9.1 - len Ang ‘Trapped in Ambivalence Chinese lndonesians...

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Unformatted text preview: len Ang, ‘Trapped in Ambivalence: Chinese lndonesians, Victimhood and the Debris of History,” in Race, Panic and the Memory ofMigrarion, edited by Meaghan Morris and Brett de Bary. 21—48. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. COM MONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA Copyright Renuiations 1 969 This material has been reproduced and communicated to you i 1 Warning 1 by or on behalf of the University of Melbourne pursuant to Part lye of the Copyright Act 2968 (the Act). lThe material in this communication may be subject to copyright under the Act. Any further copying or communication of this material by you may be the subject of copyright protection under the Act. Do not remove this notice t Pameanct «rue, Memo 0 mt 457,-, flma/ d{ “7 W”? mnew: r TRAPPED IN AMBIVALENCE: _ _ CHINESE INDONESIANS, VICTIMHOOD, AND THE DEBRIS 0F HISTORY ‘ .. luv ANG . he unraveling of Western modernity-as the master narrative for universal human progress has prompted many peoples to put themselves ferward as victims of/in history ——. as having been wronged in the violentproces'ses of European colonialism and capitalistmodernization. Such claims to victimhood ' generally rely on the representation of previously untold historical narratives which _ can make sense of a particular people's real and imagined suffering, past and present. Often, the narrativization of victimization and victimhood on the public I stage marks an important moment of self-empowerment for previously subordinated or oppressed peoples, paving the way for efforts to redress. past I injustice and present disadvantage: the case of indigenous peoples in settler colonial societies such as Australia is exemplary here. But, in their very proliferation, discourses and narratives of victimhood can also have less desirable effects; net just in fact, or in moral or political terms, but because they fail to _ provide subjects in history with a complex and evenhanded sense of their own past, one that is appropriate for the Conditions of the present. One could argue, for example, that the obsessive Japanese collective memory of victimization as a result of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is prdblematic not just because it represses Japan’s own history as perpetrators of violence, oppression, and injustice to other nations and peoples, especially in Asia; but also, in more practical political terms, because it inhibits an open and T-RACES : 2% honest reconciliation with old victims, who on their part have not forgotten their -. suffering at the hands of Japanese colonizers and refuse to forgive Without a ‘ proper sign of regret and remorse.‘ As Lisa Yoneyama has remarked, "Theactof _ remembering is always mediated by and inseparable from the positions that one _. establishes in relation to social and political arrangements, in bothEth’e-pr'esent- -_ and the future.”2 In a time when self-positionings as victims of history-have" proliferated throughout the 'world, accompanied by claims for apology and reparation to be paid by those who are accused of having committed the crimes againstthe victimized, it is not surprising that the accused often have great difficulty in dealing with their own past as "baddies”: they prefer not to be reminded of it, resorting to the commemoration of their own, real or imagined, vittimhoo'd _' instead.3 Victims, after all, have'clean hands, are subjects of virtue, and cannot- - be held responsible for any immoral acts. Discourses of victimhood; inother words, afford the luxury of the moral high ground. I I ' My starting point in this essay is not a critique of discourses of victimhood as such, nor a doubting of the real difference between "right" and “wrong.” Human ' history is full of distinguishable oppressors and oppressed, known killers and killed, recognized malefactors and their casualties — and there is no doubt that they all have to be recognized as such, in the context of the prevailing relations of domination and submission in which they operated. The problem; withan - .. unchecked cultivation of victim status, however, is practical: in theta-nary - j: simplification of the world between good and bad, and in their historical positiOning of the victim subject as a true "goodie," they generally fail to grasp the moral, as well as factual, complexity of h istory. identifying ourselvesexclus-ively as historical victims not only inhibits critical self-reflexivity (preventing us-from _. - recognizing the multiple and often tricky articulations ofio_ur.._hi_stor.i'cal' ' subjectivities, and not always under morally immaculate circumstances), but also constrains the creation of the conditions of possibility for reaching out,’ ' reconciliation, and coexistence, especially with those we feel rightly'or Wroneg ‘ victimized by. In this sense, the cultivation of positions of