Discrimination against Chinese Indonesians

Discrimination and violence against people of Chinese descent in Indonesia has been recorded since at least 1740, when the Dutch Colonial Government killed up to 10,000 people of Chinese descent during the Chinezenmoord. In the period since then, discrimination and violence have been recorded on the part of both foreign and Indonesian governments. The worst outbreaks took place in 1965 after the failed coup attempt during anti-communist purges[1] and in 1998, when Chinese businesses were forcibly burned down and obliterated, while dozens of women raped during the May riots.

The discrimination can take the form of violence, diction or language use, and restrictive legislation. Due to this discrimination, Chinese Indonesians have suffered an identity crisis, unable to be accepted by both native Chinese and native Indonesians.



Violence against Chinese Indonesians is generally limited to property, including factories and shops.[2] However, killings and assaults have happened, including in Batavia in 1740, Tangerang in 1946, during the period after the 30 September Movement of 1965, and during the May 1998 riots.[3]

Chinese Indonesians have become "the typical scapegoat" in situations where widespread discontent and social unrest becomes violent. The scapegoating has become more pronounced during the period since Indonesia’s independence.[4]


Terms considered disparaging against Chinese Indonesians have entered common Indonesian usage, at both the regional and national levels. The term Cina, the use of which was mandated in 1967 instead of the then-commonly used Tionghoa, was perceived as having similar negative connotations to inlander for Native Indonesians and nigger for people of African descent.[5] The term Tionghoa began to be used again after the beginning of Reformation, but by then Cina was not considered negative by the younger generation of Chinese Indonesians.[6]

In different regions different terms have come into use that reflect common stereotypes. The following examples are from Surakarta.[7]

Original Translation Meaning
Porsi Cina Chinese portion The largest portion of food
Mambu Cina Smelling of the Chinese Newly purchased items
Tangisan Cina Chinese tears Mourning cry


Beginning in the Colonial Era, legislation was introduced specifically against Chinese Indonesians. One of the first was in 1816 and required ethnic Chinese to carry a special pass at all times.[8]

During the Sukarno regime in 1958, all Chinese Indonesians were required to state their intent to stay Indonesian citizens [a] and in 1959 they were forbidden from doing business outside of urban areas.[b][9] The discrimination continued into the New Order. Chinese Indonesians were urged to choose Indonesian-sounding names,[c][10] forbidden to practice their traditions,[d][11] and required to obtain extra proof of citizenship.[d][12] In total, forty five directly or indirectly discriminatory laws were passed during the New Order.[13] Although the majority of this legislation was rescinded during the presidencies of Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri,[14] instances of enforcement continue.[15]