‘Mandarinisation’ is Not the Answer
Free from political and cultural shackles, the problems faced by the ethnic Chinese are far from over. There is progress, but there are more issues.
His name is Weibinanto Halimdjaja. He is a reliable financial economics observer. His thoughts are concise and sharp. Newspapers, television and radio stations vie against each other to quote his words. Because of his too-sharp analysis, he was once sued by a large corporation in Indonesia. He won because what he said turned out to be true.
Curious about him? His real name: Lin Che Wei.
Che Wei is obviously ethnic Chinese. Like millions of people of Chinese descent here, he has an Indonesian name, an alias, a name that is crammed into the spaces on his KTP (proof of citizenship card) or passport to make it sound native. However, Che Wei may be one of a few exceptions. He will never deign to use his Indonesian name. “What form? It is not my name. An Indonesian name is bothersome,” said Che Wei, whose official documents all contain his Indonesian name.
Not wanting to be bothered is actually not the real reason. As far as Che Wei is considered, a name is an identity. For the sake of an identity, he is willing to fight. “Lin Che Wei means someone who is steadfast,” he once said. It is this steadfastness that has taken him to trace his line of origin. He feels that, being Chinese in Indonesia means being someone who has lost his identity, his roots. That is why he traced his ancestors’ footsteps all the way to Penang, Malaysia, and Hokkian, China. His efforts were not in vain, because his ancestor line several
generations preceding him is scattered there.
Here is another story, about someone called Liem Han Hwe. He was born in a village in Kertosono, East Java. He was born in an era when the republic was still filled with feelings of fury against the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), in 1966. One day after Han Hwe was born, his father asked their servant to process his birth certificate at the civil registry office. At the office that was always deserted, the servant was asked the name of the little baby. “Suyanto,” said the servant, following his master’s orders. “Only Suyanto?” asked the official, unenthusiastically opening the form for completion.
The servant did not want the matter to be long-drawn out. He thought it would be far easier to calm the official by giving an additional name. Quickly his brain searched. And then he answered briefly, “Bagong.”
“What? Bagong?!” asked the official, half yelling.
“Well, because the baby’s eyes are too slanted, give it the name Bagong Suyanto so that later they will become big like Bagong’s in puppetry.” And so it was. In one single stroke, Liem Han Liang became Bagong Suyanto. Obviously the entire Liem family was scandalized. However, “fate” was written, literally, on a piece of paper which would determine his life later.
Bagong is not Che Wei. While Che Wei insists on using his real name, Bagong chooses to accept his fate calmly. “It’s truly a unique name. Every time I write in the newspapers, science journals, or when someone invites me to speak at a seminar, those who don’t know me will certainly be interested not only in my papers, but also in my name,” said the dean at Airlangga University, East Java, with a smile.
Che Wei, Han Hwe, and millions of other ethnic Chinese in this country have no choice but to accept their absurd fate, ever since centuries ago. During the Dutch era, the authorities forced the Chinese-and the Arabs and Indians-to enter a racial box under the name of “Foreign Eastern group”. In this way, the Dutch were able to blackmail the Chinese and at the same time paralyze their political bargaining position.
Times changed. In the Sukarno era, those of Chinese descent were able to enjoy a bargaining position on the political stage. At least, three of them-Oei Tjoe Tat, H. Mohamad Hasan alias Tan Kiem Liong, and Ir. David Cheng-were installed as ministers in the Cabinet of 100 Ministers. That was when Sukarno placed those of Chinese descent at the same level as other ethnic groups by calling them “suku peranakan Tionghoa,” just the way we of today refer to “suku Minang,” “suku Batak,” and “suku Ambon” (Minang, Batak, Ambon ethnic groups).
However, the beautiful history ended. After the PKI insurgence in 1965 and the fall of Sukarno, the Suharto regime systematically burned the bridges connecting the Chinese and the indigenous people. He forced those of Chinese descent to the sidelines to be pariahs. The only place for the Chinese was to garden in the soil of economy. He created trade feudalism by protecting a few from them as cronies, and issuing various regulations shackling them. They were even banned from speaking in their own language, and using their real names. Those were the days of cultural genocide whose momentum was triggered by the G30S/PKI.
That revolt was an excruciatingly painful turning point for those of Chinese descent. For a long time before 1965, they did not face many problems. Budi Lim, one of the best architects in Indonesia today, told of how beautiful that time was. In 1956, he was still a 2-year-old toddler who lived with his family in the Jatinegara area in East Jakarta, today called Jalan Otista.
When Imlek (the Chinese New Year) arrived, Budi’s father would call his friend, a fabric seller from Minang. When a car filled with material came, Budi’s father would call the housewives in their village. “Come, take whatever you want, to make clothes,” said Budi, recalling what his father said. When it was Lebaran, the neighbors would come bringing ketupat, gulai, opor (typical traditional food for Lebaran). “I would always look forward to green nutmeg flower for manisan,” he reminisced.
Then the 1965 tragedy struck. Since then, his village buddies who used to run after kites in the rice fields started to avoid him. When they passed each other, they would yell, “Hey, Chinese!” It was like being Chinese was a mistake, a disgrace. At around that time, his father built a wall surrounding their house. The wall became increasingly higher, confirming that Budi’s family was Chinese, and the Chinese were not allowed to step on indigenous soil.
The wall could even be in the form of a piece of paper called Proof Letter of Citizenship of the Republic of Indonesia, SBKRI. All citizens of Chinese descent must own this powerful letter shaped like a passport. And to obtain it is not easy, could even be hurtful. “When I was processing the SBKRI, the official at the embassy asked me to sing Indonesia Raya,” said Teddy, an IT consultant who had been living in Singapore for the past 15 years.
He passed this test, but apparently the official was not yet satisfied. He started looking for something to trip Teddy over. “So, who was the composer?” he asked. Teddy easily answered, W.R. Supratman. Still not satisfied, the official asked a question that even an indigenous could probably not answer, “So, where did W.R. Supratman die?” Teddy did get his SBKRI, but not without feeling the hurt which remains with him until today.
The wall of SBKRI was revoked in 1996. And then, after the fall of the Suharto regime, other walls, such as the ban from speaking and using Mandarin letters in public places, the ban on performing the barongsai dance and celebrate Imlek openly, have all fallen away. But, how can one destroy a wall whose shape and form has never been clear in the first place?
The lack of clarity can still be felt six years after Suhar
to’s ouster. A TEMPO opinion poll conducted at the beginning of this month showed that 72 percent of the 500 respondents of Chinese descent still feel that they are milk cows when they have to face the bureaucracy. “Please write in big letters, Pak, there’s no use for reforms if it’s like this,” said Adong Wijaya, a resident at Taman Lopang Indah, Unyur Subdistrict, Serang Regency, who failed to obtain an SBKRI for his child.
Actually, Adong did not need to request the problem be written in big letters. Even without the capital letters, it is obviously felt that there is a serious problem with regard to the Chinese issue. SBKRI is merely one example, a tip of the iceberg; beneath it there are so many basic issues that are still unresolved.
Look, for example, at what Frans H. Winarta, a renowned lawyer and member of the National Law Commission says. Until today, there are at least 60 laws and regulations that strongly discriminate against those of Chinese descent. Included in this group are the Law on Citizenship and the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) No. 32/1966 on the ban against the publication of Chinese newspapers and the use of Chinese characters in shops (see The Ethnic Chinese After Reformasi).
The bottom of the iceberg spans so widey, from the obstacles created by the state, economic gap, and strong social prejudices among neighbors. In their turn, all obstacles only increasingly reaffirm the stereotyping that citizens of Chinese descent are economy-animal creatures who think of profits only and are always apolitical.
Che Wei gives an example of this. At several opportunities, he asked businessmen of Chinese descent which president they would choose in the next general election. The impression he got was that they did not really care who would win, Megawati or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. “As far as they are concerned, whoever the president is, what’s important is that he or she will make business run smoothly,” said Che Wei.
That is an apolitical choice. A choice that in Che Wei’s opinion was born from years of conditioning and trauma that those of Chinese descent must be separated from the world of politics, military, and the government. A trauma that was born from the crushing of Baperki, the PKI revolt of 1965, and the May tragedy of 1998. This trauma may also be the reason why the majority of them-although in TEMPO polling claim that they are actively involved in the general elections-refuse the establishment of a special party for the ethnic Chinese group.
Fortunately, there are always people like Lieus Sungkharisma, Ester Jusuf, Budi Lim, Eko Prawoto-to mention but a few-who dare to leave the cocoon of trauma. It is also a good thing that there are people like Lim Goan Lay, better known as Halim H.D., an eccentric artist from Surakarta who believes that to remove the obstacles it is not enough by releasing barongsai on the streets or to celebrate Imlek on a large scale. “That’s mere `Mandarinisation,’ it doesn’t touch the essence of the real issue,” said Halim.
Halim yearns for the day when ethnic Chinese are good not only at trading, but are also proficient at cultural and social matters. Or, in Che Wei’s language, there must a more balanced role by the indigenous and the minority ethnic Chinese group in the fields of economy, politics, military, and bureaucracy. Only by having a balance will the obstacles disappear on their own.
Halim is right, assimilation is not `Mandarinisation.’
Chronology ~ After Sixteen Centuries
In 414, Fa Hien was the first Chinese who set foot on Nusantara soil-at least that is what history says. This Buddhist traveler wrote about Tarumanegara and Kalingga, the Hindu kingdoms on Java. The first migration to Indonesia in the 1600s boosted the number of Chinese in Batavia from around 2,000 to 10,000. The following chronology recounts a number of important events for the ethnic Chinese group in Indonesia. Starting with the massacre of the Chinese by Dutch soldiers in 1740, the chronology moves on to the year 2000 period. That was the year President Abdurrahman Wahid revoked all old bans fettering citizens of Chinese descent in Indonesia.
October 9, 1740
The massacre of Chinese in Batavia by VOC soldiers, killing approximately 10,000 people. Referred to as the first and largest act of racism against the Chinese in Indonesia.
The largest wave of migrations in the history of the migration of Chinese to Indonesia. The majority is brought in as contracted coolies for the plantations. The dichotomy between “totok” (from China) and “peranakan” (born in Indonesia) originates from this migration.
The Dutch colonial government forbids the ethnic Chinese group from conducting primary trading.
In the political frame of divide et impera (divide and rule), the colonial government uses the Chinese as middle traders with the indigenous people.
September 23, 1825
Dozens of Chinese are slaughtered in Ngawi, East Java, by troops on horses led by Raden Ayu Yudakusuma, the daughter of Sultan Hamengku Buwono I.
March 17, 1900
In Batavia Tiong Hoa Hwe Koan (THHK) led by Phoa Keng Hek is established. It is a Chinese peranakan organization whose purpose is to advance the Chinese culture and the Konghucu religion.
The THHK School on Jalan Patekoan 19 (Jalan Perniagaan) gets a widespread reception. The Dutch East Indies government becomes concerned, and opens the HSC, a school especially for Chinese children with Dutch as the intermediary language. The establishment of THHK as the first modern organization in the Dutch East Indies encourages the establishment of Boedi Oetomo, Sarekat Dagang Islam, Muhammadiyah, and other organizations.
The colonial government issues a law making it possible for the Tionghoas (the Chinese) to apply for a status that puts them at the same legal level as Europeans (gelijkstelling).
