In October of 1740, on the (now) Indonesian island of Java, Dutch soldiers and citizens of the town Batavia began to slaughter the Chinese people who lived there. It continued out beyond the boundary of the town and would later expand to other parts of the island. At least 10,000 people were murdered within Batavia and its immediate vicinity. No one knows how many died outside of the town.

In 1602, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, VOC) gained its charter. Voyages during the previous century had shown the islands in that part of the Pacific to be full of spices and other resources to trade. Also, England had established its own East India Company and competition was a concern. The Dutch and their ships managed to keep the other European powers (primarily England and Portugal) away from the territory they staked out.

In 1619, they were able to capture the city of Jayakerta (hence the current name of the city: Jakarta) from the local sultan. They razed it to the ground and rebuilt it in their own image—including schools, Protestant churches, even canals)—renaming it Batavia. The walled fortress of a city was to be the capital of the VOC.

Over the years, the Dutch would battle with the indigenous people on the island, particularly with the Mataram kingdom, often coming out fairly evenly matched. Negotiations and the occasional victory led to cessions to the Dutch which enabled it to expand the territory throughout the island. In 1628 and 1629, the sultan attempted to lay siege to Batavia, failing both times and leaving the Dutch in a stronger position.

Throughout the 1600s, the VOC worked to expand territory and control over trade and production. This would lead to things like expeditions to burn down clove gardens that were overproducing and driving down the price on the European market. It also led to the creation of a system of "forced deliveries" and "contingencies." The former were goods the inhabitants had to cultivate and then sell to the VOC at a price it set. The latter was a kind of "tax" (the same goods) on the people in areas where the Dutch had direct control. In reality, there was little difference between the two, though the Dutch rationalized forced deliveries as a form of "trade."

The Chinese
Long before the VOC appeared on the scene, there was a thriving trade between Java and other islands in the area. By 1600s, part of that trading class included Chinese immigrants. The Chinese became successful in trade and intermarriage between them and the inhabitants of Java was not uncommon. They became almost as Javanese as the indigenous people, working, living, raising families, reading and speaking the languages, converting to Islam (a dominant religion at the time—today, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world).

The Chinese were important to the Dutch when they came. Through their contacts and established routes and agreements, they were able to expand trade. They were also useful as workers ("coolies"). Chinese helped build Batavia. They were also used to help cultivate the spices and do other land improvement and maintenance work. With the need for more workers and the money to be made, more and more immigrants traveled there, some as workers, some as tradesmen. The population grew—at the time of the massacre, Chinese made up about 17% of the population in Batavia (about 15,000) and 26% of the surrounding area.

The success of the VOC was dependent on those Chinese, whether to do the work or to deal with through trade. The Chinese (who were developing into a sort of merchant class) had control of the sugar trade. This resulted in further growth of the population, as workers were brought in to grow and process the sugar. Besides those occupations, they began to fill in other areas of Batavia's economy as shopkeepers and artisans and similar things.

As the VOC grew prosperous, so did the Chinese (those that were not doing the actual hard labor). This created concern for the Dutch. A certain amount of jealousy and racism is probably a large part of it, but there was also the fear that the Chinese would form a coalition with the Javanese traders and inhabitants, creating competition that the VOC might not be able to deal with. As the traders, growing more and more wealthy (as were the Dutch), gained power and prestige, they also began to have political connections with indigenous rulers.

Action was taken. In 1690, immigration was limited. Workers were also legally excluded in Java. This actually created more problems for the Dutch. Being illegal, meant that the workers couldn't be taxed. It became desirable for the Chinese to smuggle in workers. The growing corruption in the VOC is in evidence in that many of them (including those in governmental positions) also used the "coolies." It was beneficial to the taskmasters because the workers were afraid of being turned over to the Dutch for fear of being expelled (a particularly precarious existence for those directly working for them) and would not cause problems asking to better treatment or compensation for work.

