Looking at numerous thread that touched the subject of Malay Indonesian and Chinese Indonesian relationship, with often unnecessary flamings and unintellegent remarks by some members here, I would like to share some historical prespective of what has shaped the relationship between the Malay Indonesians (MI) and the Chinese Indonesian (CI) over hundreds of years and the current situation now. And I would also try briefly to explain how much more complex the situation than it actually look like for someone who is unfamiliar with the situation in Indonesia.
I, myself is a Chinese American who was previously a Chinese Indonesian. I really should call myself a Chinese-Indonesian American, because eventhough I'm physically Chinese, and genetically 100% Chinese, there is always that Indonesian exposure in me that sometimes still look at things, and think like Indonesians, yet I very well still maintain my Chinese values every step of the way with a little spice they call American.
Bare with me, it's a long explanation
Contrary to what the horror stories from the Jakarta riot 1998, the Chinese and the Native Malays actually had a great long-estalished relationship
As a matter a fact, during the ancient times, the Malaccan Straits being a very important trade-route between India, Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and China are strategically located and controlled by two of the most glorious and powerful Indonesian kingdoms in South East Asia at the times.
The first Kingdom was Sriwijaya (8th Century AD) which was located around Palembang, in Eastern Sumatra. Sriwijaya was a Buddhist kingdom. The kingdom controlled the area around Malaccan Straits which was major marine routes and traded spices in return of other goods with China. This was the first Kingdom that controlled a pretty much large region of western part of present-time Indonesia, including Java. There are still records and remains of exchanges of religious and cultural visits from China at the sight in Sumatra.
The biggest ancient Buddhist temple (or monument) in the world was actually built in Central Java called Borobudur.
The second Kingdom that controlled Indonesia, perhaps the most prominent of the ancient times before Indonesia fell into a slump, and colonized by just about all European countries including the Portugese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, and finally Japan, was a great kingdom called Majapahit (13th Century AD) based in Eastern Java. Majapahit was a Hindu kingdom. Majapahit united almost the entire archipelago, and its territory looked similar to the present-time Indonesia, including Malay Peninsula (present day Malaysia and Singapore). Majapahit also showed its power to the world by destroying fleets of Chinese Yuan invasion, much like Japan destroyed the Mongol invasion. Kubilai Khan of Chinese Yuan empire sent 1,000 vessels to attack Majapahit but was destroyed.
This proved that ancient times Indonesians weren't just Barbarians, or people with no brains, they were able, smart, and highly cultured people. But the Europeans were the people that changed this attitude and great civilization (but off course at the end of the day you can only blame yourself for not wanting to improve and change the situation). Only three great nations at the time were able to prevent the Mongolian invasion, Japan, Egypt and Indonesia.
At around 14th Century AD, Islam spreaded out in Indonesia, started by some Arab traders. With islam being flourished in the Arabian peninsula and trades with India, and the most powerful nation on earth - Chinese Ming empire increased, the Malay peninsula became even more important. During the voyage of Zheng He, the most famous Chinese naval admiral who sailed to many undiscovered regions of the world, he also stopped in many places in Indonesia. Zheng He, a Chinese Enouch, was a Moslem, and he also one of the pioneers of the spread of Islam. Zheng He always enjoyed Indonesia, since the land was fertile, the people were friendly and Islam was always welcome there. In fact, there is still a Chinese Buddhist temple by the inhabited Chinese still standing in Semarang, the capital city of Central Java, called Sam Po Kong, built at the very spot where Admiral Zheng He landed. During his many naval voyages, Zheng He indirectly inspired Mainland Chinese to immigrate to a new land of Indonesia The spread of Islam was unstoppable then, Islam was a very friendly religion, and it did not encourage the caste systems like Hinduism. Thus, the once glorious Majapahit kingdom was getting weaker and weaker and lost its influences day by day. Finally it was cornered and most Majapahit citizens fleed to an island called Bali.
Yes, this is the same Bali island that has been famous decades and still reigns as the number one island destination in the world, despite the bombing in 2002.
IMPERIALIZATION AND COLONIZATION PERIOD
Then entered the Europeans, in their conquest to find spices and other products to trade and enrich themselves, camouflaged with the motto of spreading Christianity, at the time when Islam was spreading like crazy, and when the Chinese were enjoying the highly profitable businesses in most port cities in Indonesia, some were there simply to enjoy the weather of the fertile lands and to be able to practice islam without much scrutinity.
First, the Portugese came in 15th Century AD, and visited many islands, including Timor (part of which became present-day East Timor) and Ambon. After realizing how valuable Indonesia was, the Portugese started to attack most of the independent warlords and small kingdoms in different islands. Then came the Spanish who were also very interested in conquering Indonesia, but later agreed with the Portugese that they would rather take the Phillipines, instead of Indonesia. The Portugese brought over Catholism into Indonesia, as we could see most people in Ambon and Timor are still Catholics now. Meanwhile all these times, the Chinese kept their business as usual and evenfought alongside their respective kingdoms, but mainly kept a low profile.
