It was Police Commissioner Gerard Toorenaar who advocated the idea of tolerating drugs and prostitution, instead of forbidding them, because if you tolerated these phenomenons you would be able to control them.
In 1911 the Steam Society Netherlands recruited in secret Chinese stokers in London and Liverpool, to break the impending strike by Dutch sailors in advance. But they were excluded from work because the Dutch saw this as unfair competition. The Chinese stokers didn’t have any money for the trip back to the U.K., and they hardly had opportunities on the Dutch labour market. So they lingered in the areas near the Red Light District, because they had no women. For that reason the Rotterdam city council tolerated prostitution in the areas where the Chinese sailors lived, after they had evicted brothels in other parts of the city. That seems to be the main reason why in so many cities around the world Chinatown is never far from the Red Light District.
The global recession of 1929 drove many Dutch shipping companies to bankruptcy. Only much later a police officer managed to persuade shipping companies to transport “excess Chinese” to Batavia, in the Dutch East Indies, for a cheap fair. Because they had to make a living somehow, many Chinese men were now selling peanut products in the streets. Later they founded Chinese restaurants. Thanks to the success of the Chinese peanut cookies, the Chinese spread rapidly throughout the Netherlands. Some five hundred Chinese settled in Amsterdam, and around the Binnen Bantammerstraat the Amsterdam Chinatown was created.
In 1966 there were eight Chinese restaurants for the Dutch, specialised in colonial Dutch East Indies food, four gambling houses, two opium dens, a few boarding houses, one Chinese hairdresser, two Chinese shops, three clubhouses for various Chinese ethnicities, and four Chinese restaurants for Chinese. After the Second World War there was a tolerated opium den in the Zeedijk. Only Chinese people were allowed inside. But the Chinese “pharmacists” also had customers outside their own circles. Sometimes Dutch people from the Red Light District treated themselves to a “Chinese powder” in the Bantammerstraat. Gambling, one of the six “sins”, was one of the few forms of entertainment the Chinese allowed themselves. Gamblers who had lost a lot of money were helped in their own circles. If not, then there was always the organisation Big Ears for them, to borrow money at usurious rates. The police left some practices, such as smoking opium and illegal gambling, untouched.
In those days, I was only 15 years old, I used to work for Mr Ma Hen Chang, who owned three Chinese restaurants. Sometimes I had to work as a waiter, sometimes as a cook, whatever was needed most. One day Mr Ma only owned one restaurant, because he lost the other two, by gambling.
Every once in a while the police had a look into the opium dens, and then left again. Opium was part of the Chinese culture. Moreover, it doesn’t cause any trouble, because someone who has used opium does not run around wild.
But it got out of hand in the early 1970s when the Triads, the Chinese organised crime, became involved, and drug-related crime and nuisance came to exist.
In 1972 the first triad quartermasters arrived. Five triads were active in 1974, particularly in drugs and gambling. One of the triads, Ah Kong, won the battle for heroin. The other triads were 14 K, Wo Lee Kwan, Wo Sing Wo, and Tai Huen Chai. The Tai Lo’s, the capos of the triads, were official owners of restaurants which served as a cover.
In 1974 the heroin trade was mainly in the hands of Hong Kong Chinese, grouped in the 14K, the Wo Lee Kwan and Wo Sing Wo. At that time the Chinese community in Amsterdam consisted of about 5,000 people. Their godfather was Chung Mon, head of the 14K, who officially did little more than owning a Chinese restaurant, a gambling house and a travel agency, but behind the scenes he controlled the whole Chinese trafficking in heroin via Amsterdam. On March 3, 1975 he was killed by a hit team of the rival triad Wo Lee Kwan, and thousands of Chinese from all over Europe attended his funeral. The reason of this deadly conflict between the 14K and Wo Lee Kwan was that the Wo Lee Kwan also wanted to open a restaurant and a gambling house in Chinatown, and Chung Mon wanted to avoid this by threatening them that he would cut them off from the lines of heroin from Hong Kong. Chung Mon’s liquidation was followed by a series of fights and shootings, which indicated that the power struggle was not over yet. Chung Mon’s successor, Yuen Muk Chang, was also liquidated in this power struggle, by Wo Lee Kwan hitmen.
The triads fought each other to the death. After these and several other killings, the gambling palaces were closed and some illegal Chinese were expelled.
The vacuum created by the police actions in the heroin trade, was very quickly filled by heroin dealers of different nationalities, most of them Turkish, Moroccan, and Dutch. In August 1976, two Dutch guys from Amsterdam were caught in Bangkok with 138 kilograms of heroin.
An international market of an extremely addictive drug called heroin was created, and the stream of supply and demand was unstoppable.