Since the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order regime in May 1998, the oppressive policy of Indonesian government against the ethnic Chinese has changed substantially, though gradually. In this emancipative atmosphere, some of the ethnic Chinese have been trying to dig up histories of those Chinese who contributed to the “Nation-building” of Indonesia. In so doing, they have aimed to recover their once suppressed Chineseness and to claim their proper share in this country.
Among these movements of establishing “the history of Chinese Indonesian”, this paper will focus on the case of the glorification process of certain local heroes, Tan Oei Djie Sian Seng. These two historical figures, whose surnames were Tan and Oei respectively, have long been known to the people of Rembang, the northern coastal area of Central Java, as the leaders of the mid-18th-century massive rebellion in which Chinese and Javanese fought against the VOC (Dutch East India Company), and have long been worshiped in a few Chinese temples in the area. Recently, these two local Chinese heroes suddenly came into the spotlight after the “re-discovery” of certain historical material relating to them, and some Chinese organizations in Jakarta even went so far as to make an attempt, which failed, to nominate them as candidates for “Pahlawan Nasional” (National Hero).
In this paper, I will follow in detail the historialization process of Tan Oei Djie Sian Seng, showing why these paired heroes of Chinese origin were regarded as the representatives of all the Chinese Indonesians. I will also explore how this attempt by Chinese-Indonesian leaders to promote Chineseness failed in the end to convince the local Chinese community; I will indicate that the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia are still in process of establishing their own identities.