The first recorded movement of people from China into Maritime Southeast Asia was the arrival of Mongol forces under Kublai Khan that culminated in the invasion of Java in 1293. Their intervention hastened the decline of the classical kingdoms such as Singhasari and precipitated the rise of the Majapahit empire.
Chinese Muslim traders from the eastern coast of China arrived at the coastal towns of Indonesia and Malaysia in the early 15th century. They were led by the mariner Zheng He, who commanded several expeditions to southeastern Asia between 1405 and 1430. In the book Yingya Shenglan, his translator Ma Huan documented the activities of the Chinese Muslims in the archipelago and the legacy left by Zheng He and his men. These traders settled along the northern coast of Java, but there is no documentation of their settlements beyond the 16th century. The Chinese Muslims were likely to have been absorbed into the majority Muslim population. Between 1450 and 1520, the Ming Dynasty's interest in southeastern Asia reached a low point and trade, both legal and illegal, rarely reached the archipelago. The Portuguese made no mention of any resident Chinese minority population when they arrived in Indonesia in the early 16th century. Trade from the north was re-established when China legalized private trade in 1567 through licensing 50 junks a year. Several years later silver began flowing into the region, from Japan, Mexico, and Europe, and trade flourished once again. Distinct Chinese colonies emerged in hundreds of ports throughout southeastern Asia, including the pepper port of Banten.
Chinese traders boycotted Portuguese Malacca after it fell to the Portuguese in the 1511 Capture of Malacca. The Chinese engaged in business with Malays and Javanese instead of the Portuguese. Some Chinese in Java assisted in Muslim attempts to reconquer the city using ships. The Javanese–Chinese participation in retaking Malacca was recorded in "The Malay Annals of Semarang and Cerbon".
Colonial attitudes (1600–1900)
Chinese workers from Swatow
await the preparation of their contracts by immigration officials at Medan's labor inspectorate, Belawan c.
By the time the Dutch arrived in the early 17th century, major Chinese settlements existed along the north coast of Java. Most were traders and merchants, but they also practiced agriculture in inland areas. The Dutch contracted many of these immigrants as skilled artisans in the construction of Batavia (Jakarta) on the northwestern coast of Java. A recently created harbor was selected as the new headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) in 1609 by Jan Pieterszoon Coen. It grew into a major hub for trade with China and India. Batavia became home to the largest Chinese community in the archipelago and remains so in the 21st century. Coen and other early Governors-General promoted the entry of Chinese immigrants to new settlements "for the benefit of those places and for the purpose of gathering spices like cloves, nutmeg, and mace". The port's Chinese population of 300–400 in 1619 had grown to at least 10,000 by 1740. The Dutch, however, introduced a racial classification system that separated residents of Chinese ancestry from those of other ancestry. The Dutch colonial rule saw the rise of anti-Chinese policies.
Most of those who settled in the archipelago had already severed their ties with the mainland and welcomed favorable treatment and protection under the Dutch. Some became "revenue farmers", middlemen within the corporate structure of the VOC, tasked with collecting export–import duties and managing the harvest of natural resources; although this was highly profitable, it earned the enmity of the pribumi population. Others worked as opium farmers. Following the 1740 Batavia massacre and ensuing war, in which the Chinese rebelled against the Dutch, the Dutch attempted to place a quota on the number of Chinese who could enter the Indies. Amoy was designated as the only immigration port to the archipelago, and ships were limited to a specified number of crew and passengers depending on size. This quota was adjusted at times to meet demand for overseas workers, such as in July 1802 when sugar mills near Batavia were in need of workers.
Chinese who married local Javanese women and converted to Islam created a distinct Chinese Muslim Peranakan community in Java. Chinese rarely had to convert to Islam to marry Javanese abangan women but a significant amount of their offspring did, and Batavian Muslims absorbed the Chinese Muslim community which was descended from converts. Adoption of Islam back then was a marker of peranakan status which it no longer means. The Semaran Adipati and the Jayaningrat families were of Chinese origin.
