Filming Ambiguity: To be ‘Chinese’ through the Eyes of Young Chinese Indonesian Filmmakers

By Charlotte Setijadi-Dunn.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

After almost thirty years of state-sponsored discrimination and forced assimilation, the end of President Suharto’s regime in 1998 marked a new chapter for Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese. For the first time in decades, Chinese Indonesians could now express Chinese traditions and cultures in public spaces without official prohibition. Most Chinese Indonesians have welcomed the change enthusiastically, especially Chinese media and political organisations which have in particular flourished in a period often dubbed the era of ‘Resinification’. However, ‘re-assuming’ a Chinese identity that has been ‘lost’ is not a simple matter. Most Chinese Indonesians have been in the Indonesian archipelago for many centuries and can no longer speak Chinese or have little or no knowledge of their Chinese cultural heritage. As such, larger Chinese organisations and public figures have often encouraged Chinese Indonesians to ‘reconnect’ with their Chinese roots through such means as studying Chinese languages and Mainland Chinese cultures. Unfortunately, the result is that ‘Chineseness’ is largely represented in a highly essentialised manner that does not reflect the realities of life for most Chinese Indonesians.
In this paper, I will look at a new breed of young Chinese Indonesian filmmakers who through their filmmaking explore timely issues concerning what it means to be Chinese in today’s Indonesia. Particularly through the example of three feature and short films namely ‘Sugiharti Halim’ (a film based on a fictional character of the same name by Ariani Darmawan, 2008), ‘Babi Buta Yang Ingin Terbang’ (‘The Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly’ by Edwin, 2008), and ‘Letter of Unprotected Memories’ (by Lucky Kuswandi, 2008), the ways in which these three young Chinese filmmakers describe the experiences, emotions, and ambiguities associated to being ‘Chinese’ in Indonesia will be explored in this paper. I would therefore argue that through films such as these, we gain valuable insights into rarely acknowledged alternative viewpoints about the experiences of negotiating ‘Chineseness’ in post-Suharto Indonesia that enrich our understanding of this ethnic minority.

Keywords: Chinese Indonesians, Ethnicity, Youth, Films, Identity, Post-Suharto Indonesia

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 6, Issue 10, pp.19-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 561.806KB).

Charlotte Setijadi-Dunn

Ph.D. Candidate, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Charlotte Setijadi-Dunn is a Ph.D. Candidate from the School of Social Sciences (Anthropology) at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Her dissertation project looks at historical memory and identity construction among young Chinese Indonesians in post-Suharto Indonesia. Charlotte has just completed fieldwork research for her dissertation in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she was also a visiting fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

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