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Ubud High examines the plight of the Tionghoa – Indonesia's most influential, and most persecuted, ethnic minority.

Chinese-Indonesian tomb at a Confucian cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia

Chinese-Indonesian tomb with offerings of candles, cakes, incense and fruit at a Confucian cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia.

© 2017 Ubud High.

Andreas was scared, very scared. It's not every day that an electrical engineer is invited to shoot people.

MAY 1998: JAKARTA, INDONESIA. More anti-Chinese riots. The forty year-old engineer is standing behind a barricade. To his left, a petrol station. To his right, a row of fire-gutted shops. Andreas has hidden his wife Neneng, and their three-year-old daughter Vania in the middle of the burning capital – safe from the worst rape and murder in the northwest of the smoking megacity.

In front of the electrical engineer are four handguns, laid out on a neighbour's kitchen table in the middle of the street.

The police are nowhere to be seen.

A naval officer urges Andreas to take his pick of the weapons before the mob returns.

– "Today, Andreas," the off-duty officer and neighbour says to him, "you can kill. Shoot anybody who comes over the barricade. You have my full permission."

Ethnic Chinese-Indonesian man in Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Andreas, ten years after Jakarta's anti-Chinese-Indonesian riots of 1998, at home in Tangerang, Indonesia.

© 2017 Ubud High.

The Chinese in Indonesia

Life has been a roller-coaster for the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. Migrating in their first major wave during the 15th century, Indonesians of ethnic Chinese descent – the Tionghoa – occupy one of the most precarious positions in Indonesian society.

On the one hand, a minority of Chinese-Indonesian people have become fabulously rich through political favouritism, entrepreneurship and a knife-sharp business sense.

On the darker hand, severe discrimination – and regular pogroms such as the vicious 1998 riots – have peppered the lives of Chinese-Indonesian people for well over 270 years.

Ethnic Chinese-Indonesian girl in Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Vania, aged 13 – ten years after the '98 anti-Chinese-Indonesian riots in Jakarta, Java, Indonesia.

© 2017 Ubud High.

Andreas sighs.

– "Everything changed with the arrival of the Dutch."

Andreas and I are sipping black tea outside the family's old teak house in Jakarta's satellite city of Tangerang.

It's Cing ('ching') Bing, the Confucian Chinese lunar festival that celebrates the family ancestors.

Andreas' wife Neneng – the fires of '98 still scratching in her eyes – kneels down to light three incense sticks in the front parlour. She carries them into a smaller, darker room and places them in a brass urn holding her grandfather Tjoa Tiauw Siang's ashes.

– "Neneng's family did well out of the Dutch," says Andreas, the engineer, after a while.

We sip more tea and watch the family prepare for the arrival of their ancestors' spirits.

"Her father Engkong liked them a lot. Engkong's father, Tjoa Tiauw Siang, and his grandfather Tjoa Tek Him worked as middlemen between the Dutch landowners and the locals who used to work the plantations around here."

Andreas sweeps his hand around the tangled scrub behind the family walls.

The Arrival of the Dutch in Indonesia – The Vanguard of the VOC

Before the vanguard of the Dutch East Indies Company – the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or 'VOC' – made landfall in 1597 in their hunger for lucrative spices, all historical evidence points to a harmonious relationship between the southern, mostly Hokien Chinese immigrants, and their Indonesian hosts.

In these pre-Dutch times, Chinese culture fused easily with existing Indonesian traditions and arts. By the end of the 16th century, substantial Chinese populations had taken root on the islands of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The budding port town of Jayakarta – renamed Batavia by the Dutch and now Indonesia's hectic capital, Jakarta – had become a thriving centre for Chinese trade that spanned East Asia.

And unlike the Portuguese, British, French, Japanese and Dutch, the Chinese who arrived in Indonesia didn't come to conquer, but to make money.

As Pramoedya Ananta Toer – a Javanese novelist imprisoned for 14 years in 1960 for defending the rights of Chinese-Indonesians – states in his landmark book Hoakiau di Indonesia ('The Chinese in Indonesia'):

'The Chinese who came to Indonesia... were the poorest from their troubled country. They did not come to Indonesia for a picnic or some happy excursion: they came here to work hard.'

A worker hand-rolls an incense stick at Oyong's incense factory in Tangerang, Jakarta, Java

A worker hand-rolls a temple incense stick at Oyong's incense factory in Tangerang, Jakarta, Java.

