Memories of Unbelonging: Ethnic Chinese Identity Politics in Post-Suharto Indonesia


Book Forum


Session 12
Thu 16:00-17:30 REC A2.15



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The ethnic Chinese have had a long and problematic history in Indonesia. For over three decades under Suharto’s New Order regime, a cultural assimilation policy banned Chinese languages, cultural expression, schools, media, and organizations. This policy was only abolished in 1998 following the riots and anti-Chinese attacks that preceded the fall of the New Order. In the post-Suharto era, Chinese Indonesians were finally free to assert their Chineseness again. But how does an ethnic group recover from the trauma of assimilation and regain a lost cultural identity?
Memories of Unbelonging: Ethnic Chinese Identity Politics in Post-Suharto Indonesia (2023) is an ethnographic study of how collective memories of state-sponsored ethnic discrimination have shaped Chinese identity politics in post-Suharto Indonesia. The book argues that trauma narratives are at the core of modern Chinese identity politics. Examining spaces and domains such as residential enclaves, educational institutions, the creative arts, and politics, it paints a vivid picture of how different generations of Chinese Indonesians make sense of their historical trauma, ethnic identity, and belonging in a post-assimilation environment. Far from being passive victims of history, the book shows how the ethnic Chinese are actively challenging old stereotypes and boundaries of acceptable Chineseness in the country. Furthermore, placing the analysis within the broader context of China’s rise in the twenty-first century, the book demonstrates how the combination of persistent local anti-Chinese sentiments and a sense of pride over China’s growing global dominance have prompted many Chinese Indonesians to re-evaluate their sense of ethnic and national belonging.