[lg policy] Indonesia: Chinese-Indonesians Find Identity, Success in Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 20 15:25:45 UTC 2010

Chinese-Indonesians Find Identity, Success in Language

Indonesia. William Phan found it not a little ironic when he, an
Indonesian of Chinese descent, returned to China only to find himself
unable to communicate with locals. “When I got in a cab, I could not
tell the [Chinese] driver where to go. The driver immediately laughed
at me,” Phan said. “For him, it was probably as puzzling as meeting an
Englishman who could not speak English.” That incident spurred Phan’s
desire to accelerate his study of Mandarin. He applied for a one-year
language program at Beijing Language and Culture University — a
popular course of action for many of the Chinese-Indonesians of his
generation who find themselves in the same position.

Born in 1988, Phan is part of the so-called lost generation of
Indonesians of Chinese descent who cannot speak Mandarin because they
never had the opportunity to formally study the language when they
were younger. Between 1966 and the turn of the century, the use of
Mandarin steadily declined in Indonesia — a direct result of the late
President Suharto’s assimilation policies during the New Order era. A
1967 presidential instruction banned any Chinese literature and
culture in Indonesia, including the use of Chinese characters.

As part of the official Basic Policy for the Solution of the Chinese
Problem, all 1,250 Chinese-language schools in the country were
annexed and converted to national schools.
Chinese script was banned in public places, and Chinese religious
expressions confined to homes. All but one Chinese-language newspaper
was closed. Leo Suryadinata, a Singapore-based scholar on the
Indonesian Chinese diaspora, has argued in his work that Suharto’s
policies eradicated three pillars of Chinese culture in Indonesia:
Chinese schools, Chinese mass media and ethnic Chinese organizations.
But there will likely come a time in the near future when people like
Phan will be the exception — part of a small minority who did not
receive the opportunity to study Mandarin in Indonesia.

With the fall of Suharto and the rise of China, interest in Mandarin
has made a comeback in the country. It is the world’s most-spoken
language, with an estimated 840 million native speakers and rising.
This renewed interest in the language in Indonesia was made possible
because many of the old anti-Chinese laws were revoked during the
presidency of Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, giving members of the
Chinese diaspora significantly more freedom. In 2007, Pahoa, a Chinese
school taken over on April 6, 1966, and converted to SMA 17 and 19
high schools, became the first such school in Jakarta to reopen.

The new administration of this historical school — which was one of
some 1,250 Confucianist institutes known as Tiong Hua Hwee Kwan
schools in the mid-1960s — was permitted to obtain new government
operating permits, use Chinese symbols as part of its logo and
incorporate Mandarin as an integral part of the curriculum — all of
which would have been unthinkable just a decade earlier. Like Pahoa, a
few closed Chinese schools also plan to reopen within the next few
years. The Xinghua school, in the Bumi Serpong Damai area of Jakarta,
is already under construction, according to Soeseno Boenarso, who
heads the Pancaran Hidup Foundation overseeing Pahoa.

Two Pachung schools are also opening new campuses in Cengkareng and
Mangga Dua. Schools like Pahoa and Xinghua are likely to develop
rapidly, with many successful pre-1966 alumni ready to invest. Pahoa,
for example, was able to build five buildings in just over four years,
and has attracted 2,449 students in just three years. Aside from
schools that use Mandarin as the primary medium of instruction, many
private schools, from the preschool to high school level, have begun
offering the Chinese language as an extracurricular subject in
response to demand from parents.

While the desire to learn Mandarin can be found across the nation,
people’s reasons for wanting to study the language vary widely.

Most common is the belief that China’s growing power will make fluency
in the language a key skill in the future.

“Today, China holds $2.45 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, which
will increasingly render it a world power in the future. As such, the
Chinese language will become the English of tomorrow,” one
Chinese-Indonesian told the Jakarta Globe.

One Pahoa parent believes that learning Mandarin additionally plays an
important part in forming a child’s Chinese identity, which includes
learning the language and internalizing traditional Confucian values
such as responsibility, filial piety and respect for elders.

For many, however, pragmatic reasons play a larger role than
nationalistic ones.

One Chinese-Indonesian summed up this viewpoint: “As China continues
to rise in importance, we must be able to speak Mandarin to succeed in
the world of tomorrow, just as speaking English is a prerequisite to
success today." "However, we should only speak the language to
flourish as citizens of Indonesia, and not China. For this reason,
studying Mandarin is not only imperative for the ethnic Chinese
people, but for all Indonesians alike.”

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