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Possibly, the Medan Chinese are one of the most "misunderstood" ethnic groups in Indonesia. Although many people claim that the Medan Chinese are very easy to make friends with, in general they are dismissed as cunning traders and more oriented towards their ancestral country. Actually, Medan Chinese do have their own specifics, just like Medan City which is considered to have its own color in many aspects of life. It's no secret, government officials on the Java island often regard Medan as a "touchstone". Officials who are successful in serving in Medan will usually receive promotions at the central level. The specifics of the Medan Chinese, perhaps, are influenced by the daily life in this area which tends to be harsh and full of dynamics.

Maybe that's why many Medan Chinese choose to live in groups in certain areas, which is why they are often accused of being exclusive and not wanting to mix. Pockets of ethnic Chinese settlements in Medan are in the city center as well as several real estate areas.

In the city center, Chinese residents live in shophouses that have dual functions, namely a place of business as well as a place to live. But now more and more Medan Chinese are only using their shophouses as places of trade or offices for reasons of safety and comfort. They choose to live in residential complexes. A number of robberies and fires that occurred in shop houses and claimed lives made them afraid.

Medan Chinese settlement complexes were divided into several classes: elite, middle and simple. Especially for luxury real estate, especially those in the Polonia area, almost all of the residents are ethnic Chinese. The most famous is Taman Malibu Indah. Then there is the Taman Polonia I-IV complex and Masdulhak Garden. Newer complexes have also sprung up in areas adjacent to the former airport location, such as Grand Polonia, The Palace Residence, River View and City View.

In the West Medan area, there is 30-hectare Griya Riatur Indah elite housing estate, opposite Villa Anggrek on a smaller scale. Not far from the city center there is a complex of Villa Makmur Indah, Villa Jati Mas and Villa Aceh. On Jalan Cemara which is part of the Deliserdang area, there is a very famous real estate, namely Cemara Asri. In this location, thousands of houses and shophouses are spread out with more than 95% of the residents being Chinese ethnic, with the type of houses being middle-class to luxurious and super-luxurious.

Not far from Jalan Cemara, namely in the Jalan Pancing area, new luxury residential areas have also emerged, most of which are also inhabited by Chinese, including Citraland Bagya City and Mutiara Residence. Heading north, there is the Graha Helvetia complex. Then on Jalan Jamin Ginting there is Citra Garden and Royal Sumatra.

The Cemara Asri Complex even recorded a fantastic growth in selling prices which continued to rise from year to year. The reason is that many ethnic Chinese who have been living in shophouses and other complexes have moved to real estate. It is common knowledge, housing complexes that are bought by many Chinese ethnic will be "expensive".

Supported by the proliferation of culinary businesses in the complex, thereby providing efficiency for the residents, Cemara Asri continues to accept newcomers from Chinese ethnic groups who choose to move there. Known as the Chinatown area, on the eve of Lunar New Year or cap go meh, the complex's main streets come to a complete standstill as thousands of people flock to watch the fireworks display. Not to mention the special people who come to pray at a number of temples there, one of which is said to be the largest in Southeast Asia.

Not many know that the Cemara Asri housing estate began to "rise" in 1998 after the racial riots that also hit Medan. When the tense atmosphere engulfed Medan and its surroundings for several days, it is said that the residential area was guarded by many armed security forces. After the riots, word of mouth promotion that Cemara Asri was a safe place to live was spread among the Medan Chinese. Since then, the marketing of houses in the complex has been selling like hotcakes.

Over the past decade, many ethnic Chinese have chosen to sell their houses in certain areas and buy houses in Cemara Asri. One of the housing complexes that is now abandoned by many Chinese is Taman Setiabudi Indah (Tasbi). Many of the houses they left behind were bought by people from Acehnese ethnicity. While the number of Chinese residents has fallen drastically, currently Acehnese can be said to dominate the Tasbi complex, both Tasbi I and II.

Besides Cemara Asri, another area in Medan that is considered a Chinatown is Asia Mega Mas, where many ethnic Chinese choose to live and trade in the shophouses that line either side of the road. At the location of the former Desa Sukaramai II, which was burned down in the early 1980s, the typical Chinese atmosphere of Medan can be felt through the thousands of traders and visitors who flock to the streets every night.

For middle-class housing, there is The Piazza complex on Jalan Gaperta, Platinum Garden on Jalan Brigjen Katamso and many more. On the right and left of Jalan Brigjen Katamso and Jalan KL Yos Sudarso in the Pulo Brayan area, there are many small streets lined with Chinese houses.