self-victimization could be said to work against the establishment of social and political arrangements I 7 which can help negotiate, if not Overcome, the violent divisions inherited from‘ the past, often to the detriment of the self—declared “victims” themselves as'they struggle to construct a livable present and future. " Such is the case, I will argue in this essay, with the group of people:_gein'eralliy-'-_ wraitces :2 Trapped in Ambivalence referred to as Chinese lndonesians or Indonesian Chinese (the conflation of these 7 two combinatory terms is itself, as we shali see, an indication of the problem I am setting out to explore here). I should say at the outset that my purpose here is not-to declare, from a god-like judgmental vantage point,.that Chinese Indonesians are or are not victims of/in history. My argument will be that we have to go beyond the discourse of victimhood and viCtimization .to come to a proper and properly sensitive understanding of the Chinese Indonesian predicament — past, present, and future. Writing this essay in 2000, I am afraidthat Chinese Indonesians are condemned to live with their predicament indefinitely, both in Indonesia and in diaspora — a predicament that can be characterized as being "trapped -in ambivalence.”4 It is a predicament which has beenéthe unintended, unvvilled, - and unwanted outcome of the "debris of contemporary history”5 for-Which there is, experts seem to agree, no imaginable “real” solution.6 This historical debris, I as I will elaborate below, arises out of the entangled confluence of the overlapping histories of European colonialism, competing nationalisms, and the process of decolonization, in. which Chinese Indonesians (or Indonesian Chinese) are neither unambiguous victims nor indisputable perpetrators. If anything, they areboth, aithough‘it is necessary, as I have suggested, to avioid compromising terms, such as "victims" and “perpetratOrs,” to fully grasp'the intricacies and the agony, moral I _ and otherwise, of the Chinese Indonesian predicament. In his book indonesian Chinese in Crisis, published in I 983, historian Charles Coppei has observed that "the Indonesian Chinese have been ...captives of their own situation and of their own history.” Coppei made this observation in light of the perilous minority status in which Indonesians of Chinese descent, currently ‘ estimated as about 34% of the population, or six-or seven million people, find themselves in the modern nation-state of indonesia. Their crisis, to refer to the title of Coppel’s book, is an enduring feature of Indonesian postcolonial history: people of Chinese descent have systematically been treated as second-class ' Citizens, and they are constantly referred to as "foreigners" or "aiiens," despite the fact that most Chinese Indonesian families have lived in the country for ‘ generations.They have regulariy been the target of mass violence, and anti-Chinese racism and prejudice are a pervasive part of everyday culture.a As Wang Gungwu has observed, referring to the first few decades after 1945, "For whatever understandable reasons, nowhere have more Overseas Chinese been killed or wounded, run away or been chased away, and been so insecure during the past TRACES : 2—j2_—T Ien An-g- ‘ twenty years than in Indonesia.”9 How has it come to all this? How can Chinese Indonesians explain their own wretched predicament to themselves? Most scholarly and political treatments of the position of the Chinese in Indonesia define the problem in narrow state-related terms such Citizenship rights, formal political loyalties, assimilation policies, and economic relations. HOWeVéi, as, - important as these issues are, they do not provide a thorough subjective" ‘ understanding of what it means to be Chinese Indonesian (or Indonesian Chinese) today. if Chinese Indonesians are to have a more culturally meaningful understanding of their -”crisis,” they would need a narrative identity-that goes beyond the disempoWering story of r’the Chinese problem,” as their situation has . officially been called by the Indonesian government. It is here, | suggest,.lthat it is- important to understand the Chinese Indonesian situation as being'ftrappedrin _ ambivalence. There is a long and cemplex history to be told, which canabe-traced back to the role theChinese played in the complexly oppressive divide—and-fule policies of the Dutch during their more than 300—year colonial rule,10 butrthe Indonesian Chinese have hardly come to terms with this fateful historical legacy- when it comes to defining who they are and where they are now. I suggest that it- is this lack of historical understanding which has left them, as Coppel perCeptively. - - observed, in captivity of their own situation and their oWn history — a 'captiVity which is easily experienced in terms of victimhood. Or to put it differently, precisely. ‘ because there does not seem to be an effective story through which Chinese Indonesians can make sense of themselves as a people with a particular, complex