May 30, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Non-conformist memoirs

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Oei Tjoe Tat was not always an obscure name

Melbourne correspondent

Oei Tjoe Tat (edited by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Stanley Adi Prasetyo), Memoar Oei Tjoe Tat, Pembantu Presiden Soekarno, Jakarta: Hasta Mitra, April 1995. 412 pp. Introduction by Daniel S. Lev.

Reviewed by a Melbourne correspondent.

'Who?' was the usual response whenever his name was mentioned. But that was last year. When the Indonesian government black-listed his memoirs, it brought the name Oei Tjoe Tat back into prominence. Oei Tjoe Tat was not always an obscure name. During the Old Order he was Indonesia's only non-pribumi Minister of State, and assistant to President Sukarno himself.

Last year Oei, aged 73 and to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary, released his memoirs. The book was reprinted several times before finally being banned in September 1995 at the urging of Fosko '66 (Forum Studi dan Komunikasi '66), because it was dangerous. The Attorney General agreed, saying the book would 'poison the minds of the younger generation.' They were banned, it seems, because they simply didn't conform to the official version of history.


Of concern for Fosko '66 and the government were Oei's recollections of the events surrounding G30S in 1965. According to Oei, members of the Indonesian military not aligned with the PKI were behind the 1965 coup. He also implies that New Order President Suharto played a greater role than has so far been acknowledged.

Oei's efforts to tell his version of events surrounding the change from the Old to the New Orders earned him a position on the exclusive list of 15 OTBs named last year by a senior military official. OTB, or Organisasi Tanpa Bentuk, literally means formless or 'ghost organisations'. After almost 12 years in prison on charges he was involved in the 1965 coup, being labelled an OTB, the consequences of which are still unclear, will no doubt have little impact on Oei.


Oei Tjoe Tat details his life from birth until his release from prison in 1977. He was born in Solo, Central Java, in 1922 to a Catholic Chinese Indonesian family. He studied at university and held senior positions in a number of organisations. These included Vice-Chairman of the Indonesian Chinese Democracy Party, legal adviser to the Greater Jakarta Military Command, General Manager of Partindo, and Chairman of the Marhaen Farmers Movement. He also held senior posts with Baperki (Badan Permusyawaratan Kewarganegaraan Indonesia), a left-wing Chinese political organisation banned after the coup for its links with the PKI. He became Vice-Chairman of Baperki before taking on the job of State Minister at Sukarno's request.

At the time of the coup Oei had just returned from a visit to Thailand and Hong Kong. He relates in detail his activities on his return and in the aftermath of the coup, including his own confusion, conversations with those he met as well as their reactions to the events.

Other controversial recollections include a reference to anti- Old Order protests by organisations such as KAMI, KASI and KAPPI as being military-backed, and to the military's deliberate fudging of the official death toll in the killings that followed the coup. Oei participated in a fact-finding mission for President Sukarno to establish the extent of the blood-letting in the post-coup period. Also of interest is his retelling of conversations with fellow political detainees and their fate during the years he spent in prison.

Oei was 'placed in protective custody' by the New Order government in March 1966, and not released till December 1977. He was finally charged in 1976 with involvement in G30S. The evidence was, however, rather tenuous, based largely on a public statement from Partindo to which Oei claims he had not been a party, and on several events difficult to substantiate in detail.


Since his memoirs were published Oei has been accused of being an opportunist, of trying to distance himself from involvement in G30S, and of rewriting history to clear his name. His response has been to state that his memoirs are completely subjective, but also to challenge his accusers to prove which facts are wrong.

No doubt Oei's memoirs do serve another purpose aside from recounting the life of an Old Order State Minister. Throughout, he seems at pains to emphasise that his involvement in the political arena was in response to the urgings of others, or to his desire for justice for Chinese Indonesians. He portrays himself as a nationalist, disclaims any links with the PKI, and maintains throughout that he was wrongly imprisoned. As assistant to the President his activities, he says, were influenced by his loyalty to the President.

Like Sukarno, Oei does, however, seem to have been somewhat out of touch with the level of dissent within the community and the military against Sukarno's policies. In a conversation with Suharto after the coup, he was taken aback to discover some senior military figures did not support the President's policy of Konfrontasi with Malaysia.


Memoar Oei Tjoe Tat, Pembantu Presiden Soekarno does not offer an analysis of Indonesian political history. Rather it is a recollection of events and impressions from a man who was, in various capacities, caught up in the flow. It does offer an insight into the activities of Indonesia's Chinese community pre-1965 in trying to establish themselves as an influential part of the community in Indonesia. It also illustrates the internal functioning of Indonesia's Old Order government shortly before and after the coup, as well as the New Order government's strategies in dealing with those it considered a threat. And Oei offers a revealing insight into the personalities of senior government officials such as Sukarno, Suharto, Nyoto, Chaerul Saleh, and Subandrio, as well as the PKI leader Aidit.

Included in the book are photos and copies of documents relating to Baperki, the post-coup fact-finding commission, and Oei's detention.

Hopefully this memoir will provide the impetus for other Indonesians to relate their experiences during the 1965 coup and its aftermath. This will allow the next generation to have a fuller understanding of what actually did occur during this controversial period, before those who played key roles in the events pass on.

The reviewer is a post-graduate student at Monash University.

Inside Indonesia 46: Mar 1996

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