Among Indonesians of Chinese descent, Confucianism is experiencing a comeback as it is again recognized as a religion– a status of which it has been deprived since the 1970s, said Yumi Kitamura (Kyoto University) at the International Convention of Asia Scholars in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 1965, Confucianism had been listed among the six religions practiced by Indonesians.
According to the 1970 census, it gathered 0.9 percent of the population, a small percentage, but roughly equivalent to the percentage of Buddhists in Indonesia. However, following a series of measures taken against various Chinese traditions, the Indonesian government dropped Confucianism from the list in 1979, stating that it was merely a belief, and not a religion. In order to continue to exist, Confucians had to register and camouflage themselves as Buddhists, adding statues of Buddha to their places of worship.
In the mid-1990s, explained Kitamura, some Confucians decided to fight fir their rights. A couple married according to Confucian rites asked for the wedding to be entered into official registers. When their request was turned down, they took the authorities to court, with the support of some Muslim intellectuals. Following the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, the new government rapidly expressed signs of support for Confucian demands. This new approach was finalized in February 2006, with an edict requiring local and provincial administrations to give official recognition to the existence of Confucianism.
Confucians in Indonesia have adjusted to patterns of recognized religions in the country, presenting Confucius as their “prophet.” Their rituals combine traditional Chinese practices with choirs, hymns and altar boys. Since the 1980s, there has been a revival of Confucianism in different areas of the world, Kitamura noted.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer