Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Being Chinese-Indonesian

Being Chinese-Indonesian

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Barongsai dance was held at Bhakti Luhur Catholic Orphanage in Malang, East Java, on Feb. 3, 2019, to celebrate the incoming Chinese New Year. Aman Rochman/The Jakarta Post

Being Chinese-Indonesian

Indonesia, a young nation, is not even 100 years old. Thousands of different ethnic groups living in the country have no doubts about their Indonesian identity, a recent survey indicates.

There is one exception, however. The survey, conducted by the Indonesian Psychocultural Consortium (KPI), discovered that Chinese-Indonesians do not share this view.

This, according to the consortium, could be for various reasons, including that some have lived through traumatic incidents – such as the 1998 riots that targeted people of Chinese descent – and the discriminatory treatment the group has persistently faced.

Recent incidents explain why it is not easy for a Chinese-Indonesian to confidently say, “Yes, I am 100 per cent Indonesian, no question about it.” Doubts always linger.

In mid-January, a subdistrict in the East Java capital of Surabaya made headlines. Officials of a community unit in Bangkingan subdistrict, Lakarsantri district, circulated a letter saying it would charge “non-pribumi” (non-native) residents double the amount their neighbours had to pay if they wished to reside and run a business there. In addition to the one-time fee, the non-pribumi residents also had to pay a monthly fee to the community unit. This in effect targeted Chinese-Indonesians.

In East Jakarta, a group put up a banner in a neighbourhood in Cililitan to express its opposition to the construction of a cinema nearby. The group said the movie theater was built by the “Chinese” and threatened to expel any “Chinese” people from the neighbourhood.

Late last year, singer-musician Agnez Mo, a Chinese-Indonesian, was criticised by Indonesian netizens after she said in an interview in the US that she did not have any Indonesian blood.

A lot of Chinese-Indonesians feel the same way as Agnez, despite a reform movement beginning in 1998, which marked sweeping changes to Indonesia politically and socially. Chinese New Year was declared a national holiday and Confucianism one of six official religions, but discrimination against the ethnic group persists.

In the face of this, young Chinese-Indonesians are speaking out against discrimination. The elections last year witnessed more Chinese-Indonesians join the race, with many winning. They defied concerns that Chinese-Indonesians would withdraw from politics after the racially charged Jakarta elections in 2017, which saw Chinese-Indonesian Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama as a leading contender. In other fields, more and more Chinese-Indonesians are assuming public roles as writers, actors, filmmakers, civil servants, lawyers, social media celebrities, comedians, journalists, musicians and civil society and political activists. In the years to come, they may have more parts to play.

When Chinese New Year comes, feng shui experts and fortune tellers will offer their predictions. Despite the ups and downs, the fact that Chinese-Indonesians and so-called “native” Indonesians have coexisted for many years shows there can be a bright and cohesive future as one nation.



  • Hungarian exposes 90 to Covid in Siem Reap

    The Ministry of Health has discovered 90 people who have been exposed directly or indirectly to a Hungarian man infected with Covid-19. They all are required to quarantine at home and the hospital. The ministry is searching for other affected people. Among the 90, one is the

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,

  • First ‘mobile kitchen’ in Cambodia enters service

    A catering company recently rolled out Cambodia’s first “mobile kitchen” – a $50,000 container capable of serving up to 200 people at a time. The kitchen is the brainchild of Seng Hok Heng Catering Services. At 4.4m-high, 6.8m-long and 2.4m-wide (expandable to 6.8m), the kitchen is equipped

  • Kingdom, China rebut basis for US sanctions

    The Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Tianjin Union Investment Development Group Co Ltd (Tianjin) have responded to US sanctions on Union Development Group Co Ltd (UDG), a Chinese-owned company currently developing the sprawling $3.8 billion Dara