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Chinese education advantage in Malaysia

(Updated )

The many outbursts of the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and "news analyses" and "commentaries" in the Utusan Malaysia on Chinese education and language in Malaysia have given a very wrong picture to Malaysians and the world.

According to the stereotype constructed for political psychological warfare (psy-war) operations, Chinese education produces Chinese "bigots" who are only good in Mandarin and mathematics, and nostalgic about the Great Motherland, namely China, just as the Zionists all over the world dream of Mount Zion.

It is not a very new psy-war image. It has been here with us for years since those days when our land was still titled British Malaya. At that time, especially during the Cold War and the Emergency (1948-60), Chinese education was even further (mis)associated with communism and underground activities allegedly masterminded in Beijing.

True enough, many communist or pro-communist literature found at that time were published in Mandarin, and inspired by communism in China, but the question was, and still is, whether we can "therefore" equate Chinese-language or Chinese education per se with communism.

The answer is "no". The reasons are simple.

Malay communists

First, according to the historical research conducted by an academic with the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang, Cheah Boon Keng, the idea of setting up an organised Communist Party of Malaya in the late 1920s was introduced by first and foremost, a Malay-speaking Sumatran (under Dutch rule) Tan Melaka, and then other Dutch or Malay-speaking native Marxist-Leninist of the then Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) like Mas Alimin who came first to Muar.

And according to another research monograph sponsored by the Flinders University in South Australia, and conducted by a Singaporean historian CF Yong, in the late 20s and before 1935, there were a significant number of Malay communists in Negeri Sembilan, with communist literature printed in Jawi.

Second, even during the height of the struggle for Independence and during the Emergency, there were English-educated and English-speaking Malayan Communists like journalist-turned-guerilla William Kuek who was shot by British army together with his boyhood friend-cum-comrade "Jacko".

Chin Peng, the last Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya, received a significant portion of his education at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) in his hometown Sitiawan in Perak. He still speaks excellent English as evidenced in his interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1998.

Third, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the Communist Party of Malaya leadership included Malays like Abdullah CD, Rashid Maidin and Shamsiah Fakiah who received their education in the Malay vernacular system then.

Third largest party

However, because of the need for strategic containment against communism in China, Chinese education in Malaya/Malaysia per se was equated with communism - "Beijing conspiracy", "Fifth Column"- despite many facts to the contrary.

Another historical fact long neglected or suppressed is that during the height of Sukarno's power, authority in Indonesia, the Malay-speaking Parti Komunis Indonesia (PKI) was the third largest communist party in the world outside Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.

The Malay-speaking PKI was definitely larger and stronger than the mainly Mandarin-speaking Communist Party of Malaya.

Of course, the history of world communism shows that communists spoke not only Malay, Chinese and English, but also Russian, Hungarian, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Portugese, et cetera.

On the other hand, there were many Chinese-educated or Mandarin-speaking Chinese Malayans/Malaysians who supported the anti-communist Kuomintang (or the National Party of China) and British colonialism.

Some of their leaders formed the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) in 1949.

Approved syllabus

Until early 1990s, most of the Chinese-educated Malaysians went only to the anti-communist Taiwan to further their education. The majority of them were Chinese, although there were a few Malays.

It was only in the mid-90s that some Chinese Malaysians began to go to universities in the People's Republic of China.

What about Chinese primary and secondary education in Malaysia now? What do they teach and what do students learn? Only Chinese culture, language and civilization? Wrong. Plain wrong.

Chinese primary and secondary education teach subjects normal to all races and all countries - science, mathematics, geography, history and sports, et cetera. The syllabus is approved by the Ministry of Education.

Although the standard of English-language in Chinese primary and secondary schools is yet to be improved, many students in these schools excel in Bahasa Malaysia. Upon growing up and preparing for public examinations, they read Dewan Masyarakat , Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian .

I would personally also suggest to some of them to read Harakah once a while to get the picture balanced, and to have a stronger sense of justice and compassion.

They are also taught world history and the history of Malaya/ Malaysia. Chinese education in Malaysia also enables them to understand and appreciate some basic features of Islam and Western civilization.

They definitely know what is the French Revolution and the Storming of the Bastille, American Independence and British Parliament. When they write about the name Prophet Mohammad (May Peace be Upon Him) in Mandarin, they know to address him as a sage, as respectable as Confucius and Lord Jesus Christ.

Global issues

When Chinese-educated Malaysians read Chinese-language newspapers, they know more about Malays/Muslims politics than the readers of Utusan Malaysia or Berita Harian

because all sides are presented or covered fairly.

They know that Muslims can join different parties like Umno, Keadilan, PAS, PRM and even DAP (like Ahmad Nor), just as Chinese can support or not support MCA, DAP, Gerakan, Keadilan and even PAS.

The Chinese-educated Malaysians also read in Chinese-language newspapers like the Sin Chew Jit Poh , Nanyang Siang Pau or

China Press detailed analyses of the American presidential election results from both the Democrat's and Republican's point of view.

They read about China bombarding Taiwan verbally as well as Taiwan's counterattack.

Chinese-language newspapers also cover news on Middle Eastern and Western politics. They have columns for Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Taoists, as well as news about Michael Jackson, Jackie Chan and Madonna.

Sin Chew Jit Poh , for example, has been sending its senior journalists, editors and writers to Indonesia, Iran and the Sultanate of Oman to report on Islamic ways of life, their political and economic conditions, and culture.

It also invites Malay and Indian academics from Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) to comment on regional, American and China affairs, giving Chinese-educated Malaysians wider perspectives and balanced views.

Universal values

Using language to identify non-existent "communists" or define a defunct ideology, or using the communist label to stereotype a particular linguistic group or its civil organisation, is sterile and futile.

In the post-Cold War 21st century, it is also rather comical or farcical to use a language as an ideological foundation of "nationalism" and "ethnic unity".

The Chinese language, like Bahasa Indonesia/ Melayu is a liberal and nonpartisan language not only for Confucianism or Buddhism, but also for Islam, Christianity, Socialism, Liberalism and feminism. It is, in short, a language for all human ideas and values.

Chinese education does not produce "bigots" or "extremists". It teaches Malaysians who are willing and ready to learn secular and modern knowledge in all fields.

It also imparts universal human values such as honesty, tolerance, compassion and stoic valour in the face of oppression and injustice, values which are all found in Hinduism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.


JAMES WONG WING ON, a former MP for Kampar, was educated in the Chinese Catholic schools of SRJK (Cina) and SMK Sam Tet, Ipoh, Perak. He read economics and political science at the Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and now writes a weekly column in a Chinese-language daily. All views in this article are his own.

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