history, a clearheaded and honest story about why and how it is that they are deemed such a persistent “problem,” a paralyzing sense of being eternally victimized can emerge. ._ . I hasten to add that my own interest here is not that of the scholarly historian or the political activist. The history I am trying to recapture and re-present hereis to a significant extent a personal one: I was born into a Chinese Indonesian - family in the 19505 and lived in Indonesia until 1966. My parents deCidedtolget out of Indonesia precisely to escape the bad situation they were in: the harassment, the insecurity, the appalling social discrimination —— something I experienced _ , myself as a young child there. My personal family history has longbeenl-assource _' of bewilderment and anguish, deepened by a total inability to comprehend why) it was that we, an ordinary family living an ordinary life, were the object'of'such hostility. A profound sense of unjust victimization was thus a commode-motion} '_ Trapped in Ambivalence among people of my family background — a victimization for which there was apparently no clear, livable explanation, no story to tell except thrOugh the discourse ofvictimhood itself. The result is an intenselyconfused sense of identity, ' I a crippling sense of living in a perpetual impasse without knowing why. One - reason for me to write this essay, then, is to contribute to a softening of this quite- -'debilitating feeling of stalemate cenfusion. ' ' I would think that the suasion of this discourse of‘victir'nhood would be particularly strong amongst diasporic Indonesian Chinese {such as my family), fOr whom Indonesia is no longer a real place to. live in but an abstrad symbolic space associated with a traumatic past. Under such conditions, memories of hurt, frustration, and discrimination could easily become decontextualized and) obj-ectified in terms of overall and eternal victimization. Holding on to a singular victim identity would be much more difficult for those Chinese Indonesians who continue to live in Indonesia tothis day, as they are faced. with the challenge to negotiate the. full complexity of social life within Indonesia, in which they would " not survive if they were to see themselves merely as ultimately passive “victims.” " Still, that feelings of disempowerment are quite widespread among many Chinese in Indonesia in the 199.05 is amply suggested by research on their lived identities, for eXample by Mely Tan, who has reported on the general frustration and confusion among many about "feeling Indonesian, but being ofChinese origin” (the “but” connotes the strongly felt incommensurability here), of never feeling-entirely accepted, of always having to be on the alert.“ . l ' Recent developments in Indonesia suggest clearly that by the late 1990s, the basic paradigm of antagonism between "Chinese" and “Indonesian” has not. changed much since Wang’s observations aboutthe period after 1945 and the publication of Coppel’s book in 1983. When the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia in 1997, news reports abounded about angry mobs who scapegoated ' the ethnic Chinese for the hardship of the populace in the 'wake of the crisis. In _‘early 1998, the world was informed about riots that broke out in many towns and villages across the country, always targeting Chinese-owned shops and businesses. .This culminated in a major, three-day rampage in the streets of Jakarta in May, during which, reportedly, about 1,200 people were killed.‘2 Many Chinese—owned ishops and businesses were looted and burned and, as became evident later, dozens of Chinese women were gang raped.13 “It is not surprising that these traumatic events have rekindled memories and wTRACES:2 TRACES:2-—12_T lie-n. 'Aiig 7 discourses of victimhood amongst people of Chinese descent inside and outside ' of Indonesia. i remember the chaos and distress sweeping across Indonesia after the violent failed coup of October “I 965, when at least half a million peo'pleiwere killed in riots and mass attacks on communists and people who were Otherwise targeted as culprits, many of whom were Chinese.” I was still living in Indonesia then, experiencing the event as a young girl, and I remember vividly how'anxious and fearful my parents were. During the I 998 eruption of mass violence, memories _ . of the earlier event circulated frantically. In diaspora in the Netherlands now, where my parents had decided to seek refuge after 1965, there was a bitter sense of being victimized yet again as a people, if not personally (for we were "lucky" not to live in Indonesia anymore).15 Indeed, as i have already remarked, the diasporic condition seems actually to intensify the feeling of victimhood,_;an__d I with it the hatred of the Indonesians who were inflicting it on “us.” Beingfa'way n I - from the scene ofvioience, fear, and trauma allows diasporans to absblutizétheir': abstract {if very heartfelt} sense of victimhood. in I998, such long-distance diasporic