The Chinese of Indonesia are Indonesians who declare themselves of Chinese origin.

In the year 2000 , some 1,739,000 Indonesians declared themselves to be of Chinese origin, or 0.7% of the population of Indonesia . In addition, according to the national census of 2010 , 2,832,510 Indonesians reported Chinese origin, or 1.20% of the population of Indonesia . However, many experts say that the number is very underestimated, because the Chinese of Indonesia who refuse to declare their ethnicity due to the fear of discrimination.

The stereotype of the “Chinese”

The common stereotype is to describe Indonesian Chinese as active in commercial activities. In fact, there are also Chinese in the technical, academic and artistic fields.


Trade between the west of the Indonesian archipelago and China is old. Excavations conducted around 2000 in the Musi River estuary in the province of South Sumatra revealed port sites dating back to the 1st century AD where many ceramic shards have been found Chinese.

However, regular commercial shipments between Indonesia and China does not seem to have started before the th century 1 . Chinese texts of the 5th and 6th centuries mention the names of products of the forest of the west of the archipelago as the camphor of North Sumatra as well as two kinds of resins which they call “Persian resins of the ocean of Sumatra “. South “, suggesting that these resins were part of a trade with the Middle East.

It is highly likely that “Indonesian” traders were taking advantage of the economic hardships faced by South China at the time, cut off from the old trade routes of Central Asia . Small kingdoms established in Indonesian estuaries in the west are beginning to flourish as international warehouses. The eminence of Sriwijaya in the vii th century suggest that the Malays of southern Sumatra were active in this trade “Persian” with China Southern.

These are Chinese sources that give us the oldest records on the island of Java . It is well known that a Chinese Buddhist monk named Faxian , returning from Ceylon to China, stayed in 413 at “Ye-po-ti” (that is, “Yavadvipa”, name under which ancient India knew Java). The annals of the South China dynasties mention several Javanese embassies th to xii th century. Java is referred to as “She-po”. The many Chinese ceramics found in Java date from this long period, which covers a portion of the Han, the Tang, the Five Dynasties and the Song.

The Chinese called “Kunlun” the maritime populations of Southeast Asia, that is to say the current Indonesians. A passage from Nanzhou Yiwu Zhi ( “Report on the oddities of the southern regions”) written by a Wan Zhen at the end of iii th century describes boats “Kunlun” 60 meters with 600 to 700 men on board he calls “po” (probably the Malay word perahu ). The crew of Faxian’s boat was also “Kunlun”.

Zhao Rugua (趙汝 适), a customs inspector from southern China, describes in the Chu-fan-chi , written around 1225 , the wealth of Java and the many products it exports and their quality. It also lists a list of place names that depend on Java and appear to be in the east of the archipelago. One can think that this wealth of Java is one of the causes of the expedition that Emperor Kubilai Khan launched in 1292 on Singasari , the most powerful Javanese kingdom at the time. By attacking the kingdom of Malayu ( Jambi ) in Sumatra in 1275, Java disrupted an established order in relations with China since, the most powerful of the states of Sumatra.

Until the time of the Song Dynasty (1127-1279), it is the Indonesians who come to trade in China. The Chinese end up having a good knowledge of the “South Seas”. However, private trade with foreign countries is prohibited.

The Sino-Mongol expedition of 1292 coincides with the founding of a new kingdom in East Java by a prince of Singasari: Majapahit . During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, trade with China intensified. Early in the xiv th century, a Chinese based Gresik north of Surabaya , in East Java. From 1405 to 1433, under the Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty , Admiral Zheng He led seven major expeditions to India, the Middle East and the east coast of Africa, and made a stopover in Java. Early in the xv th century, China takes the Java side against Malacca, a state founded around 1400 on the Malay Peninsula by a prince of Sriwijaya, who claimed suzerainty over Palembang , a name that now bears Sriwijaya.

These different maritime expeditions are probably translated by desertions. Chinese settle in the ports of the Indonesian archipelago. The Chinese texts of the fifteenth century thus reveal the existence of many Chinese communities established in the eastern part of the north coast of Java, called Pasisir . According to Ma Huan , the interpreter who accompanies Zheng He, most of these Chinese people were converted to Islam. At the end of the xv th century , a Chinese Muslim named Cek Ko Po founded a trading post in Demak on Pasisir. His son Cu-cu takes the Javanese name of Arya Sumangsang and undertakes two punitive expeditions against Palembang.

In 1567 , the Minges legalized trade between the southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong and Southeast Asia . The emigration of Chinese is facilitated. In the middle of the xvii th century , China’s population of cities such as Banten and Batavia is estimated between 3 and 5 000, similar to other cities in the region such as Ayutthaya in Siam (now Thailand ) and Hoi An in Vietnam .

The fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and the rise of the half-Chinese, half-Japanese pirate leader Koxinga in the South China Sea raised the specter of a “Chinese threat”, worrying the Europeans living in the region. Yet at the xvii th century , the Chinese are only a foreign population among others that come to trade in the archipelago alongside Chettiars and Gujeratis Indian, Japanese. But Europeans end up dominating trade in the Indian Ocean. In East Asia, Japan is closing abroad, leaving the Chinese to dominate trade in the region. In 1700, they are without rivals. This domination is not without creating reactions. For example, the Aceh Sultanate in northern Sumatra expelled the Chinese in the 1630s and around 1700.

