Strangers who are not Foreign
[Chinese] are not voyagers from abroad landed on our shores. They have been here as long as our own ancestors. They are, in fact, Indonesians, who live and die in Indonesia also, but because of a certain political veiling, suddenly become strangers who are not foreign.
– Pramoedya Ananta Toer, March 1960
During 1959-60, Pramoedya Ananta Toer wrote a series of intimate letters published weekly in Bintang Minggu addressed to Ch. Hs-Y in P, later known to be the initials of Chen Xiaru, his female correspondent from China. Published in a time of heightened anti-Chinese politics, the letters were written to counter the signing of the Presidential Regulation no. 10 which forced all Chinese retail traders in village areas to close down their businesses by January 1st 1960. Although the letters were reprinted several times in other newspapers and reached a large Indonesian readership, the book compiling these letters published soon after in 1960 under the title Hoakiau di Indonesia (“The Chinese in Indonesia”)proved to be very controversial. It was ultimately banned by the state and Pramoedya was imprisoned for the first time on Indonesian soil. What concerned Pramoedya at the time was the growing attacks on Chinese by the army and state apparatus, as well as a repressive bureaucratic language emerging after the second half of the 1950s.
A year before the letters were published, rumors about the implementation of PP10 were already circulating among Chinese communities in both rural and urban areas, creating panic and an overall sense of distrust over the future promised by the new modern nation. Although the regulation was targeted at Chinese-Indonesians from the rural areas, many families from the cities took refuge in nearby countries to save their family, businesses, and integrity. The Lie family from Semarang is known to have followed suit by applying for immigration visas to Brazil which were accepted by the end of the year 1958. The rumors and the potential implications of this regulation might have been the final straw in this family’s accumulated distrust over the gloomy prospects to imagine a safe future in their hometown. By the beginning of 1959, before PP10 was signed, the Lie family arrived in Brazil to start anew, leaving everything behind: their successful bookstore and business, relatives, and home.
To search for the answers related to why an Indonesian family with an established enterprise like the Lie’s unexpectedly decided to pack their bags and head towards the Americas is a quest of speculation. Our role is not to take history accounts for granted nor to place this family story as one essentially marginalized or discriminated because of their inherited affiliation to an ethnic group, but to assemble the external and internal circumstances at hand as a way to reflect on how their subjectivities have been shaped by the power structures of the time. The external factors are the social, political, and cultural contexts which have shaped their social identities, and the internal factors between the inherited (family, education, opportunities, etc.) and the ways in which these were negotiated within the existing social structures.
For Pramoedya, it was the rising language of official nationalism that has estranged the Chinese in Indonesia, arguing that they were “made” by political, cultural, and economic means with the state constructing a neat definition which was then used in anti-Chinese actions. Building on the idea that the state was “making” the Chinese (and in fact Indonesians too!), I propose to look at this process as one spanning over centuries, a top-down choreography that ultimately shaped Chinese-Indonesians as hyphenated and precarious entities, never fixed but in a constant state of in-between-ess and simultaneity—of in-between or simultaneous origins, nationalities, social and ethnic groups. The hyphenation is also a way to reflect on their fluid social positions within the social structures and fluid identities (with further suffixes like inter-, trans-, or non-) determined by their complex and particular backgrounds. While the English attribution of Chinese-Indonesians is a blunt representation of that hyphenation, the Indonesian term, Tionghoa, embodies it. These choreographies have directed them into taking certain social, political, and economic positions that were simultaneously advantageous and detrimental, dictated by the reinforced uncertainties.
The life conditions of Chinese in Indonesia have been unquestionably problematic for the entire period of their presence in this territory, beginning with the Dutch colonial occupation until long after independence. Under the Dutch East Indies government which segregated its ‘subjects’ by racial and class divisions, the Chinese population was situated in the middle, under the Foreign Eastern group (along with Arabs and Indians). Their legal position under colonial law was ambiguous as they had both economic privileges like the Europeans, and hindered in matters of law like the indigenous people of the lowest class. In the economic spheres, their in-between position was particularly accentuated by their forced placement by the Dutch as middlemen between the two opposing social groups, and many found vacancies in the business sectors as wholesalers between the two. As a result, they mainly emerged as an economically stable middle-class post-independence, under a new racial gaze from the indigenous population influenced by accumulated distrust and prejudice over their loyalty to the independence dream.
This hyphenated “inherited” condition was complicated after 1945 by inconsistent views and regulations on nationality, citizenship, assimilation, and partisanship which were often reduced to a yes-or-no answer of choosing between the Indonesian or the Chinese side to “fix” their hyphenation (or to “counter” discriminatory views) and to be a proof of their loyalty. Their status in the new nation was immediately addressed by the state with anti-Chinese policies backed by the national and nationalist homogeneity ideal. The timeline in this volume, Records of Estrangement, offers a chronological view of the governmental regulations targeted at Chinese-Indonesians from the period of Liberal Democracy towards the beginning of Guided Democracy, particularly concerned with changes in economic and legal rights for alien Chinese and the nationality act bills which in reality affected all Chinese-Indonesians. Due to the institutionalization of official nationalism referred to as pribumisasi or indonesianisasi to push the birth of an independent national economy (read: native Indonesian economy), Chinese were gradually excluded from holding rights on large-scale industries and export-import licenses, among many other legal hindrances. As a result of the economic and legal encroachments, many Chinese-Indonesians living in the city after the 1950s, turned to small scale industrial enterprises, among which was the printing industry.
LIONG: Lie and Ong
There is a backdrop of a choreography of events which have directed many Chinese-Indonesians into taking certain economic and social roles, a choreography which ultimately produced popular stereotypical opinions, mainly pejorative, about this ethnic minority seen as an exclusive homogeneous group. From this perspective, we could perhaps understand some of the underlying contexts that might have led the Lie family to cater for a business in publishing comics alongside selling imported books, as well as their decision later on to leave the country. In addition to their hyphenated condition shaped by the power structures of the time and which placed them as the Other, we need to look at the ways in which they navigated their given identity and agencies within the existing social dynamics.
There are many unknowns in the story of how the Lie family managed their bookstore and publishing house, such as whether they owned an import license or if they cooperated with native Indonesians. From the stories of the Lie’s children — whose oldest daughter was 12 years old at the time of migration — passed down to Daniel Lie during their adulthood, we assemble the facts and the might-have-beens of the family’s identity and contributions through Toko Buku Liong as a creative power house (which will be discussed in the following volume). The decades between the 2nd and 21st of January is an interview taken by Daniel Lie in 2017 with their aunt Yani, the oldest daughter of Lie and Ong, an intimate conversation about the distant memories of a past life in Indonesia.
From these stories and our research, we now know that Toko Buku Liong began its activity shortly after independence in the central square of Semarang, on the corner of Purwodinatan street, nr. 27 (now Letjen Suprapto), in front of Blenduk Church. Liong is the Indonesian translation for the Dragon’s Dance, and here is a hybridization of the names Lie and Ong, the husband Lie Djoen Liem and wife Ong King Nio. Apart from selling books, the book store also provided requisites for school (supplies, books, backpacks), records, toys, stamps collection, Hollywood postcards, costume jewelry, and independent publications like comic books. The books imported were mainly Dutch, while the rest of the publications were either written in English or Indonesian. They did not sell books in Chinese, although at the time, Chinese language was still taught at THHK (Tiong Hoa Hwe Koan), the Chinese School in Indonesia until 1957, when they were banned and closed. The shop had six employees and delivered their books through the post office, and also by Lie Djoen Liem himself in his many travels across Java, and possibly to other islands. The small publications and comics they printed at Toko Buku Liong were a mixture of styles, methods of production, genres, and collective authorships, and had diverse cultural influences from the US comics, Chinese folktales, to local Javanese characters.
Lie Djoen Lim was born in the small town Kudus in 1916 and moved to Semarang together with his family probably in his teens. He met his wife on a train trip from Jakarta to Semarang during the Second World War, and both their parents agreed to their marriage. In 1947 their first daughter was born, and until 1958, Ong King Nio gave birth to seven more children. From around 1945 to 1950, before Toko Buku Liong opened, they ran a book stall for lending books, a business similar to the one taken by Djoen Liem’s father, who helped them run the store until their migration. They both spoke Dutch, most probably having been educated during the colonial occupation at HCS (Dutch-Chinese School) and/or MULO (More Advanced Low Education) for middle school, but used Javanese and Indonesian at home, and mastered written Bahasa Indonesia as we see in the many comic publications they both authored. Both of their parents were born in Java during the Dutch occupation and Lie Djoen Liem’s grandparents were the first generation of overseas Chinese, yet Chinese language was not passed down to them, so they could not speak nor understand it well. They named their children using Chinese names, but each were given a Dutch nickname which they carried throughout their lives.