At late 15th Century AD, the British entered Indonesia and the Malaccan Peninsula but only briefly. In 1596 the Dutch arrived in Indonesia in their conquest to compete with other European nations, to make profits by finding the sources of spices and other goodies. The Dutch drove out the Portugese and established VOC, a trading company with the power to wage war, raise army, and make treaties, much like an extension arms of the Netherlands. This was the beginning of hardship and 350 years of colonization in Indonesia. This event changed the whole Chinese Indonesian and Malay Indonesian (or Natives) relationship and gradually shaped it as it is today.
During the 350 years of colonization, the Chinese continued their immigration to South East Asia, either to Malacca (present day Singapore and Malaysia) or Indonesia. The hardlife and hardship in Mainland China, and the good news from the Overseas Chinese families and relatives were the primary reasons of their lonesome voyage to the new land down South, most of who came were from Fujian and smaller number from other Southern part of China. Meanwhile, the Dutch also faced numerous hostilities from the local kingdoms and wardlords throughout Indonesia. Although gun and powders could work wonders but there was no way for the small Dutch kingdom to conquer millions of Indonesian and thousands of islands just like that, so the Dutch came up with this brilliant idea called 'Divide et Empera'
Realizing how timely and difficult it was to conquer Indonesia, the Dutch used a strategy … to 'Divide and Conquer.' The same strategy still used by the late Suharto regime in Indonesia. Every bit of Indonesian society today including its law, people, mentality, and daily life is still a reflection of this creation by the Dutch. What the Dutch did was they created some sort of social class and or a caste systems in the society, not only among the Natives themselves, but also among the Natives and the Chinese, the Natives and the Europeans, the Chinese and the Europeans.
The highest class in the society was the Europeans, and they ought to be treated as the Supreme master of the land, then there was the second class citizens, the Non Native islanders, primarily the Chinese, with the Indians, Arabs in minority. They served as the Dutch middlemen. This was a very great concept at the time, since the Chinese had long estalished a great network of business and trading partnership and relationship with those traders from China and other nations in South East Asia and beyond, and the Dutch trusted them more than the Natives, perhaps it had to due with the perception of lighter skins and famous past Chinese civilization. So the Chinese became the Dutch's yesman and manipulated to do the dirty works, off course all of these were not by choice. The Chinese had to continue living, and for some who had lived there for more then one generation and adopted a new culture and life outside Mainland China, there was no turning back, beside life in China was harsh anyway. In Indonesia at least they were still able to run their business, albeit the existence of the big European bullies now.
The lowest class in the society was sadly the Malay Indonesians, who primarily did the hard-labor, field work under the sun. They became the slaves of the Europeans, and the Chinese were the people who negotiated the prices, dealt with the workers in the field, supplied the products to Europeans, who in turns sold them to other countries to make huge profits. In time, this separation of classes in the society caused mistrust of the Chinese. They were being perceived as hypocrates and leeches to Indonesia, as they had been living side by side before, but now the Chinese betrayed them and only cared for profits. To the Dutch, however, the Native Indonesians had the 'inferiority complex' syndrome. The Europeans were always perceived as the Supreme race with intellegence and physically more attractive then themselves. The Dutch also divided the natives into further classes. Since many Dutchmen also courted Native Indonesian women, there were a lot of Euroasian children, these children were one class higher than the common Native Indonesians and entitled to get education from better Dutch schooling systems. Then, among the Indonesian themselves, there were those who are from the royal families back in the days, these people were always one class higher, most of them were also Dutch educated, and worked for the Dutch.
The Chinese Indonesian themselves are further divided into many different classes, those who just came fresh-off-the-boat from China, those who have been living in Indonesia and became more Indonesians, some even married the local Natives or married with Dutchmen, then further there are those Chinese who are educated in the Dutch schooling systems, who were perceived as Westernized, more educated, higher class Chinese than those who just came from China. So among the Chinese themselves, slowly the 'divide et empera' worked. We still can see this phenomenon in Indonesian society today. There are those Chinese in Indonesia now whose family roots had been totally washed by the Dutch education systems. They don't speak Chinese at all, and despise anything that has to do with the Chinese way, but they do admit that they are Chinese. They just don't follow Chinese culture and way of life anymore. The Dutch also provoked violence and also used the Chinese as the scapegoats for any social or economic unbalanced in the Indonesian society during the colonial times. Thus, the strategy of blaming the Chinese worked and has been working until the last May 1998 riots also still worked. Not to mention, in Indonesia alone, there are about 300 different ethic groups spreaded out in over 14,000 islands, each with its own distinct culture and dialect. With 'divide et empera' it made it even easier for the European conqueror to conquer each groups. Obviously similar phenomenon also happened among the natives, and as the two different groups moved along the two opposite direction, distrust, discontent and feeling of uneasiness grew more and more over 350 years.
