Instrumentalization of the Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia

Seminar Paper, 2008

21 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Migration
2.1. Definition of Migration
2.2. History of Migration Research
2.3. History of Chinese Migration to South-East Asia
2.4. Relations between the Chinese State towards the Chinese emigrants
2.5. History and Demography of Chinese Migration to Indonesia

3. Theoretical Foundations
3.1. Instrumentalization of the Chinese Minority in the Colonial and Independent Indonesian State
3.2. The concept of ethnicity
3.3. The definition of ethnic minority
3.4. The meaning of ethnic conflicts

4. Case Study
4.1. The Colonial State and the Chinese Minority
4.2. The Independent Indonesian State and the Chinese Minority

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

This paper focuses the Chinese of Indonesia, that group that is assumed to dominate the economy as well as to be unassimilable (Oetomo 1989).

In the course of this essay, the follwing thesis will be examined: only because of the political and economic intrumentalization by the Dutch colonial government, the Chinese migrants became the so-called seperated “ethnic Chinese minority group” and stayed in this condition as a result of the independent Indonesian state’s policy.

The first part of this paper presents an explanation of the term “migration” and introduces an overview of migration research and the history of migration to South East Asia. While the second part discusses the theoretical premisis of the construction of an ethnical minority, the third part reassess the drawn conclusion on the case of the Chinese in Indonesia.

A summary of the results are given in the conclusion.

2. Migration

2.1. Definition of Migration

The majority within social science subsume the term migration as the voluntary enduring movement of people from one place or one society to another (Treibel 1999). Nevertheless, as there is no standard definition given for migration, the term lacks distinctness. With regard to reducing the complexity divers typologies were developed to obtain clarity.

In the sociological discourse internal and international migration will be differentiated between. While the first term refers to the movement of people within one country, the second notation relates to the movement from one country to another.

Furthermore, the aspect of time divides migration into temporary/short-term and permanent/long-term migration. While the UN definition for short-term migration refers to employment or study reasons between 3 and 12 months (N.N. 2007), permanent/long-term migration is defined as being a period of at least 12 months (N.N. 2006) (Please find the full quotes of the UN definitions in the Appendix).

The motive of migrants is also an import source for the classification which can differ between voluntary and forced migration.

Concluding, it can be stated that prevalent definitions differ by the reclined distance, time period of the sojourn and the motive, whereupon the boundaries between the classifications are blurred. Yet, the association of the term migration depends on the perspective, circumstances and historical setting.

2.2. History of Migration Research

Unlike the Europeans who, since the sixteenth century, have been rather interested in the South-East Asia Chinese communities and their economic activities, the Chinese, up to the twentieth century, lacked any interest in their countrymen living abroad.

In the second half of the nineteen century writings that were centered mostly on administrative and economic issues, became increasingly policy-oriented. Wang Gungwu therefore refers to officials and scholars inside China and journalists, lawyers, politicians outside of China (American West Coast, Canada, Australia).

Especially in countries in South-East Asia in which Chinese communities grew in number as well as where their influence on the economy increased, Chinese studies were dominiated by great fears of Chinese expension: ”[...] it proved difficult for nearly a hundred years to get away from the tendency to look at the Chinese in political, diplomatic, defense, and security terms” (Wang 2001).

To provide an overview of the writings about Chinese living in South-East Asia, which can be considered as the preliminary stage of modern overseas Chinese studies, Wang suggests dividing publications from the beginning of the twentieth century into four main groups (Wang 2001).

- policy reports by colonial officals, white settlers, and indigenous leaders;
- works of Chinese officials and scholars
- writings by local Chinese, whether settled or not
- modern international and Chinese scholarship

Until the 1990s, modern international migration research was distinguished by its national framing, of which the leading idea was the incorporation of migrants into the national state. Since the mid-1990s modern international scholarship has undergone a paradigm shift from the former national framing to a transnational perspective (N.N. 2004).

2.3. History of Chinese Migration to South-East Asia

The first Chinese settlements can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.C.) on the northern coast of Java. Under the reign of the Southern Song Dynasty in the 12th century, which extensively enforced shipping, maritime trade increased and more and more tradesman travelled across the South Chinese Sea (Chua-Franz 2002). Around that time the first commercial settlements were established and typical characteristics of emigration can be identified. In order to increase revenue, trafficking was subject to strict monitoring by the imperial government. In the period of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) the approach towards maritime trade on the part of the government underwent an entire reorganization. In contrast to the year 1371 when an imperial order forbid migration as well as trade to South-East Asia, the year 1567 stands, from a Chinese perspective, as the starting point of the modern history of migration and, according to Kuhn, represents the first of four eras of modern Chinese emigration to South-East Asia (Kuhn 2006). In that year the Ming court reversed its ban on private maritime trade (although emigration was still considered an illegal act) and thus paved the way for the mercantile community to travel south (Kuhn 2006).

