Kho Ping Hoo’s Books and Cultural Diplomacy

suling-emasFor Indonesian kung fu book fans, the name of Kho Ping Hoo or Sukawati Asmaraman is very familiar. He is an Indonesian prolific and legendary writer of Chinese origin. Inspired by Chinese kung fu books, he made a significant contribution to Indonesian daily literature. His kung fu stories original, distinctive, imaginative and load the big ideas with a background of life in China which is presented with a very alluring.

In his works, even he never visited China before, Kho Ping Hoo managed to tell the readers about the beauty of the scenic landscapes in the mountains and surrounding Thaysan with enough detail (now located in Shandong Province). He also tells many fictional characters who live in the world of martial turbulent times between the kingdoms in China at that time, both groups of black characters (antagonist) and the white group (protagonist). The characters are displayed well and gave a lot of inspiration to the readers and fans.

In the era where diplomatic relations between Indonesia and China are not harmonious, as a result of the attempted coup by Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, and New Order’s regime banned to teach Chinese language, history and culture, Kho Ping Hoo’s books have meant much for generations of Chinese Indonesians to learn more about their cultural identity

Today, the situation is certainly very different. Indonesia-China relation is in the peak and both countries agreed to become strategic partnership in 2005 and enhancing its relationship into comprehensive strategic partnership in 2013. Furthermore, we are now in the age of information and technology where someone can reach millions of people at the speed of thought and access much information.

Against this backdrop, books could become an interesting instrument of diplomacy, more typically known as “soft power”, to engage people-to-people contact and could be used as an instrument of cultural diplomacy to reach out the international communities.

In this regard, the presence of Kho Ping Hoo’s books in the era of information and technology is still relevant. The publication of Kho Ping Hoo’s book in Chinese version, printed or digital, bring opportunities to reach Chinese Communities in China and other part of the world, especially to those who are still not familiar yet with Indonesia.

Kho Ping Hoo’s books eligible to be used as soft power to engage Chinese Communities to understand and enjoyed Indonesian literature, including values and wisdom which Kho Ping Hoo has preached in his book to the Indonesian people, like integrity, courage, loyalty, filial piety, and others.

In this spirit, the initiative by former Indonesian Ambassador to China, Imron Cotan, to launch a book of Kho Ping Hoo entitled “The Golden Flute”, one of hundreds of works of Kho Ping Hoo, in Chinese version on 14 December 2013, is on the right time. This is the second Indonesian book in Chinese after B.J Habibie’s book entitled “Habibie and Ainun” .

Chinese people welcome those two books and hope it could help Indonesian and Chinese people to understand each other and narrow the cultural gap. People saw that in order to promote and enhance relationships, informal approach such as cultural shows, exchange students and scholars or publishes books would complement efforts carried out through formal approach.

Certainly, it is not always easy to use books and others as instrument in cultural diplomacy since it is often wildly unpredictable and risky proposition. For example, the books that have garnered the most attention in Indonesia, when it comes to China there are possibilities that the book will accept flat.

But as mentioned by a Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, the efforts to strengthen bilateral relation between Indonesia and China will never have success if we just rely on formal approaches such as meetings in multilateral forums or formal talks between the government officials. We should also start from informal approach and encourage the use of soft power.

And the launching of books of B.J Habibie and Kho Ping Hoo should be a single step to use it as a soft power in strengthening the Indonesia-China relations, enhancing people-to-people contact and putting more Indonesian footprints in China.

Of course, this is not only the responsibilities of the Indonesian Government Indonesian Embassy in China, but also the responsibilities of all elements of the society. The government and the societies could hand in hand in promoting Indonesia’s soft power in China and the world.

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