concern was massively amplifiedxbyj ‘ the expansive workings of the Internet."5 Here, however, the com mondenomin'ator' for the diasporic community is no longer a nationally specifi'cffChin'ese: Indonesi'anness,” but a presumably borderless, transnational “Ch’inesenessf”. Chinese diaspora websites such as Huaren (wwwhuaren.org),l7 for example, which has its base in California and was established in direct responseii‘o‘thé I crisis in Indonesia, quickly produced a dramatic outpouring of global Chinese solidarity with the brethren in IndOnesia.18 During the days of most furious rioting 7' in May the Huaren bulletin board functioned as a virtual space for calls-for help, _‘ rumors about new riots, eyewitness accounts, stories of pain and suffering, tips". on how to defend oneself, encouragements to fight back or advice on how _ where to flee, calls for all huaren (ethnic Chinese) in the world to protest and f' express solidarity, and rising anger about the pribumi {indigenous Indonesians)'."- " In the midst of the fear, despair, and anger, imaginary strategies to deal with the. whole situation were thrown up which signaled a desire to solve the problem once and for all. Some suggested organizing the exodus of all ethnic Chinese out of Indonesia to whatever country would be prepared to take them in. Others proposed the creation of a separate state for Indonesian Chinese, to create another “Singapore.” Some cast their hope-on China to become the strongest nation in the world. Still others wanted to see Indonesia completely bankrupt’rf'lnisuch' _ I I E—v—TRACES :2 1 Trapped in Ambivalence imagined futures, any c0nnection with “Indonesia/f and the possibility of living together with non—Chinese lndonesians, was given up. Even more moderate voices, those who still allowed some discursive space for the prospect of coexistence, tended to reproduce and feed on the dichotomy: To those responsible pribumi and indonesian politicians and.pribumi business people, you can not afford to sit and Wait for the current atrocities against Chinese to blow over and expect Chinese will-'fdfget about it. This time you are wrong. ...The-|ack of positive and responsibleactions in Indonesia despite continual urging and cry for help from the‘victims will only make the global Chinese communities more angry and united to intensify the campaign,19 ‘ t ' ‘ _' In the consternation and confusion expressed within the electronic diasporic 7 community, a history of the present was being written that relegated'lndonesia and the so-calied pribumi irrevocably to the realm of the Bad Other against which the Good Chinese Self has to defend itself — a Chinese Self defined in-absolutist ' "terms of innocent victimhood, at the passive reCeiving end of aggression and 'vioience. ' I But .what does such a discourse of self-vittimiZation achieve, apart from providing some therapeutic comfort to desperate, hurting souls? it is clear that , retreating into such a pure and untainted victim identity will not clarify or solve anything. On the contrary, for most Chinese Indonesians there is no‘other future than in Indonesia itself! In this essay I wish to take a step back and develop a - story that moves beyond the mutually exclusive binary of good and .bad, and beyond the fantasmatic recourse into "final solutions.” Instead, ! think it is 7 important to come to terms with the notion that we are, in a fundamentally irrevocable way, trapped in ambivalence. in this, I am guided-by Zygmunt Bauman’s ”postmodern wisdom” that “there are problems inhuman and social life with no good solutions, twisted trajectories that can ndt be straightened up, moral agonies which no reason—dictated recipes can soothe, let alone cure_."2° It is this more sobering, if ultimately saner, perspective on history that I wish to mobilize in the rest of this essay. My aim, to emphasize once more, is thus not to provide a more "objective" or “accurate” understanding of Chinese Indonesian history (I will borrow mainly from existing scholarly knowledge produced by specialist professional historians), but to revisit and re-present that history so as ,to help us to work through its complexities and ironies, its ambivalences, in more . (self-)critical and self-reflexive, and therefore more empowering ways.21 'TRACES : 2% 1- i ; a Postcolonial Nationalism and Its Discontents The-Chinese Indonesian sense of victim hood is generally rooted in their precarious experience of political and cultural marginalization within the IndoneSIan nation. Indeed, modern Indonesian nationalism has never managed to accommodate " successfully the presence of a Chinese minority in its 'constructionof airiational I i'maglned community.22 While the indonesian nation was from its inception imagined as a multiethnic entity — something which was necessary touriify- the: -. hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groupings making up the archipelago whose spatial boundaries were determi...
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