblematic ethnic precincts is Chinatown. In this paper I will
first provide a short description of the development of the two Chinatowns in Antwerp and
Brussels. General Chinese migration flows to most Western European countries, and in
particular to Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK (Pang 2003) in the two decades after
WWII have produced a distinctive settlement pattern of dispersal instead of concentration.
The first Chinese restaurantowners catered to the majority group, rather than the co-ethnic
group. The scattered pattern of settlement was hardly conducive to the formation of
Chinatown, be it a ghetto, ethnic enclave, ethnoburb or ethnoscape of consumption. Yet from
the mid 1970s onwards some sort of clustering of Chinese small businesses, mostly
restaurants and food stores, did take off both in Antwerp and Brussels. Some of these first
vestiges have vanished, while others have remained. Three decades later Chinatown Antwerp
and Brussels have become a familiar ethnoscape in both cities. Both sites will be discussed:
the historical context, a general mapping of the current situation. Then the conditions for the
commodification of ethnic precincts will be put forth alongside with critical notes on
unintented side effects and the replicability of the Chinatown formula to other cultures.
2. Chinatown Antwerp
Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Some 60% of the ten
million Belgians are Flemings. They speak Dutch. Like their French and German-speaking
compatriots they have their own parliament and government. The capital of Flanders is
Brussels, also the capital of Federal Belgium and ‘the heart of Europe’. The population of
Antwerp amounts to 470,421 (2003) in an area covering approximately 22,076 hectares.
Historically it was the most important trading and financial centre in Western Europe in the
first half of the 14th century. The wealth was based on its seaport and the wool market. In the
following 50 years due to political changes it has lost many of its privileges and its economic
clout to the advantage of Bruges. However the political and economic tide has once more
turned gain and Antwerp was experiencing a Golden Age in the 16th century. It has developed
into a world class metropolis, almost like a ‘16th century Manhattan’. Well-known names
from that age are the painters Quinten Metsys, Breughel, the printer Plantijn, the humanists
and scientists Lipsius, Mercator, Dodoens and Ortelius.
In terms of city marketing, Antwerp likes to call itself ‘a pocketsize metropolis’. The home
page of tourism (www.antwerpen.be) welcomes potential visitors as follows:
Antwerp is the real urban deal, a refreshingly down-to-earth yet vivacious cosmopolitan habitat blessed
with magnificent architecture, fashionable shop fronts, beer-washed pubs, dazzling monuments, jazzed-
up clubs, inspired artworks and restaurant tables piled with plates of superb Belgian and multicultural
food. Antwerp, home of the Flemish Baroque master Rubens, not only has a wealth of outstanding
museums, picturesque galleries, sculpted streets and beautiful architecture, but it is also laced with
refreshing greenery and urban haunts. Its culture, history, vibrant nightlife and world class shopping are
within easy reach, thanks to excellent access by air, train, motorway and even water .
As for shopping in Antwerp, the official shopping guide tells the visitor that:
You’ll never be bored when shopping in Antwerp: it’s an experience in itself. Antwerp contains a rich
and diverse range of stores. Even better yet, the shopping zones are contained in the cultural and historic
sections of Antwerp. The guide focuses on eight shopping zones in the centre of the city: Central station,
Meir, historical centre, de wilde zee, quartier Latin, de fashion quarter, the South, de ‘leien’ avenues.
Chinatown is located in the zone of the Central station and is presented as follows:
Opposite Central Station is Antwerp ‘Chinatown’, located in Van Wesenbekestraat. This area contains a
variety of specialized stores and supermarkets selling Chinese, Thai and other exotic foods and products.
