Indonesian Chinese

From Academic Kids

The Indonesian Chinese are ethnically Chinese people living in Indonesia, as a result of hundreds of years of overseas Chinese migration.

Indonesian Chinese people are diverse in their origins, timing and circumstances of immigration to Indonesia, and level of ties to China. Many trace their origins to the southern parts of China, such as the Fujian, Hainan and Guangdong provinces. Broadly speaking, there were three waves of immigration of the ethnic Chinese to Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular. The first wave was spurred by trading activities dating back to the time of Zheng He's voyage, the second wave around the time of the Opium War, and the third and last wave around the first half of the 20th century. Chinese Indonesians whose ancestors immigrated in the first and second waves, and have thus become creolised or hua-na (in Hokkien) by marriage and assimilation, are called Peranakan Chinese. The more recent Chinese immigrants and and those who are still culturally Chinese, are called the Totok. The largest populations of Indonesian Chinese people are in the cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan, Semarang, Pontianak, and Bandung.

The economic activities and wealth of the Chinese community in Indonesia is hugely diverse; many are farmers and small-scale merchants. In many parts of Indonesia, however, they are represented among the wealthier classes out of proportion with their small numbers. According to a survey of corporations listed on the Jakarta Stock Exchange, the Indonesian Chinese community was thought to own or operate a large fraction of major Indonesian corporations. The stereotype that Indonesian Chinese people are all extremely wealthy is common in Indonesian society. In part as a result of this perceived dominance of the economy, Indonesian Chinese community has frequently been viewed with suspicion by indigenous Indonesians.


Pre-independence History

Race relations between Indonesian Chinese and native Indonesians have always been problematic. Some commentators trace this to the Dutch era when colonial policy favoured ethnic Chinese - and in so doing established their economic dominance over the region. The caste system established by the Dutch also made it disadvantageous for ethnic Chinese (and members of other races) to assimilate into the native population: this would mean being put in the third estate, the lowest one, together with the natives. Ethnic Chinese, on the other hand, together with Arabs and other Foreign Orientals were put in the second estate, just a notch beneath the first estate, a category reserved for Europeans and, ironically, Japanese and Siamese nationals as well.

Colonial race politics aside, many ethnic Chinese were supporters of colonial rule. Indeed, in the early years of the Netherlands East Indies, ethnic Chinese helped strengthen Dutch domination in the region. Souw Ben Kong, the Kapitan Cina of Banten, for example, organised a large-scale immigration of Chinese under his rule to Batavia in the seventeenth century. This significantly destabilised the Bantenese economy, thus facilitating Dutch conquest of the Sultanate. As a reward, Souw was made the first Kapitein der Chinezen of Batavia. His successors, the Kapiteins and, later, the Majoors der Chinezen of Batavia, were given landed fiefdoms and the hereditary title of Sia by the colonial government. Between them, these aristocratic Peranakan families controlled a great deal of Java's land and wealth. Through the officership system, moreover, they governed the Peranakan and ethnic Chinese population of Batavia. The system was later extended to other centres of Dutch power in Java and parts of the rest of the archipelago.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, most of these families underwent rapid westernisation. By the early decades of the twentieth century, many of them (especially those domiciled around Batavia) had become more "Dutch" than the Dutch themselves: the Sias were consequently some of the strongest proponents of colonial rule. Their hold over the economy, however, was systematically destroyed by the very government they supported in the 1920s and 1930s. Following Queen Wilhelmina's speech to the Estates General, the Dutch Parliament, in which she insisted that a "moral debt" was owed to the people of the East Indies, the colonial government implemented its so-called "social policy". This was aimed at ending feudalism in Java and breaking up the large estates of the Peranakan aristocracy. At this period the native aristocracy did not own much land due to their belief that influence on citizens, rather than otherwship of land, is the base of their power. The native aristocracy owes their employment to the Dutch in the civil service. The Dutch compulsory acquisition of Peranakan fiefdoms destroyed many of the older landowning families. While some managed to go into business successfully, most former Sias (their title became obsolete by the 1940s) were swamped in economic power by Totok Chinese. This latter group remains, even today, the most powerful economic group in Indonesia.

The Chinese Indonesians built their first schools in Surabaya in the 1920s -- one of the first non-Western schools in Java -- and by the 1960s many Chinese schools had been established in the major cities. The first Chinese newspapers were also printed during this era, and several Chinese political parties were established. These political parties range from those who saw themselves as part of the Indonesian nationalism movement, and those who felt that Chinese Indonesians are still Chinese citizens, a question that was left unresolved for many decades.

