Indonesian Chinese in the Netherlands: a connection of cultures

By Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Street view of a Chinese district (1910/1930) by unknownOriginal Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Chinese migration 

Since centuries, Chinese traders from the southern provinces in China migrated to the Indonesian archipelago. Part of them married local women, started a family and never went back. Descendants of these mixed marriages are called Peranakan Chinese, a term derived from the word anak, Malay for child. A subculture emerged in which Chinese traditions blended with those from the Indonesian archipelago.

Ceramic head from the Majapahit era, 1500/1599, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Sarong in Laseman style, 1800/1883, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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VOC Silver plate, 1700/1725, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Silver case, probably for tobacco (1900/1950)Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Connecting cultures

Through the import of goods, the ongoing immigration from China, and marriages of Chinese men with Indonesian women, both traditions interacted. Chinese craftsmen, such as gold- and silversmiths, carpenters and lacquer workers, introduced new techniques and motives in Indonesian applied arts.

Set for betel ingredients (1900/1930)Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

In addition, the custom of betel chewing, common throughout Indonesia, was often adopted by Peranakan Chinese. Betel sets, with several containers for the ingredients of the betel quid, were Indonesian in form, but were decorated with Chinese motifs. The same applies for gold and silver jewellery.

Silver betel leaf holder, 1900/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Kebaya with embroidered border (1895/1905)Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Peranakan Chinese more often spoke the tongue of their new homeland. On Java, Peranakan women wore sarung and kebaya, decorated with a combination of Chinese embroidery and Javanese batik patterns. Bright colors and motifs such as butterflies and chrysanthemums were inspired by Chinese traditions.

Blouse, 1895/1905, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Set of kebaya brooches, 1900/1925, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Portrait of a Peranakan-Chinese mother and child, Hendrik Veen (1823 - 1905), 1870/1870, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Pair of gold pendants in the form of a carp, 1900/1925, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Hip cloth in Peranakan Chinese style, 1860/1860, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Batik hip cloth 'pagi sore', Oey Soe Tjoen, 1930/1950, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Tiger-claw belt, 1900/1942, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Silver buckle, 1875/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Pair of beaded slippers, 1870/1936, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Pillow decoration (1800/1950)Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Between 1860 and 1925, a mass migration from China took place. In this period, mainly contract workers found their ways to Indonesia. From the beginning of the 19th century, Chinese women were allowed to migrate, which made the number of mixed marriages decrease. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the upper class of the Chinese population in Indonesia started to adopt the way of life of the urban elite in the Netherlands East Indies. Their children received a Dutch education, and, if possible, were sent to university in The Netherlands.  After the Indonesian independence and after the fall of president Soekarno in 1966 some of the Chinese migrated to The Netherlands, to start a new life.

Chinese bride and groom in traditional costume in Salatiga, Central Java (1918/1918) by unknownOriginal Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Marriage

A wedding ceremony was in the traditional Chinese Indonesian community considered to be one of the most important rituals in human life.  It guaranteed the continuation of the family name and offspring, taking care of the ancestral altar. One was supposed to marry within one’s own social class.

Replica of lacquered wooden candles, 1800/1900, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Mantle of a bridal costume (1895/1905)Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Kan family treasures

This bridal
costume was worn by Han Tek Nio at her wedding in 1901. Her grandson, Mr. S.Y. Kan, donated the costume together with a variety of Peranakan items to the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. It was the centrepiece of an exhibition in Museum Volkenkunde Leiden, in 2015-2016. See also the family website http://www.kanhantan.nl/index.html

Collar of a bridal costume, 1895/1905, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Boots, part? of a bridal costume, 1895/1905, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Mandarin surcoat and collar, 1900/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Chinese Indonesian bride and groom in traditional Chinese costume, unknown, 1900/1900, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Chinese bride and groom in European costume (1924/1932) by unknownOriginal Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Until around 1920 most couples would choose a traditional Chinese wedding costume, resembling the official wardrobe of the Chinese imperial court, to get married. This was in line with the Indonesian tradition of considering the wedding couple king and queen for one day (raja sehari). After 1919 Chinese marriages in the Netherlands Indies had to comply with Dutch law. It became more common to marry in a white wedding dress and a European suit.

Altar cloth, 1945/1955, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Offering stand, 1900/1954, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Altar with anker in the Sam Po Kong temple, dedicated to Admiral Zheng He, unknown, 1940/1945, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Xylophone, part of a gambang kromong orchestra, 1870/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Fiddle, part of a gambang kromong orchestra, 1870/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Gong chimes, part of a gambang kromong orchestra, 1870/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Frame drum, part of a gambang kromong orchestra, 1870/1930, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Bridal bed of a Chinese couple in Salatiga, Central Java (1918/1918) by unknownOriginal Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Until the 20th century, marriages were arranged within the Peranakan community. Parents would look in their social network for a suitable marriage candidate for their son or daughter, or they would call upon a matchmaker. Later on one would choose their own partner, although one would ask approval from the parents / after the parents granted their approval.

When both families agreed on the marriage, the family of the boy would pay a formal visit to the family of the girl, bringing several gifts and dishes. In return, the family of the bride would give clothes amongst other things for the groom. Then the Chinese calendar would be consulted to choose an auspicious date for the wedding. 

Lotus-shaped lacquer box, 1900/1960, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Bolster plates, 1900/1950, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Cake mold, 1900/1949, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Batik baby carrier, 1915/1925, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Silver baby rattle, 1915/1915, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Impression of the exhibition 'Connecting cultures' in Museum Volkenkunde Leiden, 2015-2016, Irene de Groot, 2015/2016, Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
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Credits: Story

Compilation — Johanna Leijfeldt and Richard van Alphen
Texts — Johanna Leijfeldt
Photography: Irene de Groot.

Sources — This virtual exhibit is based on the exhibition “Connecting cultures: Chinese from Indonesia in the Netherlands” that was on display in Museum Volkenkunde in 2015-2016. Original texts by Francine Brinkgreve and Johanna Leijfeldt.

The exhibition was made possible thanks to a fund, established by Mr. Sioe Yao Kan. He also donated a considerable amount of objects from his family collection to the museum.
See also: http://wacana.ui.ac.id/index.php/wjhi/article/view/586/pdf_27

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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