Anti-Chinese Laws in Indonesia, 1950s

From: Bittersweet: The Memoir of a Chinese Indonesian Family in the Twentieth Century, by Stuart Pearson (National U. Singapore Press & Ohio U. Press, 2008), pp. 125-127:

Under the provisions of the Round Table Conference which decided the terms of Indonesia’s Independence, the sensitive matter of citizenship for its 70 million inhabitants was also resolved. Native Indonesians automatically became Indonesian citizens while Eurasians could accept Indonesian nationality or the nationality of their European forebears. Likewise, peranakan Chinese, that is Chinese born in Indonesia, had a choice between Indonesia or China, but totok Chinese, that is Chinese born outside Indonesia, were ineligible for Indonesian citizenship.

In reality it was not that simple. I believe the Indonesian Government wanted to rid itself completely of Chinese, so they structured the arrangement in such a way that everyone who had not accepted Indonesian citizenship by December 1951 was automatically regarded as an “alien” and therefore liable for expulsion. In practice, however, most Chinese in Indonesia (peranakan and totok alike) ignored this government direction and continued living in the country with their nationality unresolved.

Throughout the 1950s the Government imposed progressively harsher legislation to force the issue of nationality and Indonesia became increasingly more difficult to live in if you were ethnically Chinese. After 1954, a succession of discriminatory government decrees officially sanctioned anti-Chinese prejudices which had never been far below the surface. Priority was given to financial and other government support for pribumi (native) enterprises at the expense of Chinese businesses. New laws prevented Chinese from purchasing rural property (1954), owning rice mills (1954), or studying at University (1955) and in 1957 Chinese-operated schools were forced to close. In 1958 newspapers and magazines printed in the Chinese language were banned.

Then there was a Presidential Order (Peraturan Presiden No. 10 of 1959), instigated at the insistence of some Muslim politicians, which banned Chinese from participating in any form of retail trade in rural areas. This latest edict was catastrophic! Chinese in their hundreds of thousands earned their livelihoods from trading, just as many Chinese before them had done so for centuries, but this decree suddenly denied many Chinese in Indonesia a right to earn a living. The only way out was for Chinese traders to bring indigenous Indonesians into the business at senior levels or else the Government would shut them down. For many Chinese firms, having Indonesians “freeload” as board members or senior management was a very unpalatable demand. A large number of firms decided to cease trading and leave Indonesia. These included one of the wealthiest trading houses in Indonesia at the time, Kian Gwan, which anticipated nationalization by sending my older brother to organize the transfer of some of its assets to Holland.

In 1960 Indonesian and Chinese governments belatedly ratified their Dual Nationality Treaty of 1955, giving the estimated 2.5 million Chinese Indonesians two years to decide their nationality. The Indonesian Government accompanied the directive with enforced name changes and other anti-Chinese measures. If the Chinese did not take up Indonesian citizenship and change their names, essential services and government pensions would be denied them and life would become even more difficult. Through these measures an estimated 1.25 million Chinese living in Indonesia were classified as Chinese citizens in the early 1960s and approximately a tenth of that number actually departed.

For Indonesians however, this plan was less than a complete solution. Over a million people of Chinese ancestry living in Indonesia thereby became Indonesian citizens and with their new nationality became safe from expulsion, though certainly not safe from further discrimination. Chinese Indonesians were issued with new identity cards that included their racial origins. People frequently used these new identity cards to discriminate against the Chinese, such as placing restrictions on travel inside and outside Indonesia and having to notify authorities when guests stayed in your house. Chinese Indonesians, like us, were becoming prisoners in our own country.

People who held on to their Chinese names found their utilities, such as electricity, phone, gas, water and garbage collection, suddenly cut off. The emergency services of fire, ambulance and police would not respond to calls of assistance. Then they found that they could not get a job or, in a growing number of cases, could not keep their jobs if they persisted with their Chinese names. All in all it was becoming burdensome to sustain a Chinese name, which of course was exactly what the Government wanted.

We felt that we had no choice. If we were to exist in Indonesia, we had to accept Indonesian citizenship, which also meant renaming ourselves. For many others this was the last straw and they chose to leave instead. During the early 1960s over 100,000 Chinese departed overseas, with the People’s Republic of China being the main destination. The resultant loss of commercial expertise sent the economy into a dramatic downturn. My husband and I discussed these developments quietly amongst ourselves as public comments often resulted in the loss of one’s job or even arrest. We had a real sense of sadness and concern. First the Dutch had been forced out of Indonesia causing instability and now the Chinese were being forced out, which was causing more instability. For us and many others who thought likewise, Indonesia appeared to be on a downwards spiral towards political and economic ruin.

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2 Comments

Filed under China, Indonesia, language, migration, nationalism, Netherlands

2 responses to “Anti-Chinese Laws in Indonesia, 1950s

  1. Pingback: Anti-Chinese Laws in Indonesia, 1950s « Far Outliers « Indonesia

  2. hakugare

    I recently started a blog with some postings of my paintings on migration, alienation and identity. They relate well to the experiences you relate of the Chinese in Indonesia. Take a look, if you can. I will be posting more.

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