Wax-off: Indonesians furious as Chinese state media claims batik as traditional craft

Indonesian batik. Photo: Pixabay
Indonesian batik. Photo: Pixabay

Update: Xinhua has posted a correction tweet amid the backlash.

Original story follows.

For Indonesians and most of the world, batik originating from Indonesia is an undeniable fact. Like we saw with the whole rendang and Malaysia episode, having another country claim a precious Indonesian heritage really riled up the nation.

Yesterday, Chinese news agency Xinhua posted a short video showcasing ethnic groups in China decorating cloth using molten wax. The accompanying tweet to the video made the claim that the traditional craft is called batik and that it is “common among ethnic groups in China,” without specifying batik’s Indonesian origin.

Huge backlash from Indonesian Twitter users ensued, with angry responses ranging from users telling the news agency to educate itself on the matter to countless calls for China to not claim anything other than COVID-19.

So where did batik actually come from? Well, UNESCO lists “Indonesian batik” as a world cultural heritage while noting its influences from, among others, China. A historical study of the craft, as published by The Batik Guild, also found the wax and dye technique was practiced in China centuries before batik was a thing in Indonesia, but noted that “Indonesia, most particularly the island of Java, is the area where batik has reached the greatest peak of accomplishment.”

Yet those who acknowledge batik’s historical influences still defend its heritage as uniquely Indonesian owing to the refined techniques developed in Java and that the name itself being a Javanese word, not Chinese. 

Do you think Indonesians were right to be upset by China’s batik claim or should we acknowledge and respect the craft’s historical influences? Let us know in the comments.

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