When the VOC was nationalized on 31 December 1799, many freedoms the Chinese experienced under the corporation were eliminated by the Dutch government. Among them was the Chinese monopoly on the salt trade which had been granted by the VOC administration. An 1816 regulation introduced a requirement for the indigenous population and Chinese traveling within the territory to obtain a travel permit. Those who did not carry a permit faced arrest by security officers. The Governor-General also introduced a resolution in 1825 which forbade "foreign Asians in Java such as Malays, Buginese and Chinese" from living within the same neighborhood as the native population. Following the costly Java War (1825–1830) the Dutch introduced a new agrarian and cultivation system that required farmers to "yield up a portion of their fields and cultivate crops suitable for the European market". Compulsory cultivation restored the economy of the colony, but ended the system of revenue farms established under the VOC.
The first Dutch Chinese Schools were established in 1892 following a split in curriculum from the native population.
The Chinese were perceived as temporary residents and encountered difficulties in obtaining land rights. Europeans were prioritized in the choice of plantation areas, while colonial officials believed the remaining plots must be protected and preserved for the indigenous population. Short-term and renewable leases of varying lengths[a] were later introduced as a temporary measure, but many Chinese remained on these lands upon expiration of their contracts and became squatters. In the second half of the 19th century the colonial government began experimenting with the idea of an "Ethical Policy" to protect the indigenous population, casting the Chinese as the "foremost enemy of the state". Under the new policy, the administration increased restrictions on Chinese economic activities, which they believed exploited the native population.
In western Borneo, the Chinese established their first major mining settlement in 1760. Ousting Dutch settlers and the local Malay princes, they joined into a new republic known as Lanfang. By 1819, they came into conflict with the new Dutch government and were seen as "incompatible" with its objectives, yet indispensable for the development of the region. The Bangka–Belitung Islands also became examples of major settlements in rural areas. In 1851, 28 Chinese were recorded on the islands and, by 1915, the population had risen to nearly 40,000 and fishing and tobacco industries had developed. Coolies brought into the region after the end of the 19th century were mostly hired from the Straits Settlements owing to recruiting obstacles that existed in China.
Divided nationalism (1900–1949)
Chinese-language school owned by the Tiong Hoa Hwe Koan in Sungailiat
The Chinese revolutionary figure Sun Yat-sen visited southeast Asia in 1900, and, later that year, the socio-religious organization
Tiong Hoa Hwe Koan (中華 會館), also known as the Chinese Association, was founded. Their goal was to urge ethnic Chinese in the Indies to support the revolutionary movement in China. In its effort to build Chinese-speaking schools the association argued that the teaching of the English and Chinese languages should be prioritized over Dutch, to provide themselves with the means of taking, in the words of Phoa Keng Hek, "a two or three-day voyage (Java–Singapore) into a wider world where they can move freely" and overcome restrictions of their activities. Several years later, the Dutch authorities abandoned its segregation policies, abolished travel permits for the ethnic Chinese, and allowed them to freely move throughout the colony. The 1911 Xinhai Revolution and the 1912 founding of the Republic of China coincided with a growing Chinese–nationalist movement within the Indies.
Although there was no recognizable nationalist movement among the indigenous population until 1908, Dutch authorities feared that nationalist sentiments would spread with the growth of ethnically mixed associations, known as kongsi. In 1911, some Javanese members of the Kong Sing association in Surakarta broke away and clashed with the ethnic Chinese. This incident led to the creation of Sarekat Islam, the first organized popular nationalist movement in the Indies. Indigenous groups saw the Chinese nationalist sentiment as "haughty", leading to mutual antagonism. The anti-Chinese sentiment spread throughout Java in 1918 and led to mass violence orchestrated by members of Sarekat Islam on the ethnic Chinese in Kudus. Following this incident, the left-wing Chinese nationalist daily Sin Po called on both sides to work together to improve living conditions because it considered most ethnic Chinese, like most of the indigenous population, to be poor.
