For decades, Indonesia’s Chinese minority enjoyed disproportionate wealth while simultaneously serving as the nation’s designated ethnic scapegoat. The 1998 riots that targeted Chinese in Jakarta and other major cities left more than 1,000 dead – mostly non-Chinese – and caused an estimated $300 million in property damage. Those riots of suspicious origin led to the ouster of President Suharto and a new era of reformasi, substituting democracy for authoritarianism.
Jemma Purdey wrote the book on the 1998 riots and their place in the history of Chinese in Indonesia, Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia, 1996-1999. I caught up with Purdey during the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali last year.
Purdey and other experts I interviewed for Asia Times agreed that Indonesia’s Chinese face new challenges now that Indonesia has emerged as the world’s third largest democracy. But they all believe that the situation for Chinese is far better than it was in 1998. That’s a hopeful note to sound for the lunar new year.
May the year of dragon bring good things to you and your loved ones. Kung hei fat choi/gong xi fa cai.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.