The government issues a law stating that anyone of Chinese descent is of Chinese nationality.
February 10, 1910
The Kingdom of the Netherlands announces the “Wet op het Nederlandsch Onderdaanschap” (WNO), a law stating that all Chinese people who are the second generation to be born in the Dutch East Indies are Dutch but are not Dutch citizens. Because the Chinese and Dutch governments both claim the Chinese who are born in the Dutch East Indies as their people, a dual-citizenship issue emerges. In 1955, the problem is resolved by an Agreement on Dual-Citizenship between the governments of Indonesia and the People’s Republic of China.
Anti-Chinese riots in Solo are triggered by a trade competition between Chinese and Javanese batik traders.
October 31, 1918
Anti-Chinese riots break out in Kudus, triggered by competition between Chinese and non-Chinese cigarette businessmen. Houses and stores belonging to Chinese people are looted and burned by thousands of Sarekat Islam followers from Mayong, Jepara, Pati, Demak, and the surrounding areas.
The Chinese in Surakarta cut their pigtails and trade in their traditional clothing with western-style clothes and look like sinyos (European or westernized people).
A new Dutch-educated peranakan group is born. The group belongs to the Chung Hua Hui Party, which
considers the Dutch East Indies as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, so it wants the Chinese community to be oriented towards the Dutch Kingdom. The group becomes a competitor to Sin Po, a group which considers China to be the land of its origins.
The first population census for the East Asia group. The colonial governor records 1.9 million Chinese in the Dutch East Indies, 63 percent of whom are born in Indonesia. Of the 1.9 million souls, 83 percent live on Java Island.
The Tionghoa Indonesia Party (PTI) is born in Surabaya led by Liem Koen Hian. The group argues that Indonesia is its motherland because the majority of the Tionghoa peranakan are born, live, and die on Indonesian soil. The party supports the movement to achieve an independent Indonesia.
Immigration to Indonesia is limited thus reducing the number of totok Chinese in Indonesia.
Some 635 Chinese (including women and children) are murdered. Also 1,268 houses of Chinese people are burned to the ground and 236 houses are destroyed in Tangerang and its surrounding areas. It is estimated that there are 25,000 refugees in Jakarta coming from those areas. The unrest spreads to Bagan Siapi-Api, Kuningan, Majalengka, Indramayu, Pekalongan, Tegal, Puwokerto, Purbalingga, Bobotsari, Gombong, Lumajang, Jember, Malang, Lawang, Singosari, and elsewhere.
Race riots take place in Tangerang-later known as the “Tangerang incident”-triggered by a one-sided accusation that the people of Chinese descent are previously pro-Dutch and are suspected of being agents of the NICA troops.
The People’s Republic of China establishes the Department of Commission on Overseas Chinese and gives 30 seats in the Chinese People’s Congress for representatives from overseas Chinese, including those in Indonesia. Its purpose: to protect the interests of Chinese abroad, to strengthen the bond between those abroad and in their ancestral land, and to encourage the Chinese abroad to remit money to China.
the Indonesian Chinese Democrat Party is inaugurated in a congress in Bandung.
March 13, 1954
The Indonesian citizenship conference board (Baperki) is formed by ethnic chinese leaders in Jakarta. this Organization later turned into a political party and managed to win several seats in the constituent assembly during the 1955 election.
The government issues Government Regulation PP No. 10/1959, which forbids foreign Chinese from trade at the regency level and below. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Tionghoas repatriate to the People’s Republic of China.
Subsequent to PP No. 10, military commanders (army), especially in West Java, ban ethnic Chinese from living in the villages.
Race riots break out in several places in West Java, such as Sukabumi, Cirebon, and Bandung.
The government issues PP No. 14/1967, which forbids the Chinese religion, faith, and traditional activities in Indonesia. Also issued is Circulation Letter No. 06/Preskab/6/67, which requires Chinese people to change their names to Indonesian-sounding names.
The use of the Chinese language is banned in accordance with the Decision of the Minister of Trade and Cooperatives Unit No. 286/KP/XII/1978. The New Order regime also instructs that the Chinese communities’ movements be monitored by the Coordinating Body of Chinese Affairs (BKMC) which is under the State Intelligence Coordinating Body (Bakin).
Circulation Letter SE.02/SE/Ditjen/PPG/K/988 is issued. It bans the publication and printing of articles/advertisements using Chinese characters and language in public. Also issued is Regulation by Minister of Housing No. 455.2-360/1988, which bans the use of land to build, expand, or renew Chinese temples.
On July 9, 1996, Presidential Decree No. 56 is issued. It abolishes all regulations requiring SBKRI. The decree is endorsed by Presidential Instruction No. 26/1998.
Riots in Jakarta and Solo break out. A number of people die and ethnic Chinese women are raped. Around 5,000 Indonesian ethnic Chinese citizens flee abroad.
June 5, 1998
Lieus Sungkharisma, tresurer of the Indonesian youth national committee, establishes the Indonesian Chinese Reformation Party (Parti). the goal of this party is, among others, fight for the integration of ethnic chinese Indonesians.
Presidential Instruction No. 4/1999 is issued, allowing courses in Mandarin and the use of the Mandarin language.
President Abdurrahman Wahid revokes Presidential Instruction No. 14/1967 which bans all Chinese religious, faith, and traditional activities in Indonesia. Wahid also issues Presidential Instruction No. 6/2000, which allows the ethnic Chinese to express their culture, including the freedom to practice their faith in Indonesia.
Weekend Family Reunions
After the mass rioting in 1998, many ethnic Chinese families moved to Singapore. Some have returned, but many have chosen to be part of the community of commuters.
Take a look at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng on Fridays. You will find dozens of executives ready to fly to Singapore. Their cell phones kept ringing one Friday. A man wearing a jacket raised his phone to the ear and said, “Easy, my dear, I’ll be home in two hours.”
They are weekend daddies. They are busy with their work during the rest of the week and live in Jakarta. When it’s Friday, they throng Cengkareng to depart for Changi Airport, Singapore. Then on Monday morning, after two days and three nights with their families in Singapore, they fly back to Jakarta. Thus, the Jakarta-Singapore commuting cycle repeats.
Among the ethnic Chinese groups commuting between the two countries are bankers, capital market analysts, information technology consultants, medical specialists and also Indonesia’s best architects. The commuters’ close schedules put them often aboard the same planes. “We see the same people on every weekend,” said Lin Che Wei, the capital market analyst who earned the title “Best Analyst” in Asia Money magazine, 1997.
Lin Che Wei, director of consulting firm Independent Research and Advisory, has performed his Cengkareng-Changi commuting routine for the past six years. “It started after the May 1998 incident, to be exact,” he said, referring to the tragedy that changed the entire face of Indonesia so drastically, among others marked by the fall of President Suharto.
On May 12, 1998 several students of Trisakti University were shot dead. The next day, the heated political atmosphere got out of hand. Looting, arson and rape prevailed in all corners of Jakarta. Thousands of people-not only ethnic Chinese-were trapped and burnt alive.
“I was in the office at that time,” recalled Che Wei. He was panic-stricken, which could be understood as his house was on Jalan Gunung Sahari, Central Jakarta, right behind the residence of tycoon Lim Sioe Liong. Furious masses set fire to Lim’s house, which was reduced to ashes. Che Wei wa
s certainly worried about the safety of his wife and two little daughters.
Thank God, they were safe. His family escaped the rage of masses running amok. In the evening, as the rioting slightly subsided, Che Wei rode a motorcycle, guiding a Kijang car that took his family to the Mandarin Hotel on Jalan Thamrin. After two days staying at the hotel, the whole family took refuge in Singapore. Since then, the life of Lin Che Wei has changed. The 36-year-old is now part of the community of commuters traveling the Jakarta-Singapore route.
Edward (not his real name) had about the same bitter experience. The neurologist felt he had done a lot for the country. In the early 1970s, after graduating from the School of Medicine, University of Indonesia, Edward was directly assigned as a doctor under inpres (presidential instruction) to a remote area in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). Then in the 1980s, after finishing his specialist study, Edward returned to NTT. “I was actually free to practice in a big city. There’s no obligation to serve a remote region because I’d been an inpres doctor,” said Edward. But his obsession with devotion prompted Edward to choose the solitude of NTT, where physicians were badly needed.
Only in the early 1990s did Edward return to Jakarta. And there followed the nightmare of May 1998. “I was very disappointed and sad,” he said, adding that he was convinced that the mass riots were not a genuine social upheaval. “Some circles were trying to perpetuate power by sacrificing their people,” asserted Edward. In November 1998, the Ketapang incident broke out, with subsequent burning of schools and churches in Jakarta. “We lived in fear,” he remarked. “Children couldn’t attend school peacefully. They were told to stay at home when the situation got heated.”
In 1999 Edward decided to move. His wife and two kids, still elementary and secondary school students, have settled in Singapore. Edward still practices in Jakarta and only now and then visits Singapore. “It’s my wife who becomes a commuter. She and the children commute to see me,” said Edward.
In fact, becoming commuters as an excess of unrest is not the first time. The Memoir of Oei Tjoe Tat records that part of the ethnic Chinese community led the same life after the ethnic disturbances of May-June 1946. The riots, originally centered in Tangerang, later spread to various towns. An estimated 25,000 people from different areas, covering Tangerang, Majalengka,
Kuningan, Indramayu, Bobotsari, Gombong, Pekalongan and Tegal, evacuated to the capital city. After the tension abated, some of them made a living in Jakarta and commuted to visit their families in the regions.
Not all Tangerang incident evacuees settled in Jakarta, of course. Similarly, not all the ethnic Chinese moving after 1998 have resided in Singapore. “Many have failed to survive in Singapore,” said David, his pseudonym. The middle-aged man is an active congregation member at the Presbyterian Church, Bukit Batok in Singapore, which is frequented by a lot of Indonesian churchgoers.
David explained that many factors caused the survival failure. Apart from the difference in culture, the cost of living in Singapore is very high. Life becomes hard if a settler has to work in Jakarta with an average salary. The burden further increases if he is affected by the 5-C life style a la Singapore-car, credit card, career, condominium and country club. “Hush…there’s still another C: concubine alias mistress living in Batam or Jakarta,” said David laughingly.
With the high living cost and negative excess that may arise, many families have lost their equilibrium. “Housewives are wary of their husbands having mistresses,” he noted. This worry has finally caused many of them to return home. “Their children have also returned to schools in Jakarta,” added David.
Not all those now back in Jakarta put forward the high cost argument. Harsono D. Amidjojo, an entrepreneur with several hotels in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, for instance, had his own reason for coming home. “I want to get more involved in the process of change toward a better Indonesia,” he said.
Harsono spent five years as a Jakarta-Singapore commuter. But later he felt something lacking in his family life. He was eager to nurture his children’s sense of nationalism. “It’s impossible to do so in Singapore,” he added. Consequently, in 2002 he decided to return to Jakarta.
The 1998 rioting, to Harsono, was a crucial turning point. In the New Order period, before this tragedy, the ethnic Chinese tended to be apathetic, apolitical, exclusive and less concerned about their environment. Then, mass outrage-though perhaps not fully genuine-broke out as a blow and accusation. “The unrest proved that something was at fault in our society,” he indicated. “We, ethnic Chinese citizens, and the entire public are responsible for the failings.”