In the 1720s, the sugar market dropped as Europe was becoming amply supplied and the good could be had much more cheaply from Brazil. The merchants lost their money and power and large numbers of workers lost their only means of living. The masters at Batavia did nothing to alleviate any of the unemployment or misery (and certainly couldn't openly admit to having created and participated in the explosion of "illegal immigration"). Some gangs of desperate workers began roaming around causing trouble and threatening stability. It was time to act again.

The head of the Chinese community (and his family) were imprisoned. In July 1740, it was announced that the workers from the areas where sugar had been grown would be gathered and shipped away to Dutch controlled Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). This was bad enough, but soon rumors (the veracity of which is unclear) flew that the workers would be dumped off the ships on the open ocean. It created more unrest and the fear of open revolt became a very real thing. By September, it was believed that the Chinese were armed and preparing with indigenous Javanese to rebel against the Dutch. Once again, action was called for.

At the end of September/beginning of October, the Governor-General had all the houses of Chinese inhabitants in Batavia searched (as many as 5,000). Anything that could be used as a weapon was removed, including kitchen utensils. There was a dusk to dawn curfew put into effect.

On 9 October it exploded in an orgy of violence. A fire had broken out and all control was lost. Soldiers and citizens (mostly lower class and armed by Batavia's leaders) began attacking and killing pretty much any Chinese person they could find. For good measure, they destroyed homes and looted possessions. The killing wasn't limited to males—women, children, infants, even the sick registered at hospitals were killed. One description of the massacre reads:

Blood was everywhere and the canals full of corpses. Large sections of the city lay in ashes and over 10,000 were dead. The old city of Batavia never recovered from the blow. The golden days had passed for good.

Reportedly, there were rewards offered for the heads of Chinese persons. The entire "operation" lasted through 22 October, though the majority of the killing took place during the first three days. It got so out of control that soldiers had to be given extra money to stop the looting.

At the same time, soldiers were outside the walls of the city cutting a swath through the Chinese humanity there. No one is certain how many of them lost their lives. Some (probably excessive) estimates go into the tens of thousands. When it was over only a few thousand Chinese remained alive.

Officials and citizens of Batavia quickly tried to justify the actions. The clergy suggested it was God's will. Others saw it as a necessary means of stopping a revolt. But this was the desired result. A year later, Governor-General Van Valckenier admitted that "a massacre of Chinese would not be unwelcome" ( as had been discussed by the Council of the Indies.

No one was ever really punished for what happened.

The massacre galvanized the Chinese and Javanese into action and there were battles in other parts of the island. Other massacres occurred. Other VOC towns were put under siege. The war lasted 17 years. By then the remaining coalition members were holed up in small parts of the island and the Dutch were war weary and exhausted. The VOC attempted to resume trade as before. Discrimination against Chinese was imposed. They were ghettoized to "Chinatowns" within cities and could not travel without a permit. They were also separated from indigenous Javanese, further destroying the solidarity of the coalition and possibly leading to a climate of distrust and resentment that has lasted until today.

Greed and corruption would continue to weaken the VOC. Territory would also be lost to Britain and the market for spices would become more competitive. By 1799, it was taken over by the Dutch Authority in Batavia.

Hundreds of years later
Discrimination lasted through the remaining years of the VOC and beyond. There is still a significant Chinese or "mixed" population in Indonesia. They still suffer a degree of discrimination and sometimes overt racism and many are not integrated into the society. There are limitations for enrollment to schools (they cannot run their own—repealed in 1999), they cannot hold dual citizenship, and have the ceiling set at colonel in the armed forces. Severe cultural and political limitations are imposed on them, including the ban on importing Chinese language publications or publishing their own newspapers, forming political parties, and using Chinese characters in Indonesian Chinatowns.

During and after the coup in 1965-66, thousands are thought to have died. There have been anti-Chinese protests and riots that took place 1980 and the late 1990s. They are often believed to have loyalty only to Beijing or seen as "traitors" or the reason for the poor economy. Sexual assault on Chinese women—sometimes organized by groups of men—is far too common to be coincidence. Anti-Chinese sentiment, discrimination, and sometimes violence continues to the present.

As the quote said, "The golden days had passed for good. "


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