Reconceptualising ethnic Chinese identity in post-Suharto Indonesia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] The May 1998 anti-Chinese riots brought to the fore the highly problematic position of the ethnic Chinese in the Indonesian nation. The ethnic Chinese were traumatised by the event, and experienced an identity crisis. They were confronted with the reality that many Indonesians still viewed and treated them as outsiders or foreigners, despite the fact that they had lived in Indonesia for many generations. During Suharto's New Order (1966-1998), the ethnic Chinese had been given the privilege to expand the nation's economy (and their own wealth), but, paradoxically, were marginalised and discriminated against in all social spheres: culture, language, politics, entrance to state-owned universities, public service and public employment. This intentional official discrimination against the Chinese continuously reproduced their "foreignness" and placed them in a vulnerable position vis-a-vis the pribumi ("indigenous" Indonesians). Following the fall of Suharto in May 1998, Indonesia underwent a process of "Reformasi" and democratisation. As a result, a whole new sphere for the public discourse of Chinese identity was opened up, and for the first time in several decades Chinese culture was allowed visibility in public. Many ethnic Chinese took advantage of the new democratic space to establish political parties, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and action groups to fight for the abolition of discriminatory laws, defend their rights and promote solidarity between ethnic groups in Indonesia. ...This thesis seeks to unpack the complex meanings of "Chineseness" in post-1998 Indonesia. It draws on participant observation and interviews conducted over a period of ten months of fieldwork in Jakarta as well as pop culture and media sources. The thesis explores the "resurgence" of Chinese identity, including the ways in which the policy of multiculturalism enabled such "resurgence", the forces that shaped it and the possibilities for "resinicisation". Apart from examining the ways that the ethnic Chinese self-identify, the thesis also investigates how the pribumi "Other" has contributed to such identification. To this end, the thesis explicates the concepts of "race", class and ethnicity in determining the ethnic boundary between the Chinese and the pribumi. The thesis also investigates the idea of hybridity, encompassing syncretism and the complexities of cultural crossing, borrowing and mixing, as it considers the border-crossing experience of Chinese-Indonesians through localisation and globalisation.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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