“The Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia: Issues of Identity"




The article explores the topic of Chinese people. She creates the conceptions of Chinese reality in the 1950s –1960s in Indonesia. From the very beginning, Tan gives background information about the alternative names of immigrants in Indonesia, their location, history, language, and social order. She demonstrates the specifics of Chinese relationships in family and community organizations, gender roles, and even the role of education. Lastly, Tan shows Chinese relationships with the host country, Indonesia.

Article “Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia”

Tan investigates the question of Totok (immigrants) from different aspects. Though she does not cover several themes, that is not enough explained in such a small number of pages. Sometimes, more details or examples are necessary. One more thing that seems unreal is Tan’s attitude to the Mandarin language. It is doubtful that the government would use any foreign language for developing a better understanding of the immigrants. Wise policy always protects ethnic indications. Moreover, Tan reports that the Chinese mostly work in the trade sphere, which is an opportunity to earn money. However, they do not take any state positions, which means that Indonesians do not treat Totok equally concerning their rights.

Dahana A. commented on the article “Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia” in 1997. There are some points in Mely G. Tan's research that she denies. First, she admits that the author’s predictions of the Chinese naturalization process still have not finished. There are no changes in the assimilation process, and the Chinese still take the second role in the nation. Moreover, the development of pribumi – non-pribumi is worse than in the Soekarno era. Even at those times, there were several ministers with background ethnic Chinese, but in 1997 (the year of comments publishing), there were not any. Therefore, Dahana considers Chinese conditions at her times even worse than during the 1950s and 1960s.

In her opinion, the Chinese do not stand for their identity or want to become more culturally Chinese. It is just fear within the government. When Dr. Tan considers it a way to better understanding and as an act of surviving in the globalization era, Dahana regards it as detrimental to the objective of the full assimilation of the Chinese. One example concerns education. Chinese people do not study in state universities, which means that they have money to pay for education. On the other hand, the Chinese do not have another choice, because it is impossible for them to enter a state university. It is an unwritten regulation – limits the ethnic Chinese graduates.


In conclusion, Dr. Dahana does not support Tan’s optimism about Chinese full assimilation though they still recognize themselves as a separate ethnic group. Even in the 1990s, new Chinatowns were created in big cities. However, it does not help this community to live together, understand each other, and to behave tolerantly. Tan’s article “Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia” has convincing and problematic ideas. Though it shows different aspects of Chinese living in Indonesia, it is not complete and can be explained from different points of view.

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