Minority Stages: Sino-Indonesian Performance and Public Display offers intriguing new perspectives on historical and contemporary Sino-Indonesian performance. For the first time in a major study, this community’s diverse performance practices are brought together as a family of genres. Combining fieldwork with evidence from Indonesian, Chinese, and Dutch primary and secondary sources, Josh Stenberg takes a close look at Chinese Indonesian self-representation, covering genres from the Dutch colonial period to the present day.
From glove puppets of Chinese origin in East Java and Hakka religious processions in West Kalimantan, to wartime political theatre on Sumatra and contemporary Sino-Sundanese choirs and dance groups in Bandung, this book takes readers on a tour of hybrid and diverse expressions of identity, tracing the stories and strategies of minority self-representation over time. Each performance form is placed in its social and historical context, highlighting how Sino-Indonesian groups and individuals have represented themselves locally and nationally to the archipelago’s majority population as well as to Indonesian state power.
In the last twenty years, the long political suppression of manifestations of Chinese culture in Indonesia has lifted, and a wealth of evidence now coming to light shows how Sino-Indonesians have long been an integral part of Indonesian culture, including the performing arts. Valorizing that contribution challenges essentialist readings of ethnicity or minority, complicates the profile of a group that is often considered solely in socioeconomic terms, and enriches the understanding of Indonesian culture, Southeast Asian Chinese identities, and transnational cultural exchanges.
Minority Stages helps counter the dangerous either/or thinking that is a mainstay of ethnic essentialism in general and of Chinese and Indonesian nationalisms in particular, by showing the fluidity and adaptability of Sino-Indonesian identity as expressed in performance and public display.
Minority Stages contributes much to the understudied area of Chinese performance in Indonesia and general areas of Chinese self-presentation and perception, which for political reasons was in the past a tabu topic. Beyond the important historical data, the book also delivers an on-the-ground sense of how the multicultural project of post-Suharto freedom is progressing at present and where fault lines remain.
Rich in content and context, this is a groundbreaking study of Sino-Indonesian cultural performances and a cultural history of Chinese in Indonesia. The strength of the study lies in the author’s deep knowledge of both Chinese and Indonesian sociocultural history.
From traditional human and puppet theatres, through spoken drama and Chinese contribution to commercial theatre, to community and ritual performance, Josh Stenberg has leveraged his formidable mastery of Chinese, Indonesian, and European languages to fill a challenging gap in our knowledge of the historical transformation and current practices of Sino-Indonesian theatre and performance.
Stenberg’s book, by tackling a great variety of performances, allows the reader to better appraise the social, religious and political importance of Sino-Indonesian performative culture over the long term and in the present. It also shows that the Sino-Indonesian minority has never ceased its efforts to be accepted by the majority.
Highly commended. [The judges] were impressed by the polished writing, the boldness in tackling six different genres of performance across a wide sweep of Indonesia and the author’s ability to use sources in Dutch, Chinese, English and Indonesian.
Josh Stenberg aims to rethink much of the received wisdom about Sino-Indonesian identity/ies in this wide-ranging, deeply researched engagingly written study. . . . Minority Stages is a revelatory book. . . . Readers will be impressed by the author's array of literary, archival and ethnographic sources, his apparent mastery of Indonesian, Chinese and European languages, and the ease with which he ties all of these disparate sources together into compelling narratives and arguments.
Importantly, Stenberg is able to unpack the complexity of ‘Chineseness’ through a fresh angle—an under-explored yet particularly prevailing dimension in the everyday encounters of Sino-Indonesians, namely, performances. . . . By doing so, [he] contributes a cultural history/study of Chinese Indonesians, which has been long overdue in the studies of the Chinese in Southeast Asia. . . . Stenberg is remarkably versatile in collecting the multilingual primary and secondary sources, conducting oral interviews with theatre practitioners together with participant observations. The encompassing approaches have produced a valuable inter-disciplinary work that combines ethnography with cultural and historical analysis.
Minority Stages is a fine piece of scholarship that successfully advances our understanding of the diverse Sino-Indonesian performance genres from colonial times to the present. The greatest strength of this book lies in the acuity and vividness expressed through the author’s descriptions of performances by the Sino-Indonesian communities. Stenberg’s compelling ethnographic account dives readers straight into the lively and effervescent performance practices.
A major strength of this study is [Stenberg's] capacity to balance Chinese- and Indonesian-language sources—and to bring sinocentric and diasporic sources into productive dialogue.
Stenberg has done exceptionally well in sustaining the scope of such a wide-ranging topic and simultaneously enabling focused episodes of analysis and interpretation throughout the book. . . . This book is a groundbreaking work that contributes to the relatively understudied area of Sino-Indonesian expressive cultures.
Minority Stages, for me at least, is a revelatory book. . . . I imagine other readers will be as impressed as I am by the author's array of literary, archival and ethnographic sources, his apparent mastery of Indonesian, Chinese and European languages, and the ease with which he ties all of these disparate sources together into compelling narratives and arguments.
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