Chinese Traditional Settlement in Semarang: the Reflection of Culture and Norm of Thionghoa Ethnic

Chinese Traditional Settlement in Semarang: the Reflection of Culture and Norm of Thionghoa Ethnic

Jamilla Kautsary 1), Heddy Shri Ahimsa Putra2), Sudaryono3) dan Leksono P. Subanu4)

Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Semarang is the one of cities in Indonesia which very unique Chinatown district. This district was formed from the minds of ethnic communities, who mostly Thionghoa political fugitive from China. The community still handles strongly their culture values and norms so that influents them to create the unique district. Unfortunately in the Orde Baru era has been much damage to this unique district through several policy reasons for widening the road or river normalizes. The damage of the unique district became more serious when government decided to revitalize this district become tourism destination after WTC tragedy that created many Conflicts of interest on the Implementation policies and programs for culture tourism based revitalization. Through this research I try to find some unique characters that still left. Through the study of several theories about Chinese Traditional Architecture, Feng-shui, History of Housing, History of Chinese architecture and the City Shape, the specific character of the Chinese traditional settlements in Semarang, can be identified. The parameters that used in this research, according to these theories were the cities form, location position of temples, the type of building architecture, orientation and direction, balance principles, form, function and color. By using the deductive method of qualitative rationalistic, parameters that can still be found in the Chinatown area of Semarang is the settlement structure in the road grid, temples at the end of the street or lane to protect the district from sha, and courtyard house shop house type, and the shop can still be encountered in this area, even some of the influence of modern and Java culture also has begun to feel. From the implementation of Feng Shui, even when people do not understand why, but the concept of north-south, pocation and orientation of temples at the end of the lane/street,, a pair of lion statues, writing calligraphy lilian tui, picture statue doorman and coloring still using in this district. Related with implementation of the system of symbols, there is no difference with the origin country because they use same material that imported directly from China

Keywords: Chinese Traditional Settlement, Culture and Norm


Space created from the men’s minds. The creation of space based on the meaning of norms and values of culture. Space is an aspect of the environment is very important. This is not a concept that is common or simple. Space more than a physical 3 dimensional spaces. In the different context and time, the type of space will result in a different, and this is the important issue of design (Rapoport, 1967).

Chinatown in Semarang is one form of manifestation of the norms and cultural values of Chinese immigrants who landed in Semarang. This district has a unique order, as a manifestation of their spirit. Many things that are unique can be found in this area. Unfortunately, the Orde Baru policies erased some of the unique characters in this district.

Besides that, both of the economic activities demands also replaced more traditional spaces that were designed by the local community and the policies to revitalize the district only used some theories that based on the hight-design traditions or theories which considered on the work of urban planners and designers who ignored a lot of environment -which were designed by ordinary people or the traditions popular society (Rapoport, 1969)). These conditions have caused destruction of cultural and unique character of traditional space that ever builds in Pecinan Semarang.

This study is conducted to reveal the unique characters that are still associated with a traditional Chinese architecture in Semarang’s Chinatown. Through the descriptive rationalistic method with empiric descriptive analysis techniques, it is expected that the unique characteristic of traditional Chinese architecture in Chinatown semarang can be identified. The simple process of using this method in the study is as follows diagram 1.1. (Sudaryono, 2006). By using that approach and many theoretical studies the parameters that uses to verifications in this study is following table I.1.


2.1. Chinese Traditional Settlement

2.1.1. City form (Jiexianqzhi Chengshi)

In ancient China, a small city (town) would be built together with a middle or large size city or metropolis. Governmental office and Palace and government office, would be placed in smaller city and called gonqcheng (palace-city), yacheng (government-city),or zicheng (small city/town). Smaller cities within the city were called lifang, wards, or simply fang, neighborhoods with streets grids pattern street, the fang themselves were arranged inside the town. The shi was a commercial district within the city, or market and surrounded by walls whose gates had definite opening and closing hours. Cities with such wards were called lifangzhi chengshi, ward-system cities (figure 1).

At the middle of Northern Song Dynasty, economic growth and society activity finally broke through the restraints of closing gates and restricted hours. The walls of wards and markets were torn down, so that the streets of residential district could reach the thoroughfares directly, shops were arranged along the main boulevards and commerce could be conducted throughout the night and the city became jiexianqzhi chengshi, street-and-lane-system city (Schoenauer 1992).

Table I.1. Parameters of Analysis




Culture and traditional settlement architecture Traditional settlement City form
Urban Pettern (Street and lane pattern)
Klenteng’s Location and Posisi
Types and building architectures:

  1. Courtyard garden
  2. Shop house
Feng Shui Orientation and direction
Balance principle
Sistem of Symbol Form

Figure 2.1. The Ancient China City Shape with The wall built around the city and grid/rectilinear street (Schoenauer 1992 and others 2008)

2.1.2. Urban Pattern

The urban pattern in China is usually stretch out from north-west and south-east. The pattern is finally formed a number of large blocks. The main road / street is the primary entrance of the city, in the secondary road network is not as systematic as the main element of which is in the city is the housing block. Consequently the secondary roads are often lost in the narrow road or junction, where the road ends (deadlock).

Function as a city street market (market place). In the cities of smaller commercial activity concentrated in a small number of roads in the city are greater than the entire area (district) is used for intensive commercial activity. Each type of activity collected on a commercial street in groups according to the types of specific business or trade / business areas (business districts). The owners of shops in some road often founded associations to protect their advantage (Schoenauer 1992 and
LÜ Junhua
and Abramson, D. B., 1997)

2.1.3. Position Location and Temples

Outside of the main streets, in the dense population of the small houses, are always equipped with a small temple. Traditional settlements in the temple can be found along the main roads in the area or in the corner of crossing the narrow road/lane junction (temples in this neighborhood are found along main streets or at intersections or bends in the smaller Lanes) Similarly with spaces at the end of the road is also used as a space for building the temple. These temples functions as the center of the community as well as a place to conduct business activities together. This character more details can be seen in the figure 2.2.

Figure 2.2. Klenteng (temples) at the end or corner of the street or lane. This tamples usualy use as center of activities both social and ritual (Sumber: LÜ Junhua and Abramson, D. B., 1997)

2.1.4. Types of Traditional Building Traditional Courtyard House

Courtyard hause is a type building/house (often a large house) where the main part of the building is disposed around a central Courtyard
(an enclosed area). A. small courtyards house surrounded by service rooms or corridors, but the main rooms are not disposed around a courtyard. Using the jian as a unit room, a number of jian connected together become a building. Most of the pages have orientation to north-south with the main building called zhengfang, placed in the middle in the north, facing south. Zhengfang in front, on the west and east there is a smaller building that faced each other which is called xiangfang or are along the south wing of the frame bundle nafang or a building on the south. This type of Courtyards architecture has a north-south axis as the main structure with each building group was called as a jin (enclosure). Groups larger than building a house traditional may include other pages (courtyard) on the east and west, creating a secondary axis, and each group on the side of the building is called lu or routes and some of the jin. Page (courtyard) along the main axis called zhonglu or main route, while in another page called donglu and xilu or east and west route (line of sight) (Steinhardt, NS, 1984).

Figure 2.3. The Types of Traditional Courtyard:: one-jin, two-jin, two-ly dan tree-ly (Steinhardt, NS, 1984 ) Shophouse (House)

As has been described in the chapter on the sub structure of the road network, roads in the city’s settlements function as a traditional market (market place). In the cities of smaller commercial activity concentrated in a small number of roads in the city are greater than the entire area (district) is used for intensive commercial activity. These are done in shop house. Each type of activity collected on a commercial street in groups according to the types of specific business or trade / business areas (business districts). The owners of shops in some road will often form associations to protect their profits (Schoenauer, 1992).

2.2. Feng_Shui

Feng Shui is the art of using the energy flow of wind, earth and water, which is applied to buildings in both the home and district/area, with the purpose of capturing the energy so that energy-giving or fortune for the owners of the building. Feng Shui is the science for living in harmony with the land the place, so that could bring benefits as big source of potential energy and land are also vital to create peace and prosperity (Skinner, 2002).

Figure 2.4. Abstraction of Feng Shui. (A) Topography in Feng Shui landscape. The term snake dragon and the tiger was taken from the science of astrology which divides China layers to the sky map in four stars: Snake Eastern green dragon, red bird, South West and the white tiger Kura-Kura ground black north. However, not all sites can follow all the needs of Feng Shui, it’s profitable enough to identify the dragon and tiger snake (Skinner, 2002)

Settlement in science Feng-Shui, divided into 2 categories, settlement for the human living and the burial of the dead, because the Chinese do not view the termination of the relationship between human living and the dead. Related to this, another key element that must be considered carefully for using the element is the axis macrocosmic and microcosmic influence.

Tabel II.2. Place for Human Living and the Dead (Skinner, 2002).

Yang Chai (settlement) place for human live

Yin Chai (Burial)

Location for The Dead





King Burial

Marga/Clan temples



Room LAyout

briefing cemetery layout options



Motif symbols in the form of melody or ornament are seen very important in Chinese architecture. Animals and the other symbols are also used as the common exterior ornaments and home interior design in a coordinated whole to form a unity of composition. Symbols are expected to bring fortune for the lucky. Symbols can be grouped into several groups as symbols repellent troops, trees, animals, flowers and fruit, and color


Semarang’s Chinatown is the one of the traditional build environment which it has the unique value and tradition. From our researches that we have been doing from 1999, we could identified and search many unique things. These such as Chinatows of Semarang is the part of lifangzhi chengshi that has been changing be come Jiexianqzhi chengshi (street-and-lane-system city). This area has function as one of the Shi in Semarang.

The Street in Semarang’s Chinatown runs typically to north-south and east-west, thus resulting in number of rectangular block. Commercial activities were restricted to few street (specially main street) and special for Gang Baru street served as market place. This category of commercial activities were grouped together along a particular street so that each street catered to special trades like gold trades along gang Pinggir, Gang Warung for cloth trades, Gang Baru for frees vegetables, Gang Tengah for Bank and others.

