Racism and Discrimination Towards Chinese People in Indonesia

Race is a really sensitive and controversial topic to be talked about. Racism happens all over the world including Indonesia. Racism in Indonesia is happening mostly to the Chinese-Indonesian People or People with Chinese descent who reside here. Indonesia is a multicultural and diverse country in which more than 300 native ethnic groups are living here. The majority, the Javanese, comprise 42% of the population followed by Sundanese and Maduranese. The Chinese ethnic itself is considered as immigrant and foreigner by native Indonesians because of the physical differences they have from native Indonesians (i.e. how Chinese people’s skin color is fairer than native Indonesians, etc.). The differences that they have are becoming one of the causes of racial discrimination that happens to people of Chinese descent who live in Indonesia.

In 1998, a tragedy happened in Indonesia in which involving the murder and rape of lots of Chinese people. It was during Indonesia’s second president regime, Soeharto, in which lasted for 30 years. During his presidential era, although his dictatorial government brought great infrastructure and economy, the rumor said whoever was against him would be kidnapped by his military and murdered. The Peak of the incident was on May 1998, when there were huge riots happened in some big cities in Indonesia, which caused by Soeharto’s dictatorial regime, alleged rigged election and economic problems including food shortage and mass employments. At that time, Chinese people in Indonesia were the only people who are not affected by the economic problems because many of them are businessmen with lots of shops, thus why Chinese people became the main target of the riots. Many Chinese women were raped, and others Chinese descents were killed.

Before the incident happened, there were already a significant amount of anti-Chinese legislation in Indonesia. Again, this happened because the government were still labeling chinese people descent as “foreigner”, and as explained before, at that time Chinese people were basically ruling the economical sector in Indonesia. They pretty much owned every stores and business in Indonesia. This concerned the government because they thought Chinese people became monopolistic and wouldn’t give native Indonesians chances to start their own businesses, thus why the government made the Presidential Regulation 10 of 1959. It was a law directive issued by the Indonesian government and signed by Minister of Trade, Rachmat Mujomisero. The law prohibited foreign nationals from doing retail business in rural areas and required them to transfer their businesses to Indonesian nationals by January 1, 1960, or relocate to urban areas. Although the regulation merely mentioned that only “foreign citizens” were required to do the relocation and closure of business, the law affected many Chinese nationals and Chinese Indonesians. From the 86,690 foreign business retailer listed, about 90 percent of these were Chinese.

Beside that regulation, the government also created a decision called Cabinet Presidium Decision 127 of 1966. It was an Indonesian law passed in 1966 that suggested Indonesian-sounding names to be adopted by Indonesian Chinese. It was considered to be part of the anti-Chinese legislation in Indonesia. The resident Chinese community in Indonesia resented it because it forced them to lose traditional family names. Another law called  Presidential Decision 240 of 1967 mandated assimilation of “foreigners” and supported a previous directive, for Indonesian Chinese to adopt Indonesian-sounding names. Also a presidential Instruction called Presidential Instruction No. 14/1967 on Chinese Religion, Beliefs, and Traditions effectively banned any Chinese literature and cultures in Indonesia, including the prohibition of Chinese characters. Although Chinese names were not explicitly mentioned, “newly naturalized” Indonesian Chinese were strongly advised to adopt non-Chinese names.

Although conditions have improved ever since the end of the New Order era, racism and discrimination towards people of Chinese descent in Indonesia is still happening. Recently, a Chinese governor was jailed for alleged blasphemy to Islam, which caused anger of Indonesian muslim, and caused huge demonstrations and during those demonstrations chinese people are again becoming the target of the attacks. Indonesia really needs to review again what their national motto “Unity in Diversity” means, because clearly how they act towards another ethnicity isn’t showing any unity in diversity at all.

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Christopher Immanuel
A thespian who really love musicals and international issues. You would find me either reading books, writing, or reenacting scenes from broadway musicals in my spare time

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