This is also the location of the indoor Criée market; a large hall with various specialty stalls selling
vegetables, fish, meat and poultry. The hall also houses a supermarket. Shopping guide Antwerp, p.6
Chinatown refers to two main thoroughfares across the Central Station of Antwerp: Van
Wesenbekestraat and Van Arteveldestraat. It is located in the northern part of the city
(Antwerpen Noord), which has been a target of city renewal since the closure of the cinema
complex Rex in 1993 (Antwerpen Stationsomgeving. An Integrated Approach 2004). This
area has been plagued with the usual problems facing inner city neighborhoods of
contemporary cities including buildings in decay, poor housing conditions, high presence of
immigrants both documented as well as undocumented, high unemployment level, high crime
rate, drugs dealings, safe houses housing victims of human trafficking, prostitution, etc.
In 1994 the city drafted a structural outline of the central station area to regenerate the
neighborhood. The financial resources are: the city, funds of the Flemish (Social Incentive
Fund) and European authorities (URBAN).
In the regeneration scheme the re-arrangement of streets and squares forms an integral part
such as the redevelopment of Van Wesenbekestraat-Chinatown in 2001. The most important
thoroughfare of Chinatown, Van Wesenbekestraat has been made car-free and the entrance
and exit are marked by two marble lions, on which ‘Chinatown Antwerp’ is engraved and the
names of the major Chinese donors. These lions were a compromise since the city
government failed to meet the demand of the Chinese to install a Chinese Arch gate at the
entrance of Chinatown. The refusal of the city to install such an emblematic sign was not out
of religious or ideological concern but rather the reason wasa rather down-to-earth objection
that such a construction would obstruct the cables of the tram, running through this street. The
standard street lighting was replaced by 18 Chinese lampions in the shape of dragons, the icon
of ‘Chineseness’. Moreover, banners were installed with images of China and containing
Chinese characters, enhancing and emphasizing the Chinese-ness of this exotic ethnoscape.
Besides the redevelopment of streets and squares, it was also decided that the city would
house some of its departments in the heart of the neighborhood. In December 1997, the city
decided to buy the Permeke building on the De Coninckplein. This building dates back to the
1920s. Halfway through last century it houses the well-known ‘Permeke Ford Garage’, which
was also called ‘the Mecca of American luxury cars’. However in 1982 the company decided
to move to the outskirts of the city. Although the building changed owners a few times, the
building has ever since not been used for a specific purpose. The once-so-glamorous building
has become one of the many cancerous spots in the area surrounding the central station. In
December 1997 the city decided to buy the complex and installed some of its departments
there: a council office for the north of Antwerp, the central public library of the city and
opportunities for ‘incentive projects’ for the superdiverse neighborhood. The central public
library is conceived as an open library with direct access to the books. In addition, there is a
reading café in the glass cube, an auditorium, a winter garden en a few multi-functional rooms
open to local socio-cultural activities and therefore creating a space where people and cultures
can meet. The Permeke project serves as a link between the new developments in the vicinity
of the Central Station and the residential areas in the north of Antwerp. The purpose is to
break the long-standing barrier between the closed shopping areas and the run-down
residential area and thus contribute to the improvement of the quality of living and working in
this area. The total cost of the project is estimated at 25 million Euro. The city provides half
of the funding. The remainder has been financed by the sale of the building and by Flemish
and European subsidies.
A Vibrant Chinese Presence in Commerce and in Community Life
The emergence of the first stores in the area now commonly referred to as Chinatown took
place in mid 1970s. Prior to that period Chinese migrants in Antwerp and the rest of the
country displayed a dispersed settlement pattern as they cater to Belgian customers and not
co-ethnics. However, with the growing size of Chinese migrants and their daily shopping
visit to the indoor market ‘Criée’ to purchase food and produce for business and personal
purposes the area has become unintentionally a meeting point of Chinese migrants. In 1976
the supermarket Sun Wah was opened by a Surinamese-Chinese family from the Netherlands.
