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Siauw Giok Tjhan

Bicultural Leader in Emerging Indonesia

By Siauw Tion-Djin


Siauw Giok Tjhan (1914-1981) was one of the most influential Chinese Indonesian political leaders active in the early decades following Indonesia’s independence from1945 to 1965.  His participation in politics at this time set him apart from the majority of Chinese who were regarded as non-political and business-minded. When Indonesian independence was declared in 1945, Siauw was appointed a member of the new Republic’s legislative and executive bodies. He remained a high profile member of parliament until the end of 1965. A leader and co-founder of Baperki (the Consultative Body of Indonesian Citizenship), the largest organisation of Chinese Indonesians, from 1954 to 1965, he had widespread support from both peranakan and totok Chinese.

When the balance of power tilted to the right after October 1965, Baperki was attacked and banned. Siauw and many other Baperki leaders were arrested and interned without trial for twelve years. It was not until after the fall of President Soeharto in 1998 that his place in modern Indonesian history could be properly recognised. He made important contributions in relation to an inclusive Indonesian citizenship, propagated a solution to the ‘minority problem’ which he defined as the integration approach, better known today as multiculturalism, and proposed that the Chinese be accepted as one of the ‘sukus’ or ethnic groups of Indonesian nation.

About the Editor

Siauw Tiong-Djin is the son of Siauw Giok Tjhan. He was nine years old when his father was arrested by General Soeharto in November 1965. Like millions of other children in Indonesia whose parents were purged during the New Order period (1965 to 1998), Tiong-Djin grew up with a stigma that his father was involved in treasonous acts. Between 1969 and 1973, while his father was in detention awaiting trial, Tiong-Djin visited him frequently where they had long discussions about his father’s political journey and political aspirations. This inspired Tiong-Djin to rehabilitate his father’s name. He completed his engineering degrees in Melbourne and while working as an engineer Tiong-Djin embarked completed his PhD in the political science program at Monash University.

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