Over the past decade, more and more Medan Chinese have chosen to live in residential complexes. In a place like this, with a gate guarded by a security guard, they are not disturbed by thugs who used to regularly visit them asking for various donations while living in the shophouse. However, whether they live in a shophouse or in a complex, the houses of the Medan Chinese residents have a distinctive feature, namely that the windows and doors are installed with iron bars from the ground floor to the top. Some of them are even surrounded by high concrete fences so that they are closed from the outside. This has given rise to the stereotype that the Medan Chinese are very closed and exclusive.

Besides Cemara Asri, another area in Medan that is considered a Chinatown is Asia Mega Mas, where many ethnic Chinese choose to live and trade in the shophouses that line either side of the road. At the location of the former Sukaramai II Village, which was burned down by the red rooster in the early 1980s, the typical Chinese atmosphere of Medan can be felt through the thousands of traders and visitors who flock to the streets every night.

For middle-class housing, there is The Piazza complex on Jalan Gaperta, Platinum Garden on Jalan Brigjen Katamso and many more. On the right and left of Jalan Brigjen Katamso and Jalan KL Yos Sudarso in the Pulo Brayan area, there are many small streets lined with Chinese houses.


In general, the Medan Chinese are people who have high concern. If they read in the newspapers that there are people who really need help, for example, a seriously ill person and the person concerned does not have money, then not a few Medan Chinese will lend a hand even though they do not know the sick person at all.

The social care of the Medan Chinese can be expressed individually or through various organizations, such as the Lions Club, Rotary Club or the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. In this last organization, not only fathers are active in social activities, but also mothers. Middle-aged Medan Chinese women, almost all of whom are businessmen's wives, do not hesitate to roll up their sleeves and go to disaster locations to distribute aid. Even to areas that are isolated and contain risks because they have just been hit by an earthquake, flood or landslide. All done regardless of ethnicity or religion.

In recent years, more and more Medan Chinese social activities are in direct contact with the lower classes of society. If previously they only provided material, now there is a tendency for the Medan Chinese to also contribute their energy by going directly to the field. Whether it's through social organizations, monasteries, churches or associations of ethnic Chinese clans.

As an ethnic minority who respects their ancestral culture, many Medan Chinese do feel an interest in joining a community where they can express themselves and protect each other. The clan association has also flourished in Medan over the past decade. In this city there is an association of the clans of Lie, Yap, Lim, Tan and so on. Almost all of these associations have offices in the form of large buildings located in the downtown area.

Generally, the Medan Chinese who are active in such clan associations are Buddhists or Confucians, because organizational activities cannot be separated from what is called ancestral prayer. In addition to clan associations, there are also ethnic associations, including the Hainam and Tiociu (Teochew) tribal associations. There are certain clan associations that have close relationships with similar associations abroad. Almost all clan and tribal associations are driven by successful entrepreneurs, who do not hesitate to spend money for the continuity of the association.

The Medan Chinese ethnicity is indeed a community that still holds strong traditional values. Almost all families have their own group of friends, where the bonds of friendship that exist can be closer than family relationships. If one faces a problem, the others will work together to help either materially, physically or through the relationships they have. The social solidarity among them is very high.


With such characteristics, the Medan Chinese are known as people who are royal and easy to spend money. In general, they are people who "need recognition" and like to be praised. Many Medan Chinese like to be exposed to the mass media and are close to journalists, but not a few are low profile and stay away from publications.

It is this tendency of the Medan Chinese who are "thirsty for recognition" that perhaps underlies their habit of expressing their business relations and friendships through advertisements in newspapers. If friends or relatives marry off their children or open a business, they will be busy placing congratulatory advertisements in the newspapers. Likewise, if a close acquaintance dies, they will advertise their condolences. If the one who marries or dies is related to a rich person or a famous businessman, the newspapers for days are filled with greeting advertisements. For those who have the intention, the more speech ads in newspapers, it means the higher their social status.

Uniquely, the Medan Chinese also use advertisements in newspapers to declare divorce or severance of relations with family members. Some of the Medan Chinese couples only married in a traditional way and did not register their marriage at the Civil Registry Office, although from year to year the number was decreasing. So, divorcing a spouse is enough just to separate and announce it in the paper.

The Medan Chinese are also known as people who like to speak frankly and bluntly. There are those who think that the Medan Chinese have similarities to the Batak tribe, who always speak as they are and have a loud voice.