It has attracted other businesses such as restaurants, video rental shops, Chinese bakeries,
travel agencies, dentists, doctors, acupuncturists, Buddhist temple, etc. The supermarket Sun
Wah has evolved into the largest Chinese supermarket in Belgium, specialized in all things
Asian. Besides Chinese, there are also other products for sale such as Japanese, Korean,
Indonesian, Malaysian and other Asian produce and products. In addition to food and
beverages, clothing, DVDs, cooking utensils, tableware, etc are for sale. It is now part of the
Rolic Group, which also publishes a newspaper on a monthly basis. This newspaper ‘Rolic
New’ discusses technology, financial news, culture, fashion, etc. The newspaper is free and its
distribution covers the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg).
The first generation restaurants and services in Chinatown targeted the co-ethnic Chinese. But
very soon Belgians, of whom many bobo’s (bohémien-bourgeois) but also other immigrants
and ethnic minorities found their way to these shops. The presence of Belgian shoppers can be
explained by changing eating practices and more generally the overall lifestyle becoming ever
more cosmopolitan and multicultural. Moreover, given the expansion of products not only
from Asia but also from other parts of the world such as Africa, other immigrants, newcomers
and ethnic minorities started to shop in this supermarket, too. Very soon after, many other
Chinese supermarkets were opened. In addition, in the 1990s some Thai supermarkets and
cafés surfaced in these two streets. At present the two streets house in total twenty-two
commercial shops (of which fourteen are Chinese, mostly food stores, two Thai supermarkets,
one Chinese and one Thai barber, one Belgian bakery, one Belgian hotel, one Belgian snooker
store and one indoor market, the Criée). In terms of restaurants, there are fifteen restaurants
(including twelve Chinese, two Thai and one Japanese restaurant). Incidentally the Japanese
restaurant is opened by a Chinese. The Thai restaurants, however, are run by Thai people.
Aside from a commercial function, the area has provided fertile ground for community life. In
total there are 6 Chinese associations, one protestant church, one Buddhist temple, two
Chinese martial arts schools, one Chinese language school and one Nepalese association. The
Chinese associations are: the Association of the Chinese settlement in Belgium, Chinatown
vzw, the Chinese Association of Merchants, the Association of the Chinese elderly, the
Chinese Women Association and the Chinese Association of the Fujianese. There are also two
Chinese acupuncture centers.
Besides consuming Chinese-Asian food and purchasing Asian exotica on an individual basis,
traditional festivals and celebrations are organized throughout the year. The most well known
festival is the celebration of Chinese Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. The main
ingredients of such as festival consist of a lion dance accompanied by ear deafening
firecrackers, a wide range of stage performances such as Chinese opera, Chinese dance, etc.
In the major thorough fare and on the square there are stands selling food, Chinese gadgets,
stands offering palm reading, calligraphy, etc. In the evening a Chinese New Year party is
organized by the Association of the Chinese settlement in one of the major performance halls
of the city. This party brings Chinese and local Antwerp people and city officials together.
The formal character is marked by the presence of a representative of the Chinese Embassy.
Yet the Chinese in Antwerp adopt a rather practical attitude towards politics namely stay
away from it if possible.
Besides celebrating Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been organized in the
past few years. Basically evolving from a traditional harvest festival marking the end of the
summer and celebrating the hard work, it has become a family celebration, with a huge
banquet, regrouping all members of the family. A special delicacy of this festival is the moon
cake. The moon in Chinese culture does not represent madness but on the contrary the unity
and harmony of the family. Also religious celebrations are now open for participation and
consumption of the general public such as the Birthday of the Buddha. This year it will be
organized on May 26.
Walks in Chinatown are offered by different organizations, both local as Chinese associations.
These walks include one or more of the following items: visit to a Chinese martial arts school,
visit to the Buddhist temple, and visit to the Chinese school and to be concluded with a
The redevelopment of the area adorning the neighborhood with ornaments and signs
associated with ‘Chinese-ness’, the increasing appeal of Chinese and religious festivals and
the Chinatown guided walks reinforce and solidify the Chinese identity of this ethnoscape. In
the near future a Chinese arch gate will be erected at the entrance of Chinatown Antwerp. The
only obstacle is formed by a complaint filed by Panos against the city of Antwerp. Panos is a
sandwich bar located at the entrance of Chinatown, fearing that the gate will block the view
from his living room on the second floor. The case is still pending. Moreover, two weeks ago
the different components of the gate have been burnt. New pieces are being ordered from
China. The timing of the installation of the Gate is postponed until the fall and possibly the
first part of 2008.
