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Not many people know that the ethnic Chinese population in Medan occupies the top three positions after the Javanese and the Tapanuli/ Tobanese. The ethnic Chinese population is even bigger than some other ethnic groups such as the Mandailing, Minang, Malay, Karo and Acehnese.

The results of the 2000 Population Census show that the population of North Sumatra is 11,506,808 people, and of that number 1,904,273 people are in Medan City as the provincial capital. In the 2010 Population Census data, the population of North Sumatra was recorded at 12,982,204 and 2,097,610 of them were in Medan.

Referring to the official data of the 2000 Population Census, of the 1,904,273 residents of Medan City, 202,839 of them are ethnic Chinese. The percentage is 10.65%. However, various parties claim to have data that currently the ethnic Chinese population in Medan is around 15%. The MedanCity.Com site even mentions that the number of Medan Chinese has reached 25%.

Regardless of which one is true, what is certain is that Medan is a city that has a fairly high ethnic Chinese population. The number 202,839 is certainly not a small number. Compare this with the Mandailing ethnicity, which amounts to 178,308 (9.36%), Minang 163,774 (8.60%), Malay 125,557 (6.59%), Karo 78,129 (4.10%), Acehnese 53,011 (2.78%). Nias 13,159 (0.69%), Simalungun 13,078 (0.69%), Pakpak 6,509 (0.34%) and others 75,253 (3.95%). The ethnic Chinese population in Medan is only below the Javanese as many as 628,898 people (33.03%) and Tapanuli/ Toba 365,758 people (19.21%).

But overall in North Sumatra, the ethnic Chinese population in 2000 was only 2.71% or 311,779 people from the total population of 11,506,808 people. This means that outside Medan City, the number of ethnic Chinese population scattered in various cities and regions in North Sumatra is only 108,940 people. (Meanwhile, according to the 2010 Population Census data, the number of ethnic Chinese in North Sumatra is 340,320, which means an increase of 28,541 people in a period of 10 years).

For the province of North Sumatra, the highest rank is still held by ethnic Javanese with a total of 3,843,602 people (33.40%) followed by Tapanuli/ Toba 2,948,264 people (25,62%). After all, the Chinese still outnumber the Minangs with 306,550 (2.66%), Simalungun 234,515 people (2.04%) and Acehnese 111,686 people (0.97%).

After Medan, the distribution of ethnic Chinese in this province is mostly in Deli Serdang Regency, which includes Lubuk Pakam (the capital) as well as several small towns which in 2000 were still included in the Deli Serdang Region, including Sei Rampah, Sialang Buah and Desa (Kampung) Pon. The total population reached 31,372 people, then Binjai City 13,036 people, Tanjung Balai 12,351 people, Tebing Tinggi 11,846 people, Pematang Siantar 9,418 people, Langkat 7,910 people, Labuhan Batu 7,855 people, Asahan 6,659 people, Sibolga 3,456 people, Nias 1,330 people and Karo 1,212 people. Other areas have under a thousand people, such as South Tapanuli 842 people, Simalungun 549 people, North Tapanuli 457 people, Dairi 371 people, Central Tapanuli 163 people and Toba Samosir 113 people.

Almost all ethnic Chinese in Medan are Buddhist/ Confucian. In this city, of the 202,839 ethnic Chinese, there are 197,986 people (more than 95% of the Chinese population or 10.40% of the total population of Medan) who are Buddhist/ Confucian. The rest are Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. There are also Muslims, but the number is not much.

Interestingly, the percentage of ethnic Chinese in Medan has shown a significant decline in the last few decades. According to data, in 1930 the number of ethnic Chinese in Medan was 35.63%, then in 1980 it fell to 12.80% and in 2000 it fell to 10.65%.


One thing to note about the ethnic Chinese population in Medan is that most of them are active participants in the KB (keluarga berencana [family planning]) program. If in the older generation many Medan Chinese families had more than 5 children, some even up to a dozen, now it is very rare to find married couples who have more than 3 children.

In the 1970s and 1980s, young couples were still found who had 5-6 children, but entering the 1990s, their number has decreased. Ask a married couple who are between the ages of 20 and 40, and you will find that most of them only have 2-3 children. Interestingly, many Chinese families no longer question sons or daughters, even though their ethnicity adheres to the father's lineage and sons function as clan successors.

Although the family planning program has been running effectively, the number of ethnic Chinese in Medan has grown quite rapidly from year to year. This is due to the tendency of young ethnic Chinese who live in various cities in North Sumatra to move to Medan, either to continue their studies or find work and develop a business. In various cities in the area, many ethnic Chinese parents begin sending their children to school in Medan as soon as they are in high school. Some even since their children finished elementary school. Most of them continue their studies to universities, because of the assumption that higher education in Medan as a big city is of higher quality.

In this case, Medan City did not only receive an abundance from cities in North Sumatra, but also from Aceh as a neighboring province. The flow of the young ethnic Chinese generation from various cities, both for study purposes and looking for a more certain future, will continue to occur from year to year. Usually they will then marry and settle permanently in this city. If a family has three or four children, generally two or three children will be sent to Medan and leave one or two children to "guard the cage" and continue their parents' business in their hometown.

Just like many nations in the world, the Chinese also consist of various ethnic groups including Hokkien, Cantonese, Khek (Hakka), Tiociu, Hainam and Lokhong. Twenty years ago, all ethnicities had their own specialties in making a living.

The Hokkien were traders, the Cantonese were gold traders, carpenters and food vendors, and the Khek traded in medicine and other commodities. Hainam tended to be in the food business, where one type of food that is popular today is hainam kee pui (Hainan chicken rice). The Lok Hong mostly inhabited the coastal area as fishermen or trade fishing equipment, so they are called Hai Lok Hong. Hai in Hokkien means sea. Meanwhile, the Tiociu chose to grow crops or become farmers. They lived in suburbs such as Deli Tua and Sunggal and were known as "vegetable gardens Chinese". Tio Ciu residents who are loyal to this profession are still found in both places, although many have changed professions and moved to the city.

With the passage of time and the increasing population, these various ethnicities have penetrated into all sectors, although there are some who still maintain the business of the previous generation.


The existence of the Medan Chinese is also enriched by the ex-Aceh Chinese community which has its own color. On May 8, 1966, the Aceh Regional Military Commander issued instructions for all Chinese foreigners to leave Tanah Rencong before August 17 of that year. As a result, about 15,000 Aceh Chinese flocked to the Langkat and Medan areas.

The Chinese from Idi, Banda Aceh and Meulaboh chose to flee to Medan, and lived in a nursing home in Labuhan Deli, former Chinese schools and monasteries/ temples. They then chose to settle in the Jalan Metal area, Tanjung Mulia.

Meanwhile, those from Langsa and Kuala Simpang chose to move to the Langkat area and live in tobacco drying wards, before finally building a settlement in Desa Perdamaian, Stabat. This community also built settlements in Desa Purwodadi, Sunggal District (Medan-Binjai Km 12 road) and Pasar V of Kampung Lalang. Especially those from Lhokseumawe built housing in Desa Mulyorejo, Sunggal District (Medan-Binjai Km 13 road).

Both in the Medan and Langkat areas, the ex-Aceh Chinese community known as Nan Min (Mandarin means refugee) gives its own color in the midst of an environment filled with indigenous people. For decades the ex-Aceh-Chinese have been known as a militant and reckless community. If in other places Medan Chinese have always been the target of extortion by thugs, then in this Nan Min residential area, it can be said that no thugs dared to act. They really become "masters in their own land". It is said that this condition still survives until now, including in Jalan Metal.

Apart from their courage to fight injustice, what is also extraordinary about this community that has lived in Medan for two generations is their fighting spirit. Almost all of them had to leave their homes and shops in Aceh and take only a few clothes and goods to the refugee camps. They really have to start life from scratch. Some of them open small businesses in their homes by making cakes or crackers.

But history records that in just a few years, many of these "refugees" managed to become successful traders, own houses and cars, and send their children abroad. A number of small home industry businesses have also developed into medium-sized industries that generate decent profits.

Many of those who have succeeded have now moved to settle in the heart of Medan City, although not a few have remained in "refugees". But of course some are still living a simple life, which is reflected in where they live today.

In addition to the ex-Aceh Chinese, the presence of the Medan Chinese is also marked by the ex-Bagan Siapi-api Chinese community, which spreads to all corners of the city and is very easily recognizable through their very distinctive and distinct Hokkien dialect. In this city, there are many Chinese ex-Bagan Siapi-api who trade in fishing equipment, according to their original habitat, which is a coastal area.

Photo by Halim Kosasi on Unsplash


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