© 2017 Ubud High.

The three-tiered racial system in Indonesia under Dutch VOC rule

By the end of the 18th century, the voracious Dutch trading company – the VOC – had masterminded a three-tiered caste system that positioned themselves at the top of their self-imposed race pyramid.

The Chinese traders, with their superior trading contacts spanning Southeast Asia, were placed in the middle – just below the Indonesian nobility.

At the very bottom of the pile were placed the inlander, or pribumi – the indigenous Malay-Australasian-Pacific people of Indonesia.

For a while all progressed well for the Dutch. Their VOC created vast wealth selling off spices at huge profit to a new European market. Meanwhile, the Chinese in Batavia had also become a powerful, influential elite.

But despite the higher social position conferred on them by the Dutch – or perhaps jealously because of it – tensions began to mount between the eastern and western traders.

The sparks and the touchpaper

In 1740, sparks flicked at the touchpaper.

Paranoid VOC officials in Batavia became convinced that they had uncovered evidence of a Chinese rebellion against them.

Ethnic Chinese residents in turn believed that the heavily outnumbered Dutch Company was planning to expel, and possibly kill, those Chinese who were surplus to Company requirements.

VOC Governor-General Adriaan Valckenier

VOC Governor-General Valckenier

VOC Governor General Adriaan Valckenier (1695-1751) who ordered the massacre of 10,000 ethnic Chinese people in Batavia (Jakarta), Java, Indonesia.

Source: Wikipedia.

Governor-General Valckenier orders the Chinese Massacre of 1740 in Batavia, Java

In a pre-emptive move, the VOC's Governor-General Valckenier ordered a house-to-house search of Batavia's Chinese quarters that quickly slid into all-out rape, arson and murder.

Chinese prisoners were executed in their prison cells; the hospitalised were murdered in their beds.

John Joseph Stockdale, a passing British writer and adventurer of the time, describes the events:

'Suddenly and unexpectedly an instantaneous cry of murder and horror resounded through the town, and the most dismal scene of barbarity and rapine [sic] presented itself on all sides... Neither pregnant women nor sucking infants were spared by the relentless Dutch assassins: all the Chinese, without distinction, were put to the sword.'

Modern estimates put the Chinese dead from this 12-day orgy of rape and murder at about 10,000.

A mid-18th century print showing the massacre of Chinese people in Batavia, Java, engraved by Adrian van der Laan of Amsterdam. The print shows Dutch troops firing cannon into Chinese houses on the banks of Kali Besar, slaughtering people as they fled their burning homes and waiting in boats to kill those that sought to escape in the river.

Source: The Bartele Gallery.

The Dutch VOC at Play in the East Indies: Monopoly and Murder

The Dutch VOC – led by one of Valckenier's predecessors, the infamous Jan Pieterszoon Coen – had the 17th century's East Indian spice trade almost to themselves.

Map of Maronde VOC trading post near Batavia (Jakarta), West Java, Indonesia

Map of Maronde VOC trading post near Batavia (Jakarta), West Java, Indonesia.

For a band of men intent on creating enormous wealth at any cost – and given no political or moral limitations by shareholders back home as to how they achieved it – the 17th and 18th centuries were carte blanche for the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie.

Coen's Dutch East India Company had free reign to sign treaties, mint coins, imprison or execute at will, maintain private armies, wage wars, pass laws, build forts and seize land.

The survey map of Meester Cornelis' VOC trading post in Dutch Indonesia

'Plan uder Grundrifs des Posts Meister Cornelis gennant, drey Stund von Batavia gelgen.' The survey map of Mister Cornelis' VOC trading post, Indonesia.

But the newly-formed VOC had a thorn in its side.

In 1604, an English East India Company fleet sailed to the sources of spice in Ternate, Tidore, Ambon and Banda – and by 1617 they had set up trading posts from Kalimantan to Sumatra – in direct competition with the Dutch East Indies Company.

The Dutch reply was brutal.

First, Coen and his men ransacked the West Javanese port-town of Jayakarta in 1619, renamed it Batavia (later Jakarta) and established their new VOC headquarters from its smoking ruins. The Batavian Chinese Massacre of 1740 was still to happen, 121 years' into the future.

On the other side of Indonesia, Coen had also quickly recognised the importance of the Banda Islands as the only place in the world that grew the highly precious nutmeg tree – the trader's holy grail of nutmeg and mace.

