The fragmented self the longing (novel) and intergenerational relations in a Chinese Indonesian family (exegesis)

Author Identifier

Alberta Natasia Adji

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Debra Dudek

Second Supervisor

Ffion Murphy


This creative arts–based thesis consists of two parts, a generational novel, “The longing”, and an accompanying essay, “Intergenerational Relations”. The novel is set in Indonesia over several decades from the 1950s to the Reformasi era in the 2010s, covering the 1965 Communist Purge, Suharto’s New Order (1966-1988) and the May 1998 Riots. It depicts various experiences and challenges of Chinese characters, such as, arranged and intercultural marriages, financial stress, domestic violence, physical and mental ill-health, child-rearing, business- and career-building, state-sponsored violence, and religious and cultural marginalisation. The novel draws on data from diverse sources, including family stories, personal observations, diary entries, memories, and historical and literary works. It aims to convey dynamic and complex experiences of three related and enterprising Chinese women living in a predominantly Javanese Muslim country. Dido, a woman in her twenties and the novel’s narrator, has Chinese and Javanese parentage. She is a diarist and documentary filmmaker who tells stories about her own upbringing, work and relationships; about her grandmother, Ah Lam, who establishes a restaurant to provide for her family; and about her mother, Ming Zhu, an accomplished pianist who marries a Javanese man and converts from Catholicism to Islam. My depictions of the women and their relationships, while necessarily imagined and partly fictitious, also draw substantively on my family’s lived experiences. The novel’s title, “The longing”, refers to Chinese Indonesians’ aspiration to be acknowledged as a permanent community within the Indonesian population.

The essay discusses creative arts–based research and the cyclical connection between practice-led and research-led methods that guided and sustained the fictionalising process. It also discusses my choices of narrative inquiry and intersectional feminism as methodological and theoretical approaches that assist the aim of the thesis to illuminate ethnic tensions and marginalised perspectives while promoting diversity, acceptance and unity. Among various literary, theoretical and historical sources discussed in the essay, I point to the influence of Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism and my insider authorial position as a middle-class Christian Chinese Indonesian woman. The essay also explains that choosing autofictional literary techniques for “The longing”, such as employing an autodiegetic narrator who uses first- and third-person limited narration and past and present tenses to tell my family stories – but whose heritage, work and romantic life differ from my own—served not only thematic and dramatic ends but also aided the creative writing process over multiple drafts by generating necessary distance between my own and my characters’ experiences, including of ethnicity-based rejection.

The essay contends that Chinese women’s roles in running households and becoming breadwinners and cultural negotiators during periods of increased anti-Chinese sentiment have been explored by only a few writers. Using creative writing, narrative inquiry, intersectional feminism, and historical and literary investigation, the thesis creates new knowledge and understandings about Chinese Indonesians.



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