The early colonial stage (16th to mid-19th century) was followed by the age of mass migration (mid-19th to around 1930), the age of the Asian revolution (late 19th to late 20th century) and the age of global integration (late 20th century) (Kuhn 2006).

2.4. Relations between the Chinese State towards the Chinese emigrants

The cumulative departure of Chinese towards the south raised the question of the relation between the imperial court and emigrants. After the relatively open migration movement under the Southern Song Dynasty, even though, as mentioned, trafficking was under imperial control, the Ming period altered the state-migrant relationship.

From 1371 migration was banned and merchants abroad living where called refugees (×$), which implied the allegation that sojourners opposed imperial rule. Because political refugees often worked as translators for foreign administrations they were therefore called traitors by the Ming government ( L).

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) adopted the Ming position and even raised pressure on migrants. This hostile attitude only changed as recently as the beginning of the labor migration in 1845 when the coolie trade took off and high numbers of Chinese emigrated. Therefore, it appears that the quantity of people leaving China was the crux of the imperial policy (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Rottenberger-Kwok 2004).

In order to protect the massive numbers of Chinese who worked outside of China a positive switch in politics towards the overseas Chinese was required and this so happened in 1909 when the Qing government introduced – later adapted by the People’s Republic of China – a citizenship law based on ius sanguinis. This law of parentage meant that everyone with at least one parent holding Chinese citizenship could become a Chinese national subject (Andreas 2007).

The stages of development on the part of the Chinese state towards the emigrants can be defined as followed (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Rottenberger-Kwok 2004):

1. control
2. prohibition
3. indifference
4. care

2.5. History and Demography of Chinese Migration to Indonesia

The Chinese who have been migrating to Indonesia came mostly from the maritime regions of Guangdong and Fujian. The first arrivals were merchants without any territoral claims who later married local women and adopted local culture. Hakka, originally from north China (N.N. 2004b) represented the biggest migration group.

Other migrant groups where the Hokkien, Teowchew, Cantonese and Hainanese (Chua-Franz 2002). Among these ethnic groups different languages where spoken and the communities developed within different geographic settlements in Indonesia. Besides trafficking, Chinese migrants worked as farmers and craftsmen. Over the years the different Chinese migrant groups specialized in different fields. In this precolonial period the Chinese represented a respected sector of Indonesian society (Chua-Franz 2002).

While until the 17th century the number of people who left China was comparatively low, in the 18th century emigration to Indonesia increased. To be able to understand the reasons for this, we therefore have to take a closer look at the push and pull factors1. On the one side, there were push factors such as a bad economic situation, political disturbance, flood and drought; on the other side, there were pull factors like new economy opportunities kept migrants coming (Wang 2001). These factors had an even stronger bearing in the 19th century when the main wave of Chinese immigration into South-East Asia began after the Dutch started to industrialize their economy and therefore were in demand of cheap imported labor (Wang 2001).

Because of the small number of Chinese women recruited, workers married local woman (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Rottenberger-Kwok 2004) like the merchants had done previously in the eighteenth century when the Chinese where not allowed to return to China by Imperial Decree (Suryadinata, 1993). The offspring of these mixed ethnic heritages established the so-called Peranakan community which mixed Hokkien customs with Indonesian traditions (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Rottenberger- Kwok 2004). They had Chinese names and ate pork, which is noteworthy because of the Muslim religion of their mothers, but over the years lost the ability to speak Chinese and instead spoke local dialects. While their clothes represented a mixture of local and Chinese elements, most migrants continued to worship their ancestors, by keeping alters at home and praying in temples (Suryadinata 1993).

In the twentieth century the number of female Chinese migrants increased and so did the migrants’ level of pride regarding their Chinese heritage. The newcomers formed their own society called Totok (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Rottenberger-Kwok 2004).

Unlike the Peranakan society the Totoks were not willing to mix with local society. With the backing of the Chinese government, which at this point claimed Indonesia’s Chinese as its own nationals, Chinese schools where built throughout the country to ensure that children recieve a proper Chinese education. In the beginning this patronage was very succesfull and led to a resinisation around the Peranakan. In the end it failed because of the Dutch government which supported the Peranakan society and initialized the Dutch school system for them. While being closer to the local society than the Totok’s, the Peranakan society was not homogeneous in political terms. Some Peranakans preferred the Dutch whereas others favored China. The social interaction between the Peranakan and Totok societies was marginal and they therefore continued to be divided (Suryadinata 1993). For local society both groups remained being viewed as aliens (Suryadinata 1993).


1 Push factors are those conditions in the migrant’s country of origin which lead to them leaving. Pull factores represent the setting of the target location which cause an incentive to emigrate (Han 2000).

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Instrumentalization of the Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia
University of Vienna  (Institut für Ostasienwissenschaften)
Chinese Migration
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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498 KB
Instrumentalization, Ethnic, Chinese, Indonesia, Chinese, Migration
Quote paper
Bakk. phil. David Wense (Author), 2008, Instrumentalization of the Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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