Jakarta (AsiaNews) – To mark the Year of the Ox, the new lunar year that begins today, Indonesian Post Office Company has issued a series of 4 stamps modelled on Chinese prints of an ox. Indonesia’s philatelist president Abdul Syukur, said it is a “mark of respect to its Chinese cultural heritage”. And it is no small step given that for years the Chinese community in Indonesia was violently persecuted and even in some cases forced to flee the country.
The first Chinese stamps were launched in 2007, but a strong protest arose from Chinese community as they were sceptical that these Chinese style stamps could fuel another series of hatred and violence against the Indonesian of Chinese descent. Tensions between the Chinese ethnic groups (WNI keturunan) and local Indonesians (pribumi) are common because of the economic difference between the two. The majority of Chinese are wealthy; the locals meanwhile are relatively poor.
This is why the Chinese population often became the scapegoat for peoples frustrations. In May 1998, there were revolts, the sacking of shops, homes and even murders born of the jealousy and hate of Indonesians towards the Chinese ethnic group. The violence spread: thousands of Chinese were killed, others barricaded into their homes and stoned; many Chinese women were raped and humiliated in public. Many Chinese family groups decided to flee abroad, while those who remained formed a political group to defend their rights.
Similar episodes and that lasted a far longer period took place in the ‘60’s under the presidency of Suharto (1967 – 1998), the dictator who expropriated the property and rights of Chinese Indonesians and who banned the celebration of the New Lunar Year. Only following his fall, under the leadership of the moderate Muslim Abdurrahman Wahid, was the New Year declared a national holiday, called Imlek. Since then the life of the Chinese communities has greatly improved, so much so that native Indonesians now embrace the celebration and flock to Chinese temples for blessings and to make offerings in Jakarta, Bogor, Lampung, and Cirebon. In the Glodok quarter of the capital, the oldest Chinese e temple in all of Indonesia dedicated to the Buddhist divinity Guanyin (the Buddha of mercy) is found dating back to 1630. To mark the feast of Imlek tens of thousands have visited this shrine in recent days.