Harsono took a concrete step. He wanted to contribute to the solution of this national issue. “I’ve published Koranku,” he revealed. Koranku is a weekly paper targeting secondary and high school students. Rather than business-oriented, it aims more at cultivating moral values among youths. So far 10 editions of Koranku, in the format of education and entertainment, have appeared and circulated in 180 schools in Jakarta. “It’s my wish that Koranku will have a share in the nation’s character building,” said Harsono.
Lin Che Wei agreed with Harsono. On most occasions, Che Wei has even appealed that his friends, Chinese businessmen, show their concern over the nation’s future. “They shouldn’t just want to be safe without striving for change,” he pointed out.
Che Wei himself has manifested his participation in introducing a change by continuing his business in Jakarta. Actually, he has wide opportunities to become a global analyst with a very big salary. By doing his business in Indonesia, Che Wei remains capable of actively spotlighting corruption cases and dirty business practices, joining hands with journalists. Last year, Che Wei’s dedication to the anticorruption campaign earned him a Suardi Tasrif award from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).
However, unlike Harsono, so far Che Wei cannot yet totally leave Singapore. The continuity of his two daughters’ education in Nangyang Primary School is his main reason for residing in Singapore. The 89-year-old school has the advantage of excellent Chinese language and culture instruction. “I want my children to know their cultural roots as Chinese descendants,” said Che Wei. To Che Wei, becoming Indonesians should not necessarily lose track of their roots as Chinese offspring.
So, won’t he find it difficult to inculcate nationalism in his daughters? As a solution, at least twice a year the Che Wei family vacations in Indonesia. During the holidays Che Wei intensively introduces Indonesia’s cultural diversity to the children.
Being a commuter and living in Singapore will not change him and his family into foreigners, Che Wei guaranteed. “Our hearts continue to serve Indonesia,” he assured.
Ethnic Chinese Entrepreneurs
The economic crisis has not drastically reduced the wealth of ethnic Chinese businessmen.
Their bread and butter is now finished.” It’s the metaphor Sofjan Wanandi has often used for the post-crisis situation of Indonesian conglomerates. Such food is now indeed no longer easily found on the “dining table” of leading entrepreneurs, let alone in abundant supply as in the New Order period.
The economic crisis hitting Indonesia has forced Sofjan’s counterparts to diet. The Salim Group, once the number one conglomerate in Indonesia, for instance, can enjoy the profit of Indomobil and Indocement no more. The Sinar Mas Group under Eka Tjipta Widjaya no longer controls Bank Internasional Indonesia (BI
The Chandra Asri petrochemical giant is not owned by magnate Prajogo Pangestu any more. Conglomerate boss Usman Admadjaja has lost Bank Danamon. Similarly, Sjamsul Nursalim is not the proprietor of Bank Dagang Nasional Indonesia (BDNI) now. But a limited diet obviously is not the same as bankruptcy and deprivation.
Anyway, the conglomerates’ menu still offers “delicious and nutritious meals.” Salim, for example, remains in control of Indofood, the giant food producer known for its instant noodle products. Sinar Mas retains its many property projects-now handled by Franky Widjaya, Eka Tjipta’s son.
Prajogo Pangestu, too, still holds the integrated forest product industry under Barito Pacific. Sofjan also referred to several conglomerate leaders unaffected by the wave of crisis. They mostly own cigarette factories like Gudang Garam, Djarum and Sampoerna.
Sofjan’s fellow businessmen of Chinese descent in fact are highly resistant to blows. It’s this character that made their predecessors capable of placing this ethnic group in a dominant position in trade for centuries in the country. Yet six years after the crisis, the grip of the major business groups in different fields has slightly slackened.
The map of capital and business has changed. The banking sector is now more controlled by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and foreign investors. Most of the manufacturing sector, formerly under conglomerates, is taken over by the government. However, “the trade sector remains in the hands of Chinese Indonesian entrepreneurs,” said Sofjan.
Though no exact data are available, the ethnic Chinese super-capitalist majority are estimated to dominate 80 percent of national assets. In fact, the Chinese only constitute 2 percent of Indonesia’s 220 million people. These figures are naturally still debatable.
Sudhamek, Garuda Food’s boss, regarded the data as an “exaggeration.” He warned against overlooking the role of small- and medium-scale businesses. “It’s these groups that make the Indonesian economy recover,” said the entrepreneur, whom Sofjan Wanandi called a rising star among medium-scale businessmen.
The other players no less important in the Indonesian business scene are state-owned banks. With regard to factors triggering the economic crisis, Sofjan, who heads the Gemala Group, blamed the government’s financial institutions for sharing a major responsibility. It’s because “two-thirds of bad debts involved state owned banks.”
Sofjan did not deny the part of ethnic Chinese moguls in setting off the economic crisis due to the unfair business practices they had frequently been engaged in. The other act with a lingering impact up to the present was the flight of capital abroad.
Christianto Wibisono, through Indonesian Business Data Center (PDBI), once put the amount of capital fleeing overseas at the beginning of the economic crisis at US$85 billion. The fund has indeed been returning, but around US$30 billion is estimated to still be abroad today.
As the republic is badly seeking foreign capital injections, our conglomerates are even boosting their investments in other countries. Most of them are building various projects in mainland China, covering property, palm oil refineries, motorcycle assembly plants, paper and instant noodle factories.
Sofjan Wanandi also mentioned a popular property businessman who builds real estate in Vietnam. But he had an argument for his friends’ operations. “They’re just searching for business opportunities,” he said. So, one should not hastily link them with sentiments of regional or ethnic origin.
Economist Chatib Basri also described investments in China as a normal profit-seeking approach of businessmen. Enjoying the average economic growth rate of 9 percent over the last 10 years, China has practically become an important economic engine in the Asia-Pacific region. “A lot of economic opportunities can be found there,” he told Danto from TEMPO News Room.
Under such conditions, it’s proper for Indonesian investors to flock to the Great Wall land. “Money has no passports, it knows no siblings,” said Chatib. “It will go to where profits are big and the climate is certain.” Thus, both Sofjan and Chatib held the view that tycoons of Chinese stock need not be seen as adversaries.
They should even be invited to rebuild the Indonesian economy. Moreover, entrepreneurs in Indonesia are very small in number. Sofjan also had another reason. “They control great networks,” he said. These particularly cover capital and goods distribution, most needed to invigorate the economy. In order to persuade them, the government should inevitably review the economic policies that have so far made them hesitate to withdraw their money from abroad.
The various policies as business disincentives have actually been often discussed. Some examples are less flexible labor and tax rules, muddled law enforcement and differing unreasonable regional regulations.
The situation of infrastructure is equally tragic. Power supply, for instance, is not sufficiently available. In non-Java regions, electricity is frequently provided on alternate days. In Java many generators have to operate without adequate maintenance. If they finally break down, the disruption caused to industries is imaginable.
Road and transport facilities? They’re terrible. Most main highways are in bad repair, while new roads-let alone freeways-are rarely found. Unless improvements are made, said Sofjan, “entrepreneurs working properly will have difficulty in making profit.” In fact, their efficiency and labor absorption capacity are far higher than those of unreliable businessmen now being promoted.
Not only large-scale companies need hospitable economic policies. Sofjan Wanandi maintained that the government should create balance by empowering small- and medium-scale businesses. In this way, the resultant economic structure and prosperity will be more equitable to absorb social envy.
The government can adopt many ways to assist small-scale businesses and cooperatives, such as facilitating business licensing. “Licenses for small-scale firms need not be as many [and expensive] as those for large-scale companies,” Sofjan indicated.
Another instance is simplifying the process of providing bank loans. If necessary, small-scale businessmen can borrow money with cattle as collateral. Allowing display rooms and market information access can also considerably help their businesses.
Of course, not all burdens should be borne by the government. To create harmony and break the ice, there should be sound communications among businessmen themselves. Sudhamek openly suggested that ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs be ready to change their custom a little.
“They shouldn’t just do business,” he proposed, “be active also in various social affairs like educational and religious activities.” To get rid of racial prejudice, according to Sudhamek, non-discriminatory law enforcement is also much required. “If found guilty,” he added, “they must be appropriately punished regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.”
After that Dark Age…
In one corner of a slum somewhere in the eastern part of Jakarta, Kam Hok An starts the day by kneeling before the Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Im, the Buddha, and Confucius, praying to them for keeping their promise that he would come through the “dark age.”
The New Order has been thrown into the dustbin of history since 1998, allowing Belpas, his lion dance troupe, where he can express himself and earn a living, to resume its activities. For 32 dark years, every activity that reeks of Chinese, including the open and festive celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year highlighted by the multicolored lion dance performances, was banned.
Kam Hok An went through this bitter dark period just like a guerrilla
. While still performing the lion dance once in a while, he worked as a salesman in an office stationery company. He had to spend his modest income feeding his five children and funding his lion dance troupe. This 53-year-old went through this bitter life between 1973 and 1998.
Today he devotes all his time to his lion dance troupe. He has invited youngsters from various ethnic groups-Javanese, Sundanese, Ambonese-living around his house behind the Jatinegara Market, East Jakarta, to join his troupe. This traditional Chinese art troupe has resumed its activities. He has received a lot of offers to perform. “I’m really very happy because the lion dance can be performed again now,” he said, beaming.
Liem Hok Gie, 65, also has his own story of the past. Along with 125 ethnic Chinese Indonesians somewhere in Ranca Bungur, Bogor, he lived in poverty for years. They were never included in the government’s poverty alleviation program just because they were considered different. Rice aid for the poor did come to their village but this aid came only once in two months.
In his advanced age now, Liem Hok Gie does anything to feed his family. Sometimes he works on a chicken farm and at other times he works as a farmhand. If he is lucky, he can earn Rp2,000 a day. The only thing left that cheers him in his house, which has plaited bamboo walls and whose floor is not tiled, is to be together with his family, taking a rest and smoking.
Somewhere in Tanjung Burung, Teluk Naga, Tangerang, there lives a 46-year-old man called Te Cun Wat. Living in poverty, he also does anything he can to support his life: gathering wood around his village, working as a casual laborer in a dockyard and raising 15 pigs. “I don’t earn much, though,” he said in a low and soft voice. “That’s why I prefer to say that I keep pigs, not breed them.”
In various corners of Indonesia, they live like most Indonesians: just trying to survive.
A New Phase for the Chinese Role in Indonesia
By Lin Che Wei, C.F.A.
Director of Independent Research & Advisory
The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.
~ John F. Kennedy ~
Raising the subject of the ethnic Chinese group’s role in the fields of economy and politics is an extremely difficult and sensitive task. The role of this ethnic group in Indonesia for decades-from the Dutch period to the Suharto era-tends to focus in the business field. Although here and there we see a prominent role in the fields of law, press, research, sports, and science, their role in the fields of bureaucracy and politics is relatively small.
In her book, World on Fire, Professor Amy Chua from Yale University shows the significant role of the ethnic Chinese group as market-dominant minorities in Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia. The term ‘market-dominant minorities’ is used to indicate that a certain ethnic group dominates the market and the economy. Amy shows how free market has caused the disproportionate concentration of riches in the hands of the minority ethnic group.
Amy also puts forth the hypothesis that with democracy, where the power is politically in the hands of the majority ethnic group, if it is not well-monitored, the market-dominant minorities phenomena and a democracy in its raw shape have the potential to create an inter-ethnic group conflict which can bring about disaster to this nation. Obviously this is not something we want to happen.