3. Chinatown Brussels
As in Antwerp most Chinese restaurants have been scattered throughout the city. However
there is somewhat of a cluster in the margin of l’Ilot sacré, the well preserved historical
walking zone between la Grande Place (Market Plaza) and la Bourse (the Stock exchange) in
downtown Brussels (Ville basse). L’Ilot Sacré is not only renowned for its rich historical
heritage but also by its wide range of restaurants. Some guidebooks call this area ‘the stomach
of Brussels’. Next to the l’Ilot Sacré is the Dansaertstreet. This area includes Dansaertstreet
and la Place Saint-Géry-Sint-Goriksplein. This area, which in the 1970s was abandoned, run
down, undesirable and dangerous, has undergone a complete spatial face-lift. It is now an
upbeat, young, trendy and stylish neighborhood. At present, it houses the pochest stores
selling avant-garde designer clothing (mostly Belgian-Ann De Meulemeester, Dries Van
Noten, A.F. Vandervorst, Bruno Pieters, etc. but also Japanese fashion-Yohji Yamamoto),
footwear (Hatshoe), glasses (Theo), flagship store of designers (Annemie Verbeke), etc. In
contrast to uptown Brussels, which is more mainstream, conservative, bourgeois and mostly
French-speaking, the Dansaert area has a preference for young, avant-garde, creative mostly
Dutch-speaking designers and artists, although it is becoming increasingly diverse. The rapid
transformation has been made possible by the presence of a major Flemish theatre,
programming experimental projects of unknown yet talented artists, the presence of a Flemish
film school and other cultural institutions. It has attracted in the 1970s and the 1980 numerous
young artists and designers to start a shop in the neighborhood. At the corner of the
Dansaertstraat and the Van Arteveldestraat the Chinese presence becomes more prominent.
The streetscape of the Saint-Catherine Street is dominantly Chinese as half of the stores are
Chinese. These shops have their name in Chinese characters on display. The menus too are
more complete in Chinese than in French, English or Dutch. For instance, the many linguistic
mistakes on the menu of a Chinese restaurant in that street reflect the orientation of the owner
to the Chinese rather than the local customer. At the corner there is the Kam Yuen
supermarket. This supermarket was formerly the Brussels branch of Sun Wah supermarket in
Antwerp. In 2002 the supermarket was sold to a Hong Kong businessman and the
supermarket was renamed Kam Yuen. Besides supermarkets, there are Chinese restaurants,
gift and toy stores, a travel agency, a Chinese bakery, a Chinese barber and a traditional
Chinese healing clinic. Among the non-Chinese stores, there is a Thai supermarket, a handful
of traditional Belgian cuisine restaurants, two popular fish shops, a Brussels hair salon, a pub
and a night shop at the corner. Compared with the posh, avant-garde image of the
Dansaertstreet, the Saint-Catherine street looks down-to-earth, chaotic, bric-a-brac and even a
bit shabby. The stores in this and adjacent streets look relatively new. A few streets further is
the Saint-Géry-Sint-Goriksplein, famous for its bars, cafés and ethnic restaurants. These
ethnic restaurants include Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese food. The Chinese are
not predominant in the streetscape. The Vietnamese and Thai restaurant are opened by
Vietnamese of Chinese descent.
