Friday, June 24, 2011

Chinese-Indonesians: Is a Once Forbidden Identity Fading?

Just as China is ascending the world stage as an economic superpower, so too, is Chinese culture becoming increasingly visible in Indonesia.

Chinese New Year, banned during the repressive New Order period, is now a national holiday that sees almost every mall in the city festooned in red and gold lanterns in hopes of boosting sales. Students all over the country are learning Chinese language to get a leg up in an international job market where Mandarin is fast becoming as big an asset as English.

So why is it that, while this boom in Chinese culture is going on, so many young Chinese-Indonesians are slowly losing touch with their cultural heritage?

Chinese culture was banned in the Suharto era due to the alleged role of the Chinese in supporting the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). For 33 years, any expression of Chinese culture was banned, including celebrations, schools and Chinese languages.

After a substantial period of cultural repression, the prohibition of Chinese culture was lifted by former President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid in the early 2000s. In what Aimee calls a “renaissance of Chinese culture,” Chinese language is now being taught in many national-plus schools, Chinese New Year became a national holiday, and there is no longer a significant sense of fear associated with being Chinese.

The Chinese in Indonesia currently make up about 2 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people. Chinese culture is now legally allowed to thrive in Indonesian society. The question is, with so many Chinese-Indonesian families not being used to practicing their culture openly, is it too late for it to be revived?
Extract from Jakarta Globe story

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