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Chinese New Year Celebration in Indonesia: A Road to a New-found Identity Posted by on Feb 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

In Indonesia, the Chinese New Year, also known as ‘Tahun Baru Imlek’ or ‘Tahun Baru Cina.’ However, interestingly, the word ‘imlek’ is originally from Hokkien language, which means ‘lunar calendar.’ Along with Chinese people around the world, Chinese in Indonesia celebrates this most important holiday, which begins on the second new moon after the winter solace, with great enthusiasm. During the celebration, it is customary to greet one another with ‘Gong Xi Fa Chai,’ translated as ‘congratulations on getting rich.’


There are banners, Chinese paper lanterns, Ang Pau envelopes, and the holiday’s signature food found in most of the malls, streets, and houses, especially in ‘Pecinan’ or Chinatown. The celebration dominated by the color of red to symbolize luck and to be believed to ward away evil. The activities during the festivities are praying at ‘kelenteng’ or ‘kuil’  (temple or shrine), and giving Ang Pau, a Chinese tradition of money gift placed in red envelope, to children, younger people, and the poor. And at midnight, children or young adults play with ‘petasan/mercon’ ‘firecrackers,’ lite the fireworks outside the house, and serve ‘Lontong Cap Go Meh,’ named from the 15th day of the last day of the Chinese New Year, known as Cap Go Meh.


Chinese New Year’s celebrated in Indonesia today. Besides the welcoming of a new lunar year, it also represents a new beginning for Chinese ethnicity in Indonesia, after decades of discrimination under Dutch colonial rule. This discrimination continued severely under Soeharto, in the New Era, after the coup orchestrated by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) on September 30, 1965, known as G30S PKI, which is believed to have been supported by the People’s Republic of China (RRC). To prevent China’s influence, the government issues anti-Chinese laws and regulations, limiting Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations and Tao worship activities and prohibiting the use of the Chinese language and writing system and the establishment of schools. However, when Indonesia’s former president, the late Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) took office, he lifted the ban on Chinese cultural and linguistic expression in Indonesia on the grounds of human rights.


Chinese-Indonesians now can freely express their ethnic identity because in 2003, a law forbidding Chinese cultural performances and the use of Chinese names was revoked, and Chinese New Year became a national holiday. Therefore, today, the young Chinese generation are on the fast track to embracing their heritage of culture, customs, and beliefs as a part of their unique identity. Even more, they are now participating in politics and civil service, which was not possible in the past. Some of them can hold a high-level job as civil servants, as a governor, and as a minister. Nowadays, they can proudly claim themselves as Chinese ‘Saya orang Tionghoa or Saya orang Cina’ and as ‘Keturunan Cina’ ‘Indonesian with Chinese descent.’


Turning points for Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese*):

  • 1999-2001: Former President Abdurrahman Wahid revoked a law forbidding Chinese cultural performances and the use of Chinese names.
  • 2004: Former President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared Chinese New Year a public holiday.
  • 2004: Marie Elka Pangestu became the first female Chinese Indonesian minister.
  • 2014: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a regulation changing the word meaning “of Chinese descent” in Indonesian (“Cina”) to “Tionghoa” and China – as a country – to “Tiongkok”. The word “Cina” has negative connotations for most Indonesians, and it is often associated with racist slurs

*)from BBC

Indonesian related terms and words:

Indonesian English
Orang Tionghoa, Orang Cina Chinese
Keturunan Cina Indonesian with Chinese descent
Tahun Baru Imlek / Tahun Baru China/Hari Raya Imlei Chinese New Year
Perayaan Celebration
Makanan Cina Chinese foods
Sembahyang Praying
Kuil or Kelenteng Temple or shrine
Shio, adopted to Indonesian from a Hokkien word “shengxiao” Chinese Zodiac: 12 animal signs
Pecinan Chinatown
Barongsai Chinese lion dance
Kembang api Fireworks
Mercon, petasan Firecracker


Selamat Tahun Baru Imlek 2566

Gong Xi Fat Cai


  • New voting power of Chinese Indonesians; BBC News Asia.
  • Chinese Indonesians; Wikipedia.

Images were taken from

1. by Benny Wijaya

2. by Trugiaz

3. by bennylin

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About the Author: asimonoff

I’m an Indonesian language instructor, instructional material developer, reading test developer, and interpreter. I have been teaching Indonesian to adult students for 15 years, and have been teaching students from many backgrounds, such as private, military and diplomatic service employees. I’m Indonesian, but am living in the US now; my exposure to different cultures in my home country and in the US has enriched my knowledge in teaching Indonesian as a second language. I approach the teaching of the Indonesian language by developing students’ critical cultural awareness and competence. This method of teaching has been proven to be a key to the success of my students. Students become conscious of the essential role culture plays in the language.