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Yannic Han Biao Federer – writing the family trauma away

Yannic Han Biao Federer lives and works as a freelance writer in Cologne.

“I don’t come from a background where humanities or even artistic professions would have been a desirable option,” says Yannic Han Biao Federer. Federer’s father belonged to the Chinese minority in Indonesia before discrimination forced him to emigrate to Germany. Despite reservations from his parents, Federer studied German and Romance languages and literature and recently published his second novel, which was published by Suhrkamp Verlag.

In “Tao,” the eponymous protagonist sets out in search of his Chinese ancestors and, in the process, attempts to explore his own family biography through writing. People who talk to Federer quickly realize that Tao’s family history is similar to his own. The grandfather who was sold from China to Indonesia as a child, and the father who emigrated from Indonesia to Germany. “I asked myself for a long time how I could cope with my family history through writing,” says the 35-year-old.

In the footsteps of his Chinese ancestors

Several years ago, Federer began by researching the Chinese minority in Indonesia. “In my family, there was hardly any talk about what happened in the 1965 massacre.” An estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were killed in a bloody military coup that saw eventual President Haji Mohamed Suharto establish a new regime.

“It was communicated as if they had specifically and exclusively killed communists who had come under suspicion for an attempted coup,” Federer recounts. “But the persecution and killing went far beyond that – and among the victims were many who were victimized only because they belonged to the Chinese minority.”

For centuries, the Chinese minority in Indonesia had repeatedly been caught in the crossfire as a scapegoat whenever there were tensions and conflicts in the country. Prejudices persisted that the Chinese had become too economically powerful in Indonesia and had their hands in everything. After the 1965 massacre, Suharto enacted discriminatory laws that placed the Chinese minority under permanent suspicion. The Chinese language was banned, as were Chinese organizations. “You were pressured to change your Chinese name. My family also adopted an Indonesian name,” Federer said.

Stepping out of silence

The trauma and the silence of his family were instilled in him without him consciously reflecting on it. “Trauma means that I can’t get rid of something. It can’t be made into memory, but remains constantly present,” Federer explains. To overcome his trauma, he invents his protagonist Tao. “I needed someone to whom I could give things from myself.”

Federer has used writing to turn his own trauma into a memory. The fact that he introduces himself today with his full German-Chinese name is a result of that struggle. “My parents deliberately gave me this second, Chinese first name. It says we are still here, we still exist.” Svenja Napp

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