The 5 Chinese Groups in Indonesia according to Kwee Tek Hoay

The year 1931 symbolizes a historical period in Indonesia, where various communities, including the Chinese ethnic group, felt the profound vibrations of change. Kwee Tek Hoay, a prominent intellectual of the Chinese ethnicity, carefully mapped the complexity of these dynamics, revealing that the Chinese community, despite originating from the same cultural roots, could be divided into five distinct groups.

Firstly, the wealthy and middle-class Chinese peranakan group resolved to remain in Indonesia, striving for economic prosperity and providing higher education for the next generation.

Secondly, the impoverished group also determined to stay in the archipelago, finding satisfaction if their children could read and write in Malay and Latin script.

Taking the metaphor of “keong,” this is how the Chinese people prefer not to stand out when they perceive that the situation is not favorable for them. It is better to stay silent, to hide for a while, and to come out at the right time.

Thirdly, the group adhering to Chinese nationalism aimed to contribute their children to the construction of China while holding firmly to the teaching and preservation of the Chinese language.

Fourthly, the utilitarian-oriented totok group desired a Chinese identity, though doubting whether solely knowing the Chinese language would adequately equip their children for a decent life in the archipelago.

Fifthly, the totok Chinese ethnic group, especially from the Keh (Hakka) and Konghu (Cantonese) clans, longed to return to their ancestral land.

In their daily lives, these five groups lived different modes of existence and ways of life, especially in terms of education. However, to outsiders, they were often perceived as uniform. Ironically, when a crisis struck, the Chinese ethnic community demonstrated remarkable solidarity. The philosophy of “keong” became the main pillar that provided answers.

The “keong” philosophy guided them not to stand out in the midst of potentially harmful disturbances. The Chinese ethnic group, wisely, understood the significance of reading the situation and anticipating changes. They realized that true strength lay not only in the diversity of their group but also in the ability to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Differences among the Chinese groups might seem significant in daily routines, but when a crisis approached, they united in common interests and embraced the “keong” (snail) philosophy. They not only understood what was happening around them but also were clever in taking preventive actions to maintain the integrity and security of their community.

Taking the metaphor of “keong,” this is how the Chinese people prefer not to stand out when they perceive that the situation is not favorable for them. It is better to stay silent, to hide for a while, and to come out at the right time.

The Chinese ethnic group set an example that solidarity and wisdom could be a strong foundation amidst waves of change. They not only preserved their cultural heritage but also integrated it with adaptive intelligence, allowing them to remain relevant and thrive in the dynamics of life in the archipelago. The “keong” philosophy was not just a concept; it had permeated as a main pillar, deeply rooted in the way of life of the Chinese ethnic group in Indonesia at that time.

source of illustration: Kwee Tek Hoay/Wikipdia

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