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‘Migration in the Time of Revolution’: Ba Ren, the spy who came into the fold

Duncan Graham

The Jakarta Post

PREMIUM
Malang, East Java  /  Sun, January 12, 2020  /  03:49 pm
‘Migration in the Time of Revolution’: Ba Ren, the spy who came into the fold

Tracing history: Historian Taomo Zhou’s book "Migration in the Time of Revolution" details Ba Ren's complex story. (Courtesy of ISEAS Publishing Singapore/-)

Ba Ren’s name will likely puzzle Indonesians, yet his complex story is so extraordinary it warrants an arena of readers.  Thanks to historian Taomo Zhou from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University who accessed previously secret files in Beijing, now unfortunately closed, we have many details in her book Migration in the Time of Revolution, though gaps remain. Ba Ren’s experiences were complicated by the equivocal way pribumi (native-born) Indonesians viewed the ethnic Chinese — even third generation or beyond who only spoke local languages and had never been to the mainland. These are peranakan (descendent) as opposed to the China-born totok (recent immigrant). To liberals, they were part of society’s rich mix.  But for narrow nationalists seeking to split communities, the ethnic Chinese have been an ideal tool for the malevolent ...