Profile of the Chinese/Asian owners: high entrepreneurial spirit
The stores in de Saint-Catherine Street are relatively new. The owners of these stores are,
however, by no means new in the job. Most of them have been self-employed for more than
10 years. In search for new opportunities they have opened other stores prior to the current
business joint. Some store-owners are related to each other. The owner of ‘Little Asia’ a
Asian style restaurant is opened by the wife of the son of the Sun Wah supermarket. She has
gained some national fame by writing a Vietnamese cookbook. Her sister opened the toyshop
next to her restaurant. The owner of Kam Yuen Supermarket is also the owner of the Chinese
bakery across the street. The owner of the barber is also the owner of a Chinese restaurant in
an adjacent street. The Chinese shopkeepers and restaurateurs in Chinatown Brussels have a
different migration background than the Chinese in Antwerp. The latter originates from Hong
Kong and arrived in the second half of the 1960s. They mostly come from the same-surname
villages in the New Territories of Hong Kong. They mostly do not have high educational
background. The Chinese in Brussels Chinatown has a more diversified background in terms
of region of origin, educational attainment, migration motives, residence status. Most of them
arrived after 1970 for a wide range of reasons. They came here to study, for marriage, for
business purposes, for the education of their children or for the sake of migration to have a
better life. The common ground within this diverse group is that they have consciously made
the choice to become entrepreneurs. Most of the Chinese migrants have had higher education
and fluent language ability. Moreover, they have entrepreneurial spirit. Almost all shop
owners have been running other businesses before. For instance one couple, who owned a
seafood wholesale business over seven years, just started another real estate company. They
are not afraid of making new investments or start to learn new things, required for setting up a
business. One informant, a former Chinese teacher in a language school for more than 10
years, spent at least 2 years doing market research as he wanted to go into a cultural industry.
He has worked for 2 years for a German design company to learn more about marketing.
Another informant pointed out to the lucrative business opportunities in the Chinese
The customers of Chinese/Asian restaurants/shops
The customers of Chinese restaurants or shops are very diverse. In the trendy Dansaertstreet
these are mostly Belgians and foreign tourists. The rationale of setting up a shop in this street
is for the sake of the faddish and young image of the streetscape. The shops in these streets
such as the store Rouge, selling interesting contemporary Chinese objects or the teahouse
Nong cha or the Thai restaurant (owned by a Chinese from Kowloon, Hong Kong), cater to
the tastes of the postmodern urbanite bobo shoppers and domestic as well as international
tourists. In the restaurants of the Saint-Catherine Street, there is a mix of different customers-
natives, international tourists, other Asians, etc. The supermarket, Kam Yuen attracts a highly
diverse patronage: Vietnamese-Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese,
Japanese, adopted Belgians of Korean descent, local trendsetters, local bobo’s, Flemings,
native Brussels people, EU-migrants living in Brussels, etc.
Lack of Chinese Associations
Notwithstanding the clustering of numerous Chinese and Asian businesses in the two
streetscapes of Saint-Catherine Street and the Saint-Gorikssquare, there is no association,
regrouping all or some Chinese businesspeople. In the literature it is amply demonstrated that
the pillar of overseas Chinese solidarity through associations is based on the region of origin.
In Brussels the two most important Chinese subgroups are those coming from Qingtian and
Wenzhou. Most of the entrepreneurs in Chinatown Brussels do not belong to either of these
two groups. Thus, they do not join their associations. First given the high education
attainment and sufficient language skills, they can fence for themselves without the help of
compatriots. Second participation in these activities seems to be expensive and time-
consuming. For non-restaurant owners, their work schedule does not allow them to join their
parties, usually organized after midnight. At the other end of the spectrum, Chinese are not
involved in the activities organized by the street management committee of the Dansaertstreet.
Thus, they are not connected with the Chinese compatriot associations or with the native
neighborhood organizations. Consequently it would be difficult to have their voice heard in
redevelopment and other files and in the thematization of the neighborhood. The installation
of lions or an arch gate, the emblematic sign of a Chinatown or another form of thematization
of the neighborhood does not seem to be a concern for the Chinese merchants.