Ong King Nio was instrumental in running the shop, managing finance, running errands, and taking care of the large family, all while also writing and producing small publications on fashion and food which she signed under the name Eleonora. She was an admirer of Hollywood fashion, liked to be in tune with the latest news from the US, and both her and her husband’s attire was an indicator of their preference for Western culture. Everyday before closing the store, they played the record Jambalaya (On the Bayou) by the US singer Brenda Lee. Their Dutch education was also instrumental in the city of Semarang, where business was mainly run by the Dutch, as a major port and settlement during the colonial occupation and after independence.
The intimate and the affective
Returning to Pramoedya’s “strangers who are not foreign”, his letters to his intimate female correspondent from China signify how an intimate act of co-union between two people can be a gesture that reclaims the national unity between Chinese and Indonesians, whereby any attempt to estrange one from the other is an injurious act to the national identity itself. This becomes particularly important in our retrospective study of the Lie family, not only in relation to the conflicting state of affairs brought about by national politics, but also as proof of the power of our intimate relationships to question and address national history and politics. Our personal solidarities, emotions, and memories can also be identified with public ones.
In our quest to situate the biographical fragments of Daniel Lie’s grandparents — the strangers they never got a chance to truly meet, listen to, or know intimately — we also encounter strangers who are not foreign. They have been present throughout their life in Brazil and here in Indonesia with distant memories which are now recuperated in an effort to understand the complexities prior to their migration to yet another foreign land. Ong King Nio passed away four years before Daniel’s birth and narratives of her life in Indonesia and Brazil started to unfold in new directions, related to her role in the family and as a producer at Toko Buku Liong. In their reflective essay Walk along ONG, Daniel Lie imagines revisiting Indonesia together with Ong King Nio after 60 years since the family migration, now a reversed movement of arriving to the place they left, pointing to the infinite circularity of being a “forever stranger”. As such, the strangers here take a dual dimension, one that reflects their identity as Chinese-Indonesians, and the inter-generational family relations which both speak about how personal reflections and intimacy are placed as alternatives to reading and writing history.
While studying the archival materials of the Lie family, we encountered both an affective and critical practice in the construction of memory. There are intimate relations inherent in finding, remembering (and imagining), as well as in the creation of an archive. Yet what are the possibilities for archiving emotions or feelings? And more importantly, can these affective archives produce knowledge and meaning as alternatives or substitute forms to writing the history of marginalized groups? How can we identify, as in Pramoedya’s letters, intimate relations with the official accounts of history?
 English translation taken from Sumit K. Mandal, ‘Strangers who are Not Foreign’ Pramoedya’s Disturbing Language on the Chinese of Indonesia in Pramoedya Ananta Toer, The Chinese in Indonesia, an English translation of HOAKIAU DI INDONESIA first published in 1960, Select Publishing, Singapore, 2008.
 Interview Jongkie Tio, Semarang January 2020. Jongkie Tio is a famous storyteller and restaurant owner in Semarang. He has witnessed the active years of Toko Buku Liong during the 1950s. He is the main source to state that the Lie family migrated to Brazil because of a misunderstanding of PP10.
 By using this language, they were estranged from the “nation” (as bangsa) and the “national” (as being exclusively “native” Indonesian, non-foreign or having foreign “character”) for which Pramoedya proposed the term nasion to reflect an inclusive and plural concept of a nation. He challenged these constructed definitions by choosing the term Hoakiau instead of Tionghoa or Cina, arguing that their strangeness cannot be so neatly defined and that they are actually partly contained within “us”, the Indonesians.
 Leo Suryadinata, “Negara dan Minoritas Tionghoa di Indonesia”, in WACANA, Vol.1, No.2, October 1999.
 The term “indonesianisasi” was coined by the US political scientist John Sutter in his PhD dissertation defendence at the University of Cornell in 1959.
 Herbert Feith, The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia, Equinox Publishing, Singapore, 2007 .