If we had to pick a year to indicate the start of Chinese mass migration to Malaya, when would it be?
The question piqued me after reading the tweet below a few days ago by Derek Tonkin who stated “1872 was at the start of the serious Chittagonian migration into Arakan”.
i.e. start of the serious migration of Bengali workers from Chittagong (Bangladesh) into Rakhine, Myanmar.
Note: Tonkin was British Ambassador to Vietnam (1983) and British Ambassador to Thailand, concurrently to Laos (1986-89). More relevantly, Tonkin served with the Burma desk at the British Foreign Office in the 1960s.
Something similar happened around the same period in Malaya.
1874 can be said to mark the beginning of British colonization of Malaya. In that year, the Pangkor Treaty was signed between Great Britain and the Sultan of Perak.
The British left their colonial legacy, in both Burma and Malaya, consisting of a huge number of foreign workers whom later created messy citizenship issues.
“The immediate result of the establishment of British rule at these three places [Penang, Singapore, Malacca] was a tremendous influx of Chinese settlers” wrote Wilfred Lawson Blythe in his ‘Historical sketch of Chinese labour in Malaya’.
Penang, Singapore and Malacca were the ports of entry for Chinese immigrants.
Timeline of creeping British control in Malaya
- 1786: Penang
- 1819: Singapore
- 1824: Malacca
- 1826: Straits Settlements administered by EIC (East India Company)
- 1874: Perak, Selangor & Sungai Ujung in Negeri Sembilan
- 1888: Pahang
- 1895: Federated Malay States
- 1914: Johor
It was the British who transformed Tanah Melayu into a plural state, writes Ruhanie Ahmad in his NST column on Feb 24.
On Feb 25 in The Star, local historian Ranjit Singh Malhi wrote in his letter to the editor: “The establishment of pepper and gambier plantations by the Chinese in Johor actually gained momentum from the mid-1840s”.
These Chinese planters coming to Johor had shifted mainly from Singapore.
The peak years of Chinese emigration to Malaya is pegged by many researchers to have begun around 1860.
After an interval of some 100 years (counting from 1860), Malaya achieved independence in 1957 and saddled with a multiracial population.
But before that, from 1948 to 1960, Malaya was under Emergency rule because of the communist insurgency.
Between 1948 and 1949, an estimated 26,000 Chinese suspected of communist activities or sympathies were deported back to China. (Source: ‘The Malayan Emergency in Retrospect: Organization of a Successful Counterinsurgency Effort’ by R.W. Komer)
These Chinese communist suspects were able to be deported by the British government because they were not citizens of Malaya.
Bahasa teras at the core of our nation
Citizenship is nationality, said MCA founder Tan Cheng Lock.,
The word ‘nation’ is defined by the dictionary as “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory”.
Chinese inhabiting Malaya were not only of a different descent, history, culture and language but also belonging to a different political ideology (communism).
Too much diversity, don’t you think?
In his NST column, Ruhanie Ahmad said “Malaysia as a plural state is not a country of minorities. The Pribumis is the definitive majority”.
In the Nusantara or Malay world, the Pribumi group is the one forming what Ruhanie calls the “core nation”.
This core, according to Ruhanie, is predicated upon a group of the same ethnic having the same language, practising the same culture as well as sharing the same heritage.
Ruhanie said Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians do not possess this ‘core nation’ status “because their ancestral roots are either in East Asia or South Asia”.
BELOW: Roti Bengali has its ancestral roots in Bengal
Some Chinese are already four to five generations in Malaysia but they still don’t speak bahasa Melayu.
Their political leaders – paradoxically – don’t think BM is important while at the same time, they don’t want Malay nationalists like Ruhanie Ahmad to stress the importance of one’s ancestral roots in order to disqualify Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians.
Here’s how the DAP illogic goes —
Lim Guan Eng: “I am not Chinese.”
Lim Kit Siang: “I’m Malaysian first.” (It is immaterial that my father emigrated from China.)
If what the Lims claim above is true, then why do they insist on conducting their party activities in Mandarin?
“It is only the chauvinist, concealed or otherwise, who suggest that linguistic uniformity is a necessary basis for cultural unity,” said Kit Siang previously on 24 Nov 1968.
Yes, it was more than 52 years ago that Kit Siang labelled Malay-language nationalists as chauvinistic. And his party is still fighting an identical battle today.
BM is at the back of the queue
Talking about the impact of British rule in Malaya, Encyclopaedia Britannica said it “brought profound changes, transforming the various states socially and economically”.
British colonialism had additionally transformed the linguistic landscape of Malaya too.
In his 1968 Great Debate with Gerakan’s Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas on the topic of bahasa perpaduan, Kit Siang supported language diversity rather than us having one common language.
DAP and MCA believe that Switzerland, with its four official languages, is a good model for Malaysia.
Singapore follows the Swiss in having four official languages. In Singapore they are English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay.
Kit Siang cited Switzerland’s linguistic variety as serving “to enrich the cultural wealth of a national community”.
Prof. Syed Naquib did not agree with the DAP in 1968 and he steadfastly maintained his disagreement over the subsequent years.
According to the good professor, Switzerland’s four communities – German, French, Italian, Romansh – all share one religion (Christianity) and are of the same racial stock.
This is not the case for Malay, Chinese and Tamil speakers in peninsular Malaysia.
For Syed Naquib therefore, BM must be placed at the core of nation building.
For the Chinese though?
They started coming here en masse during British colonial times 150 years ago. They did not want to learn bahasa Melayu then.
The most active period of Chinese immigration was the 1920s … one hundred years ago. They continued in not wanting to learn BM.
Kit Siang was promoting language diversity ala the Swiss and the Singaporeans 50 years ago. This model means that there is no real need for the Chinese to learn BM.
Today the MCA is opening its membership to non Chinese. MCA is a wannabe multiracial political party. DAP, meanwhile, is a multiracial party.
Non-Chinese Malaysians wishing to join MCA and DAP in their activities should start learning Mandarin. Why would the Chinese learn BM now when they’ve not done so the last 150 years?