Chinese-Indonesian people are descended from both their Chinese and Indonesian ancestors. China had been trading with kingdoms in this archipelago for a long time. This meant that Chinese who wanted to trade their commodities came and assimilated for many years. As a result, a new race of Chinese-Indonesians were born in Indonesia. Even though they have Chinese features, some Chinese-Indonesians have different mannerisms and customs compared to those living in mainland China. Some can neither speak nor understand Chinese. However, recently some people believe that they are a foreign community living in Indonesia. As the result, they sometimes receive discrimination. One of the worst incidents occurred in 1988 when the monetary crisis hit Indonesia and other Asian countries hard. But why do some Indonesians hold this prejudice against Chinese-Indonesians?
According to Daniel Chariot, a sociologist from America, in his Journal “Political Psychology”, the nationalism mindset in most Indonesians is one of the factors which plays into Chinese-Indonesian hate. He categorised this nationalism based on another American sociologist, Liah Greefeld, as civil nationalism based on ethnicity. In Indonesia’s case, he classified this civil nationalism based on how most Indonesians see the similarities between one ethnicity and another, but unfortunately not for the Chinese-Indonesian ethnic group. Chinese-Indonesians are not “eligible” as Indonesians because their features are nowhere near the people of Javanese, Sundanese, or any “original” tribes that existed. Therefore, some Indonesians think of Chinese-Indonesians as an outsider community.
This difference became much sharper when the Western Dutch power colonized Indonesia. At that time, the colonial government classified the Chinese and Chinese-Indonesians as second-class citizens, while the other tribes were classified as third-class citizens. This sparked a social injustice between the local tribes and Chinese-Indonesians, for the second-class citizens had more privileges than the third-class. There is a reason why Chinese-Indonesians are classified as second-class; they were regarded as excellent at trading. Therefore, the colonialists both needed and feared them. One of the social segregation rules created by the colonialists for the Chinese-Indonesians was called Wijkenstelsel; the Indonesian-Chinese had to wear only Chinese clothing and lived only in a designated area. That way, as time went by, although they lived among Indonesians, they would be seen as outsiders.
As second-class citizens, Chinese-Indonesians were still inferior against the European colonists. In Batavia (Jakarta), Chinese-Indonesians had to show their identification paper so that they could be monitored. Unfortunately, the riot outside Batavia caused by aChinese-Indonesian farmer caused a tragedy called “Geger Pecinan”. The riot outside the city itself was caused by discrimination from colonialists, which caused the Chinese-Indonesians to bring any weapon they could. Unfortunately, because of that, the colonialists were worried that the Chinese-Indonesians who lived within the city would also plan the same riot. Driven by paranoia, the general governor at that time, Adrian Volckanier, ordered his men to arrest and slaughter any Chinese-Indonesians inside the city. It was a bloody week where approximately 10,000 people got killed and the city’s canals turned red.
Despite Chinese-Indonesians suffering from that tragedy, the other tribes still saw Chinese-Indonesians as an ally community of the colonialists. One of the factors that enhanced this was that some Indonesian-Chinese worked for the colonialists. As a result, the other Indonesians thought they were betraying them. This thought later became a strong stereotype that was rooted in their mindset. This is a sad fact, for there were also some non-Chinese-Indonesians who worked for the colonialists.
Old Order Era (Soekarno’s Era)
After Indonesia declared its independence, the government was confused about how to determine Indonesian citizens. Then, they came up with an idea that anyone who had lived in Indonesia before the proclamation would be considered Indonesian. However, the Chinese-Indonesians had a hard time proving that for their parents’ physical features. As a result, some of the Chinese-Indonesians could not apply for Indonesian citizenship.
Another discrimination came from the economic field. At that time, people had a hard time trading goods. To solve that, the government at that time released a policy that regulated foreign merchants not to trade their goods in villages. This policy was meant to reduce the competition between foreigners and the locals. However, because some Chinese-Indonesians were classified as foreigners, they could not trade their goods to the village. Fortunately, this policy was updated for inclusion.
New Order Era (Soeharto’s Era)
I have briefly explained how terrible the circumstances were in 1998, when some angry mobs hunted, destroyed and raped any Chinese-related people in my previous article, “New Order: Fake Hope For Indonesia”. Before that horrible event, Chinese persecution had been conducted since Soeharto arose to power. At that time, the Indonesian Communist Party was taken down by the government for plotting a coup d’etat. Anyone who had supported the party was killed. The others involved indirectly with the party were suspected by the authorities, including the Chinese-Indonesians. At that time, China was one of the countries that had applied communism. Therefore, any Chinese-related person was suspected to be a supporter of the Indonesian Communist Party. Some special regulations were conducted to prevent them from rebelling in the future. For example, Confucianism was banned, any event related to Chinese culture was banned, and anyone who owned a Chinese name, whether it was a personal name or a building’s name, had to convert it to an Indonesian name. Although it looked like the government wanted to blend the Chinese-Indonesian with the other tribes, it was not genuine and discriminative.
Reformation Era (2000 – Today)
Chinese discrimination in this period got better. When Abdurrahman Wahid, the fourth president of Indonesia, was in power, he abolished any discriminatory laws for Chinese-Indonesians. Because of him, Chinese New Year became one of the national holidays. Although the situation is getting better, the negative stigma towards Chinese-Indonesians has not been eradicated.
When Joko Widodo, the current president, was in his first period of presidency, he opened bilateral cooperation with China to support the development of Indonesia’s infrastructure. China helped its ally by sending some of its workers from the mainland. This however, creates a polemic among Indonesians. Some people witness that the Chinese workers who were sent to support the cooperation were not only the expert workforce but also lacked perception. This news was also confirmed by the Indonesian Ministry of Labors, Ida Fauziyah. She stated that Chinese laborers who entered Indonesia numbered about 8,700 people by 18th May 2021. Therefore, a lot of Indonesians fear that one day, the local workforce would be completely replaced. Thus, the hatred of any Chinese-related people, including Chinese-Indonesian, is likely to rise again.
It will be a challenge to eradicate the hatred between one and another. It is a strong root that Indonesians have to pull out by loving and helping one another. After all, the cultural differences make Indonesia a colourful, vibrant country.