Early draft of the Indonesia Raya
, later adopted as a national anthem, in a 1928 weekly edition of the Sin Po
Sin Po first went into print in 1910 and began gaining momentum as the leading advocate of Chinese political nationalism in 1917. The ethnic Chinese who followed its stream of thought refused any involvement with local institutions and would only participate in politics relating to mainland China. A second stream was later formed by wealthy ethnic Chinese who received an education at Dutch-run schools. This Dutch-oriented group wished for increased participation in local politics, Dutch education for the ethnic Chinese, and the furthering of ethnic Chinese economic standing within the colonial economy. Championed by the Volksraad's Chinese representatives, such as Hok Hoei Kan, Loa Sek Hie and Phoa Liong Gie, this movement gained momentum and reached its peak with the Chung Hwa Congress of 1927 and the 1928 formation of the Chung Hwa Hui party, which elected Kan as its president. The editor-in-chief of the Madjallah Panorama news magazine criticized Sin Po for misguiding the ethnic Chinese by pressuring them into a Chinese-nationalist stance.
In 1932, pro-Indonesian counterparts founded the Partai Tionghoa Indonesia to support absorption of the ethnic Chinese into the Javanese population and support the call for self-government of Indonesia. Members of this group were primarily peranakan. This division resurfaced at the end of the period of Japanese occupation (1942–1945). Under the occupation ethnic Chinese communities were attacked by Japanese forces, in part owing to suspicions that they contained sympathizers of the Kuomintang as a consequence of the Second Sino-Japanese War. When the Dutch returned, following the end of World War II, the chaos caused by advancing forces and retreating revolutionaries also saw radical Muslim groups attack ethnic Chinese communities.
Although revolutionary leaders were sympathetic toward the ethnic Chinese, they were unable to stop the sporadic violence. Those who were affected fled from the rural areas to Dutch-controlled cities, a move many Indonesians saw as proof of pro-Dutch sentiments. There was evidence, however, that Chinese Indonesians were represented and participated in independence efforts. Four members of the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Independence (BPUPK) and one member of the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (PPKI) had Chinese names.
Loyalty in question (1950–1966)
The Netherlands relinquished its territorial claims in the archipelago (with the exception of West Papua) following the 1949 Round Table Conference, which is the same year that the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan, allowing the Communist Party of China to take control of mainland China. Most Chinese Indonesians considered a communist China less attractive than a newly independent Indonesia, but in the archipelago their loyalties were questioned. Ethnic Chinese born in the Dutch East Indies whose parents were domiciled under Dutch administration were regarded as citizens of the new state according to the principle of jus soli, or "right of the soil". However, Chinese law considered a person as a Chinese citizen according to the principle of jus sanguinis, or right of blood. This meant that all Indonesian citizens of Chinese descent were also claimed as citizens by the People's Republic of China. After several attempts by both governments to resolve this issue, Indonesia and China signed a Dual Nationality Treaty on the sidelines of the 1955 Asian–African Conference in Bandung. One of its provisions was the ability to renounce Chinese citizenship for those who wished to solely remain Indonesian citizens.
They had thought they were unwanted in Southeast Asia because they were Chinese; then they were rejected in China because they were Indonesian.
As many as 390,000 ethnic Chinese, two-thirds of those with rightful claims to Indonesian citizenship renounced their Chinese status when the treaty came into effect in 1962. On the other hand, an estimated 60,000 ethnic Chinese students left for the People's Republic of China in the 1950s and early 1960s. The first wave of students were almost entirely educated in Chinese-language schools, but were not able to find opportunities for tertiary education in Indonesia. Seeking quality scientific professions, they entered China with high hopes for their future and that of the mainland. Subsequent migrations occurred in 1960 as part of a repatriation program and in 1965–1966 following a series of anti-communist violence that also drew anger toward the ethnic Chinese. As many as 80 percent of the original students who entered the mainland eventually became refugees in Hong Kong. Under the programs of China's Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the returned overseas Chinese were questioned for their loyalty because of their foreign connections. As most had grown up in an urban environment they were sent to the countryside, told to "rebel against their own class background", and eventually lost contact with their families. They were attacked as "imperialists", "capitalists", "spies", "half-breeds", and "foreign devils".