4. How to conceptualize Chinatown Antwerp and Brussels as Exotic Ethnoscape for
There are at least two ways of looking at Chinatown as an immigrant ethnic community. From
the perspective of the literature on ethnic economy, Chinatown is an exemplary case for
demonstrating how ethnicity plays a role in the ethnic enclave economy. A wide range of
research from traditional immigration countries including the US, Canada and Australia refers
to Chinatown-no matter what type: ghetto, ethnic enclave or ethnoburb-as the main locus of
ethnic economy, composed of immigrant or ethnic group’s self-employed, employers and co-
ethnic employees (Zhou 2004). Another way of approaching Chinatown is the cultural
representation by the Chinese and by the majority, generally Westerners (although there are
also Chinatowns in other parts of the world such as Japan). Chinatown in this context is a
symbolic cultural space with signs, tangible as non tangible referring to Chinese culture. The
cultural symbolism is reflected in Chinese-style objects such as the arch gate, lions and
dragons, Chinese characters on billboards. The ‘Chinese-ness’ can also be derived from
Chinese institutions in Chinatown such as associations, temples or schools (Ling 2006).
Empowerment emerges from the right to self-autonomy and the consultation and participation
of the Chinese in urban planning or other policy-making procedures (Christansen 2003).
However, Chinatowns do not only provide a functional place, where immigrants and their co-
ethnics merely perform work. It is also an exotic ethnoscape for the majority members in
Western cities. This is especially the case in postmodern cities, where ethnic enclaves are
being commodified as exotic ethnoscapes for tourist and commercial purposes (Conforti 1996;
Taylor 2000, Shaw, Bagwell and Karmowska 2004, Pang and Rath 2007). The concept
ethnoscape as used by Appadurai (1990) refers to ‘a landscape of persons who constitute the
shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guest workers and
other moving groups and persons constitute an essential feature of the world, and appear to
affect the politics of and between nations to a hitherto unprecedented degree’.
Although the ethnic enclave economy does provide some clues for understanding certain
practices such as the exploitation of co-ethnics in Chinese restaurants, this is not the main
focus of the paper. The cases of economic exploitation of undocumented co-ethnics are
mostly known through court cases. Undocumented Chinese migrants are forced into bondage
labor in order to pay back the debts he made for financing his migration trajectory from China
to Europe/Belgium. However, as no manufacturing activities can be found in the two Belgian
Chinatowns, most victims are being exploited in restaurants and shops scattered in different
parts of the country. Moreover, the ethnic enclave economy does not fit very well the two
case studies in the sense that the two Chinatowns in casu are an outcome of a dispersed
settlement pattern of Chinese restaurateurs, catering to the majority group. Most Chinese in
Brussels have a higher education and previous professional experience. They have chosen to
become entrepreneurs in the trendy area of the Dansaertstreet. They are by no means forced
into the ethnic economy after failing to find work in the mainstream labor market.
Furthermore as both Chinatowns are located in inner city zones, the concept of ethnoburb
does not apply either.
Few studies have focused on the cultural symbolic meaning of Chinatown. Space is not a
neutral carrier for people, buildings or activities. As a physical space Chinatown displays two
dimensions. On the one hand Chinatown could be presented as the center of a cultural
community, in which co-ethnics contribute to shaping and substantiating the identity of a
particular ethnoscape. ‘Chinatowns are symbolic centers of overseas Chinese communities’
(Christiansen 2003). On the other hand, Chinatowns embody consumption of exotic
ethnoscapes in postmodern cities.
The ‘Chinese-ness’ of the ethnoscape can be enhanced by a series of physical interventions
such as installing the arch gate at the entrance of Chinatown, a visible marker of an Chinese
realm, once one has gone through. Other signs are lions, dragons, the usage of Chinese
characters on billboards, etc. Besides a physical ‘sinification’ process the ‘Chinese-ness’
needs to be made tangible and real through recurring banal, every-day practices and more
organized and formal events. The every-day practices can be: a visible presence of Chinese
people in Chinatown, a Chinese smell- and soundscape such as the aroma and smells of
certain ingredients and dishes, the usage of Chinese language(s), Chinese music, etc. The
formal events refer to organized walks disseminating the narrative of the Chinese ethnoscape
and the celebration of cultural/religious festivals, representing the colors and the flavors of
Chinese culture or an imagined form thereof. Second Chinatowns are the place par excellence
for setting up ethnic-cultural institutions including Chinese language schools, religious
institutions, community organizations and cultural agencies.