Traditionally, the Chinese were integrated with the local population, especially the elite. There are many adipati (prefects) in the cities of Pasisir, gradually controlled by the Dutch VOC ( Dutch East India Company ) based in Batavia . The Dutch discourage the assimilation of Chinese in the cities they control. They prefer to use these for tax collection, which they afferment. The Chinese are thus entrusted with the collection of taxes on gambling, alcohol, slaughter of cattle, weighing of goods, and others.

The number of Chinese who come to settle in Java continues to increase, creating tensions in territories under Dutch sovereignty. In 1740, Chinese bands began to attack Europeans at the gates of Batavia. The repression is terrible. Ten thousand Chinese, almost all of the city’s community, are slaughtered . Survivors flee to lands under Javanese sovereignty.

At the end of the xviii th century , the Dutch require each ethnic community a reserved area: Pacinan for the Chinese, Pakojan for Khoja (Indian Muslims), Kebalen for the Balinese etc. With the development of a modern economy in the xix th century , this geographical apartheid product ethnic segmentation of economic roles. The vast majority of natives live in the countryside. The Chinese live in cities and are artisans and traders. The few Europeans hold the administration and the big companies. One of the components of the nationalist movement, Sarekat Islam , is created by batik merchants Javanese who want to unite against the competition of the Chinese.

The modern era

For Indonesians, the proclamation of Indonesia’s independence by Soekarno and Hatta on August 17, 1945, is the birth certificate of the Indonesian nation. Of the 79 members of the Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia or BPUPKI (“study agency for the preparations for independence”) and Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia or PPKI (“Preparatory Committee for the Independence of Indonesia”), five are Chinese:

  1. Liem Koen Hian
  2. Oey Tiang Tjoei
  3. Oey Tiong Houw
  4. Tan Eng Hoa
  5. Jap Tjwan Bing.

BPUPKI and PPKI members are considered to be the “founding fathers” of the nation. Chinese are among them.

But independent Indonesia inherits the ethnic division of labor that appeared in the colonial era. The nationalist fervor exacerbates a feeling of jealousy towards the Chinese, who hold the small modern economy while the big one remained in the hands of the Europeans. The Indonesian government eventually expelled the Dutch in 1957. The writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer , who spent some time in China, took sympathy for the Chinese of Indonesia and denounced the persecution they suffer in Indonesia. He published a series of letters addressed to an imaginary Chinese correspondent under the title Hoakiau di Indonesia (“The Overseas Chinese in Indonesia”). It will cost him to be imprisoned for 9 months by the army.

The anti-communist repression of 1965-1966 strikes the Chinese because many of them, citizens of the People’s Republic, are considered communists. The new regime of Soeharto sets up a knowingly anti-Chinese policy.

Soeharto’s policy

Wishing for the development of a national private sector, and learning from the failure of the “Banteng” program, which was launched by the government in the 1950s to try to create a class of “indigenous” entrepreneurs, the Soeharto’s diet promotes the rise of businessmen of Chinese origin.

This policy eventually provokes strong anti-Chinese resentment and creates a target of choice. The Chinese will often be victims of violence when protests of economic reasons break out. These will culminate in the May 1998 riots in Jakarta , which have been shown to have been provoked by organized and trained groups.

The new context

President Abdurrahman Wahid inaugurates a new area. From a family of Muslim clerics, he invokes his Chinese ancestors. The Javanese tradition is that the legendary Wali Sanga , the nine holy propagators of Islam in Java , are Chinese. He appoints a Chinese, Kwik Kian Gie, Minister of Finance.

On July 11, 2006, the DPR (National Assembly) passed a new law that, among other things, removes residual elements of discrimination against Indonesians of Chinese origin, who are now called pribumi (” indigenous “) 2 . The Chinese have found their place in the Indonesian community.

At present, there are various movements expressing a desire to present in a new light the role of the Chinese of Indonesia in the history of the country. In particular, an association of Chinese Muslims from Surabaya built the Cheng Hoo Mosque, that is, Zheng He , the Chinese Muslim High Admiral who came to Java several times during his travels from 1405 to 1433.


Unlike most other Indonesians, Chinese in principle have a “family name”, which is either the clan name when they have kept their Chinese name, in which case it is the first name, or a surname. “Indonesian” which replaces it, in which case it is the last name (however, those interested may not use their last name):

  • Agnes Monica , artist
  • Antonius Subianto Bunyamin , Bishop of Bandung
  • Chris John , athletic
  • Rudy Hartono , badminton player
  • Zack Lee , actor
  • Liem Sioe Liong , founding businessman of the Salim Group
  • Mari Pangestu , Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy
  • Basuki Tjahaja Purnama , Governor of Jakarta
  • Vincentius Sutikno Wisaksono , Bishop of Surabaya
  • Joseph Theodorus Suwatan , Bishop of Manado
  • Silvester Tung Kiem San , Bishop of Denpasar
  • Angelique Widjaja , sportsman


  1. ↑ Wolters, W. Oliver, “Indonesia – The archipelago and Its Early historical records” in
  2. ↑ Website of the Indonesian Embassy in Paris: “The House of Representatives adopted the Law on Citizenship”  [ archive ]