The small band of Englishmen were routed on the tiny island of Run – an island later to be traded with the island of New York.

After, Coen signed a deceptive agreement in 1621 with local sultans to secure the rest of the Banda Islands.

To solidify his sovereignty, he then ordered the execution of 14,000 men, women and children across the Banda Islands.

Now, Coen had a stranglehold over the globe's single source of mace and nutmeg – the spices that would have a woman killed.

In short, Adriaan Valckenier of Chinese-Massacre fame was only following in the sharper, deeper shadows of Dutch values, tradition and custom in Indonesia.

The Fall of the VOC

Dutch shareholder confidence wavers in the VOC

Immediately following the Chinese Massacre of 1740, Dutch confidence in their profitable East Indies began to shake. Competition for spices was warming at home.

Under the pretext of defending public order, the VOC promptly introduced draconian laws that limited Chinese travel, work and residence. Dutch administrators designated an area to the west of the capital – conveniently well within Dutch cannon range – as the city's official, segregated Chinese ghetto.

And even after the Dutch central government placed their errant East Indies Company under direct rule in 1799 – the VOC having been liquidated a year earlier due to massive corruption – Chinese persecution continued unabated.

One of Holland's first acts in its renamed 'Batavian Republic' – the Bataafsche Republiek – was to confiscate property belonging to any Chinese deemed to be politically suspect. Livelihoods were devastated as Dutch officials seized houses and shops without compensation.

More racial ghettoes were established, widening the gap between the Chinese and an increasingly resentful, duped, indigenous population.

The Chinese occupation of broker-and-nothing-else was enforced when an Agrarian Law passed in 1879 banned all Chinese-Indonesian people from becoming farmers unless they married an indigenous wife.

The Dutch had to retain their race pyramid at all costs.

As the novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer says:

'The Chinese people's forced isolation from the broader society naturally created a sense of shared fate among them, created a new mentality, a group mentality, the mentality of a minority... which forced them to confront society as something external and alien.

The Chinese in Indonesia are victims of history.

That is all.'

The die had been cast.

The Japanese Invasion of Indonesia, 1942

– "I fought against the Japanese when they landed in 1942," says 87-year old Engkong, Neneng's father.

"The first thing they did was to attack Chinese shops. Locals joined in. So we built barricades and fought them all. It was furious."

Engkong's wife Ma, 86, has joined us at the broad teak table. Talk of the dead has prompted darker memories.

– "I was most afraid just before the Japanese Army arrived in 1942," says Ma.

"First they bombed us from their 'planes. Then the Dutch soldiers ordered us to dig holes in the sand and cover ourselves with cloth so we wouldn't get killed. Afterwards, Engkong and I were taken to the same refugee camp in Jakarta but we didn't meet there. I was there for a month, Engkong for two more. They told us we were there for our own safety."

– "Three days after the Japanese landed," continues Engkong, "the Dutch soldiers surrendered. They were taken to prison camps and murdered by the Japanese."

With the power vacuum that swallowed Holland's rapid capitulation in the East Indies, atrocities branched out across the islands. Dutch officials were murdered out of hand by vicious mobs.

On the vast northern island of Kalimantan, the Imperial Japanese Army fanned nationalistic flames to incite large-scale massacres against the Dutch, the Chinese-Indonesians and anyone else seen to be pro-colonial.

The religious number was played: in the Muslim stronghold of East Java, murder and forced circumcision of the mainly Christian Chinese was carried out by extremist Muslims from the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) movement.

– "The Japanese stayed for three years," says Engkong.

"They took whatever they wanted from the rice and coconut farms. If one of the workers stole something he was blinded or killed. After the war, things got worse. The Dutch government wanted their old colony back."

"So the British and the Japanese joined the Dutch, and fought against the Indonesian people."

Ma cuts in:

– "That was when Engkong and I got married. We met for the first time on our wedding day in 1948. We'd never seen each other before. It was an arranged Manchu wedding."

– "There were a lot of foreigners in Jakarta then," says Engkong, "the Japanese, the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese – but it was the pribumi we were most scared of."

"It was a very unstable time in 1948."

We watch Neneng and her younger sister Neni put the finishing touches to a table-full of food that we'll eat later in the day. Neni throws us a sidelong glance before she disappears back into the kitchen.

Andreas picks up the story.

