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The problem is not only other ethnic groups who have a bad image of the Medan Chinese, but also vice versa. Admit it or not, both sides have for decades kept and nurtured the seeds of "unhappiness" in each other's hearts. Something that so far has not surfaced, but has quietly become a stumbling block in the relationship between the two parties.

After the social unrest in 1998 passed, the relations between the Medan Chinese and their brothers from other ethnicities did run normally and well, in the sense that nothing happened that could cause friction or conflict. In fact, for more than a decade in Medan City, not a single issue was found that could trigger a split. Maybe that's why it's so rare to find seminars on the subject of assimilation in this area nowadays, something that was often done in the 1980s and 1990s.

It's time for other ethnic groups in this area to know things that have made the Medan Chinese feel uncomfortable, which has made them tend to isolate themselves and not mix well. On the other hand, Medan Chinese also need to be aware of the complaints from their fellow nationals who come from other ethnicities against them. Only by opening up to each other and getting to know each other, the blaming attitude that has occurred so far can be ended. The courage to express each party's objections to the other must come from the intention to improve relations and not to corner one party or find fault.


In the eyes of many Medan Chinese, some of their relatives from other ethnicities often treat them inappropriately. In some activities such as moving house or opening a new business, especially in certain areas, Medan Chinese have to reach into their pockets to pay "security money" to thugs or they will be harassed.

The owners of shops and offices in certain areas in Medan City even have to pay a "security fee" every month. Beyond that, if they have business activities such as making events or entering goods, they again have to spend some money. This habit has been going on for decades, although over the last few years its intensity has continued to decline in line with the police's decisive steps to eradicate thuggery in this city.

In interacting with government officials, Chinese ethnic often have to spend more than other ethnic groups. In almost all their affairs, they are complicated, and the solution is to give money under the table which sometimes can be worth more than the official fee. There is almost no business related to government officials that does not require extra money. Starting from managing ID cards, family cards, moving letters to various permits related to business and business. This condition made some Medan Chinese feel themselves as "cash cows".

In some cases, the management must go through brokers who have access to the officials concerned. Even though there are calls for people not to go through brokers, it is common knowledge that by dealing alone the ethnic Chinese will be made difficult.

Actually, the practice of illegal levies (extortion) does not only target the Chinese ethnic group, but also other ethnic groups. It's just that most of the victims are people of Chinese descent who are considered more economically capable. In the midst of the echoes of bureaucratic reform and eradication of extortion launched by the President of the Republic of Indonesia, the practice of extortion continues to occur even though it is carried out more subtly and carefully.

In general, almost all of the Medan Chinese did have a bitter experience dealing with thugs, government officials, ordinary people or even with their own employees; Just like other ethnic groups, they also had bitter experiences with Medan Chinese, whether it was their boss, their business partners, or the "tauke" where they shopped. Medan Chinese clashes with other ethnic groups almost always involve issues related to money.

In general, Medan Chinese feel they have been treated unfairly in various aspects. The limitations of being civil servants, military or police as well as studying at state universities implemented by the New Order government made them feel even more "different", even though now the door has been opened (more) wider. The May 1998 riots which also spread to Medan and its surroundings, although not as severe as in Jakarta, made many ethnic Chinese in Medan feel that they were not only "objects of blackmail", but also "scapegoats" whenever social unrest occurred. They feel they are treated as "second class" citizens.

All subjective opinions about other ethnicities seem to get the truth when there are Medan Chinese who have problems with employees, assistants, relations or people in their environment. With prejudice ingrained in their hearts, some ethnic Chinese then tend to generalize people from other ethnicities as "people who always take advantage of them".


On the other hand, in the eyes of other ethnic groups, the Medan Chinese may be the group of people who are "the smartest in finding shortcuts". Medan Chinese are considered to always justify any means to get as much profit as possible.

According to him, the Medan Chinese in running their business tend not to use feelings, if necessary, lie or even manipulate to get big profits. On the other hand, Medan Chinese traders always try to keep costs to a minimum, among others by reducing employee salaries. And ironically, the salaries of workers from other ethnic groups are often lower than the salaries of Medan Chinese workers, even though their positions and jobs are the same. The cost of living for the Chinese ethnic group is greater and has so far been used as an excuse to be considered unable to justify this.

In the eyes of other ethnic groups, Medan Chinese are people who are very good at counting, tend to be stingy and glorify material things above all else. Some even branded the Medan Chinese as a community that "doesn't care about the fate of the nation and only thinks about their personal interests".

They are also seen as helping to create a culture of corruption among government officials by their habit of giving facilitation payments. Medan Chinese are accused of being people who are very "afraid of things" and want it to be easy, thus encouraging the creation of a high-cost economy. Everything is dealt with with money and if necessary by bypassing procedures. Applying for a driving permit and passport is one example.

Another objection that is most often raised is the issue of the exclusivity of the Medan Chinese group. The exclusive attitude of this ethnicity is seen as clearly illustrated by their tendency to live together in one area and do not want to mix.

In daily interactions, the Medan Chinese are also considered to only tend to interact with each other. Programs that were created by the government and could be used as a means of mingling, for example conducting joint security in the 1980s, was also rarely followed by the Medan Chinese. Instead, they pay a certain amount of money to other ethnic groups who are willing to take their place.

In terms of education, the Medan Chinese are considered very exclusive, placing their children in schools where almost all of the students are of the same ethnicity. It is very rare for the Medan Chinese to send their children to multi-ethnic schools, such as state schools. Even the assimilation program created by the government in the 1970s was unable to break through the exclusive attitude of the Medan Chinese parents.

Among the ethnic Chinese in Medan, there are also people who have a positive view of other ethnicities. They can understand and comprehend the behavior of other economically marginalized ethnic groups. They argue that in all social conflicts that occur, it is the Chinese who must introspect.

Photo by Halim Kosasi on Unsplash


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