Post-independence and New Order Era

In the 1960s government regulations restricted the Indonesian Chinese to urban centers, and many were forced to relocate. Moreover, political pressures in the 1970s and 1980s restricted the role of the Indonesian Chinese in politics, academics and the military. As a result, they were restricted mostly to trade and manufacturing. In the 1970s, following the failed alleged Communist coup attempt in 1965, there was a strong sentiment against the Indonesian Chinese, who were accused of being Communist collaborators.

Most Indonesian Chinese were and are not Muslim, further fomenting negative sentiments from the mostly Muslim native Indonesians. This is ironic in light of the fact that many of the earliest Muslim evangelists in Java (who were called the Wali Songo or the nine ambassadors) were of Chinese ancestry. Government policy mandated all Chinese language teaching be banned from schools; Chinese names were outlawed and most Indonesian Chinese were made to adopt Indonesian names. The established Chinese schools were nationalized and their facilities were converted to public schools. Moreover, many Chinese Indonesians were assigned different identity cards which show their ethnicity, and have to show proof of having rejected Chinese citizenship, despite being a native-born Indonesian. Many believed these laws were targeted to drive Chinese out of the country because family names and genealogy are an important part of Chinese life.

In 1998 during the fall of Suharto's 32-year presidency, numerous riots targeted the wealthy Chinese people in the country. Chinese homes were looted and burned, and many Chinese people were raped or killed. The events in 1998 were significant because unlike earlier actions taken against Indonesian Chinese, this incident aroused the interest and feelings of the ethnic Chinese in China and other countries. After the tragedy, some number of Chinese Indonesians migrated to other countries, such as USA, Australia, Singapore, and especially the Netherlands.

Many believe that the domination of the economy, and segregated life in many places, brought jealousy which lead to discrimination and occasional violence. Most Indonesian Chinese are not politically active and hence fail to set legislation to protect their own interests despite their economical affluence. The situation is different in Singapore where the overseas Chinese are both politically and economically active.

Despite the regulations and sentiments against the Indonesian Chinese, many have succeeded in particular fields of excellence, most notably in the sport of Badminton. It is easily one of the most popular sports in Indonesia, with Indonesian athletes dominating the sport from the 1970s to the 1990s. Many of the key players and coaches are Indonesian Chinese, such as Susi Susanti, Alan Budikusuma, Rudy Hartono, and Liem Swie King. However, the economic crisis and riots of 1998 have forced many of them to move out of the country.

Recent History

The condition for Indonesian Chinese has greatly improved, with new government regulations that allow the practice of Chinese cultures without prior limitations, and efforts to improve race relationships. The Chinese culture is starting to be embraced by even the popular media, widely covering Chinese New Year celebrations and even TV shows on Feng Shui. The formerly derogatory term referring to Chinese Indonesians -- Cina -- is slowly being replaced by the old term Tionghoa. A small number of Indonesian Chinese are now involved in Indonesian politics, one of whom (Kwik Kian Gie) was appointed minister in 1999.

The reversal of key discriminating laws which were intended to force assimilation into the local culture means that the Indonesian Chinese are now in an era of re-discovery. Mandarin language lessons are widely available and are popular not only among the Indonesian Chineses. Several primary, secondary and high schools teach Mandarin as a foreign language option. Attending an extensive program in a language school in Beijing or other cities is also a popular option for many Indonesian Chinese who were barred from learning Chinese during their formative years.

Several notable Indonesian Chinese:

  • Kwik Kian Gie, coordinating minister of economics and finance 1999-2000; minister of national development planning 2001-2004
  • Susi Susanti, badminton star and 1992 Olympic gold medalist
  • Alan Budikusuma, badminton star and 1992 Olympic gold medalist
  • Christian Wibisono, economics analyst
  • Bob Hasan, minister of forestry until 1998
  • Sudono Salim, enterpreneur
  • Rudy Hartono, badminton legend, 8-time winner of the All-England Cup
  • Liem Swie King, badminton legend
  • James Riady, enterpreneur
  • Christian Hadinata, badminton star
  • Tjun Tjun, badminton star
  • Yap Thiam Hien, human rights activist / public defender
  • Auw Jong Peng Koen (PK Ojong), co-founder of Kompas newspaper
  • Soe Hok Gie
  • Arief Budiman (Soe Hok Djin)
  • Liem Tjua Hok (Teguh Karya), movie/theater director
  • Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu, Minister of Trade (2004-2009)
  • Yap Tjwan Bing, member of Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (Committee for the Preparation of Indonesia’s Independence)
  • Onghokham, historian
  • Junus Jahja (Lauw Chuan Thao), Muslim assimilation activist
  • Sindhunata
  • Alvin Lie, member of Parliament
  • Teddy Jusuf, retired Brigadier General (Police)

See also


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