– "Some Chinese-Indonesians stayed on the fence during the Indonesian Revolution. Others backed the Dutch. Some supported the struggle – my father included. But after the Dutch were kicked out in 1949 many pribumi accused us of being unpatriotic: we didn't do well out of Independence..."

The newly-formed Indonesian government quickly forced all Chinese-Indonesians who had bought Dutch or Japanese businesses after World War Two to hand them back to the state.

In 1959, President Sukarno approved a law that forced all Chinese-Indonesians to close their businesses in the countryside and relocate to cities.

– "The new Indonesian regime was brutal towards us," continues Andreas.

"Many Chinese-Indonesian business owners were murdered. A lot just packed up and left."

As many as 100,000 returned to China to risk life there than stay on.

The 1960s: Vietnam and Mao

The Sixties saw the napalm-flames of anti-Communism sweep Southeast Asia.

Dominoes fell as the Vietnam War unfolded. On the night of September 30th 1965, a group of Indonesian military officers attempted to mount a coup allegedly to protect the left-leaning President Sukarno against right-wing elements of his army. Six out of the country's seven top generals were brutally killed. In one of the greatest mysteries of modern Indonesian politics, an eighth man – the right-leaning Major-General Suharto – was miraculously spared. In apparent revenge, Suharto immediately seized control of the capital Jakarta, and launched vicious media propaganda that described the coup as the work of the Partai Komunis Indonesia – the PKI, or Communist Party of Indonesia.

– "I think I was most scared in my life in 1965," says Andreas, "when I was six. My parents had just bought a second house in Semarang (Central Java) but we hadn't moved in yet. I used to play there with my nanny – I used to enjoy riding my new bicycle around the empty living-room."

"One day, there was lots of screaming outside. My nanny knew something was terribly wrong so she hid me in the darkest room for two days. After the rioting was over, two military officers came to bring us back home – my father was in the army, you see. I was too young to know what was happening but I could feel something truly awful was going on."

"It was so easy at that time for anybody to shout: 'This person is PKI!' and that person would disappear."

1965-1966 Communist-Chinese Massacres in Indonesia

Communist suspects rounded up by barely older Indonesian soldiers during the Communist purge from 1965-1966 in Indonesia

Communist suspects rounded up by barely older Indonesian soldiers during the Communist purge from 1965-1966 in Indonesia.

Wholesale murder flooded across the new Indonesia.

– "It was too dangerous to talk," says Andreas.

I ask Andreas' father-in-law, Engkong, what happened after the huge anti-communist pogrom of 1965-1966. The old man gets up silently in his pyjamas and shuffles back to his bedroom.

His youngest Neni, 37, watches him closely.

– "There's a lot of things my dad wants to talk about, but he won't."

The youth wing of the Muslim Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in Kediri, East Java, lined up over 3,500 communists and cut their throats before dumping their bodies into rivers.

Hundreds of Chinese-Indonesian people were murdered on the pretext of being supporters of Red China – their shops looted and their houses torched.

On Bali alone, 50,000 to 100,000 people were slaughtered between 1965 and 1966. The killing stopped like a shut-off tap just as quickly as it had begun.

Modern historians estimate the minimum total murdered across Indonesia between 1965 and 1966 at a conservative half a million. The Indonesian military claims that the purge accounted for a million dead.

Over 1,500,000 suspected communists were imprisoned, and several million more terrorised into abandoning their politics for the next three decades.

Anti-Chinese Racism in Suharto's Indonesia (1966-1998)

From 1965 to 1997, official anti-Chinese racism snowballed during President Suharto's 32-year steel grip.

During the so-called Smiling General's dictatorship, Buddhists' and Confucians' right to pray openly and without fear was put on pause.

Neni's elder brother Isong, 60, a religious teacher in the local Confucian temple, describes a proxy, white-hot anti-Communist war smouldering behind the flimsiest of muslin curtains in the early Seventies:

– "We could go to the temple whenever we wanted, but" – Isong makes a long camera-lens with his hand – "we were watched very, very closely."

Ethnic Chinese-Indonesian Confucian teacher in Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Isong, the religious teacher, at home in Tangerang.

© 2017 Ubud High.

The Chinese New Year celebration of Imlek was banned.

Chinese-Indonesian schools were seized and closed. Public performances of lion and dragon dances, Chinese puppet shows and other traditional Chinese arts and rituals were forbidden. Chinese medicine was outlawed. Chinese-language newspapers were shut down except for one state-sponsored publication.

Writing or speaking in Chinese was punishable by a fine or jail-time. The numbers on a Chinese-Indonesian person's identity card were ordered in such as a way as to be instantly identifiable to the police, government officials or the military.

Harassment, blackmail and bribery followed.

Isong says of the 1966 anti-Chinese-Indonesian purge:

– "The most painful thing was having to change my name."

"Our fathers' names define who we are. You see, my father Engkong was born Tjoa Hay Tjuen – we are the Tjoa family – but a government official came to our home in 1966 and renamed him Riyadi Tjahaya. I was born Tjoa Kim Hauw" – Kim Hauw means 'Gold Tiger' – "but they decided to call me Heriawan Tjahaya instead."

"I just go by my nickname of 'Isong' now. They pulled our names out of a hat. It was so incredibly hurtful."

The age-old smokescreen of Divide and Rule

The laws widened the already yawning gap between Indonesia's indigenous population and its ethnic Chinese while diverting attention from the massive corruption that saturated every level of the new Suharto government – including the police, the judiciary and the military.

Age-old divide-and-rule, so useful for the Dutch, was proving to be a lucrative smokescreen in the hands of the new Indonesian elite.

Detail of mid-18th century Dutch print showing the massacre of ethnic Chinese people in Batavia, Java, in 1740.

Source: The Bartele Gallery.

Indonesia's New Order

Anti-Chinese racism flared for the next 32 years under Suharto's New Order. A 1974 visit by the Japanese Prime Minister inexplicably turned into all-out anarchy that burned much of North Jakarta's Chinatown to the ground.

Isong, the Confucian teacher, recalls the bigotry of the 1980s:

– "All Chinese were fair game then. They saw us as collaborators between a small number of highly-placed Chinese-Indonesian businessmen and the Suharto government. There was a lot of personal harassment."

"Grave-robbing became a new game. Thieves had found out that we bury our dead with gold or jewellery. In our cemetery, some of the community had to build concrete vaults with iron gates and barred roofs to keep the looters out."

"It was shocking."

Andreas sums up the 32-year-old New Order:

– "You know, there weren't a lot of ways out for us then. We weren't allowed to hold public jobs. It was extremely difficult to join the military or the police. Politics and academia were out. So the only way was to make business. I joined Schneider Optics and then Danone's Aqua division. Most of my friends went into trading or set up on their own – others went and joined the banks and manufacturing sectors."

Bribery and collusion became standard practise for any Chinese-Indonesians trying to survive in this New Order dripping with cronyism, corruption and government-sponsored racism.

Indigenous Indonesian people saw this apparent collusion as further proof that the Chinese in Indonesia were corrupt, selfish, unpatriotic – and filthy rich.

Oyong, Isong's younger brother, who works on a knife-edge to produce his incense sticks adds:

– "People think that the Chinese-Indonesians are hugely privileged, but actually we don't have a lot of choices in this country. Some say we own 30 percent of the economy. I don't own any of it. Most of us are just ordinary traders trying to get by."

"That's what the pribumi just don't get."

Uang kepeng or pis bolong, Chinese trading coins still used as daily currency in Bali until the 1960s

Uang kepeng or pis bolong at a woodcarver's workshop in Mas, Bali. Chinese trading coins were still used as a daily currency in Bali until the 1960s.

© 2017 Ubud High.

The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997

What the average Indonesian pribumi also couldn't fathom was the pornographic display of wealth occurring in cities like Jakarta during the Nineties.

With nearly 30 percent of Indonesia's population living in urban areas and 2.3 million young people flooding the job market every year, any downturn in the economy was going to spell trouble.

When the Asian Financial Crisis boiled over from Thailand in 1997 and savaged the Indonesian rupiah, trouble once more turned to chaos.

Indonesia's economy collapsed. The ripped backcloth for mayhem was ready.

The Anti-Chinese-Indonesian Riots of Jakarta, 1998

Andreas describes the warm-up to the Jakarta blood-letting of 1998:

– "A lot of the big Chinese-Indonesian businessmen moved their money out of Indonesia because the rupiah was crumbling. So all of the Chinese-Indonesians were blamed for causing the crisis – by the government, the people, everyone."

Things became more dangerous when four Trisakti University students were shot dead, apparently by military snipers, during an anti-government rally. Jakarta went up in flames. Malls were burnt down with people inside them – there were uniformed men standing on ground floors of supermarkets giving looters a countdown before they set the buildings on fire.