In my opinion, neither can we generalize that the ethnic Chinese group is identical to the rich group, because in reality not all Chinese in Indonesia are rich. Furthermore, in several areas such as in Kalimantan and Sumatra, there are those who are living below the poverty line. Data must be accurate before we conclude that there is a phenomenon of market-dominant minorities.
With the development of reforms, there is a demand for a role that is not focused on business alone, but one that also expands to other fields. In the New Order era, there was a belief that the economy was dominated by the Chinese who hardly played any role in the fields of politics, military, and bureaucracy. The separation between the group dominating the economy and that dominating politics, military, and bureaucracy needed a “bridge” to protect the interests of the two parties. It was the Suharto regime that became the connection between the two poles while at the same time being the patron for the market-dominant minorities, thus maintaining a power stability for a relatively long time.
If the hypothesis of market-dominant minorities truly exists, in the world of the present democracy it has the potential to create an ethnic crisis as described by Professor Chua. I have also observed the attitude adopted by the ethnic Chinese group in Indonesia. Several bad experiences, such as the September 30 Movement/Communist Party (G30S/PKI) and the May riots in 1998 which were followed by a disaster befalling the Chinese, may still be traumatic to some of this group in Indonesia. This ethnic rioting was one of the important things that caused the continuing polarization of the two poles. On the one hand, economy continues to be the focus; on the other hand, politics, military and bureaucracy receive limited attention only.
As a result of the experience and the conditioning, many Chinese take an apolitical stance; they try to maintain neutrality in politics and distance themselves from politics, military and bureaucracy. The tendency becomes as follows: if they exercise their political rights, they will use them to support whosoever can guarantee the stability and survival of their businesses. Such trauma and attitude tend to immortalize the polarization.
I see negative excesses arising from this apolitical attitude. Firstly, the polarization creates a fertile ground for crony capitalism-the Chinese, especially big businessmen, are often the main targets for the “funding source” for certain political activities. As a reward, their businesses will receive protection and easy access. Moreover, in several cases, collusion between businessmen has produced debtors with problems who do not pay their debts in full; they even get a release & discharge (R&D) and guaranteed protection against lawsuits.
This causes a deepening of hatred within the majority ethnic. It is like one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel. It is as if the government makes its “Dooh Nibor” policies based on these lobbies. Dooh Nibor is Robin Hood spelled backwards. While Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor, the “Dooh Nibor” policy of granting release & discharge to rich debtors is at the expense of the common people who must bear huge debts.
Secondly, the ethnic Chinese often seem to adopt a vague attitude in the midst of a moral crisis. Some of them tend not to take any stance or to side in politics. They tend to support whoever can give them “protection” and guarantee their business continued existence. They are worried that any involvement in politics will create a problem to their business if the figure they support does not emerge as the winner.
Thirdly, the Chinese’s reluctance to be involved outside business means that they become more concentrated in business, and this worsens the market-dominant minorities phenomena.
In my opinion, the ethnic Chinese group must make their roles more balanced. It is important for there to be a balance between business and other fields. The principle where the interests of the nation are above those of a group and the interests of a group are above those of a person is very important.
Affirmative action may be a policy that can answer this complex issue. However, what type of affirmative action sho
uld be applied? Should it be based on ethnicity or the socio-economic condition? The next question, how to identify the sidelined groups effectively and accurately?
I see ethnicity-based affirmative action holds an enormous danger. First, not all Chinese are rich and mixed up in past crony capitalism. Second, the policy can threaten the nation’s unity because it can spread to religion, and regions. Third, many among the Chinese themselves are repulsed by the collusion between shady businessmen and those in power, which has the potential to create ethnic problems, while not all Chinese are part of the market-dominant minorities. Based on that, it is highly unfair should ethnicity be used as the basis for determining an affirmative action policy.
An ethnicity-based affirmative action policy is also counter-productive because it can easily be translated into an “anti-Chinese” policy and applicable to all businessmen of Chinese descent regardless of their social-economic status. This has the potential to generate resistance among the Chinese, whose role and participation are essential in the revitalization of the economy and development in Indonesia.
If the affirmative action policy is translated as “anti-Chinese,” the ethnic Chinese group may be reluctant to bring back capital, conduct business activities, and run the wheels of economy. That is why, identifying the strategy on affirmative action, methods, and communications are crucial. Balancing the role of the Chinese in the fields of economy, politics, military, and bureaucracy must be based on being highly aware that only with a sustainable social structure can we achieve an Indonesia that is more safe and prosperous.
Another negative excess of ethnicity-based affirmative action is an individual or group that is receiving preferential treatment may tend to become relaxed, spoiled, and unwilling to strive. This will take us further from the original objective of empowering other groups economically. Do we want to have a community structure that allocates efforts and work based on a meritocracy system or based on ethnicity?
In my opinion, the government must be bold enough to discuss and overcome this problem because turning the other way and avoiding this complicated issue is not a good step, because it doesn’t solve the problem. In the future, this ethnic matter has the potential to breed a more serious problem.
It is a challenge for the ethnic Chinese group together with other components of the nation to answer the problem faced by market-dominant minorities and to solve the problem of ethnic jealousy. In my opinion, the ethnic Chinese group is in the best position to be actively involved in answering this challenge. The role of the Chinese in revitalizing the national economy is very important, but even more important is answering the problem of democracy and market-dominant minorities.
The main key to the solution of this problem is a more balanced role of the indigenous people and the ethnic Chinese minority in the fields of economy, politics, military, and bureaucracy. Professor Chua says, voluntary generosity from the market-dominant minorities is one dignified way to solving the complex issue.
The Ethnic Chinese Since Reformasi
By Leo Suryadinata
[Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and formerly professor of political science at the University of Singapore.]
May 13 and 14, 1998 are important dates for ethnic Chinese in Indonesia because on those two days large-scale anti-Chinese rioting broke out in Jakarta and Solo. Systematic killing, arson and the rape of Chinese women were reported in the towns. The Chinese minority was left unprotected and its cry for protection was ignored by those in power. The events shocked the community and the world. Those who could afford to fled overseas, but the majority remained in Indonesia. The Chinese community was confused, if not losing all hope. Many wondered whether there was still a place for ethnic Chinese in the Republic of Indonesia.
In the same month Suharto stepped down, ushering in an era of reformasi in the history of contemporary Indonesia, an era of democratic reform in which the Chinese slowly began feeling that they still have a place in Indonesia.
The ugly events of May 1998 brought changes within the community. Ethnic Chinese, the peranakan (mixed-blood) and the totok (full-blooded) Chinese alike, realized they should act and fight for their rights as citizens of the Republic of Indonesia. Many political parties were established, including Partai Reformasi Tionghoa Indonesia (Parti), Partai Pembauran Indonesia (later transformed into an ordinary association), and Partai Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Indonesia (PBI), as well as non-government organizations, such as Solidaritas Nusa-Bangsa (SNB), Gerakan Anti-Diskriminasi (Gandi), Paguyuban Marga Sosial Tionghoa Indonesia (PSSTI), and Perhimpunan INTI, all fighting for the interests of the community.
Although the Chinese community seems to have united, disagreement is still clearly apparent because the community consists of different groups of people, each with its own cultural, class, and political orientation. Therefore a political party dominated by ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is weak and ineffective. Because of the small size and diversity of the community, the Chinese in Indonesia can’t possibility be united in a political party or organization of their own.
While the New Order was said to have favored the Chinese, the regime actually ignored the interests of the community. Many who were disappointed with the Suharto regime and his Golkar Party voted for PDI-P and other political parties like PKB and PAN in the 1999 General Election. Although a few voted for Golkar, their number was insignificant. Ethnic Chinese parties themselves did not take part, except for PBI, a party led by Nurdin Purnomo, which won a seat in the 1999-2004 house of Representatives (DPR). Apparently most ethnic Chinese chose to vote for the indigenous political parties instead of parties of their own. Political parties based on ethnicity failed to attract the community. In the 2004 General Elections, not a single ethnic Chinese political party qualified for participation.
Many ethnic Chinese joined indigenous political parties realizing their number is too insignificant to have their voices heard. Without support of the indigenous majority, not only would they be left out, their safety would not be guaranteed. Therefore, gaining the confidence and sympathy of the indigenous majority is a prerequisite for the safety, if not the prosperity, of the community in Indonesia.
Actually the attitude of the indigenous Indonesian toward the Chinese minority is changing. The new governments, especially under President Abdurrahman Wahid, recognized the Chinese community and its place in Indonesian society. Wahid annulled a presidential decree which banned ethnic Chinese from celebrating their traditional holidays and symbolically celebrated the Chinese New Year with the community. Long before being elected president, Wahid had proposed a concept recognizing the Indonesian nation as consisting of three races, one of them being the “Chinese race.”
Such a concept, however, was largely ignored. In 1963, long before his downfall, then President Sukarno proposed his own concept of the Indonesian nation being made up of suku (ethnic groups), including the peranakan Chinese. The concept was unacceptable to his successor Suharto who launched a policy of total assimilation of the Chinese community into the indigenous majority. The three pillars of Chinese culture, namely Chinese organizations, Chinese media, and Chinese schools were banned. The Chinese were even told to adopt “Indonesian names,” which was often interpreted as any names as long as they were not
Chinese. Most changed their names under pressure, because of intermarriage, or of their own choice. But when Wahid was president and urged the Chinese to return to their Chinese names, not many did. Why?
Most didn’t maybe because they have been used to their new names. Maybe they didn’t want to be bothered by the time-consuming process of getting back their old names. The young generation, born under the New Order, generally no longer carry Chinese names and re-adopting Chinese names, to most of them, is unthinkable.
Many ethnic Chinese who were traumatized and lost all hope chose not to return to Indonesia. Most, however, returned when the situation was back to normal. To those who were born and raised in Indonesia, Indonesia is home! Many feel uncomfortable and are not used to living overseas.
Meanwhile, Indonesia post-Suharto is back to an era of “multiculturalism.” Suharto’s policy of assimilation was theoretically, if not practically, abandoned. The Chinese minority is no longer forced to totally assimilate with the indigenous majority. Chinese media, Chinese organizations and “Chinese language” schools (not Chinese schools with Chinese as language of instruction as in pre-Suharto era) were permitted. Although the three pillars of Chinese culture are not important to the peranakan Chinese who make up most of the community, they remain a symbol; as a matter of identity, that the Indonesian government after the New Order recognized the Chinese culture.
Racial discrimination continues, however, in the field of legislation. According to Frans H. Winarta, S.H., more than 60 laws and regulations discriminatory against the Chinese minority are yet to amended, including the Citizenship Law and MPRS Decree No. 32/1966 (banning Chinese newspapers and Chinese characters on store signs). Drs. Eddie Lembong, Chairman of INTI, referred to staatsblad (statute books) of the colonial period categorizing citizens by race as a source of “discrimination,” all of which have not been amended. The Indonesian government and legislature should review those laws and regulations which are consistent with the spirit of reformasi.
There have been improvements in the situation of the Chinese community, especially in the field of culture, since reformasi. However, little improvement was seen as far as security in concerned. Today the government is yet to deal with humans rights violations connected with May 1998 and similar events.
