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The Construction of Chinese Christian Identities in The Mandarin-Speaking Churches in Surabaya


This study focuses on the ethnic and religious identities of Chinese Christians in the totok Chinese churches in Surabaya. It attempts to answer two main questions: what are the historical backgrounds that have constructed Chinese Indonesian identities and, more specifically, Surabayan Chinese Christian identities in Mandarin-speaking churches? How have the dynamics of the interaction of Chinese Christians in Mandarin-speaking churches in Surabaya been constructed their ethnic and religious identities? The term "Chinese Christians" here refer to those who arrived in Surabaya from mainland China as Protestant Christians in the 1900s. This totok first Chinese Christian migrants, later established the first ethnic Chinese church - the Tiong Hoa Kie Tok Kauw Hwee (THKTKH, the Chinese Christian Chruch) Surabaya. The THKTKH Surabaya has become two independent synods, namely Gereja Kristus Tuhan (GKT, the Church of Christ the Lord) and Gereja Kristen Abdiel (GKA, the Abdiel Christian Church). The term "totok Chinese churches" refers to churches that conduct church services in a Chinese language or Mandarin or are bilingual (using Mandarin and Indonesian). In this dissertation, the totok Chinese churches are also be termed as "Mandarin-speaking churches." The choice of Surabayan Chinese Christian deserves special justification. According to the 2010 national census, Chinese Indonesians account for 1.20% of Indonesia's population. Around 5.19% of Chinese Indonesians live in Surabaya, which means Surabaya has the second largest population of Chinese Indonesians in Indonesia after Jakarta. Moreover, Chinese Surabayan Christians live within the Arek culture, which provides interesting dynamics with the local Surabayans, especially Muslims. In approaching my research, my study employs several methods, including in-depth interviews with the first, second and third generations of GKT and GKA members and leaders. Participants observations conducted in several churches activities, including the Sunday services and seminars. Another primary data was collected from magazines, weekly church bulletins, and other documents published by GKT dan GKA churches. The secondary data are books, journals, and literature reviews from previous researchers. Two main theories framed my study, namely Jenkins' social identity and Goffman's front-stage and back-stage performances. I use Jenkin's internal-external dialect of identification to analyze Chinese Christians' ethnic and religious identity construction in the Mandarin-speaking churches in Surabaya. In addition, I used the concept of front-stage and back-stage to explore the dynamics of the interaction of Chinese Christian communities within in-group and out-group contexts, including negotiating being a Chinese and a Christian at the same time. My study concludes that the historical background of Chinese Surabayan Christians has affected both their ethnic cultural and Christian religious identities. The in-group and out-group dynamic among Chinese Christians in Mandarin-speaking churches have formed their identities to preserve their Chineseness on the one hand but to become hybrid on the other hand. Therefore, the most important dynamic these Chinese Christians faced was the tension between being a pious Christian who abandons their Chinese traditions and beliefs, and of being a Chinese who maintains their traditions and beliefs while neglecting strict Christian teachings. In addition to the above conclusions, my study offers three main findings and contributions to the study of Chinese Christians in Mandarin-speaking churches. First, in addition to Hoon's three cultural typologies of Chinese churches, namely: peranakan Chineseness, totok Chinese, and peranakan Indonesianness, I suggest another cultural typology of Chinese churches that I term "totok Indonesianness." The Mandarin-speaking churches in Surabaya have undergone a change from being a mono-ethnic to open to be a multi-ethnic church in terms of members, leaders, and cultural orientations of church organization, that does not fit in any of the categories suggested by Hoon. Second, my data has shown that my interlocutors were able to present the front-stage and back-stage performances in negotiating the tensions between following Christian teachings on the one hand, and their Chinese beliefs on the other hand. Nevertheless, they do not have to make an either or choice of being a Chinese or a Christian, but rather can be a Chinese and a Christian at the same time, even though they might put a heavier emphasis on one identity over the other. Third, there is a different meaning of being Chinese among the old and young generation of Chinese Christians. For the old generation, Mandarin language, having a Chinese name, and Chinese rituals are still significant in providing ethnic cultural and Christian religious identity markers. In contrast, for the young generation, these are mostly considered unimportant and are often given new meanings in relation to contemporary challenges and opportunities. These three findings have provided a strong foundation for further research.

Key Words: Chinese Christians, totok Chinese churches, ethnic identity, religious identity