Gangs of men hunted down ethnic Chinese victims on the streets, chasing and murdering them with sickles, machetes and clubs. More than a hundred Chinese-Indonesian girls and women were raped.

Many of the rape victims later killed themselves.

James Nachtwey's photograph of the anti-Chinese-Indonesian 1998 Jakarta riots

War Photographer James Nachtwey's view of a street-killing during the 1998 anti-Chinese-Indonesian riots in Jakarta, Java.

Andreas continues:

"They went around looting and burning all the Chinese shops and homes. It was all pre-planned to create instability. It was all organised, like the PKI murders."

"The idea was that the government would step in after a few days, call off the murder, direct attention away from the collapsed economy and the corruption, and look great in front of everybody – after giving the people some time to vent their fury. But the plan went wrong and the people threw out Pak Suharto instead."

I ask Neneng's younger sister Neni, then 21, where she was during the riots.

– "When all the shooting happened? Alone and scared. I was guarding the house on my own. Mum and dad had gone to stay in dad's younger brother's house in Tanjung Burung."

– "Neni locked herself inside the family home," says her husband Dadang. "She wouldn't leave. I was outside guarding her."

Neni shivers across the table:

– "So scary."

I ask Neni how long she spent inside the house.

– "One week." She shivers again. "Terrifying. Quiet."

Andreas says after a pause:

– "The rioters weren't human, you know. They were like animals."

– "They were like cannibals," Neneng whispers.

Her younger sister Neni adds:

– "The mob looted all of the Chinese shops down to their spoons. Frying pans, ladles, everything. They even raided the pig farms and stole the pigs. After that, prices went up for everything if you were Chinese. Instead of going to the shop and paying for something like usual, you had to ask what the right price was that day."

In the months that followed the hectic, hot-blooded Jakarta riots, thousands of Chinese-Indonesians fled to more welcoming countries like Australia, Malaysia or Singapore.

Some have returned. Many have stayed away.

How long did it take the family to get over the trauma, I ask?

– "Personally, I didn't dare drive into Jakarta for three months," says Neneng.

"We just watched the news on TV to try and understand what was going on. Andreas stayed glued to his CB radio. We took Vania nowhere. Months later, every time we stopped at the traffic lights where the mob had gathered, my heart would pound out of my chest."

Did it occur to the family to leave Indonesia?

Isong, the Confucian teacher, answers unequivocally:

– "We were born here and we grew up here. We have to continue to survive here. It is not possible to go to Australia or China because we have no relatives, no nothing there. We don't know who our ancestors are there. We are Indonesian. We have mixed already."

Neneng agrees:

– "I, too, am Indonesian. But my feelings and traditions are still Chinese."

James Nachtwey's view of the anti-Chinese-Indonesian 1998 Jakarta riots

James Nachtwey's view of the anti-Chinese-Indonesian 1998 Jakarta riots.


After the volcanic implosions of 1998, Indonesia was beginning to look like a failed state.

Few outside commentators believed that the geographically and politically fractured island nation could ever regenerate. As the old dictator Suharto finally stepped down under severe public pressure, the country saw a slew of presidents come and go.

However, as each president came and went – first B.J. Habibi, then Abdurrahman Wahid ('Gus Dur') and Megawati Soekarnoputri – shifts on the secular front became surprisingly apparent.

All former laws discriminating against Chinese Indonesians were lifted.

The Chinese New Year celebration of Imlek was pronounced a national holiday. Mandarin-language schools sprang up to cater to a new generation eager to exploit China's emerging role in the region. Chinese newspapers and magazines began, once again, to roll off the country's presses.

And after an absence of more than 30 years, the dragons of the Chinese barongsai began to dance again on the streets for the masses.

A worker hand-rolls incense sticks at Oyong's incense factory in Tangerang, Jakarta, Java

A worker hand-rolls incense sticks at Oyong's incense factory in Tangerang, Jakarta, Java.

© 2017 Ubud High.

...and darkness

Some say another pogrom can't happen. After all, the world's media was on hand to beam Indonesia's last anti-Chinese massacre live across the globe.

Outside the Tjoas' home, the dusty family Rottweiler dozes fitfully next to the cool teak paneling. The incense sticks in Tjoa Tiauw Siang's ashes have long gone out as the last call to prayer rises from the darkened mosque on the other side of the evening street.