Despite being a pluralistic society, there is a strong sense of indigenousness in the concept of the Indonesian nation. This concept of indigenousness affects not only the Chinese minority, but also indigenous groups themselves. The Madurese in Kalimantan, for instance, are not considered indigenous by the local population as recent events in the area showed. The concept will not only impact the Chinese community, but more so the unity of the Indonesian nation itself.
The Indonesian nation is facing challenges not only from growing ethnic nationalism and globalization, but also from the rise of China as an economic and political power winning the hearts of ethnic Chinese all over Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. But this doe mean that ethnic Chinese, especially the peranakan, in Indonesia, will revert to becoming Chinese as the Chinese in mainland China. For as long as they live in Indonesia, receive education in Indonesia, and are equally treated as Indonesian citizens, they will remain part of the Indonesian nation.
Discrimination Still Rampant
Ethnic Chinese Indonesians are still having difficulties over citizenship and ancient beliefs. How are they dealing with it?
Household names like Alan Budikusuma and Susi Susanti apparently do not hold much sway at the immigration office. These first two Indonesians to win an Olympic gold medal (for badminton in Barcelona, 1992) still ran into problems when they tried to get a passport last month. This husband-and-wife couple was chosen by the International Olympic Confederation to carry the torch in the recently opened Olympics in Athens, Greece. This is the first time Indonesians have received such an honor. However, the honor of becoming national ambassadors at the world’s largest sporting event did not mean very much at the North Jakarta Immigration Office. The two were still asked to attach Evidence of Indonesian Citizenship Certificates (SBKRI)-an old regulation which the government has already revoked. “I feel slighted. Why is discrimination still going on?” said Susi, the 34-year-old from Tasikmalaya. “I am an Indonesian, born in Indonesia. Why am I being asked about an SBKRI?” said Susi dejectedly.
Although asked to produce an SBKRI-an identity paper shaped almost exactly like a passport-they were finally able to settle the matter. Fortunately, neither of them was asked for any “grease” so that their passports would be issued in timely fashion. However, not all citizens of Chinese heritage have received such privileged treatment. According to Harry Tjan Silalahi, 70, people of Chinese descent are still extorted by the government. This Assistant Director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) says that he has received much information about this extortion. “Ethnic Chinese are still being milked like cows,” said Harry.
The experience of Adong Wijaya, 37, is a prime example. This Indonesian of Chinese descent who lives in the Taman Lopang Indah Housing Complex in Serang, Banten, failed to take care of the birth certificate of her 2-month-old child. The problem is, even though she attached the SBKRI letters of her parents, Adong herself does not have an SBKRI. Adong had an argument with civil servants at the Serang Regency Civil Records Office, but to no avail. “Reformasi is worthless. I am still discriminated against,” said Adong, who is currently in charge of her local neighborhood committee for Indonesian Independence Day celebrations on August 17.
This kind of discrimination is a leftover from the old political order. Law No. 3/1946 on Indonesian Citizenship clearly defines place of birth (ius soli) as a determining factor regarding Indonesian citizenship. However, in 1955, Chou En-lai, the president of mainland China, decreed that the People’s Republic of China would use a citizenship system based on ancestry (ius sanguinis). Chou En-lai claimed all ethnic Chinese around the world as citizens of the People’s Republic of China. He even persuaded President Sukarno to make a bilateral agreement regarding people of Chinese ancestry in Indonesia. During the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia and China made a Dual Citizenship agreement for people of Chinese ancestry in Indonesia.
After the fall of Sukarno’s Old Order and the rise of the New Order, Suharto altered the direction of Indonesia’s foreign policy. Through Law No. 4/1969, Indonesia cancelled the Dual Citizenship agreement with China, after which diplomatic relations came to a complete standstill. It was as if ethnic Chinese were being accorded second-class citizen status. All Indonesian citizens of Chinese ancestry had to make an SBKRI-an official document indicating their new identity as an Indonesian citizen of Chinese heritage.
Today, 35 years later, the SBKRI is still a specter which haunts ethnic Chinese. This is despite the fact that the government has officially removed the requirement for citizens of Chinese ancestry to produce an SBKRI for processing documents of any kind, including passports. Through Presidential Decree No. 56/1996, the government decreed that SBKRIs were no longer valid. In Article 4, clause 2 of the decision it is written, “Indonesian citizens who possess a National Identity Card (KTP), Family Card (KK), or Birth Certificate no longer need an SBKRI.”
But some rules were made to be broken, if the reality in the field is any indicat
ion. Immigration officials, for instance, always ask for an SBKRI when citizens of Chinese ancestry process or renew their passports. They receive the same treatment over KTPs, birth certificates, and purchasing homes. What does Minister of Justice & Human Rights, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, have to say about these deviant practices? Although he confirmed that the SBKRI is no longer in use, Minister Yusril, who is also a professor of state law at the University of Indonesia, said that officials who ask for the SBKRI are not making a mistake. “They have to clarify their citizenship status,” said Yusril.
And so it goes in the field. Immigration officials continue to ask for SBKRI letters from ethnic Chinese citizens. This happens not only to ordinary Chinese citizens, but also to prominent figures such as Harry Tjan Silalahi (former member of the Supreme Advisory Council), Tan Joe Hok (badminton maestro), Hendrawan (badminton player), and Lin Che Wei (financial analyst), all of whom have run afoul of the SBKRI. Two years ago, President Megawati was left speechless after receiving Hendrawan’s complaint that he had not yet received an SBKRI. Of course, his case received immediate attention. In a matter of days, this hero from the 2000 Thomas Cup obtained the SBKRI which he had sought for years.
There is another point of controversy besides the SBKRI. After the reformasi movement began in 1998, ethnic Chinese tried to revive Konghucu, or ancestral Chinese beliefs. During the New Order, Indonesian citizens of Chinese ancestry who adhered to Konghucu teachings were forced to select another religion. The government only recognized five official religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism. What about the Konghucu? “We were forced to become hypocrites,” said Budi S. Tanuwibowo, General Chairman of the Indonesian High Council of Konghucu Beliefs (Matakin).
This era of “hypocrisy” has been in effect since 1974. Through Marriage Law No. 1/1974, the state “overlooks” this belief system, as it only recognizes marriages of adherents of the “five official religions.” Aside from these five, there is little hope of being able to get married. If couples of other religions insist on holding a wedding, the state will not recognize it. Children from such marriages will not be issued birth certificates, because they are considered illegitimate offspring.
Other government regulations issued afterwards have made things even more difficult for Konghucu adherents. The identity of the Konghucu and other minority faiths has continued to fade. Through the Letter of the Home Minister 477 dated November 18, 1978 regarding the matter of filling in the “religion” slot on KTPs, Konghucu is not listed as an official religion. The letter explicitly mentions the “five official religions” which may appear on a KTP. As a result, ethnic Chinese who adhere to the Konghucu faith are forced to select a religion which is recognized by the state in order to obtain a KTP. In general, the Konghucu community selects Buddhism or Catholicism as the religion on their KTPs.
Matakin is presently endeavoring so that Indonesia officially recognizes the Konghucu faith. They have solid reasoning behind their argument: worldwide, the United Nations has already recognized 14 religions-including Bahai, Sikh, Judaism, and Konghucu. Actually, in Indonesia, President Abdurrahman Wahid issued Presidential Decree No. 6/2000, which recognizes religious minorities.
However, it seems that the Indonesian principle of “if you can make things difficult, why make them easier?” is in effect here. Until now, Konghucu adherents are still unable to declare their religion on their KTPs. The matter of marriage has not been settled either. If two Konghucu adherents marry, most civil records offices are unwilling to process the paperwork. In other words, said Budi S. Tanuwibowo, “The state seems happier if its people live in sin.”
There was a glimmer of hope when Abdurrahman Wahid was elected president. In addition to allowing Chinese New Year to be celebrated openly, President Wahid stated that Konghucu could become an official state religion. Recall that this president, known better by the name “Gus Dur,” is a world figure who actively works to strengthen interfaith tolerance. Unfortunately, before Konghucu became an official religion, Wahid was taken out of power. Until now, the Megawati Soekarnoputri administration has not followed up on the initiative pioneered by him. Therefore, the Konghucu faith is still not recognized in Indonesia. “Now we have to start the fight all over again,” said Budi S. Tanuwibowo.
This Konghucu problem remains on the list of discriminative practices against ethnic Chinese-a list which ought to be getting shorter in this new era.
How Much has Changed?
Although ethnic Chinese Indonesians have begun to play an active role in politics, many still claim that they face discrimination.
The reform era has brought about many changes for Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity. Newspapers are now legally printed in Mandarin script, television programs are broadcast in Mandarin, and traditional Chinese cultural displays are frequently performed, such as the barongsai (lion) dance. During the New Order regime, all of these expressions of Chinese culture were strictly prohibited. Now, lion dances are displayed at Chinese New Year, at mall openings, at exhibitions and even during Indonesian Independence Day celebrations.
After 32 years of repression, Indonesia’s Chinese people are welcoming this new atmosphere of tolerance and openness. TEMPO conducted a survey over 500 Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta, Medan, Makassar, Solo and Surabaya. The survey results show that although many respondents still believe that this newfound freedom is limited, the majority of respondents (67 percent) are pleased with these developments.
There is now a greater tolerance and expression of Chinese culture in Indonesia. In fact, Chinese Indonesians have even begun to play an active role in politics. Formerly restricted to the business sector, Chinese Indonesians are now becoming actively involved in the nation’s political future. The majority of respondents surveyed admitted to voting in both the legislative and presidential elections held this year.
Not only are Chinese Indonesians actively taking part in the political process, some have begun to express open criticism against parties which do not serve their political interests. This was both impossible and unthinkable under the New Order regime.
Survey respondents still felt it unnecessary to form a political party to represent the political goals and ideology of Chinese Indonesian people as a whole. But according to Christianto Wibisono, this merely proves that Chinese Indonesian people are not purely homogenous, so it would be impossible to merge their ideologies into a homogenous party.
Nevertheless, the majority of survey respondents said that the reformation era has not succeeded in eliminating discrimination against Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity, particularly bureaucratic discrimination. Most respondents said that they were still asked to pay more than other people for administrative procedures. And many said that they were still asked to show their nationality cards (which specifically distinguish Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity) when applying for passports and handling other administrative procedures, although this practice was officially revoked by the Director General of Immigration on April 14, 2004. Even national badminton champions, Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma, who represented Indonesia at international tournaments, confessed to having trouble applying for passports.
Many respondents said that the cause of discrimination was economic jealousy and limited interaction between Chinese Indonesians and non-Chinese Indonesians.
