Huang Fulong discusses how Indonesia’s exclusion policy towards the Chinese brought his family back to China, and how he experienced life on a communal farm during the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath.
Born in Indonesia to a Hakka Chinese father and an Indonesian mother, Huang Fulong was brought to mainland China when he was just two years old. His parents had to leave for China because the Indonesian government under Suharto was exercising a policy of Chinese exclusion in the country beginning in the late 1960s. His family sailed by boat from Jakarta to Guangzhou, where they were assigned by the authorities there to a communal farm in Jiaoling County. Life in China at the height of the Cultural Revolution was tough: Huang recalled that some returnees were unable to bear the hard life on the farms, especially those from Vietnam. They tried to smuggle themselves out of the mainland to places like Hong Kong in order to escape the labour. Many of them were caught, and were sent for ideological and political education before going back to their assigned farms. Freedom of expression was also curtailed by the authorities, especially during the Cultural Revolution: returnees were organized to study and read newspapers like the Southern Daily News in Guangdong in order to politically brainwash them. In private though, those returnees were critical of such brainwashing attempts.
Huang recounts how her mother found it difficult to integrate into Chinese society: she could only understand a little Mandarin and Hakka, and that she usually spoke Indonesian at home. Such language barriers made it difficult for his mother to find people to talk to. Nonetheless, Huang stated how it was much easier to join the Communist Party of China back then, even with his family’s background as returnees. One member of his family joined the party, while another even joined the armed forces. After graduating from high school, Huang spent six months in Shanghai studying mechanical maintenance. With a passion for manufacturing plastics, he participated in setting up a plastics factory in his old communal farm. With China’s Reform and Opening Up policy taking effect in earnest during the late 1990s, Huang left the plastics factory for Shenzhen with other returnees to seek better career opportunities.
Huang thought that it was only with the beginning of Reform and Opening Up on mainland China that the life of overseas Chinese on the farms became more colorful. Returnees living in farms began to organize various recreational activities: from barbecues and singing gatherings to badminton games. Later, the Chinese government also remodelled and upgraded the houses of the returnees. Huang believes that although they went through a series of political activities after returning to China, their life now is still far better than that of their relatives in Indonesia
Huang Fulong experienced life in China both during the Cultural Revolution and the Reform and Opening Up eras. How did both eras influence the ways in which returnees like Huang identified themselves as?
What does Huang Fulong’s reflection on how the Chinese government treated overseas Chinese returnees reveal about changing political imperatives in China during the Cold War, and how it affected the various socioeconomic classes of overseas Chinese across Asia?
How did experiencing life on mainland China affect the ways in which returnees like Huang Fulong perceive their kinsmen and relatives who were still living in their Southeast Asian host societies?