Jakarta’s Chinatown Twenty Years after 1998

Via Twitter, Christina Tjhin shared a remarkable video of a dragon dance in Glodok, an area long known as Jakarta’s Chinatown.

There are so many remarkable things about this video when viewed in the context of what was happening in Jakarta just twenty years ago.

  1. Back then, the military (TNI, Tentara Nasional Indonesia) was known as ABRI (Angakatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia [= Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia]), and blended both military and the police.
  2. Back then, the lion dance, like any other visible expression of Chinese culture from Chinese writing to Confucianism, was strictly illegal.
  3. In May 1998, Glodok burned during the anti-Chinese riots that preceded by just a week the resignation of Soeharto.

The idea that members of the Indonesian military would participate in a lion/dragon dance in Glodok to commemorate the end of Chinese New Year would have been simply unthinkable just twenty years ago.

In a time of rising concern about identity politics—both religious and racial in nature—in Jakarta and in Indonesia more broadly, it is helpful to remember the real victories that Indonesian democratization brought.