What is your opinion of the political situation and security in Indo
nesia after five years of reform (only one answer permitted)
The same 57%
Did you vote in the elections (only one answer permitted)
Yes (in one of the elections-legislative or presidential) 21%
Yes (in both the legislative and presidential elections) 69%
Do the existing political parties represent your interests? (only one answer permitted)
Yes, they represent my interests 36%
No, they don’t represent my interests 35%
A fraction of my interests are represented 30%
Do you think that a special political party should be formed to represent Chinese Indonesians? (only one answer permitted)
Do you think that incidents like the 1998 May riots can occur again? (only one answer permitted)
What would you do if similar riots occurred? (open-ended)
Migrate abroad 8%
Temporarily move abroad 11%
Move to another region of Indonesia 11%
Migrate to another region of Indonesia 19%
Stay at home 59%
As an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity, in what way do you feel discriminated against, compared to other non-Chinese Indonesians? (open-ended)
We are asked to pay more money for administrative procedures 72%
We are bullied into giving money to gang members (preman) 12%
We are extorted by military officers 10%
We are targeted by government institutions 9%
It is easier for us to find work in certain sectors 20%
We face discrimination in terms of social circles 1%
Our administrative procedures are delayed and postponed 2%
Our educational costs are Unsure 9%
Are there still restrictions for Chinese Indonesians in the following matters? (only one answer permitted)
Becoming a public servant
Enrolling in a state university
Becoming a police officer or military officer
Becoming a minister
In your opinion, what are the causes of discrimination against Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity? (open-ended)
Socio-economic jealousy 73%
Limited interaction between Chinese Indonesians and ‘native Indonesians’ 46%
Illegal acts carried out by Chinese conglomerates 10%
News broadcasts and media portrayals which obstruct social interaction and mixing 16%
To what extent do you interact with other Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity? (open-ended)
Many of my close friends are also Chinese Indonesian 78%
I live in an area which is predominately Chinese Indonesian 41%
I speak a Chinese dialect at home 42%
My work colleagues are predominantly Chinese Indonesian 41%
I have merged with ‘native Indonesians’ 1%
Since the reform era, Mandarin text is now openly displayed, traditional Chinese cultural displays (such as the barongsai dance) are now frequently performed. Are these developments sufficient? (one answer)
Things are still developing, there needs to be more freedom 29%
These developments are sufficient 67%
Too much 3%
Must be restrained 2%
This survey was carried out by TEMPO in cooperation with Insight covering over 500 respondents in Jakarta, Medan, Makassar, Solo and Surabaya. The selection process for respondents was conducted using a Kish Grid. The interviews took place in person at the homes of survey respondents.
Waking from a Long Sleep
The ‘go Mandarin’ trend is permeating language courses and radio-and television-broadcasts all over Indonesia.
For 54 years, Sidharta Wirahadi Kusuma’s world seems to have spun on the same axis: teaching Mandarin. He has known the language since he was in his mother’s arms and practiced writing Chinese characters since he was little. The language led him to obtain a professorship from Huaqiao University in China. The same language made Sidharta decide to be a teacher, nothing else. For the entire 72 years of his life Sidharta has known Mandarin and for 54 years of his life he has taught the language to his students.
In his office in the Mandarin Section of ILP (International Language Program) in Pancoran, South Jakarta, Sidharta introduced a guest to TEMPO last week. The name of the 27-year-old guest was Wang Xin Xin. Coming from Shen Yang, northeastern China, Wang, who had only recently arrived in Indonesia, is a language teacher. Built like a model, Wang Xin Xin who is proficient in “high-level Mandarin” claimed she was ready to work as a volunteer to teach the students at the school. “Ni hao, how are you?” she greeted TEMPO in a melodious tone.
Wang’s arrival must be credited to the openness which has been overwhelming Indonesia since reforms started in 1998. President Habibie woke up the dormant Mandarin language in 1999, asleep for three decades. His replacement, President Abdurrahman Wahid, was even more generous. He cast out all bans shackling Chinese customs, culture, and language. Want to perform barongsai, go ahead. Want to go to the temple every day, no one will stop you. Want to learn Mandarin until you’re proficient, please do.
Consequently, within the past five years, the number of people interested in the language has mushroomed tremendously. In Sidharta’s calculations-he is Deputy Head of the Guidance Council of the Coordinating Body in Mandarin Language Education in Jakarta-the number of Mandarin-language schools in Jakarta, which was countable before 1998, has soared to 145. “Before the reform era, people who learned Mandarin numbered in the 200,000s all over Indonesia. Today, there are at least more than 3 million,” he explained.
In Bandung, there are even dozens of Mandarin schools-one of them is located in the Pusat Dakwah Islam near the Gedung Sate building. In Surabaya, the head of the Jawa Pos media group, Dahlan Iskan, is one of the pioneers in a similar school in Graha Sena. Don’t misunderstand. Those who like learning this language are not merely retirees who are filling their time or employees who are required to by their companies. Why don’t you come at least once to the Mandarin Section at ILP Pancoran?
In a 4×6-meter classroom, a group of teens came clattering in one afternoon. Of the 13 teens, only one looked amoy (like a typical Chinese girl). Even then, she looked half “neneng,” in other words, a mix of Chinese and Sundanese. The rest was indigenous. They truly looked the “it” girls: hipster pants, tank tops, or tight jeans combined with loose jackets. There was a teenaged boy who had bleached his hair reddish blond and wore an earring-far from one’s idea of a bookworm.
In one corner, a young girl wearing a jilbab was devoutly learning the Mandarin consonants which according to her were “incredibly difficult.” Beside her, a very young girl was trying to pronounce “zh,” “sh,” and “s,” whose sounds are different only in “degrees of hisses.”
Meanwhile, at the front of the class, lao tse or Teacher Lydia had just started the pronunciation session. “Bian bie xialie yinjie (pay attention to the difference in syllables-Ed.). She then patiently guided the entire class: “Repeat it, see how lao tse does it. The teeth are closed to the
edge, the tongue behind the teeth, and say zheeeeee.” All students resolutely copied her. A female student shook her head, thumping her forehead in frustration. “My goodness, so difficult,” she said dejectedly. Well, what’s the point of learning if it only gives you a headache? “To be part of the ‘in’ crowd. You know, so that we’re not too stupid,” cheerfully said Melina, a female student, to this weekly’s reporter.
Far more than merely for “social interaction,” the language has rapidly mushroomed from the classroom to the mass media, opening opportunities for information and business-especially in service industries such as tourism and hotels. Every morning and night, Metro Xin Wen appears on Metro TV for half an hour. This is the first television broadcast using Mandarin in Indonesia. The editor in chief of Metro TV, Don Bosco Salamun, admitted that the program did not really have many ads, but it has a specific audience target: those who understand Mandarin-in Don’s calculations, there are approximately 6.3 million people. True, not a huge number, “But, among them are influential people in this country,” he said. Once again, it is about business, or to be more specific, business players.
Unlike TV programs which can only be found on Metro TV, the Mandarin menu seems more popular on the radio. In Surabaya, there is the Mahasiswa Turut Bekerja (MTB) radio, 102.7 FM, belonging to businessman Nasion Said Marcos. Since four years ago, the radio has been broadcasting for four hours a day. Around more than 200,000 people of Chinese descent can also listen to similar programs through Merdeka FM, El Viktor, and Global FM radio stations.
Now, let’s go to Bandung. There those who enjoy Mandarin are even more spoiled. Bandung Suara Indah (BSI) radio also known as Mei Sheng radio, presents all its programs in Mandarin. On air for 18 hours a day with 42 announcers, they only air Indonesian-language material in advertisements.
Mei Sheng Director, Rizal Daja Sumardi, said that the radio started with the policy of President Abdurrahman Wahid who opened the tap to those of Chinese descent to express themselves.
“We then felt that we wanted to work in the market of listeners of Chinese descent,” he said. At first, the Mei Sheng programs were condemned, especially by those of the same ethnic group. They reasoned that it would trigger riots. “If there’s unrest in Bandung, it must be caused by BSI,” Rizal mimicked his critics.
But instead of creating unrest, the natives of Bandung were very supportive. They asked for certain songs and often joined in off-air programs at Mei Sheng. The trend to ‘go Mandarin,’ according to Sidharta, can also create new opportunities in the services industry. Approximately 25 million Chinese tourists go abroad every year, 7 million of them stop by in Thailand. What about Indonesia? “A mere 50,000. They say they feel illiterate coming here,” he said.
The “illiteracy” issue was also experienced by Sidharta’s parents, who set foot in Indonesia a generation ago. Born 72 years ago, Sidharta was named Xu Jing Neng, which means “respecting smart people.” And this is Sidharta’s belief: “Smartness comes from knowledge, and language is the vocabulary from which various knowledge comes.”
It was to avoid this “illiteracy and cultural illiteracy” that his parents put him through an educational system that was nationalistic since he was small, namely at Taman Madya, Perguruan Taman Siswa. In addition, he also went to Tiong Hwa Hwee Kwan (THHK), an educational institution using Chinese as the lingua franca. Consequently, he has been honing his Mandarin proficiency since he was a child. “And I started teaching when I was 18 years old,” said Sidharta.
The alumni of the Xianman University who contributed to training 2,000 Mandarin teachers in Jakarta has witnessed the glory and gory days of the language in Nusantara. Including during the difficult period, when the language was banned from use in public after the ascension of the New Order. “I am absolutely certain that one day the Mandarin language will rise,” said Sidharta. And, “I really want this language to be studied by as many Indonesians who are not ethnic Chinese.”
So it was that in 1993, he and several of his colleagues started the Mandarin section at ILP in Jakarta. Originally there were only several students, today they have around 2,000 all over Indonesia.
Chinese in Their Eyes
With the advent of the reform era, the Chinese in Indonesia have greater freedom. They freely express their culture while actively engaged in political and social programs. But has the discrimination they once experienced ended? How have they associated with indigenous people so far? Below are the views of several leading figures.
(General Chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce & Industry-Kadin)
“Lessons from May incident”
The mass rioting in May 1998 has given various lessons to ethnic Chinese citizens. My fellow Chinese businessmen have now realized that so far there has been something they need to change. They are aware of the necessity to communicate and associate more with indigenous members of society.
I notice a lot of highly nationalist ethnic Chinese businessmen. They even regret some friends who left Indonesia following the incident and refuse to return home. Several of my own friends, including Christianto Wibisono, chose to reside overseas after the rioting.
The Chinese businessmen sometimes also deplore the legal infringements made by their partners, which also harm their interests. Therefore, they don’t hesitate to demand that the government punish their associates.
Don’t be mistaken: the Chinese circles themselves are not united. I realized the presence of several business organizations when Kadin needed a chairman for its China committee. There turned out to be four Chinese business and cultural bodies that were never in concord. I told them that we wanted a Chinese committee chief in Kadin, whether an indigenous citizen or Chinese descendant. They agreed and applauded. Finally, Kiki Barki, a mining entrepreneur and engineering graduate of Beijing University, was elected.
I still see some ethnic Chinese with a closed attitude. They should be open to society. I myself never discriminate between ethnic origins. Two of my three secretaries are Chinese and Catholic.
“Some live exclusively”
I don’t see any difference between citizens of Chinese stock and indigenous ones. Everything is OK. Now both groups are equal and can do what they like. They have equal rights. In the world of artists, I notice no difference either. In mingling with people, I don’t discriminate Chinese friends from others. Everybody is fine.
But to be frank, I still see ethnic Chinese communities who live exclusively. They are apparently unwilling to associate with indigenous people. I don’t know their number because no surveys have yet been conducted. Such an exclusive life is not good, so I hope they can abandon this practice. It’s also necessary to prevent a recurrence of the May 1998 mass rioting.
Indonesian society is composite, with diverse ethnic backgrounds and customs. We all should understand this, including the Chinese offspring. They need to be aware of the other indigenous customs in Indonesia. Both sides should respect each other. In this manner, we can live as good neighbors peacefully, without provoking acts that may be mutually harmful.
