Rowman and Littlefield International

Visual Cultures of the Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia

By Abidin Kusno

5 Reviews

Explores how the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia construct themselves through material reproduction.

Hardback ISBN: 9781783487561 Release date: Oct 2016
£102.00 €119.00 $133.00
Paperback ISBN: 9781783487578 Release date: Oct 2016
£35.00 €41.95 $45.00
Ebook ISBN: 9781783487585 Release date: Oct 2016
£29.95 €41.95 $42.50

Pages: 218


Visual Cultures of the Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia explores how visual representations shaped and were shaped by how the ethnic Chinese confronted the period of economic dislocation and radical social change during Dutch colonialism and the nationalist struggles in the decolonized Indonesia (including the post-1965 and 1998 social environments). How did the ethnic Chinese communities (re)present themselves to both their domestic and outside world under the changing regimes of representation? How did they visualize, symbolically, their place in Indonesian society? How did the visual shape the “ambiguities” of the Chinese, the perception of the “economic” identity, and the forgetting of their involvement in politics, cultures and histories of the nation? More broadly, how did the visual address the interconnectedness of domestic life, the urban cultural milieu, and ideologies of the state and the ruling class?

The book is a response to two paradoxical socio-political phenomena whose convergence is shaping the experience and conceptualization of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. On the one hand, the economic, technological and cultural forces of colonialism and globalization have created conditions for the formation of ethnic Chinese capital(ists), while on the other, the state generated identity and identification constituted the discourses of othering the ethnic Chinese as “foreign” minority.

Introduction / Part One: The Visual Environment / 1. The Riots / 2. The Shophouse / Part Two: Public Eyes-Private Gaze / 3. Comics and Cersil (Martial Art Stories) / 4. The Film Gie / 5. Family Photo Album / Part Three: Visionary / (In)Visibility / 6. Developers / 7. Architects / Part Four: Epilogue / 8. The Lost Home / Bibliography / Index

Abidin Kusno is a Professor at Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada.

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5 Reviews

One of the key strengths of this book is the careful contextualization of visual images in different time periods, showing how they communicated responses to opportunities and challenges for Indonesian Chinese in their evolving relations with Indonesian society and the Indonesian state. Another strength is Kusnos’s ability to draw on memories of his own experiences of growing up in Indonesia in the post-1965 period.


This brilliant collection affirms Abidin Kusno’s place as a singularly insightful commentator on Indonesian ethnic Chinese experiences as illuminated through the lenses of visuality, the built environment, and memory. The essays offer refreshingly revealing accounts of the varied urban landscapes and visual media through which ethnic Chinese have imagined themselves and their troubled yet integral place in modern Indonesia.

Karen Strassler, Associate Professor, The Graduate Center- City University of New York (CUNY)

Visual Cultures of the Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is an excellent collection of essays and a major contribution to a new and exciting field of research. Kusno convincingly argues how visual modes of representation (film, family photographs, architecture and the built environment) expressed and shaped the experiences of the ethnic Chinese under changing landscapes of power. A pioneering work!

Peter Post, Senior Researcher, The Netherlands Institute of War Documentation

This is a very informative and thoughtful book on visual cultures of Chinese Indonesians. Using visual materials to explain and visualize the subject matter, Dr. Abidin Kusno has successfully presented a complex picture of the Chinese Indonesian culture and identity in the changing socio-cultural and political landscape. A highly recommended book.

Leo Suryadinata, Professor, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

Kusno forges new ground for understandings of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese, their identity and culture over time. This book brings into focus a minority group who occupied the role of economic middleman in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia, and for whom the domestic and commercial spheres, rather than the political, were sites for cultural expression and for negotiating their sense of belonging in the wider society. Until now, these have been under-examined in the literature. Kusno presents new sites for historical analysis of the ethnic Chinese, from the family photo album, the commercial shophouse where many lived and worked, to representations on film; and in doing so enriches greatly what is known about how this minority has imagined itself, its place in the Indonesian nation in the past, and for the future.

Jemma Purdey, Research Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and the Australia Indonesia Centre, Monash University

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