The street facade of Semarang’s Chinatown urban house is very simple (homogenous appearances). While the façade of urban house were usually very simple, the interior of the compounds did not lack in ornamentation. They use much kind of ornaments and colors as symbols that they wish from Good. They also use the rules from Feng Shui to Guide them to develop their environment.

Special for the “klenteng” building, they have special character like courdyart building with a wooden framework, brick and stone structures, but the voids in side the building that adopted from courtyard was named as Chim-Chay or Tian Jing. This klenteng also have special position at the end of the lane to protect this area from bad things.

Table III.1. Matrix of Analysis




  1. City Form
  1. Coherent form of the city and district represent the part of lifangzhi chengshi turned into the form of Jiexianqzhi chengshi ( street-and-lane-system city) or town with the system streer and lane after final a period of/to colonization
  2. Chinatown Semarang is one of Shi (the commercial center that exist in metropolis).

Differences in changes from lifangzhi chengshi from to become Jiexianqzhi chengshi
(street-lane-and city-system) in Chinatown Semarang and China is very different, because the reasons for differences in the formation of the area.


Jiexianqzhi chengshi

(street-and-lane-system city)

Street and lane pattren

1. The pettren of the street and lane is grig organic, because the influence of Semarang river, which shape this district become one side of butterfly wings.

2. Orientation of the road to the north-south, only the position of the mountain and the sea is deferent.



This condition is different with original pattern in China .

U~~ U


S S~~

Position of

klenteng (temples)

Position pagoda in China, as in the end of the alley (the skewer is not good for the building) is used as a prophylactic as well as bad weather (there is a protective corridor didepannya)


Posisis of each klenteng (Temples):

  • Kong Tik Soe Klenteng to face on Semarang river as main path/canal to go to the area Pecinan in past time.
  • Tay Kak Sie Klenteng to face on ‘Lombok’ lane
  • Hoo of Hock of Bio klenteng to face on ‘Gang Pasar Baru’
  • Tek Hay Bio/ Kwee klenteng to face on Sebandaran street
  • Liong Hock Bio klenteng to face on ‘Besen’ lane, Pek Bio klenteng to face on ‘Pinggir’ lane and can be seen/accepting people who come from Pekojan street
  • Sioe Hock Bio klenteng to face on ‘Baru’ lane
  • Wie Wie Kiong kleteng has orientation to Semarang river as main path/canal to go to the area Pecinan [of] [at] past time.

The position of klenteng which is to face on or frontal to the street/lane/pant in from of them were influenced by the concept of feng Shui to

to protect the existing street/lane from sha/bad things.






Tipes building

– Courtyard

  1. – Shophouse
  1. The principles of Courtyadr building on temple building does not have large differences in the pattern (and lu jin) and unit (jian)

3. The principle a small temples is very similar with small temples in China than consists of one (1) Zhengfang and does not have xiangfang and Zhonglu but still always in the middle of the building.




1. Ruko (shop house) on the main road, this building also adapted pattern of courtyard in the center of ventilation. In addition, the roof also shaped and balance the principles are still uses.


2. In the case of a shop building also mengadaptasikan elements of European and modern buildings, but the principle of balance is still visible


Yang (settlement for human live):

Still using order North-South (follow the win and water flow) with white tiger and green dragon in west and east side



There is a different in north south orientation between Chinatown in Semarang and City in China, but have same position of green dragon at east side and white tiger at west side

Belance and Harmony

Balance / harmony in the design of pliers radiated fasad building, which has always Zhonglu (main axis in the middle)



The concept of balance is still very clear in use in the design of buildings in Chinatown and use zonglu as main axis





  • Symbols
    Symbols to refuse sha
  • Symbols of being from Heaven
  • Animals Protecting the symbol
  • Animals and Tree as Symbol Long Age
  • Flowers which bring happiness
Almost all the symbols, can be recognise in the Chinatown district, especially in the temple or old buildings and there is no difference with their home country
Some examples of symbols used

Symbol (form, function and meaning) which are found in Chinatown does not have a difference with the symbols in the China, because the goods shipped directly from their home country.
Ornaments and symbols are changed or removed with the published instructions presidential Republic Indonesia number 14/ 1967 About religion, faith and tradition of Chinese)



Some of analysis, can be seen that the traditional settlements in Chinatown still show the characters similar in the original country, although some point have changed. This change is associated with the backgrounds and Semarang’s Chinatown north south orientation, is associated with the geographical position of the mountains and the sea. Typology of settlement, the city form (shi that functions as a trade center), the street and lane pattern in the grid, temples at the end of the corridor, and courtyard house type, and the shop can still be encountered in this area. Behind all the community creation, always there is a meaning or reason. They have based culture and norm that they brought from their ancestors from generation to generation, and this has been reflected in their living even though their religion has changed.

Each location is unique, and there are rules or norm in side and not something that is empty. So when the government decided to do develop through the program, the government and developer must understand the fundamental that establish in the area both culture and norm to reduce the conflict.


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About Jamilla Kautsary

Aku ada karena kamu
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