(Cultural Observer & Politician)
“Only political change”
I’ve witnessed a change in the whole ethnic Chinese community in the last few years. Now the Chinese are free to celebrate the Lunar
New Year or speak their language. But I see the change as momentary, only political. We indeed advocate assimilation, but in reality it’s still hard to carry out.
In the economic sector, monopoly in trade is undeniably still practiced by Chinese entrepreneurs. This case mostly remains unchanged. I’m sure, though a minority, they also realize their economic domination. It must be changed. There should be an awareness to abandon such disgraceful practices.
We also still hear many businessmen of Chinese descent protesting against the discriminatory treatment they experience, but on the other hand they make the same discrimination. An example is in the selection or treatment of employees.
I believe assimilation will solve the issue. The importance of assimilation should be realized by both sides and the government should play an active part, instead of spoiling it. It has been common knowledge that many officials maintain special connections with Chinese businessmen. They are used to serve economic interests. This is dangerous because negative sentiments toward the Chinese community may arise.
(Entrepreneur, VP Candidate)
“They should help small enterprises”
After the introduction of reforms, the issue of discrimination against citizens of Chinese stock has been overcome. They have increasing freedom to do what they want and express their culture. This is a major advancement compared with five to 10 years ago. It’s because the government has adopted a number of policies previously never announced.
Nonetheless, I hope they will fully help bring about a favorable business climate. I ask them to actively contribute to the elimination of delinquent players or businessmen as well as arrogant entrepreneurs. I indeed hope that delinquent businessmen will be removed. Otherwise, the country will be ruined.
Strong and successful ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs should also provide aid and support for small-scale business groups, regardless of ethnic origins. We have from the beginning been determined not to discriminate against anybody. The most important thing is that we all should create and foster national harmony.
Indra J. Piliang
(Researcher of Center for Strategic & International Studies-CSIS)
“No substantive change yet”
Now I see some progress in the government treatment of ethnic Chinese people. They enjoy greater freedom of movement in society. It’s reflected in the buoyant lion dance performances everywhere during the Lunar New Year celebration. Since the rule of President Abdurrahman Wahid, the Confucian belief has been recognized.
However, everything is only political and has not reached government institutions. Just take a look how the ethnic Chinese are still obliged to produce Indonesian citizenship certificates (SBKRI) as they apply for passports. So, in substantive terms there is no change yet. The main job of the government is actually to manifest this political commitment in technical administrative policies.
The rioting in May 1998 indeed has left behind a trauma to the ethnic Chinese community. But the trauma is more felt by the Chinese in Jakarta and Solo. Those outside the two areas are not much affected. Their aspirations? In fact, what the Chinese want is government stability. It’s natural because part of this community comprises businessmen.
Dark-Skinned Lion from the South
Lion dance performances, concerts featuring Chinese traditional musical instruments, and Chinese songs in nasyid, are now quite commonplace.
In the present reformation era, ethnic Chinese Indonesians may evoke immediate association with lion dance performers that can jump high in a flash. The lion dance performer, about 3 meters above the ground, raises the head of the lion and its front legs and all of a sudden changes the rhythm of his movement to pounce on a bundle of vegetables hanging from a pole.
One afternoon in mid-July, the audience watching a lion dance performance at the Jakarta Fairground held its breath. The star performer was a youngster with a Malay face, a very flexible body and a high level of acrobatic skill. What really captivated the audience was the way he allowed his body, head down, to swing in the air like a pendulum as he hooked his left leg at the pole. This movement mesmerized the audience but the lion head he played showed a smile. The mouth of the lion was open and its right eye was ogling in a funny and attractive way.
That was the Lion from the South. The springing movement of the head showed great agility while the body did not move that much as it had to provide a balance from behind. The attraction came to its peak when the lion jumped to gobble an envelope containing some money-usually called lay see. The Lion from the South often appears with its great humor. It swallows envelopes that are tied to a bundle of watercress, which is a gift for the lion. The Lion from the South differs from the Lion from the North, which shows aggressive movement and has a strong instinct to fight. During the Old and the New Order eras, the Lion from the North, played with various aggressive martial arts techniques from northern China, was dominant. The lion dance groups from Ambarawa and Semarang usually have this characteristic.
Outwardly, the Lion from the South is a figure of a lion that has a scaled body and two or four legs. The lion figure is played by dark-skinned youngsters with round eyes and curly hair and, of course, also by young yellow-skinned people with slanted eyes. Oscar Kam Hok Kan, who is of Fujian origin and has been organizing a lion dance troupe since 1975, refers to the presence of indigenous and non-indigenous youngsters in his troupe as the manifestation of the country’s motto of “Unity in Diversity.” Behind the Jatinegara Market in East Jakarta, Oscar, now in his 60s, organizes and trains some 40 youngsters in his lion dance troupe called Bel Pas (an acronym comprising “bel” from “belakang”-behind-and “pas” from “pasar”-market). This lion dance troupe has strong teamwork and often performs in many events. Its members are from different ethnic groups and have various professional backgrounds, ranging from market hands, kiosk owners, to pupils and university students.
Today the Lion from the South is no longer alone and separated from its surroundings. Sucipto, 57, a martial arts teacher and the owner of Genta Suci, a wushu or Chinese martial arts school that oversees the L’ung Chio Dragon Lion Dance Troupe, for example, has also said that the members of the dragon lion dance troupe are of diverse backgrounds. “Mostly they live around my house,” he said. Then he talked about regeneration. His father organized the dragon lion dance troupe and now his son, Herry Siswantoro (Lim Swie Kiong), has been involved in running the troupe since the 1990s.
Every day, in the training ground of this troupe, somewhere in Cimanggis, Depok, West Java, young people aged between 8 and 25 years, are busy doing exercises to ensure that they can easily make their gong wu movement, lift weights and maintain their flexibility. In fact, in an open building measuring 7×20 meters, these young people also practice Chinese martial arts in spaces among iron poles and punch bags. Martial arts are not the main program, though. Basic movements are gradually choreographed in the composition of a lion dance movement. At first they perform on the floor, then on benches and finally on poles. “Performing a lion dance on poles is quite difficult,” said Sucipto, née Lim Tiong Giok, a third Dan Kyokushinkai black belt and now seriously learning wushu.
Times have indeed changed and the lion dance performers have now jumped over the fences that protect but at the same time surround them. In Jombang, East Java, lion
dance performances more frequently take place than “kuda lumping” show (plait-work horse that men dance into a trance). The lion dance performances are usually held in an open field and in the town square. Three years ago, Jombang, dubbed the town of “santri” (students at Islamic boarding schools) was home to a national lion dance competition.
A lion dance troupe now no longer displays its skills only at Chinese Buddhist temples or Chinese temples. Their performances are no longer a mere traditional rite to ward off evil. The lion dance has slowly merged with the outside world, including the business world. Since 1998, the lion dance has been performed in many other events besides the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, in malls and plazas. Recently, the figure of the Lion from the South along with the deafening sound of the drum and cymbals also appears in ceremonies marking the opening of an automobile expo, in the inauguration of plazas, during the launch of new products, and of course, in the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day.
Take, for example, L’ung Chio Dragon Lion Dance Troupe, which is managed by Sucipto and his son. This troupe, which won second place in the 2001 Lion Dance National Championship in Jombang and was named the best troupe in the Jakarta Open Lion Dance Competition in 2001, performs up to twice a month. This troupe is one that receives a lot of orders, and is also quite expensive to hire. One has to pay Rp5 million for a 10-minute performance on 3-meter-tall poles. The troupe has performed in almost every major plaza and mall in Jakarta. Last year, the lucky star of the troupe was indeed shining bright.
“This year we have received fewer orders to perform,” said Herry Siswantoro, 28. The reason, he said, is that there are more lion dance troupes today. This means that there are more troupes offering a greater diversity of attractions. But this is a new business and of course, big names do not fade easily. In late August this year, the troupe will perform in a grand religious gathering along with Aa Gym at the headquarters of the elite police force, the Mobile Brigade (Brimob), in Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java. The troupe will also perform in many other events, including in a number of Chinese temples in Jakarta, a practice that has been going on since the times of the founder of the troupe.
Since Suharto stepped down from power, fragments of Chinese culture, banned during the New Order, have enjoyed a new lease of life. Old troupes, such as art troupes, have been revived. “This revival is manifested with the performances of the lion and dragon dances and Chinese dances,” said Harry Tjan Silalahi, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta. The freedom that ethnic Chinese lost for three decades has now returned.
The portrait of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia reflects the change in Chinese painting, which has now begun to abandon objects in nature such as goldfish, birds or bamboo trees. The freedom of expression has for three years now seeped into the works of Chinese artists on display in Indonesia. Last year, 16 contemporary Chinese artists such as Fang Lijun, Zhang Gong, Yue Mijun, and Shen Xiaothong, displayed their works at the Indonesian National Gallery and Edwin’s Gallery in Jakarta.
The reformation means the freedom to import traditional Chinese paintings and instruments. Guzheng, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument with 21 strings, is the most popular instrument now played everywhere. In shape and in terms of the wealth of notes, it is close to a kecapi, a traditional Indonesian stringed instrument. A guzheng produces pentatonic notes (do-re-mi-so-la) and when it is played, it is placed on a table, on the floor, or in the lap of the player. However, this instrument has enjoyed a warm welcome. It is played during the opening of a property expo, the launch of a new product, or even the inauguration of a shopping center.
Guzheng enjoys great popularity, especially after the 12 Girls Band demonstrated the flexibility and the greatness of this instrument in July this year at Hailai Discotheque in Ancol, Jakarta. The pretty girls in this band play traditional Chinese musical instruments, including guzheng. They have formal music education and can demonstrate their skills playing traditional, pop, and even western classical music. A guzheng expert can employ a certain technique to make this instrument produce notes beyond the pentatonic range. Eni Agustian, 28, a guzheng teacher, usually plays the famous Meteor Garden theme song, Yue Liang Dai Biau Wo De Xin, a song now very popular in China, or even Bengawan Solo. Eni learned to play this instrument in Taiwan, Singapore and also in Shanghai Music Conservatory. Today she can see the world, something unimaginable to her before.
At Kawai Music School, where Eni teaches, 42 students-aged between 7 and 60 years-were training their fingers, playing old and new songs. Some of them were ethnic Chinese but others were indigenous Indonesians. Eni Agustian is very enthusiastic about this development, especially because she has 17 special students, who come from Penabur Kindergarten, Jakarta. She said she saw a contrast. In the past, during the New Order era, only a handful of people learned to play guzheng. They were found in major cities like Surabaya, Bandung, Semarang, and Medan, but none of them dared to appear in public because of the ban imposed by the New Order. To learn how to play guzheng is a secret move: moving from one house to another and the teacher hid his or her ability.
The world, however, has changed drastically. Just like the lion dance troupe above, Eni also has a tight schedule: she performs up to five times a month, mostly during the inauguration of shopping centers. “Besides, I also play in the church along with the church band,” she added.
Indonesia is indeed changing. You can witness how Bengawan Solo is played on guzheng. Then there is a nasyid (a group singing verses from Al Qur’an) chanting the prophet’s salawat or invocation containing verses from Al Qur’an in Chinese music. Even two years ago, Snada, a nasyid group, released an album, Neo Solawat, in which their top salawat is sung in Chinese and with a Chinese music style.
