Dutch Chinese are searching for their roots in China

Report China roots • 19/01/2018 • VPRO Bureau Buitenland - NPO Radio 1

Dutch Chinese search for their roots in China increasingly often. Foreign Desk-editor Cindy Huijgen paid a visit to Wang An Oe, who was born and raised in the south of the Netherlands and successfully found her Chinese family.

“This is my ancestral home, where one of my ancestors played as a little boy,” says Wang An Oe, looking at a panorama picture placed on a shelf in the middle of her living room. The shelf is reminiscent of an altar, but for her, it serves more as a memory of an emotional trip to China.

Oe grew up in Limburg, a southern province of the Netherlands. Nowadays, she lives near Amsterdam with her partner Tjabring van Egten. Together they went searching for her Chinese roots. “We were able to trace the village where my great-great-grandfather grew up. At one point he migrated overseas, so it was a surprise to still find family living there.”

There are approximately 150,000 overseas Chinese living in the Netherlands. Especially the youngest generation is curious about their often-unknown roots. Over the past few years genealogical services have been emerging rapidly. Dutch entrepreneur Huihan Lie founded My China Roots in 2012, which offers help in tracing ancestral villages. In only five years he has seen the interest grow well beyond his expectations. Lie: “Nowadays, we can barely keep up with the demand.”

Lie believes that the convenience of the internet contributed to the blooming of his business, but the growing number of culturally mixed couples among the Chinese diaspora plays an even bigger role. “Cultural identity is a main factor in those relationships,” Lie explains. The importance of ancestral lineage is a key factor for his more elderly clients. Lie: “In order to give our clients a valuable journey to the past, we try to show them how their ancestors lived and why they had to emigrate.”

It is this emotional context that Oe appreciated most. She describes the visit to her ancestral village as a modern fairy tale. “I was excited for weeks before going there. When I finally arrived, I was welcomed as a lost daughter.”