In this webinar, Professor Leo Suryadinata, Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, shares his insights regarding the transformation of Confucianism in Indonesia.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Tuesday, 21 March 2023 – This webinar examines the trajectory of Confucianism in Indonesia, with considerable focus on the local influences that shaped its transformation from philosophy to organised religion. Professor Leo Suryadinata is joined by Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, a Senior Fellow from ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, who served as moderator for the event. The webinar attracted 76 attendees.
Professor Leo began his presentation by examining the state of Confucianism in China, where Confucianism is viewed as a philosophy, moral teaching and non-organised religion. Observing that there were failed attempts to establish Confucianism in China as a state religion, he highlights how Confucianism is now repositioned as a respected philosophy and moral teaching in China.
However, in Indonesia, Confucianism is viewed instead as an organised religion. He goes on to trace the historical trajectory of Confucianism in Indonesia that led to this designation. The Confucius teaching was originally utilised by the Peranakan Chinese to reform their customs. The Peranakan Chinese leaders established the Tiong Hoa Hwee Koan (THHK) in 1900 in order to achieve this objective by promoting Chinese culture. But in the process, the THHK focused on Chinese education, and those who wanted to promote Confucianism established Khong Kauw Hwee in 1918. Subsequently, after WWII, the name Khong Kauw Hwee was changed to Agama Khonghucu.
Agama Khonghucu possessed the elements of a monotheistic religion influenced by Christianity and Islam – with a god, prophet and bible. The God was Thian (天), while the Prophet was Khonghucu. The bible was the translated Confucius classics (四书五经 4 Books and 5 Classics). Agama Khonghucu even conducted congregations and had a religious song book, Kitab Nyanyian.
During Sukarno’s regime, Agama Khonghucu was designated as an organised religion along with five others. Surmising that other popular religions like Tridharma and Taoism were not selected due to lack of support, Professor Leo went on to highlight how Agama Khonghucu was presented as an organised religion by the Majelis Tinggi Agama Khonghucu Indonesia (Matakin) in 1967.
After Suharto came to power, he wanted to use all religions to stop the revival of Communism; hence the Sukarno’s Presidential Decision No.1/1965 of six religions was still upheld. However, once Suharto consolidated his power, he derecognized Confucianism, because Confucianism was regarded to be against his total assimilation policy. He forced many Confucianists to register as Buddhists or convert to other religions. Only after the fall of Suharto was Confucianism re-recognized as an organized religion. By then, the number of followers has declined due to suppression during the second half of the Suharto regime.
Concluding his presentation, Professor Leo observes that Confucianism is not the only way to preserve Chinese identity for Chinese Indonesians as Chinese Indonesians can still retain their Chinese name or surname if they wish. He also noted that the decline of Confucianists is due to many Peranakans converting to Christianity or Buddhism instead.
During the Q&A session, Professor Leo fielded questions such as the decline of Confucianism with the rise of China, comparisons between Indonesian Confucianism and Confucianism in other countries, folk Chinese religions, and the difference between Confucianism as a philosophy and as a religion.