Memories of Unbelonging: Ethnic Chinese Identity Politics in Post-Suharto Indonesia
Open lecture with Charlotte Setijadi, Assistant Professor of Humanities at the School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University
The ethnic Chinese have had a long and problematic history in Indonesia. Commonly stereotyped as a market-dominant ethnic minority, Chinese Indonesians were also accused of having divided national loyalties between Indonesia and China. Under the pretext of ‘naturalizing’ them, throughout Suharto’s New Order regime (from 1966-1998), Chinese Indonesians were subjected to a targeted assimilation policy where Chinese languages, cultural expression, schools, media, and organizations were banned. This assimilation policy was only abolished in 1998 following the political riots and anti-Chinese attacks that led to the fall of the New Order. In the post-Suharto era, Chinese Indonesians are finally free to ‘be Chinese’ again. However, how does one recover from the trauma of assimilation and try to ‘recover’ a lost Chinese identity?
In this paper, I examine the significance of trauma narratives in contemporary Chinese Indonesian identity politics. Based on ethnographic data collected since 2007, I discuss how different generations of Chinese Indonesians construct narratives about their history, identity, and belonging as adaptive strategies to survive and maximize the momentum of democratization in the post-Suharto era. This emphasis on group agency marks a strong departure from structural analyses of Chinese Indonesians that mostly highlight their disempowerment as an oppressed minority. Furthermore, I argue that the rise of China in the 21st Century have prompted many Chinese Indonesians to re-evaluate their sense of ethnic and national belonging. By locating the study within the contexts of a democratically reforming Indonesia and the rise of China, this study provides an important contribution to current academic understanding about post-Suharto Indonesian society and the relationship between China and the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia.
About the speaker
Charlotte Setijadi is an Assistant Professor of Humanities at the School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University. She researches ethnic Chinese identity politics in Indonesia and the Indonesian diaspora worldwide. Charlotte's research has been published in academic journals such as the Journal of Contemporary China, Asian Survey, and Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, and her first book 'Memories of Unbelonging: Ethnic Chinese Identity Politics in Post-Suharto Indonesia' will be published by University of Hawai'i Press in 2023.