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Freedom for Ethnic Chinese To Dance Returns (Indonesia)

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo from the February 04, 2003 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0204/p07s02-woap.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2003
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      from the February 04, 2003 edition -
      or ethnic Chinese, the freedom to dance returns
      For the first time in 32 years, the Chinese Lunar New Year
      is a legal holiday in Indonesia.
      By Dan Murphy

      Chinese culture is exhausting Ronald Sjarif.

      On Friday night, the eve of the Lunar New Year, he and his
      teenage troop of lion dancers performed in seven locations
      in 10 hours. Saturday, they crammed in 12 performances and
      Sunday they had three more, including two live appearances
      on Indonesian TV.

      But he's not complaining. For 32 years, Mr. Sjarif an ethnic
      Chinese Indonesian, couldn't publicly perform - or even see
      a public exhibition in Jakarta of the barongsai, an
      acrobatic, bounding Chinese dance.

      But Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri made this
      Imlek, as the new year celebration is called in the Hokkien
      dialect spoken by most of Indonesia's Chinese settlers, the
      first in Indonesian history to be a public holiday. As a
      result, Jakarta is now swept by New Year's mania, with the
      city's glitzy shopping malls vying with each other for the
      most lavish red and gold displays, dragon dances, and
      holiday discounts.

      Megawati's decision is the high water mark for a Chinese
      cultural renaissance that began with the fall of the
      Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1998, and one of the clear
      signs that Indonesia's democratic era, despite its growing
      pains, is bringing more freedom to its citizens.

      "I still have trouble believing this is happening, that we
      can honor our culture this way again," says Sjarif, whose
      Kong Ha Hong Foundation is reviving long-dormant Chinese
      traditions here like the flamboyant lion and dragon dances
      and the use of mandarin. "I'm just so grateful that the
      government has changed."

      Discrimination against Indonesia's ethnic Chinese - who
      number about 10 million of the country's 220 million
      population - dates at least to the 17th century, when the
      Dutch ruled much of modern-day Indonesia. After anti-Chinese
      riots in 1740, most of Jakarta's Chinese were forced by
      decree to live in the city's Glodok neighborhood, which
      remains the center of Chinese culture today.

      When the former General Suharto came to power in 1965 at the
      head of a virulently anticommunist counter coup, all ethnic
      Chinese were seen as likely communist sympathizers and
      potential enemies of the state. Suharto's government passed
      laws banning Chinese newspapers and books, Mandarin-language
      schooling, and the use of Chinese names in official

      But as the dictator's grip on power grew, he also allowed
      the Chinese to flourish economically, giving a select few
      monopolies on basic commodities such as wheat and cement in
      exchange for bankrolling his political machine. That
      economic strength, in turn, increased resentment felt by the
      country's largely poor ethnic-Malay communities.

      "For us it was pretty clear: Business yes. Politics and just
      about everything else, no," says Herman Suryanto, a 60-year
      old rice trader and part-time caretaker of the Hian Thian
      Siang Tae Bio temple, which is one of Jakarta's oldest
      Confucian Buddhist temples.

      Sjarif remembers what it was like to live with severe
      government surveillance. He was a good barongsai dancer in
      his youth and was part of a small group of community leaders
      who tried to keep the tradition alive even in the darkest
      years of the Suharto regime. He recalls secret practice
      sessions in warehouses around Jakarta during the 1970s.

      "This was quite simply against the law, and if we danced in
      public, we could have gotten in a lot of trouble."

      Since 1998, barongsai teachers have visited from overseas
      and Mr. Sjarif's dancers have traveled to Taiwan for
      competitions. He's happy with the progress, but notes that
      most of the anti-Chinese regulations, though ignored, remain
      on the books. "The government now has to make sure that all
      of its citizens have the same rights and responsibilities,"
      he says. "That's going to make this a more prosperous and
      peaceful country in the long run."

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      All my fiction through 2001 and more. Intro by S.T. Joshi.

      Lord We├┐rdgliffe and Necronomicon Page:
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
      thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
      written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
      --Clark Ashton Smith
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