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Chinese Indonesians in a rapidly changing nation: Pressures of ethnicity and identity

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Throughout periods of political instability and economic adversity – from Dutch colonial rule, through President Suharto's period in office, to more recent times – ethnic Chinese in Indonesia have been recurrent scapegoats for violence. Suharto, especially, manipulated local perceptions of the Chinese in the economic and political arenas, to suit the needs of his government. Yet, circumstances have changed since the 1998 riots in Indonesia and Suharto's departure. Subsequent presidents have introduced legislation aimed at reducing legal restrictions on Chinese Indonesians and they, in turn, are beginning to have greater public voice through a diversity of outlets. These include the growth of numerous new print and television media; a flourishing literature sphere; the rise of a variety of political parties, both ethnicity-based and more wide-ranging; and the development of non-political organisations, some tackling discrimination and others focusing upon Chinese sociocultural needs. These channels are facilitating the appearance of new and re-emerging ethnic Chinese identities, some surfacing from over 30 years of imposed dormancy. This paper is a preliminary investigation of manifestations of these identities among ethnic Chinese in Indonesia's contemporary public realm.

Keywords: Chinese Indonesians; Indonesia; Suharto; ethnic Chinese; identity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada., Email: 2: School of Asian Languages and Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 91, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia., Email:

Publication date: 2007-04-01

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