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Ethnic Chinese find a place for Year of the Dragon celebrations in Indonesia

After the lifting of a decades-old ban on displays of Chinese culture, ethnic Chinese in Indonesia ring in the Year of the Dragon New Year out in the open.

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Soldiers perform a dragon-dance in front of Tay Kei Sek temple in Semarang, Central Java January 23. The Lunar New Year begins on January 23 and marks the start of the Year of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac.

Dwi Oblo/REUTERS

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Ekayana Buddhist Center in west Jakarta glows bright with the light of candles and red lanterns as hundreds of crimson-clad ethnic Chinese file into the temple for the Lunar New Year sermon. Across the city fireworks burst and banners celebrated the new year in Mandarin.

Such a scene was practically unheard of just 10 years ago, as Chinese-Indonesians struggled to overcome decades of discrimination and cultural repression under former strongman Suharto.

“The Chinese have been treated with hostility for some time,” says Myra Sidharta, a third-generation Chinese-Indonesian and one of the country’s most well-known researchers on ethnic Chinese culture and philosophy.

That attitudes have opened up toward ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is evident in the amount of people – openly – celebrating the Chinese New Year this year.  

In 2002, negative views toward Chinese-Indonesians started to change when former president Megawati Sukarnoputri recognized the Lunar New Year as a national holiday.

Now Indonesians of all ethnicities visit the city’s temples during Imlek, as the holiday is known here. Dragon dances and parades take place in cities around the country and red and gold billboards outside shopping malls advertise discounts along with new year wishes: “Gong Xi Fat Cai.”

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