Thursday, May 6, 2010

Indonesia’s Ethnic Chinese and the teaching of history

There have been several amendments to the teaching of Indonesian history since Indonesia’s Independence Day. The more authoritarian a regime, the stronger the control it exercises over the official history, as was the case when Guided Democracy (1959-1965) and the New Order (1966-1998) were in power.

Under Soeharto’s administration, the three pillars of Chinese culture — the mass media, the organizations and the schools — were torn down. The country’s history curriculum never mentioned Chinese culture or the contribution ethnic Chinese had made to the civilization of Indonesia. Following the reform movement, the 1994 national curriculum was revised in 1999.

While Indian and Chinese influences on Indonesian culture did appear in the new history curriculum, there was still no narration of any influential Chinese culture.
According to Prof. Denys Lombard, there are four mega cultures, which Lombard refers to as “nebulas” that brought influence to the archipelago, i.e. Chinese, Indian, Arabian and European.

All these nebulas are part of the Indonesian official teaching of history, except that of Chinese.

The arrival of Hinduism and Buddhism in Indonesia was combined with the histories of Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms: Kutai, Tarumanegara, Sriwijaya, Kediri, Singosari and Majapahit.

The introduction of Islam to Indonesia and its development were an integral part of the rise of Islamic states which include Samudra Pasai, Aceh, Demak, Pajang, Mataram, Cirebon, Banten, Makassar, Ternate and Tidore.

No kingdoms of the Western or Christian nebula were ever recorded; rather, it was connected with Europeans coming to the region. It was unfortunate that no Chinese kingdom ever set foot in Indonesia in the past.

Traditional kingdoms had Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic labels although their existence was not identical to any of the religions.

The school curriculum outlines Indonesian history in the following chronology: pre-history, Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, Islamic kingdoms, Dutch and Japanese colonization and the formation of the Republic of Indonesia.

The New Order based its teaching of history on the Indonesian National History textbooks edited by Nugroho Notosusanto and his team. The set comprised of six volumes. When the government decided that these books were no longer valid, they published a replacement eight-volume Indonesia dalam Arus Sejarah (Indonesian within the Tide of History).

It discusses Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in third volume while Islamic states fill the fourth volume of the set. Chinese aspects of Indonesian history are only included in a 24-page article written by A. Dahana on “China dan Kampanye ‘Ganyang Malaysia’” (“China and the ‘Crush Malaysia’ Campaign”) which is included in Volume 7 (1950-1965 period) and in a Leo Suryadinata writing, “Peran Kelompok Etnis Tionghoa dan Kebijakan Negara” (“The Role of Ethnic Chinese and State Policy”), a 26-page piece in Volume 8 (New Order).

All eight volumes of the textbooks, that are 5,000 pages long, cover the ethnic Chinese and their culture in only 50 pages — truly a minority.

The printing of Indonesia within the Tide of History was completed in early 2010 but it has not been distributed or put on sale as the official launch by President SBY has yet to be scheduled.

There is no other way other than to write a reference book, through which what the ethnic Chinese have contributed to the civilization of Indonesia could be conveyed to Indonesian students.

I imagine that it would at least contain a) the history of migration of Chinese people to Indonesia, b) use of the terms “China” and “Tionghoa”, c) contributions the Chinese nebula has made to the civilization of Indonesia, d) discrimination against ethnic Chinese during the Colonial era, e) the struggle to achieve and protect Indonesian independence (including the story of John Lie, who was named a national hero last year), f) the achievements of Chinese people in many fields (e.g. sports, arts and medical care initiatives), g) state policies on the ethnic Chinese since independence, h) discrimination against the ethnic Chinese during the New Order, i) the significant changes recorded in the reform era and future prospects.

The book should be proposed to the government, in this case to the National Education Ministry, for a formal decision on its authorized use in schools.
The Ministry’s Curriculum Center should be encouraged to include items on the Chinese nebula in Indonesia’s history curriculum.

By Asvi Warman Adam historian with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). The article is an excerpt of the paper the writer will present at the 7th International Seminar on the Study of the Chinese Overseas (ISSCO) in Singapore, May 7-9, 2010.

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