INDEPENDENCE AND SUKARNO ERA
After the Dutch was kicked out by the Japanese in 1942, Native Indonesians experienced further hardship. The Japanese treated them even worse than the Dutch, but still keeping the Chinese as the Middlemen. In the mean time, during these hundreds of years of living in the era of colonization, the Chinese had developed their own business network, since this was perhaps the only thing most Chinese were able to do to make a living, despite a lot of sports, some political organizations and Chinese schools around Indonesia. By 1945, the Japanese lost World War II, and Sukarno (or Soekarno) declared Independence, and became the first president of Indonesia. But the Dutch, along with other Western coalition power decided to take over Indonesia back. Thus, during 1945-1949, the war broke out. A lot of Chinese Indonesians make good business by supplying the Indonesian military with ammunition, food products, medical supplies, basic daily life necessitites, etc. In fact, several of the later Suharto's cronies (Liem Soei Liong, Bob Hassan, to name a few) made their first contact and grew their relationship with Suharto during this chaotic time.
When the country was finally admited by the International community as an independent country, Sukarno was at first, feared by the Chinese. But as it turned out Sukarno embraced the Chinese realizing that without their economic network and trust, the nation's economy would not work. However, Sukarno still kept the 'divide et empera' ideology to control the social systems of Indonesia, the Chinese still got flamed and blamed every now and then. Fortunately they were still able to participate in politics, army, school systems, many were famous athletes representing Indonesia in many International events. Sukarno, who was a very proud Nationalist even built alliance with with The Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, and Vietnam, by ambracing the Communists to grow its roots in Indonesia, to create a balance with the overpouring US influence worldwide.
After the 1965 communist coup attempt, Suharto gradually but effectively overshadowed Sukarno to became the second president of Indonesia. There were many theories of this conspiracies that caused Suharto to come into power in Indonesia. Many believes the Communists were the scapegoat. Nonetheless, the damage had been done, the Chinese were even more labeled as not being trustworthy now. To make the matter worse, there are some theories that suggested China funded or played some parts in the coup. Indonesia cut its ties with PROC completely. But in truth, this only made Suharto the second president more powerful since once again, he used the 'divide et empera' idea even more effectively than ever.
Suharto came from a Military background, thus during his rule this showed. He controlled all media and communication, including TV stations, publishing houses, and communication medias. Anything announced publicly to the people had to be approved by him. Suharto was a very smart man, perhaps one of the smartest in the 20th century, his rise into power itself was already something that's almost unrivaled in the last century. He used the Chinese to his advantage. Knowing that the Chinese were worried of his new government, he embrased all the succesful Chinese businessmen, including some close cronies during the revolution period who later become Billionaires of the world. He prevented Chinese from practicing their Chineseness. He closed Chinese schools, he abolished Chinese newspaper and publication, he implemeted the idea of assimilation by forcing Chinese to change their names into Malay names. To future generation he sucessfully conveyed the notion that keeping your Chinese culture and way of life was not something desirable and your life would be so much easier if become like the common Malay Indonesians.
Meanwhile, the Suharto government supported sucessful Chinese businessmen by giving them monopolies to create wealth among the Chinese. At the same time however, Suharto prevented Chinese from getting jobs in all important sectors in Indonesia, such as politics and military. He made it harder for Chinese Indonesians to go through any beaurocracy, getting any legal paperwork done, getting into top government schools, etc. At the same time, since the Chinese were squeezed, the only thing they were able to do is to work hard, maximize their enterpreneurship spirits, and hoping for the best for their kids. But what they needed the most is protection, and this is the key to Suharto success. He provided protection in return for some stake in many Chinese's successful businesses. Even Suharto notice the importance of Mainland China who was in the brink of opening up its economy and rejuvenated the diplomatic relationship with Mainland China. Not to mention the Chinese pretty had to bribe or give more money to ease their life. Off course, there were Chinese who were as poor and as suffering as the other Malay Indonesians. This people suffered considerably but nevertheless still worked harder since they had to live.
During his reign, Indonesia improved tremendously and became one of Asia's Four Tigers. But although the Chinese Indonesian Conglomerates were getting richer and richer by the hour, the real infrastructure of Indonesian economy was also in trouble. The constant malpractices and abuses of governmental power, favoring the Conglomerates, and the widespread practice of corruptions finally came back to bite its implementer. After Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, Indonesia's economy was in shambles. Many said that the Chinese Conglomerates who on the surface declared bankruptcy to the public, actually already anticipated the fallout, and had allocated their wealth elsewhere outside Indonesia, and so did the governments who knew all along. The majority of Chinese Indonesians who were middle and upper-middle class and the growing native middle class suffered the most. The gap between the rich and poor, often perceived by ignorant, uneducated people as the Chinese Rich as supposed to the Native Poor, grew even wider. However, some educated middle class and some Malay Indonesians also realized that the roots of issues was the government themselves. They made themselves rich by manipulating their power on the Chinese Indonesians at the expense of poor common Malay Indonesians.
