Ever since the first century AD, China and the Indonesian islands already had close contact either between the Chinese emperor and the Indonesian kings as well in religion and trade contexts. Chinese princesses are known to have been given in marriage to a number of kings in Yogyakarta, Solo, Cirebon, Bangka and Belitung and in Western Borneo.
But the influx of Chinese to Indonesia seriously began in the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company, VOC, attracted Chinese mainlanders to immigrate to the Indonesian islands to work and trade.
In Batavia, capital of the VOC, although the Chinese were needed by the Dutch, yet the Chinese community together with the indigenous population were kept to settle outside the city walls and entrenchments.
Many therefore, settled and traded along the Pintu Besar area by the Ciliwung river, that is known as “Glodok” or Jakarta’s Chinatown. Glodok stretches from Pancoran all the way to Jalan Gunung Sahari. A number of Chinese also settled further west in today’s Tangerang, which is now in the neighboring Banten province. These original settlers in Tangerang are known as the Benteng Chinese.
As in the early centuries China prohibited women from emigrating, the immigrating men married local women, thus creating a fusion and acculturation between Chinese and local Malay, Javanese, and other indigenous traditions. This fusion is known as the Peranakan culture.
The Peranakan culture is most pronounced in their wedding ceremonies, music and dance and in particular in the fusion in food and cuisine, where the Chinese absored the local cultures, and vice versa, local communities absorbed Chinese cultural elements into their existence.
A number of well-preserved Chinese buildings that can still be admired today can be seen in Toko Merah, at Jalan Kali Besar that clearly shows Chinese influences. Another is the newly restored Candranaya building along Jalan Gajah Mada. Both Toko Merah and the Candranaya are now open for Seminars, weddings and other large gatherings.
Petak Sembilan is another neighbourhood that still exudes an aura of the original Chinese settlements. Here is the oldest Chinese temple in Jakarta, called the Jin De Yuan or Dharma Bakti Temple, built in 1650 .
Around Petak Sembilan you will find local Chinese stores selling typical Chinese sweets and other Chinese knick-knacks, drugstores selling Chinese medicines, and best of all local restaurants selling original Chinese food such as roast duck, fried dumplings, bakso meatballs. Here is also the typical Chinese coffee shop called “Kopi Tiam” and the Ice Café called “Tak Kie”, still selling all in the “old ways”.
This part of Jakarta’s Chinatown comes alive with lanterns and lion dances most especially during Chinese New Year Celebrations.