Restrictions on rural non-indigenous retail businesses in 1959 led to rapid urbanization of the ethnic Chinese community.
In 1959, following the introduction of soft-authoritarian rule through Guided Democracy, the Indonesian government and military began placing restrictions on alien residence and trade. These regulations culminated in the enactment of Presidential Regulation 10 in November 1959, banning retail services by non-indigenous persons in rural areas. Ethnic Chinese, Arab, and Dutch businessmen were specifically targeted during its enforcement to provide a more favorable market for indigenous businesses. This move was met with protests from the Chinese government and some circles of Indonesian society. Javanese writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer later criticized the policies in his 1961 book Hoakiau di Indonesia. An integrationist movement, led by the Chinese-Indonesian organisation Baperki (Badan Permusjawaratan Kewarganegaraan Indonesia), began to gather interest in 1963, including that of President Sukarno. However, a series of attacks on ethnic Chinese communities in West Java in May proved it to be short-lived, despite the government's condemnation of the violence. When Baperki was branded a communist organization in 1965 the ethnic Chinese were implicated by association; this was exacerbated in the public mind by the People's Republic of China's communism. As many as 500,000 people, the majority of them Javanese Abangan Muslims and Balinese Indonesians but including a minority of several thousand ethnic Chinese, were killed in the anti-communist purge[b] which followed the failed coup d'état, suspected as being communist-led, on 30 September 1965.
Managing the "Chinese Problem" (1967–1998)
1967 photo of a Chinese-Indonesian family of Hubei ancestry
When the New Order government of General Suharto came into power in 1966–1967, it introduced a political system based only on the Pancasila (five principles) ideology. To prevent the ideological battles that occurred during Sukarno's presidency from resurfacing, Suharto's "Pancasila democracy" sought a depoliticized system in which discussions of forming a cohesive ethnic Chinese identity were no longer allowed. A government committee was formed in 1967 to examine various aspects of the "Chinese Problem" (Masalah Cina) and agreed that forced emigration of whole communities was not a solution: "The challenge was to take advantage of their economic aptitude whilst eliminating their perceived economic dominance." The semi-governmental Institute for the Promotion of National Unity (Lembaga Pembina Kesatuan Bangsa, LPKB) was formed to advise the government on facilitating assimilation of Chinese Indonesians. This process was done through highlighting the differences between the ethnic Chinese and the indigenous pribumi, rather than seeking similarities. Expressions of Chinese culture through language, religion, and traditional festivals were banned and the ethnic Chinese were pressured to adopt Indonesian-sounding names.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Suharto and his government brought in Chinese Indonesian businesses to participate in the economic development programs of the New Order while keeping them highly vulnerable to strengthen the central authority and restrict political freedoms. Patron–client relationships, mainly through the exchange of money for security, became an accepted norm among the ethnic Chinese as they maintained a social contract through which they could claim a sense of belonging in the country. A minority of the economic elite of Indonesian society, both those who were and were not ethnic Chinese, secured relationships with Suharto's family members and members of the military for protection, while small business owners relied on local law enforcement officials. Stereotypes of the wealthy minority became accepted as generalized facts but failed to acknowledge that said businessmen were few in number compared to the small traders and shop owners. In a 1989 interview conducted by scholar Adam Schwarz for his book A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia's Search for Stability, an interviewee stated that, "to most Indonesians, the word 'Chinese' is synonymous with corruption". The economic role of the ethnic Chinese was contradictory because it did not translate to acceptance of their status in the greater society. They were politically weak and often faced social harassment.
Anti-Chinese sentiment reached its peak in May 1998, when major riots
swept over Jakarta.
Anti-Chinese sentiment gathered intensity through the 1990s. President Suharto gathered the most powerful businessmen—mostly Chinese Indonesians—in a nationally televised 1990 meeting at his private ranch, calling on them to contribute 25 percent of their shares to cooperatives. Commentators described the spectacle as "good theatre", as it only served to reinforce resentment and suspicion of the ethnic Chinese among the indigenous population. Major riots broke out in Situbondo (October 1996), Tasikmalaya (December 1996), and
Rengasdengklok (January 1997).
