Indonesian Civilians’ Attributions for Anti-Chinese Violence During the May 1998 Riots in Indonesia


  • Eunike Mutiara Himawan
  • Winnifred Louis
  • Annie Pohlman


The present research examines the perceptions of Indonesian civilians regarding the May 1998 riots, which occurred at the end of the period of military dictatorship in Indonesia and included looting, rapes, and murders, disproportionately targeting Chinese Indonesians. Using a mixed methods approach, the research explores the intersectionality of ethnicity and gender as factors associated with perceptions of the extent and causes of the riots. It aims to contribute to the literature concerning the Ultimate Attribution Error, and to the psychology of intergroup relations in non-WEIRD contexts more broadly. An online survey with qualitative and quantitative components was administered to 235 participants (134 Pribumi and 101 Chinese Indonesian participants). The present research provides what may be the first documentation of civilian perceptions of the May 1998 riots. Significant differences consistent with the Ultimate Attribution Error were found between perpetrator and victim groups’ accounts. Participants who are Pribumi (the group involved in perpetrating the violence) attributed the causes of the violence to external factors more strongly, while participants who are Chinese Indonesians (the victim group) attributed the causes of the mass violence more strongly to the internal factors of perpetrators. There was no evidence, however, that gender affected perceptions, despite the gendered nature of the violence.