China and the Shaping of Indonesia, 1949-1965

By Taylor, Jean Gelman | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, February 2013 | Go to article overview

China and the Shaping of Indonesia, 1949-1965


Taylor, Jean Gelman, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


China and the shaping of Indonesia, 1949-1965

By HONG LIU

Singapore: NUS Press, 2011. Pp. 274. Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Throughout most of President Suharto's long term in office (1966-98) the People's Republic of China was Indonesia's 'great Satan', severed from diplomatic engagement, expunged from Indonesian cultural life and public memory. Diplomatic relations resumed in 1990, and today China is the subject of public discourse in Indonesia, its economic growth admired, its status as a regional and international player acknowledged. Professor Hong Liu says the rise of China compels Indonesians to ask: How do they do it? Is China a viable model for Indonesia's own economic and political life? Does China offer a more relevant form of modernity than the West?

Historically, Hong Liu argues, there were always flows of people and ideas between China and polities in the Indonesian archipelago. When cut off by Western imperialism, Indonesians only knew China through Indonesia's own Chinese, whom they regarded with contempt as tools of colonialism, unprincipled, and having offensive personal habits. But, in Indonesia's first fifteen years as a sovereign republic, Liu documents that China again became important to Indonesians.

Between 1950 and 1965 over three hundred Indonesians prominent in politics and the arts were feted as guests of the Chinese government. They toured factories, spoke at conferences, were given audience with office holders at the highest levels. Back home they expressed their admiration for China in speeches distributed by the mass media. China's embassy in Jakarta reinforced their glowing reports through cultural events, Indonesian-language translations of Chinese political and literary documents, and radio broadcasts.

China and Indonesia were born in the same year. But, to China's Indonesian visitors, the fruits of independence seemed very different. Where Indonesia was torn by strife, its government corrupt, its economy stagnant, China appeared orderly, harmonious, its people thrifty and hardworking, its public intellectuals honoured as leaders in nation-building. Here was China pulling its millions out of poverty, creating a 'New Democracy', nationalistic, populist at home, anti-imperialist abroad. China became a metaphor in their quest for a better Indonesia.

Guided tours convey what the host wishes to be known. But how could so many Indonesians have been so naive? After all, many visited China during the Great Leap Forward and Anti-Rightists campaigns. Liu offers four explanations. First, the human weakness of vanity: visiting Indonesians were treated like princes. Sukarno found Mao's China flattered him more than did the United States and the Soviet Union. …

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