The name Benteng Chinese comes from the Indonesian word Benteng, an ancient name of the city of Tangerang that also means fortress in Indonesian language. During the Dutch colonial era a fortress was built on the banks of the Cisadane river, as front-line defense of the Dutch port of Batavia (today's Jakarta) against attacks from the Sultanate of Banten.
The Benteng Chinese has lived in Tangerang for many generations in the area that today comprises the City of Tangerang, the Regency of Tangerang, and the City of South Tangerang.
According to a Sundanese manuscript Tina Layang Parahyang (Notes from Parahyangan), the Chinese community of Tangerang and Batavia had existed since at least 1407 CE. This manuscript told of the first arrival of a Chinese community led by Tjen Tjie Lung - whose nickname is Halung - at the mouth of the Cisadane river, now called Teluk Naga (Dragon's Bay).
There was tension between the Benteng Chinese and native Indonesians at the time of the Indonesian National Revolution. On 23 June 1946, riots targeting Benteng Chinese homes broke out, wherein native Indonesians looted Chinese possessions - including Chinese prayer tables - with support of the Indonesian government. These riots were stoked by placement of an Indonesian flag with a Dutch flag by a Dutch colonial army soldier of Chinese descent.
Indonesian journalist Rosihan Anwar wrote on the Merdeka daily on 13 June 1946 that relationship between native and Chinese Indonesians had reached an all-time low. Conditions worsened after Pao An Tui, a pro-Dutch Benteng Chinese youth group, mobilized armed groups to evacuate Benteng Chinese residents to Batavia. Anti-Chinese rioting was successfully suppressed by the alliance of Pao An Tui and Dutch colonial troops.
At the time, nearly the entire Benteng Chinese population was displaced, and upon return, they found that their properties were no longer intact: their land holdings had been confiscated or their homes had been looted.
The Benteng Chinese belong to two groups according to their immigration from China.
The first group arrived in the 15th century to become farmers, laborers, workers, and traders. They sailed to Tangerang on small vessels, tend to be poor, and cooperates with the Dutch colonials in their livelihoods. Nowadays many descendants of this group still live in poverty and has assimilated into the native Sundanese and Betawi cultures. Most of them reside in villages.
The second group arrived in the 18th century with permission from the Qing (Manchu) Empire under condition of continued loyalty to the Qing government. They arrived on Dutch trading ships, motivated by economic opportunities to work as laborers, traders, and soldiers in the Dutch colonial army. This second group was brought to Indonesia under the Dutch colonial empire's ideal of 'One harmony between 3 races, under one loyalty to the Dutch colonial empire.' The three races refer to the Chinese, the Dutch, and the Sunda-Betawi peoples. It was hoped that this mixture of demographics will be loyal to the Dutch government. Thus, this second group of Benteng Chinese was economically successful.
The traditional dress of the Benteng Chinese is a mixture of the Chinese traditional dress mostly of Hokkien heritage and the Betawi traditional dress. The males wear a black shirt and long pants with a traditional hat in conical shape. The female dress called 'hwa kun' is a blouse with headdress and veil. An alternative costume is the 'kebaya encim' of Peranakan heritage.
Contributions to Dutch colonialism
The Benteng Chinese contributed strongly to Dutch colonial operations in Tangerang. Many became 'kapitein Tionghoa,' representing an entire Chinese enclave and acting as landlord in Tangerang, with strong loyalty towards the Dutch.
During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia many Benteng Chinese resisted the Japanese even if they were ultimately unsuccessful. Upon Indonesian independence, Tangerang was the last part of Java returned to the Republic of Indonesia by the Dutch. Many Benteng Chinese emigrated to the Netherlands where they still reside today.
Benteng Chinese today
Benteng Chinese culture today is a mixture of Betawi and Chinese cultures. One example is cokek, a dance featuring a male and female couple set to gambang kromong music. Religiously, the Benteng Chinese adhere to Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, ancestor worship, and few adhere to Islam.
Even if most Benteng Chinese do not speak Chinese language, they maintain Chinese traditions including the use of Qing wedding costumes. They are uniquely the only Chinese community in Indonesia with significant Manchu ancestry.
Qing Dynasty descendants
Some among Benteng Chinese people surnamed 王 "Wang" (Hokkien : Ong) are descendants of the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty (Manchu clan Aisin-Giorio or Aixinjueluo in mandarin). They are descendants of the illegitimate son of Qianlong Emperor and a girl surnamed Ong in Fujian province. Because the Emperor did not want the affair became public, so to hide that fact, the illegitimate son of his relationship was given the surname Wang (王).
Wang 王 (Hokkien: Ong) is the Chinese character for "king", which is used by people who are descendants of the ruler, but never in power. Incorrect information stating they use the surname Ong as the mother of an illegitimate child was also surnamed Ong, but actually this is a coincidence. Wang clan name first used by the House of Zi (ruler of the Shang Dynasty), and then by the House of Ji (ruler of the Zhou Dynasty) when they are not in power anymore.
Not all Ong clans are descended from Aixinjueluo. Descendants of Qianlong Emperor now use Indonesian name Wangsa Mulya/Wangsa Mulia, to differentiate themselves from other Ong clans. The name itself comes from the Sanskrit language, Wangsa (dynasty), and Mulia (majesty/pure), when translated into English becomes "Pure Dynasty". While the word "Qing" itself means "pure ". So Wangsa Mulia in Sanskrit literally means Qing Dynasty in English.
Over time, most people of Wangsa Mulya families do not realize that they are the descendants of the Qing Dynasty. They adhere to modern life but remain ultra-conservatives principles such as feudalism and anti-feminism. The latest information states that they inherit a large landlordship which area is now part of the BSD and Gading Serpong real estate.