When Suharto entered his seventh term as president, following an uncontested election on 10 March 1998, Indonesian students began a series of major demonstrations in protest of the New Order regime which continued for weeks and culminated in the shootings of four students by security forces at Trisakti University in May. The incident sparked major violence in several cities during 12–15 May. Property and businesses owned by Chinese Indonesians were targeted by mobs, and over 100 women were sexually assaulted; this aspect of the riots, though generally accepted as true, has been denied by several Indonesian groups. In the absence of security forces, large groups of men, women, and children looted and burned the numerous shopping malls in major cities. In Jakarta and Surakarta over 1,000 people—both Chinese and non-Chinese—died inside shopping malls. Tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese fled the country following these events, and bankers estimated that US$20 billion of capital had left the country in 1997–1999 to overseas destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States.
Social policy reforms (1999–present)
In 2000 the public practice of Chinese culture, such as fashion and the barongsai
, was permitted, and in 2002 Chinese New Year
was declared a national holiday.
Suharto unexpectedly resigned on 21 May 1998, one week after he returned from a Group of 15 meeting in Cairo, which took place during the riots. The reform government formed by his successor Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie began a campaign to rebuild the confidence of Chinese Indonesians who had fled the country, particularly businessmen. Along with one of his envoys James Riady, son of financial magnate Mochtar Riady, Habibie appealed to Chinese Indonesians seeking refuge throughout East Asia, Australia, and North America to return and promised security from various government ministries as well as other political figures, such as Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais. Despite Habibie's efforts he was met with skepticism because of remarks he made, as Vice President and as President, which suggested that the message was insincere. One special envoy described Chinese Indonesians as the key to restoring "badly needed" capital and economic activity, prioritizing businessmen as the target of their pleas. Others, including economist Kwik Kian Gie, saw the government's efforts as perpetuating the myth of Chinese economic domination rather than affirming the ethnic Chinese identity.
Symbolic reforms to Chinese Indonesian rights under Habibie's administration were made through two Presidential Instructions. The first abolished the use of the terms "pribumi" and "non-pribumi" in official government documents and business. The second abolished the ban on the study of Mandarin Chinese[c] and reaffirmed a 1996 instruction that abolished the use of the SBKRI to identify citizens of Chinese descent. Habibie established a task force to investigate the May 1998 violence, although his government later dismissed its findings. As an additional legal gesture Indonesia ratified the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on 25 May 1999. In 2000 the newly elected President Wahid abolished the ban on public displays of Chinese culture and allowed Chinese traditions to be practised freely, without the need of a permit. Two years later President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared that the Chinese New Year (Imlek) would be marked as a national holiday from 2003. In addition to Habibie's directive on the term "pribumi", the legislature passed a new citizenship law in 2006 defining the word asli ("indigenous") in the Constitution as a natural born person, allowing Chinese Indonesians to be eligible to run for president. The law further stipulates that children of foreigners born in Indonesia are eligible to apply for Indonesian citizenship.
The post-Suharto era saw the end of discriminatory policy against Chinese Indonesians. Since then, numbers of Chinese Indonesians began to take part in the nation's politics, government and administrative sector. The Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono presidency (2004–2014) saw the first female Chinese Indonesian minister Mari Elka Pangestu as Minister of Trade (2004-2011) and Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy (2011-2014). Another notable Chinese Indonesian in Indonesian politics is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or popularly known as Ahok. Former Regent of East Belitung (2005–2006) and the second Governor of Jakarta (2014–2017) of Chinese descents following Henk Ngantung (Chinese–Dutch–Manado).
However, discrimination and prejudice have continued and risen. On 15 March 2016, for instance, Indonesian Army General Surya Prabowo commented that the incumbent governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, should "know his place lest the Indonesian Chinese face the consequences of his action". This controversial comment was considered to hearken back to previous violence against the Indonesian Chinese.