Memories of Unbelonging: Collective Trauma and Ethnic Chinese Identity Politics in Indonesia (book project)

This book is an ethnographic study of how collective memory and oral history shape contemporary ethnic Chinese identities in Indonesia. Over the decades, systemic discrimination towards Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority has attracted considerable scholarly attention. Known for their pariah political status, alleged economic dominance, and ‘erased’ Chinese identity during the thirty years of assimilation under Suharto’s New Order regime, the story of Chinese Indonesians is often cited as a prime example of the failed integration of ethnic Chinese into mainstream ‘native’ society in Southeast Asia. Scholarship on Chinese Indonesian studies intensified in the post-Suharto era when the abolition of the assimilation policy resulted in the ‘return’ of Chinese identity, language and culture. In their analyses, the majority of scholars and observers have focused on the prospects of ‘re-Sinification’ (a reorientation towards Chinese culture) and the future of Chinese Indonesian identity politics. However, no academic study to date has asked critical questions about how policy changes and broader socio-historical currents in the post-Suharto era has influenced how contemporary Chinese Indonesians view their ethnic identity and strategic position, both in Indonesia and within the global network of Overseas Chinese more broadly.

Focusing primarily on the post-Suharto reformasi era (from 1998-present), the book examines the significance of collective memory and trauma narratives in Chinese Indonesian identity politics. Key ethnographic chapters will demonstrate how, despite the formal abolition of anti-Chinese policies, bitter memories of racism and discrimination continue to shape the discourse and everyday practices of ethnic Chinese boundary making in contemporary Indonesia. This revelation is important because it provides scholars with a deeper insight into why the ‘Chinese problem’ of mutual native-Chinese exclusion still exists in the post-Suharto era. This book argues for the analytical importance of collective memory in scholarly studies about Chinese identity, belonging, and diasporic attachments to the homeland (Mainland China) among Overseas Chinese communities.

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