In Medan, what is widely known is that Chinese people of Hokkian origin are labeled as "talking big", so the Hokkian term tua phau (Hokkian "big cannon") appears. The Kong Hu (Cantonese) tribe is famous for its rude attitude, and the Khek people tend to be stingy.


But whatever ethnicity he is, in general the Medan Chinese are superstitious people. They strongly believe in the supernatural and irrational. Not even a few who depend their luck on things that are superstitious. And this does not look at age or intellectual level, because such mystical beliefs are usually influenced by the habits of their parents or previous generations. Of course there are also Medan Chinese who are very rational and everything is done based on logic.

For example, many Medan Chinese like to stick the letters fuk - Mandarin, meaning fortune or luck - in their homes. Some even accidentally stuck the fuk letter upside down on the door of the house. The goal is to be "read by the god'' when he sees it from the sky, so that the god then pours sustenance into the house. What is also often pasted is the letter shi (in Hokkien: hi) which means happiness. This letter is often pasted on the door or placed on top of offerings, especially at weddings or during Chinese New Year prayers.

The Medan Chinese also like the image of horses which symbolizes strength, and the image of fishes which symbolizes prosperity. Paintings of these two types of animals are often found in their homes, along with paintings of dragons which are considered a symbol of the Chinese people.

Many Medan Chinese businessmen also believe in feng shui, which in Hokkien is called hong shui (wind and water). They do not hesitate to invite feng shui experts from other areas and even abroad to arrange the layout of the office/ home door along with the position of the table and furniture inside, which is believed to bring good luck and safety. It is not uncommon for Medan Chinese businessmen's homes to be built based on feng shui principles. For this purpose, there are Medan Chinese businessmen who are willing to pay up to tens or even hundreds of millions of rupiah to ask for advice.

For most Chinese Medanese who are Buddhists, sticking or hanging amulets (hu thao) above the doors of houses and shops is a kind of obligation that is believed to bring good luck as well as ward off evil. Walk to Jalan Asia or Jalan Pandu where Chinese shops line up. There we will see all kinds of hu thao hanged. Just so you know, in addition to local "products", some of these hu thao come from remote areas such as Java Island or even abroad, including Thailand or Taiwan. Not a few Medan Chinese who regularly have contact with tang kie (medium) which according to them are entered by the spirit of the gods to consult on various issues, ranging from family matters to business. They also diligently go to the temple to do thiu chiam, which is to remove sticks tied with paper with words that are believed to answer the questioner's needs. Or do puak puei, which is throwing two wooden slabs up and their position after falling on the floor gives a yes or no meaning.

All these rituals are also carried out when the Medan Chinese will choose a business partner or prospective son-in-law. There are those who study their compatibility by zodiac sign or date of birth. If it is considered chiong or opposite, then there is a possibility that the plan will be canceled. For Medan Chinese, choosing a good day and month to start something, for example starting a business or marrying a child, is very important. They will choose a day that is considered auspicious and can bring blessings according to the Chinese almanac. Even up to the day of funeral for family members who died they had to choose a good day, although with the consequence that the body concerned had to be buried for up to three or four days at a house or social center.

Especially for those who are in the wedding business, the chit guek pua period (mid-seventh month/ lunar calendar) is a season of famine and low orders. This is because this period is known as "the month of ghosts", where according to belief the gates of the afterlife are opened and the spirits of the dead are released back to earth. Almost none of the Medan Chinese were willing to marry off their sons and daughters. On the other hand, in the months that are considered auspicious, which usually falls on the pek guek, aka the eighth month according to the Chinese almanac, they are busy marrying off their children and making almost all restaurants fully booked for receptions.

Medan Chinese are also known as a community that highly respects their ancestors, including their parents or grandparents who have died. During the Cheng Beng or pilgrimage season, which usually falls in April, thousands of ex-Chinese from Medan who have migrated to other places will return to this city. It's not just those who have moved to Jakarta or other cities in Indonesia. Those who have settled in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe and America will also return to Medan just to worship their ancestors in the graves.

Cheng Beng is indeed considered a very important and sacred moment, some even consider it more important than Chinese New Year. No wonder in the Cheng Beng season all hotels in Medan and airplanes are always full. The price has also increased many times than usual. Respect for the ethnic Chinese to their ancestors has become a kind of obligation. Moreover, there is a belief that the spirits of the ancestors in the afterlife can give blessings of safety and sustenance to those who live in this world.

Photo by Halim Kosasi on Unsplash


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