When Chinese Indonesian Irene Santoso was a child, her parents had to force her to take Mandarin lessons in secret, as under the New Order government of the late dictator Suharto , all Chinese-language education and private media were banned. But the young Santoso showed little interest in learning Mandarin and, now, the 38-year-old yoga teacher from South Tangerang city can read only a handful of Chinese characters. “Because I live in Indonesia , it’s more important to learn Indonesian,” she said. “I am a Chinese descendant , but I was born in Indonesia. I am Indonesian – not Chinese – so I feel closer to local Indonesian culture.” The ban enacted by Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 until he was forced to resign in 1998 after racially charged riots, caused Chinese language learning in the country to nosedive. Today, literacy in the language is far lower among the country’s ethnic Chinese – of whom there were 2.8 million at the last census in 2010 – than either of their counterparts in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore . Post-Suharto, however, there was something of a Chinese media renaissance as wealthy Chinese businessmen attempted to revive the long-dormant industry. The exact number of outlets launched is unknown, according to Ahmad Djauhar – who heads the Indonesian Press Council’s data collection and research commission – as “none of them” registered with the council. But some of the big players left include newspapers Guo Ji Ri Bao and Shangbao Indonesia , as well as Jakarta’s Mandarin Station 98.3FM – previously known as Radio Cakrawala. Another major player is Metro TV, which since 2001 has broadcast Metro Xinwen – Indonesia’s first Chinese-language television programme – nationwide. “Even though it broadcasts nationally in a society that predominantly uses Indonesian, Metro Xinwen can still be enjoyed because [the episodes] are equipped with Indonesian subtitles,” said Hilda Rachmawati, the programme’s manager. The live news show airs every weekday morning and primarily focuses on the activities of the country’s ethnic Chinese community. It was born of Metro TV owner Surya Paloh’s idealistic vision for a pluralistic Indonesia, according to Rachmawati, which is why news programmes in Indonesian and English can also be found on the station’s roster. Overseas Chinese workers: what’s driving Indonesian paranoia? But finding university-educated staff who were fluent in Mandarin could be a challenge for Metro Xinwen , with its team of 14 representing “limited human resources” when compared to its sister programmes in other languages, Rachmawati said. Its core audience is not young – viewers are aged 40 to 60 – but it attempts to reach out to younger language learners by covering topics that “young people find interesting”, such as movies, music and lifestyle trends, as well as uploading content to Instagram and YouTube. Others attempting to exploit the potential of the online space include news portals such as Medcom.id and its Chinese-language section. Harianty, who edits the Chinese section and, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name, started working there in 2015. She said much of the site’s content was translated from the main Indonesian-language section, but there were original reports on events held by the Chinese embassy, as well as the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Jakarta. Business had become one of the outlet’s “prioritised” sections, she said, while the US-China trade war was one of the “hottest” issues because of Indonesia’s relations with both countries and the effects on the economy that could result. “[Indonesia’s] trade relations with China are also being strengthened,” she said. “This obviously increases people’s interest in Mandarin and China itself. We try to bridge those needs.” In recent years, there has also been an increase in the number of people interested in studying Mandarin at Indonesian universities, according to Ayesa, a full-time lecturer in Chinese literature at Gunadarma University and a Mandarin teacher at the University of Indonesia’s International Language Institute. But she has her doubts about the future of the country’s Chinese-language media, as most of her students aim for conversational fluency – with “fewer and fewer” interested in being able to read a Chinese-language newspaper, for instance. “There were some people who complained to me, ‘Why do we have to learn hanzi [Chinese characters]?’” she said. “There were also some who said, ‘I just want to learn to speak Mandarin, I don’t want to learn written Chinese’,” she added. Our father, the dictator: Suharto’s children hope to rehabilitate family name Hoon Chang Yau, author of the 2008 Chinese Identity in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Culture, Politics and Media , said that Chinese-language media outlets in Indonesia often struggled to attract advertisers and remain financially sustainable. Staying relevant to the younger generation is of particular importance as well. “Many Chinese media practitioners in Indonesia, especially the editors, belong to an older generation,” he said. “They are very experienced and determined but may not understand the needs of younger readers.” Despite this, Djauhar – of the Indonesian Press Council – is optimistic about the future. At present, the country’s Chinese-language media may serve only a “very small or insignificant” segment because of young Chinese Indonesians who prefer to use Indonesian or English, and an older generation who had to “switch culture” as a result of Suharto’s policy in the past. But as some of the 14,000 young Indonesians who were studying in China in 2017 – according to the Chinese embassy in Jakarta – begin to return, and more Chinese emigrate to Indonesia as a result of projects linked to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative , interest in the Chinese-language media is sure to increase. 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