We know very little about the Indonesian mothers of the Peranakan Chinese of Java besides the general impression that, in the earlier centuries, they tended to be Balinese and Buginese slaves, and most likely helped transmit the indigenous linguistic, sartorial, and culinary influences in the community. William Skinner has argued that the Peranakan Chinese were already marrying within their own community by the early 19th century, decades before the arrival of female Chinese immigrants definitively sealed off inter-group marriage as a desirable option.
In this talk, Seng Guo Quan will show how the Dutch colonial registration of Chinese marriages and births from the 1920s reveals the persistence of a small but significant number of unorthodox Sino-Indonesian family formations. Although these intergroup families constituted a small percentage of total marital and non-marital unions, varying rates between western Java, and central and eastern Java, reveal interesting patterns of Sino-Indonesian social-familial relations across the island. Treated as "housekeepers" by their Chinese partners, and denied full spousal rights under colonial Chinese adat law, Indonesian mothers mostly lived on the margins of middle-class urban communities. Partial evidence suggests that they suffered high rates of abandonment by their Chinese male partners. This pattern of racialised marital inequality ended in the 1970s, with the rise of Indonesia's indigenous middle class, and more assertive religious identities.
About the speaker
Seng Guo Quan is Assistant Professor of History at the National University of Singapore. He specialises in the history of Chinese migration, China-Southeast Asia relations, and the expansion of capitalism to Asia. This talk is drawn from a book manuscript he is completing on the history of gender, race, and family in the formation of the Chinese Indonesian community on Java during the Dutch colonial period (1816–1942).
Organised in conjunction with the exhibition
Image: Studio portrait of man holding baby with woman seated on floor. Collection of the Peranakan Museum, Gift of Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee