There would be better understanding of the Chinese if their contributions to the nation were brought to light.
< Statue of Lim Goh Tong
THE clue to the forgotten nugget of information came in the form of an e-mail.
reader who sent it pointed me to a particular chapter in a book written
by long-serving colonial officer Sir Frank Swettenham.
The book was British Malaya,
published in 1907, and once I perused chapter 10, I understood why the
reader thought I might find it interesting. Here’s the pertinent
“Their energy and enterprise have made the Malay States
what they are today, and it would be impossible to overstate the
obligation which the Malay Government and people are under to these
hardworking, capable, and law-abiding aliens.
“They were already
the miners and the traders, and in some instances the planters and the
fishermen, before the white man had found his way to the Peninsula.
all the early days it was Chinese energy and industry which supplied
the funds to begin the construction of roads and other public works, and
to pay for all the other costs of administration.
driven their way into remote jungles, run all risks, and often made
great gains. They have also paid the penalty imposed by an often deadly
“But the Chinese were not only miners, they were
charcoal-burners in the days when they had to do their own smelting; as
contractors they constructed nearly all the government buildings, most
of the roads and bridges, railways and waterworks.
all the capital into the country when Europeans feared to take the risk;
they were the traders and shopkeepers. Their steamers first opened
regular communication between the ports of the colony and the ports of
the Malay States.
“They introduced tens of thousands of their
countrymen when the one great need was labour to develop the hidden
riches of an almost unknown and jungle-covered country, and it is their
work, the taxation of the luxuries they consume and of the pleasures
they enjoy, which has provided something like nine-tenths of the
“The reader should understand at once what is due to
Chinese labour and enterprise in the evolution of the Federated Malay
Wow. They did all that even back then? My history books
sure didn’t teach me that. The Chinese in Malaysia certainly didn’t get a
free ride to where they are. But if I didn’t know my community’s
history well, how could I expect others to know?
If they did
know, surely it would help create a deeper appreciation of the Chinese
and assuage the suspicions about their loyalty.
As the nation
mourned the loss of eight policemen and two soldiers and hailed them as
heroes in the recent Lahad Datu armed intrusion, a blogger thought fit
“As has always been the case, when we send our
policemen and soldiers into battle and they are killed or injured, the
chances are they are Melayus and bumiputeras. Perhaps there is wisdom in
getting more Chinese and Indians to join the armed forces so that they,
too, can die for one Malaysia.”
“Always been the case”?
How sad that the many Chinese Special Branch officers who died fighting
the communists are unforgivably forgotten.
Online columnist K.
Temoc who took umbrage at this blogger’s “caustic and unfair” remarks
pointed out that five Chinese police officers have been awarded the
nation’s highest gallantry award, the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP),
Again, it shows how little is known about non-Malay heroes who served in the security forces.
blogger certainly didn’t and he clearly buys into the belief that
non-Malays aren’t willing to risk life and limb for the country and
doesn’t consider why there are so few of them in uniform today.
The irony is even if you are well-known, your deeds may not be officially recorded.
Robert Kuok may be a business legend in Asia but few Malaysians know he
was the close friend and confidant of Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr
Ismail Abdul Rahman.
As mentioned in Ooi Kee Beng’s biography, The Reluctant Politician, Tun Dr Ismail and His Time,
Kuok played a role in the nation’s development and politics, including
helping to pave the way for Tun Abdul Razak’s historic six-day visit to
China in May 1974.
So much is left out of our history books and our national museums.
It’s telling that even Yap Ah Loy’s tok panjang
showcasing the family’s exquisite dinner ware are housed in Singapore’s
Peranakan Museum, not in Kuala Lumpur, the modern city he founded.
agree whole-heartedly with the Prime Minister that Malaysians must
understand each other better if we hope to become a great nation.
Something therefore must be done to document and preserve the nation’s history that is more inclusive and multiracial.
the Government has been remiss, the Chinese should take it upon
themselves to address this lack of understanding and appreciation of
their community’s immense contributions. It shouldn’t, however, be a
glossy and glossed-over coffee table account.
By all means
include the darker and controversial aspects, including the Chinese-led
Communist Party of Malaya’s attempt to overthrow the colonial government
(Interestingly, Kuok’s brother, William, was a communist who died in
But it was also a long war that was won with the help of the Chinese, like those S.B. officers.
we take pride in celebrating our most famous Malaysians – Michelle
Yeoh, Jimmy Choo and Zang Toi – we must also honour the unsung, unknown
heroes like those mentioned by K Temoc: policeman Yeap Sean Hua who died
while apprehending a criminal at Setapak and was awarded the SP,
sergeant Lee Han Cheong and Deputy Commissioner Khoo Chong Kong who were
both killed by the communists.
It’s time to build a Malaysian
Chinese museum that will tell a history – the good, the bad, the noble,
the inspiring – that must no longer be hidden or forgotten.
So Aunty, So What? by June H.L. Wong
> The writer believes the Malaysian Indian community also has a proud and even longer history to share and preserve. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @JuneHLWong