By 1998, through yet another controversial and conspiracy event, the military manipulated the situation to force Suharto to step down. Many people outside Indonesia perceived the situation as a black and white issue, thinking that the Native Malay Indonesians hate the Chinese and burnt down their houses and businesses, and went out of control as far as raping and molestation of Chinese women. But what they did not realize was the source of the problem. After 350 years of bad-education from the Dutch Imperialists, rotting the mentality of every single Indonesians, including Chinese Indonesians to certain extent, for hundreds of years, and another decades of more manipulation by Suharto regime, once again the Chinese was used as the scapegoats.
To blindly blaming the common poor Malay Indonesians who participated in the riots is not a justifiable solution, because they lacked the education, mentality and logics to see the big picture. These people were the people who had been living and suffering and hungry for hundreds of years, always becoming the slaves of their masters, who were the Dutch before and now, their own cunning, egoistic government who only cared about their own beings and making themselves rich. Not to mention, that many Malay Indonesians also died and vanished during the riots. Many also risked their lives to safe their Chinese Indonesian friends from the rioters.
One of my friend's sister actually hid inside his neighbor warehouse next to her burning house. If it hadn't been for the kind help of her neighbor, she would, perhaps, had been gang-raped or burnt to death. Many Malay Indonesians who worked as maids, security guards, factory workers, drivers, etc also lost their lives protecting their employers' properties. Some even tried to convince the crowd that they were proctecting the property because they needed to work the next day to feed their kids. My cousin lives in a complex surrounded by Native Indonesians, yet those Native Indonesians came to offer protection to them during the riot.
The riots were provoked by the military, as evident that members of military perse, had been spotted in many riot locations. Some who participated were also members of the mobs, gangs, triads who were paid by certain groups of people to create the chaos. So the Chinese, being a minority as they were, was used as a scapegoat again in a very complex conspiracy in a turning point of Indonesian history.
POST SUHARTO - PRESENT
Certainly after Suharto stepped down from power, there was an immediate vacumn in the government, since 1998 - Present, Indonesia has had three different president.
Fortunately, there have been some positive moves by the government to recognize the Chinese in Indonesia. Recently Chinese New Year day has been officially declared as a National Holiday in Indonesia. All Chinese Media and Communication are once again able to operate freely in Indonesia. Even the famous Taiwanese F4 group hit Indonesians like storm. Malay Indonesians went nuts over F4 from little girls, high school girls, even housewives and older women, not to mention the guys. As much as the relationship with Chinese, Malay Indonesians sing Mandarin songs in Karaoke, read Wuxia books by Chinese authors, and watched Chinese movies. Chinese sitcoms, movies, and other forms of entertainment are allowed to be broadcasted in Chinese and embrased by the people. Some Chinese were elected in the government, serving as Ministers and in the House of Representatives.
However, off course the class systems and mistrust among the two group of different people will take at least many decades and a good coordination by the Malay Indonesians and Chinese Indonesians, and most importantly government to abolish. It will take another two or three generation for this to happen, assuming there is a strong government to support this idea and realize the important of unity despite your ethic background.
MY OWN SUBJECTIVE CONCLUSION
Most people in bigger cities and better education and jobs realize that most of problem is actually within the Indonesians themselves, primarily their own greedy and money-hungry government and only a certain percentage of Chinese Indonesians who were extremely rich, well-connected, powerful and greedy. If America can work as huge melting pot than a country such as Indonesia could too.
The problem is the Indonesian mentality who always 'try to save ourselves first.' After generations of being embedded with this mistrust. It will be very hard to change. Once a group of people or someone try to sacrifice for their community or country, most would rather prefer to live happily now and get as much as they can from life instead of suffering now for a better future. Almost everyone has mentality and it's hard to change if the country is unstable and always get stuck in political turmoil and economic recessions all the time, as a result there is no funding to improve the education systems, if you are hungry and poor, you will almost likely do anything to eat first, let alone caring about the future. Obviously this affects the Chinese as well, who will always get stuck in this endless cycle.
Until Indonesia can get a strong, charismatic leader with a modern and broad view of the world who can excert his influences and views to change the people's mentality and unite more people who care and have strong-will, albeit being Chinese or not, then I'm afraid the unfair treatment to Chinese will continues. Off course, like anywhere else in the world, if you are a minority there will always be racism, stereotypes and injustice. And also only the Chinese Indonesians themselves can keep that to a minimum by working hand in hand with the Malay Indonesians.