The family has retired. The living-room has returned to silence.

In Neneng's bedroom, on her dressing-table in between the eye-shadow and the perfume, lies a samurai sword.

Slow burning in Chinese-Indonesia.

Incense sticks dry in an incense factory before being sold in Jakarta, Java

Incense sticks dry in Oyong's incense factory in Tangerang, Jakarta, Java.

© 2017 Ubud High.

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IT'S NOT SURPRISING when some city residents shut their doors when topeng monyet – the masked performing monkeys – threaten to come their way.

Despite being a Jakartan tradition once played out with dogs and snakes and originating from the masked dances of Cirebon, not everybody's happy with the status quo of the game...

Slow Burning in Chinese Indonesia: The History of the Tionghoa ➨

Chinese-Indonesian tomb at a Confucian cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia

JAKARTA, INDONESIA: MAY 1998. More anti-Chinese riots.

The forty year-old engineer is standing behind a barricade. To his left, a petrol station. To his right, a row of fire-gutted shops.

In front of Andreas are four handguns, laid out on a neighbour's kitchen table. An off-duty naval officer urges him to take his pick of the weapons before the mob returns.

"Today," the officer says to Andreas, "you can kill. Shoot anyone who comes over the barricade..."

The Rise and Fall of the Ciliwung: Jakarta's Most Polluted River ➨

Children pass the time in their shanty-house overlooking the highly polluted and flood-prone Ciliwung river in Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

"THE AIR'S TERRIBLE HERE, and the river stinks. We get massacred by mosquitoes in the dry season. The best thing about the river is we can throw our rubbish into it. When it rains it's even better because the nappies get washed away much quicker."

The story of the Ciliwung River: Jakarta's longest, most polluted and most flood-prone waterway...

Dede Koswara and the Association of Strange People (Part 1) ➨

The Tree Man of Indonesia Dede Koswara's hands

MEETING DEDE KOSWARA – the so-called 'Tree Man of Indonesia' – and friends for the first time in 2007.

Dede Koswara: The 'Tree Man' of Indonesia (Part 2) ➨

Dede Koswara, the Tree Man of Indonesia, at a freakshow in West Java, Indonesia

RYAN THE GIANT has already confided that if he had Dede's condition, he would have killed himself by now.

None of us know how Dede keeps sane.

Dede puts it down to acceptance, patience and prayer. He also believes that he's going to be cured one day – in a country where free healthcare for the poor does not, in reality, exist...

The Big Picture

PHOTOGRAPHS FROM BALI – The Soul of Indonesia.

Bali Portraits ➨

Balinese housewife with rice-paste facial, Ubud, Bali

PORTRAITS from Bali's female side.

Balinese-Hindu Melasti Water-Purification Ceremony Before Nyepi, the Day of Silence ➨

Balinese-Hindu faithful de-camp from trucks at Masceti Beach for the annual Melasti ceremony, Bali, Indonesia

BEACH-SIDE water purification ceremonies in the lead-up to Nyepi, Bali's Hindu Saka New Year and Day of Silence.

Ogoh-Ogoh Parades and Festivals on the Eve of Nyepi in Bali ➨

A toothy, topless ogoh-ogoh monster sports a necklace of poisonous snakes in Singakerta, Ubud, the day before Nyepi

OGOH-OGOH PARADES of papier-mâché monsters in Ubud, Sanur, Renon and Kuta on the eve of Nyepi – Bali's Hindu Day of Silence.

'Kerauhan' – Trance and Mass Possession at a Hindu Village Temple Ceremony in Bali, Indonesia ➨

Possessed Balinese-Hindu women dance and pray during a mass-possession ceremony at an annual village temple festival in North Bali, Indonesia

TRANCE AND MASS POSSESSION at an annual Hindu village temple festival in Buleleng, North Bali.

Yoga, Dance, Music and Therapy at the Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud, Indonesia ➨

A Watsu water-therapy session is conducted in a swimming pool during the Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud

A WEEK-LONG FESTIVAL of yoga, therapy, music and dance at Ubud's annual Bali Spirit Festival.

Coastal Beach Erosion and Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia ➨

Sandbags support the foundations of a beachside Hindu temple damaged by coastal erosion and freak waves in Canggu, South Bali

CLIMATE CHANGE and coastal erosion washes up on the shores of Bali.