Chinese in Malaysia
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Total Area of Malaysia: 329,750 sq. km

Capital: Kuala Lumpur

Population (1995): 7 million (This is around 35% of the country population of 20.1 million. The country population is drawn from 1995 UN population estimates).


The situation of the 7 million ethnic Chinese in Malaysia is tentative at best, mainly due to the dichotomous and contradictory social roles played by two divergent elements within the Chinese community: the rural-poor and the urban-commercial sector. The urban-commercial sector of the ethnic-Chinese community, in conjunction with foreign (mainly British) interests, completely controlled the country's economy. The ethnic-Malays countered Chinese economic clout by institutionalizing Malay dominance in the newly independent (1957) Malayan state.

Communal tensions had become pronounced following the Japanese occupation during World War II. The Malays at first sided with the Japanese against the British colonial administration but became increasingly disillusioned with Japanese dominance. The Chinese, on the other hand, were badly mistreated by the Japanese authorities (and their Malay collaborators) and many joined an armed resistance group, the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). After the Japanese defeat, the MPAJA attempted to establish political control in the Malayan peninsula and engaged in a violent retaliation against suspected Malay collaborators. Ethnic violence flared throughout the peninsula.

The returning British authorities sided with the majority Malays in the conflict, supporting the establishment of Malay political dominance to offset the communist ideology of the MPAJA which became the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) in 1948. The rural-poor Chinese have been historically associated with, and supportive of, the MCP and that organization's insurgent operations against the Malaysian state (especially during the "Emergency", 1948-1960). Consequently it has been that social segment which has experienced the greatest degree of government persecution. This included a massive rural relocation program initiated in the early 1950s which clustered ethnic-Chinese into "New Villages". The urban Chinese distanced themselves from the MCP in order to protect their advantaged economic position. One major result of this period was the passage of the Internal Security Act (ISA) of 1960. It granted arbitrary policing powers to the state and it has been invoked periodically and used against regime opponents.

Malay distrust of the Chinese (and Indian, see separate entry) "foreign element", stimulated by the MCP insurgency and exacerbated by the ethnic tensions displayed during the aborted incorporation of the Chinese-dominated island of Singapore (1963-1965), erupted into serious communal rioting in the summer of 1969 following a successful Chinese and Indian electoral challenge to the Malays' political hegemony. The legal imposition in 1970 of the New Economic Policy (NEP), designed to redress "bumiputra" (all groups indigenous to Malaysian territory) economic disadvantages, was the important result of the 1969 disturbances. The NEP, however, tended to assign remedial advantages only to ethnic-Malays. It thereby buttressed Malay political and military dominance with economic power, mainly to the disadvantage of the aboriginal peoples and Indian groups.

Chinese politics in Malaysia in the 1980s has been effectively intimidated by the ISA-NEP "double-indemnity". Although no significant episodes of communal conflict have been reported since the 1969 riots, communal tensions and the continuing ethnic polarization have remained as major determinants in Malaysian politics. The ethnic-Chinese continue to maintain their own schools and social, economic, and political organizations. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) is primarily an economic association and is a member of the ruling National Front coalition. The MCA and the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) advocate ethnic accommodation, while the Democratic Action Party (DAP) has taken a more confrontational stance as regards the ethnic-preference policies of the NEP.



October: Elections to the House of Representatives were held with the main opposition Malaysian Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) more than doubling its seats. The gains were achieved largely at the expense of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the group that traditionally represented Chinese interests. The MCA is a major partner in the ruling National Front.


May: The freedom of the Malaysian press, an issue of vital importance during the late 1980s, reemerged as an opposition concern during the year. The Home Ministry issued a stern warning to two opposition newspapers including the DAP's Rocket, that they had to restrict circulation to their party membership. With the imposition of the restriction, the Ministry had changed the newspapers' publishing status from that of newspapers to "in house" publications meant only for party members.

June: The government granted permission for the National Human Rights Society of Malaysia to operate as a legal organization.

December: The government refused an application by the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International to establish a Malaysian branch.


August: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad informed the Malaysian Chinese that the government policy of spreading wealth to the Malay Muslims should not be seen as an injustice, but a chance to share business skills with the bumiputras.

November: Primary Industries Minister and leader of the Gerakan party, Dr. Lim Yaik, said that "Mandarin will be an international language" soon. There are about 50 independent Chinese schools that operate in Malaysia and teach in Mandarin and English. In the 1970s, Bahasa Malaysia was made the language of instruction at all levels of education.


February: On the eve of the 44th anniversary of the MCA, the party launched a drive to recruit more English-educated Chinese.

June: Malaysia's Prime Minister made a 10-day official visit to China, leading the biggest-ever 290-member official delegation. During the visit, the two sides signed more than 30 agreements and memoranda on the establishment of joint ventures in different fields.

Tengu Hamzah, a former Minister and currently the leader of the opposition party, Spirit of '46, questioned the loyalty of Malaysian Chinese investing in China. In response, local Chinese leaders claimed that investments and deals with China are "not motivated by blood ties".

The Prime Minister exhorted all non-Malays to master the Malay language and remarked that Malaya should be given greater economic value.

July: The Chinese have been urged by the government and community leaders, including the Defense Minister, to join the security services like the police and the military, where the Chinese are very much under-represented. According to the Defense Minister, the Indians and the Kadazans are better represented than the Chinese in the rank and file of the armed forces. Chinese community leaders indicated that low pay was the main disincentive for Chinese youth to join the army. They suggest some kind of National Service as the best way to secure the participation of all communities in maintaining the security of the country.

The MCA was planning to invite 1500 people to a liquor party in Kota Baru next month as a protest against the Kelantan state Chief Minister's ban on drinking at parties.

August: The President of the DAP Youth and an opposition MP Lim Eng charged that the government's discriminatory policies in education and employment opportunities have, over the years, led to low birth rates among the Malaysian Chinese. The Chinese population ratio in peninsular Malaysia has dropped from 32.8% in 1983 to 31.1% in 1989 (The Department of Family Planning, Annual Report 1989).


February: Malaysian police and Islamic officials broke up a Chinese New Year's concert at the Chinese Assembly Hall in Kota Baru because it breached a local entertainment code that bars alcoholic drinks in public places. The State of Kelantan, controlled by opposition Islamic fundamentalists, recently introduced some "Sharia" law, a strict Islamic penal code.

March: The MCA President has announced that the party will launch a nationwide campaign to raise funds for independent Chinese secondary schools (The Strait Times, 03/21/94). Currently, there are 60 Chinese secondary schools in the country that use Chinese as the medium of instruction. They depend on donations from the Chinese community because they do not qualify for government grants.

September: Together with rapid economic growth, Malaysia is witnessing a boom in think-tanks and