Schools without Boundaries
Sofyan Tan has cleared a path for integration through the world of education. His concept of `foster parents’ is a valuable help in the process.
I used to think that all Chinese were rich!” said Mona, a grade five student in Medan, speaking to TEMPO two weeks ago. Classmate Maggie weighs in, “In the village, my older brother would often be asked for money. I was afraid of them,” says this small girl with the slanted eyes, reminiscing.
But that’s all in the past now. Since attending school together at the Sultan Iskandar Muda School in the area of Sunggal, Medan, these two girls of Batak and Chinese origin, have come to see that their traditional view of social relationships regarding the Chinese and other ethnic groups-always a thorny point-does not correspond to reality. These days they can play together; there is no feeling of awkwardness or fear. “What’s more, is that here we can tease each other,” jokes Maggie.
It was Sofyan Tan, a man of Chinese origin, who succeeded in building this togetherness in Sunggal. He was the trailblazer for integration in that school, finally culminating in teachers and students alike of different ethnic origins and religions sitting side by side, from kindergarten right up to secondary school-level. Javanese, Batak, Malays, as well as both Chinese and Tamil descendants have joined together as one and are forming intimate friendships.
Since childhood, Tan, 44, has united with other “indigenous” or local citizens in Sunggal, north of downtown Medan. It was his father, a mere tailor, who repeated
ly pushed him to integrate with other ethnic groups as fellow citizens. This “sense of community” experience during childhood proved a great teacher in areas of human character and purpose in the forming of human relationships. “Integration is based on common feeling shared by two sides, rather than just one-sided,” he asserts. He also believes that only with mutual respect, trust and common needs, can life go forward in a wholesome way, without negative sentiments of suspicion on both sides creeping in.
This father of four, who has long since aspired to build this integrated school, had already set his activities in motion in 1987, when he was still completing his own studies at the Medical Faculty of the Methodist University in Medan.
Upon graduating, Sofyan had no difficulty deciding not to open his own doctor’s practice. Instead, together with his friend Soekirman, he longed to continue his previous project: an integrated school. Since then, in Medan, Sofyan has been known as an integrator between the different ethnic groups. In recognition of his efforts, he was honored in 1990 as the National Young Pioneer of the Year for Social Solidarity by the government, and was awarded the Fellowship Ashoka Award in 1989.
In the dirty township of Sunggal, the Sultan Iskandar Muda School stands united with a settlement comprising several ethnic groups. The school now boasts a main building of four floors, measuring 8,000 square meters. There are 32 classes: nine classes for senior high school, eight for junior high school, 12 for primary school, and three for vocational high school. Behind this building there is a mosque, a church, and a Buddhist temple. In the middle is a plaque, standing between two fruit trees, bearing an inscription symbolizing unity without differentiation between one another.
This school is now host to 1,017 indigenous pupils, as well as 483 students of Chinese and Tamil origins. Because there are also many Chinese pupils among students struggling to afford the cost of education, Sofyan has implemented a foster parent program. Parents of “indigenous” children who can afford to, are obliged to take on a foster child of Chinese descent and vice-versa. “This is one of the methods of integration we employ,” says this former chairperson of the North Sumatran Gemabudhi.
The teachers, consisting of 93 locals and 16 of other ethnic origins are no different to the students. They all blend in freely and even mixed marriages also occur. Relationship between student and teacher provides the main role model for ethnic integration and visions of unity. Sofyan has also implemented this within his own family. His younger sibling’s spouse is from Java, while his cousin has taken a Sundanese wife.
Sofyan admits that there are still many Chinese families who refuse to send their children to mixed schools for a variety of reasons. There are those who consider it better to send them to a school within a certain community, and those who experience trauma. “My task is to change thought processes of skepticism and stereotyping through this school,” he states.
Champion of Sundanese Arts
For Tan De Seng art is an obligation.
With his aging fingers, Mohammad Deseng, alias Tan De Seng, teases out the suling (traditional bamboo flute) piece Surupan 62. Behind him, the slender curving fingers of Fitri Juliani Cintania-his daughter and second child-plucks the strings of the kecapi (traditional stringed instrument). All of a sudden, the sweet tunes of Raja Mantri can be heard, with an almost otherworldly serenity.
Deseng, 60, is like a champion in the cause of Sundanese art. At the end of 2002, along with his friends, Liang Tze Hai and Ibu Lim Chay Hin, he founded traditional arts-training center Padepokan Pasundan Asih. They work on various things: dance, music, group vocals and even theater. In Deseng’s rented house in Jalan Malabar, Bandung, which serves as the headquarters of the establishment, there are a collection of various musical instruments such as flute, kecapi, and drum.
What could possibly have pushed this fifth of Tan Tjin Hong’s and Yok Mbok Jie’s eight children elect to so diligently champion the cause of Sundanese art? “I was born in Sunda, and live among the Sundanese,” says the father of three. Furthermore, when the final hour is upon him, according to this aki (grandfather) of one, he would like to be laid to rest in Priangan soil. For this reason, “Pushing Sundanese art has become my duty,” says the man born in Gang Tamim in the area of Pasar Baru, Bandung.
Deseng began learning the Sundanese traditional flute around the age of 5. His first teacher was Tan De Tjeng, his own older brother, who also coincidently enjoyed the arts. He also had the opportunity to learn with a bricklayer, employed in the renovation of their house. Unfortunately Deseng does not remember his name. This graduate of Tsing Hoa High School in Jalan Champelas, Bandung, subsequently became the student of a number of flute maestros such as Ki Oyok and Mang Suarta.
At 9 years old he began learning to play the kecapi. There is a story about that: at that time his friend Adjat Sudradjat asked him to be taught to play guitar. Deseng had certainly been a formidable guitar player since his early childhood. As it turned out, Adjat’s aunt was Etty Handa, a Cianjuran vocalist, who was also quite well-known at that time. Deseng eventually learnt the kecapi from Adjat’s family.
Deseng even later visited high level kecapi players such as Ebar Sobari, Mang Ono, Sutarya as well as puppeteer Abah Sunarya. With his penchant for playing guitar, kecapi and suling, along with several friends, he established himself in various cities around West Java. With the guitar, he was active in the groups of Haming Youth, Young Brothers, Palmor, and Marya Musika. For the kecapi-suling, he formed the group Bhakti Siliwangi.
In 1985, after successfully teaching his daughter Fitri Juliani Cintania to play the kecapi, and her younger sister as a vocalist, Deseng formed the group Patanjala. Deseng’s wings have gradually spread far and wide, even as far as Japan. His newest group is, of course, the Padepokan Pasundan Asih. With an original cast of only three or four people of Chinese origin, its membership now numbers in the hundreds.
Despite the barongsai (lion dance) being permitted to be performed again, Deseng and his group stay loyal to the kecapi and Cianjuran flute. He is grateful for the reform era, but says “We have to have art and culture belonging to the place where we live and born.” Apart from keeping up performances, Deseng has also built a mini-studio for recording.
Hundreds of recorded cassettes are stored neatly. There is jaipong, ketuk tilu, Indian Sundanese, Sundanese kliningan, rampak sekar, gendang pencak, and the like. In principle, it is all in Sundanese. It is not a surprise, therefore, if among Sundanese art lovers, Deseng is often referred to as being more Sundanese than the Sundanese themselves.
In Defense of the Ill-fated
A people’s lawyer by choice (in spite of the poor salary), she refuses to be called a fighter for basic human rights.
Like a leech, the horrible memory sticks to Ester Indahyani Jusuf’s mind. She had been married only three months when Jakarta was ravaged by riots in May 1998. In her sleep, she was haunted by nightmares about what an eyewitness from North Jakarta had told her: “A long-haired man set fire to a tire shop. The sky turned black and the flames spread everywhere. Two people were locked in the building by the long-haired man. T
heir bodies were scorched.” Ester felt depressed, knowing that the two unlucky people were Indonesian citizens of Chinese descent.
The May tragedy of six years ago triggered a new awareness for Ester. Born with the name Sim Ai Ling, she hated the perpetual policy of discrimination prevailing when the New Order regime was in power. But she also chided the reticence of the Chinese. To Ester, the root of the problem lies within. “The tendency of seeing the ethnic [Chinese] as being far superior must be abolished,” she said. Ester has acted on her own words by embarking on a difficult road: unraveling history.
Ester was born in Malang, East Java, 33 years ago. A simple girl of Chinese descent, she was fortunate in that she had parents who were forward-looking. Her father, Immanuel Jusuf, was a teacher, her mother, Maria Tjandra, an ex-teacher. Since her childhood, this hoakiau (overseas Chinese) family was constantly on the move before ultimately settling down in Jakarta. Little Ester got along nicely with the neighbors when the family lived at Condet. “I even attended an Islamic kindergarten there,” she recalled.
Upon graduation from the University of Indonesia School of Law, Ester entered the legal world. However, although she had the chance, she did not choose the road of the professional lawyer. Instead, she joined the Social and Political Rights Division of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH). This was in line with the message that her father had handed down to her: she should work for the defense of the poor. Being a “people’s lawyer” was a new experience for Ester. Previously, she engaged only in church activities. “My father used to say I was too much of a church bench eater,” she recalled laughingly.
Work at LBH did not pay much. One afternoon, she had only a few hundred rupiah left. She had not eaten all day and did not have money left for transport home. When the day started to fade out, she prayed that somehow she could have a meal and go home. “Lo, I ran into Mas Teten Masduki (now chairman of Indonesia Corruption Watch-Ed.). He invited me to have dinner with him,” she said. She was saved from starvation that day. To top her luck, the driver of the city transport vehicle she was riding home with was so happy about his exceedingly good earnings that day that he allowed her to travel without paying.
While working at LBH, Esther discovered corrupt practices at the court. She also repeatedly had occasion to rub against the powers that be. For instance, when she was legal counsel for the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), who were charged with masterminding the July 27, 1996 riots. “She is serious and highly dedicated,” observed Surya Tjandra, her colleague at Jakarta LBH. In Surya’s eyes, Ester was one of the most vocal among the young lawyers during that difficult time.
After her marriage to Arnold Franciscus Purba, a student activist of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Ester’s struggle became even more focused. Arnold, who was affectionately called Ucok, was a “hard-line” activist. He was jailed for protesting a visit by Home Affairs Minister Rudini to the ITB campus in 1989. “Ucok has always given me inspiration,” Ester said. Her husband died three years ago of a liver ailment, leaving her with their two sons.
Together with Ucok, Ester initiated the establishment of the Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa (Solidarity of Land and Nation), an institution that came into being shortly after the May 1996 riots. It fights racist policy practices, among other things by unraveling the May 1996 riots and defending the victims. The institution’s activities have earned it various awards, including one from the Human Rights Forum, the Yap Thiam Hien Award, and one from the Asoka International Foundation. “But don’t write that I am a human rights fighter,” Ester said.
Life as a widow with two children to take care of does not dampen Ester’s spirit. Just of late, she made a daring move by taking up the issue of the 1965 political tragedy. Millions of communists and Sukarno followers perished in that bloody stage of history. Two years ago, as part of a national reconciliation effort, Ester took part in the digging up of mass graves of former Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in Wonosobo, Central Java, and Blitar, East Java.
From the scattered bones, Ester seems to have deduced the crux of the problem. Said she: “The anti-discrimination resistance came to a complete halt in the aftermath of 1965.”
Continued to Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (2)