In order to successfully transform a decayed area into an exotic ethnoscape for consumption
and leisure; certain key conditions need to be fulfilled, which in many instances lead to some
undesirable side effects:
-The area needs to have a vibrant immigrant commercial and community life. Otherwise it
will feel as a fake Disney land or a zoo, where some idle and lost immigrants are pathetically
put on display.
-The area needs to be sanitized (crime, prostitution, etc. need to be eradicated, de facto pushed
to other areas)
-The city government needs to develop an integral vision and policy to commodify exotic
ethnoscape. However, what to do with highly diverse neighborhoods? What to promote and
how to commodify: a singular or a multiple ethnoscape. In the case of Chinatown Antwerp
many different nationalities live in Antwerp North. Incidentally, there are hardly any Chinese
living here. They live in the greener suburban municipalities outside the 19th century city
boundary. The area houses a wide range of nationalities including Portuguese, Dutch, French,
Italians, Moroccans, Congolese, Cameroons, Albanians, Macedonians, Nepalese, Tibetans,
etc. It is also the area of undocumented migrants and it has a lively gay scene.
-What do cities do with regeneration funds they receive from their national government and
from Europe? In the case of Antwerp, it has among other invested in certain valuable
prestigious projects such as the Permeke project or the installation of a design center. Most of
the funding for the rearrangement of Chinatown comes from private Chinese sponsors. For
the installation of the Archgate, the budget was estimated at 150000 Euro, of which half was
financed by the city and other half by Chinese sponsors. What with immigrant groups, who
cannot collect sufficient funding within the own group?
-What to do with cultural/religious symbolic signs that are less appealing and less marketable
and plainly controversial? Interesting to note is that in the Turkish ethnoscape in Schaarbeek
Brussels, there has been a request by an entrepreneur to erect an ‘Oriental’ gate, marking the
entrance of Turkish town. He has not received any reaction from the municipality nor from
-The media plays a crucial role in promoting exotic ethnoscape. In the case of Chinatown, the
media has been very co-operative given the appeal of contemporary China as a world power
(China as a ‘love mark’ according to marketing guru Kevin Roberts) and the enigma
surrounding China in the general Western imagination.
This paper has discussed two Chinese ethnoscapes: Chinatown Antwerp and Chinatown
Brussels. In Antwerp the ethnoscape seem to include all the winning ingredients: the site
houses a vibrant Chinese commercial community, the city is actively pursuing a regeneration
project of the Central Station neighborhood and has included Chinatown in the general plan.
The Chinese and their organizations, otherwise very silent in politics and integration issues,
have demonstrated a high degree of co-operation and a willingness to raise fund from within
the community. The Brussels Chinatown is very different. There is a high diversity among the
Chinese entrepreneurs in terms of region of origin, migration motives. They are detached
from the traditional Chinese migrants in Brussels, originating from Wenzhou and Qingtian.
The area in which the two Chinatowns are embedded diverges greatly. Chinatown Antwerp is
located in a run-down and poor area of the city, where the regeneration process has just
started. Chinatown Brussels is located in an upbeat, trendy and young neighborhood. The
gentrification process of this neighborhood is a fact. Although the entrepreneurs have not
formed associations or joined existing compatriot associations, their business acumenl and
entrepreneurial spirit seem to make up for the lack of a formal network. Instead of presenting
the area as a China/Asiatown they are engaging in selling Chinese cultural products and
services on an individual basis. Yet the number of Chinese/Asian stores is becoming
increasingly visible substantiating and reinforcing the imagined perception of a
Chinatown/Asiatown to the visitor and the native Brussels people. Despite the differences
between the two cities, both sites qualify for a successful commodification of an exotic
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