Chinese in urban and rural Indonesia, ca 1940


Until the Second World War, Chinese were to be found in many areas of rural Indonesia.  Most commonly, they were small scale traders and money-lenders, whose services were seen by local Indonesians as both a blessing and a bane.  In some areas, however, Chinese themselves were farmers:  on the private estates in the countryside around Batavia were communities dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while in West Kalimantan descendants of the Chinese who came to mine gold in the eighteenth century turned to agriculture after the gold ran out.  In Bagan Siapiapi on the eastern Sumatra coast and on the nearby island of Bengkalis, Chinese fishermen dominated one of the largest fishing fleets in the world.  In East Sumatra, the descendants of Chinese indentured labourers recruited to work on the plantations remained a large part of the population.  All these communities were severely reduced in the 1940s and 1950s.  Throughout Java and Sumatra, Chinese were victims of plunder and revenge killings during the first months of the Indonesian revolution (1945-46) and many fled to the cities.  A government order in May 1959 revoking permission for non-citizen Chinese to trade in the countryside caused a further exodus.  The Chinese in West Borneo were largely forced into the towns by violence in 1967.

Further reading

Herrmann, Albert, An historical atlas of China. Chicago: Aldine, 1966.

Map number from Cribb, Historical Atlas of Indonesia (2000)


Year span

1930 - 1946