Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Assessment for Chinese in Indonesia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Chinese in Indonesia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Indonesia Facts
Area:    1,919,440 sq. km.
Capital:    Jakarta
Total Population:    212,942,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There has been no rebellion among the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. The group tends to flee the country during any communal, racial, and religious clashes. Two factors suggest the continuity of the group's peaceful presence: 1) efforts at negotiation and amendment of inadequate discriminatory policies, and 2) the lack of serious armed conflicts in neighboring countries. In addition, the group's advanced economic state also provides little motivation for rebellion.

While there have been sporadic attacks against the ethnic Chinese in the 1990s, the outbreak of massive riots during May 1998, which largely targeted the minority community, raise serious questions about both their present and future status. More than a thousand people, including some ethnic Chinese, were killed while thousands of their properties were destroyed in the rioting that led to the resignation of President Suharto. Around 150,000 Chinese fled the country during this period. The brunt of the attacks was borne by poor and middle-class Chinese, many of whom did not have the financial resources to leave the country. The conditions which led to the 1998 riots have not changed significantly since that time, making further violence against the ethnic Chinese population possible in the future.

Analytic Summary

The existence of the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia can be traced back to the Dutch colonial period, when the Chinese were encouraged to work for plantations and mines in Indonesia during the 19th and early 20th century (TRADITN = 1). The group is generally categorized into two typologies: Peranakan/Totok and WNI/WNA, based on the lineage of their forebears and their status of Indonesian citizenship, respectively. Despite such categorization, the group maintained their customs, language(s), and culture (BELIEF = 3), thus maintaining a strong identity as the ethnic Chinese (COHESX9= 5). The majority of the group resides in urban areas (GROUPCON = 2).

The group is not seeking autonomy or independence. Most ethnic Chinese have enjoyed enjoy high economic status in the Indonesian society but have traditionally experienced social, cultural, and political discrimination and repression, which are also their greatest grievances. Since early 1950s, the group has been compelled to abandon their Chinese names and adopt Indonesian-sounding names in order to acquire citizenship. Since 1966 Chinese language schools and the use of Chinese language are prohibited. In 1999 President Abdurrahman Wahid revoked the restriction on Chinese characters and traditions. The Chinese are free to practice their culture, language and religion, but still fear to provoke the anti-Chinese sentiment by any public practice. Driving state discrimination against ethnic Chinese is the requirement for additional documentation to establish citizenship. Chinese are required to obtain a special citizenship document called the SKBRI at age 18. Although supposedly abolished, officials still regularly require it for school enrollment, passports, and permits. Obtaining the SKBRI can cost claimants a good deal of money because of bureaucratic corruption and claimants are frequently not able to obtain the documents, leaving them with no proof of citizenship. Furthermore, more than 20 pieces of legislation plus numerous local and military regulations still demonstrate blatant discrimination against the group (POLDIS01-03 = 4).

The group's constitution of a strong economic power has made them historically subjected to many communal religious and riots. While the majority of the group is Christian, they often experience victimization during the Muslim–Christian conflicts. Further, their properties have been destroyed during communal or racial violence. Chinese who are Confucion also face discrimination, as Indonesia does not recognize Confucianism as a religion, so Confucian marriages are not recognized and the children of such marriages are considered illegitimate.


Minority Right Group Report 2001: Indonesia: Regional Conflicts and State Terror

Lexis-Nexis news reports 1998-2003.

Minorities at Risk, Phase I,II,III Chronology and Codings

Far Eastern Economic Review 99-00

Mely G. Tan, The Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia: Issues of Identity, Ethnic Chinese as Southeast Asians, edit. Leo Suryadinata, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1997

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