Competition, Patriotism and Collaboration: The Chinese Businessmen of Yogyakarta between the 1930s and 1945

Article excerpt

Yogyakarta's Chinese community in the 1930s

Yogyakarta is a Sultanate located in the interior of south-central Java, founded in 1755. By the early twentieth century it had become a densely populated area with a substantial low-income population. In 1930, Yogyakarta city had a population of 136,649, and the population density was the highest in the Dutch East Indies, with 6,491 people per square kilometre. (1) The population consisted of various races, categorised by the Dutch as Indigenous (Javanese and others), Europeans (a category that included the Japanese), and Foreign Orientals (Chinese, Arabs and Indians). The breakdown is shown in Table 1.

About 70 per cent of the Chinese lived in the urban area of Yogyakarta City (the capital), in part because a Dutch zoning system (wijkenstelsel) dating from 1835 barred them from staying outside of the Chinese quarters in the city, but also because more facilities were available there. After the Dutch abolished the zoning system in 1919, there was an outflow of Chinese to Yogyakarta's rural areas, (2) but the present discussion will focus on the urban Chinese.

The Chinese community was heterogeneous, with various sub-groups based on speech group and area of origin. The Hokkien formed the largest group, as was true elsewhere in Indonesia, with Kwongfu (Cantonese) and Hakka in the second and third positions respectively (see Table 2).

Culturally this community was divided into two groups, the peranakan and totok. There is not complete agreement on the use of these terms, but conventionally a peranakan is defined as a Chinese with a local cultural orientation, and is typically a person born of mixed marriage between a Chinese father and indigenous mother. The totok were oriented towards Chinese culture, and were mostly first-generation settlers. Whether a Chinese was considered a peranakan depended on the degree to which the parents maintained Chinese culture in the family, although business culture was also an important criterion in determining whether a person was considered totok or peranakan. Some locally born Chinese were identified as totok, and they tended to join China-born totok in economic undertakings. The two groups generally despised each other, and each had pejorative descriptions of the other as well as engrained prejudices.

According to the 1930 population census (the only reliable census), 6,987 (78.7 per cent) of Chinese living in Yogyakarta were born in the Indies, and the community was heavily peranakan. Japanese aggression against China in 1937 caused an influx of immigrants, some of whom brought along their families. (3) During the 1930s, the Dutch authorities approved applications by 466 heads of families from mainland China wanting to live in Yogyakarta, and their arrival raised the proportion of totok Chinese in the city.

The Chinese population of Yogyakarta mostly earned a living from trade and industry, as can be seen from data collected for the 1930 census (Table 3). A 1934 Dutch government report elaborated on this information, stating that the Chinese were involved in several different kinds of trade: (i) kleinhandel, or small trade at the traditional market or warung (stalls); (ii) marskramershandel, or trade by itinerant peddlers who mostly moved about by bicycle; (iii) groothandel, large-scale trade, particularly in agricultural products; (iv) tusschenhandel, intermediate trade handling various commodities, but mostly involving agricultural products and animal husbandry; and (v) middenstandhandel, or middle-class trade, a broad category covering trade in large warung, big and small shops and handicrafts - especially batik.4 Few Chinese worked for the Dutch government owing to the existence of many discriminatory regulations that kept them out of administrative work.

There was a division with respect to occupation between the Chinese born in the Indies and those born elsewhere. …