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Courting Disaster? Chinese Resistance and Massacres of Chinese inMalaya(1941 – 1960)

Ran Shauli

In the late 1930s the Chinese, most of them immigrants who came to peninsular Malaya in the preceding fifty years, became the largest ethnic group in the country, and the majority among city dwellers (outnumbering the Malays, the Indians and the Europeans). As a group, these diasporic Chinese were highly politicized and well organized in clan, dialect and landsmen associations (Huiguan). The nature and the magnitude of the massacres of civilians that were committed by Japanese troops in China in 1937 were widely published and well known to the Chinese in Malaya. Therefore, it came as no surprise to them that during its occupation of Malaya in 1941-2, the Japanese army singled out and massacred tens of thousands of Chinese, mostly but not solely non-combatants.

The motivations and the reasons for this pre-planned carnage include revenge for the economic and moral support offered by Overseas Chinese to the anti-Japanese struggle in China; preemptive state terror to curb any attempt of resistance on the part of the Chinese; deliberate misperception and labeling of the Chinese as "aliens" (as opposed to the Malays which were wrongly seen as "native"); and deep rooted anti-Chinese predispositions among commanders and rank-and-file alike. Malayan Chinese, on their part, were by no means inert victims. Most of them struggled daily to survive as most people under occupation would do. Many saved their lives and the lives of others by escaping to the jungle or to other parts of the region; others negotiated with the Japanese about the collection of ransom money from the whole community. Thousands joined the guerrillas and tens of thousands supported them actively. Each course of action had consequences, not only for the individual but also for the collective.

This paper will examine the effects of the predominantly Chinese MPAJA (Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army) guerrilla activities on the fate of those Chinese who fled the cities, and lived as squatters in plantations and mines along the jungle fringe throughout the Japanese period. It will also study MPAJA (and Japanese-sponsored Malay police) involvement in interethnic mass violence during the interregnum between Japanese and British rule (1945-6). Finally, the paper will deal with the results of their activities (under the new title: Malayan Peoples` Liberation Army) during the Malayan chapter of the Cold War, which is better known as The Emergency (1948-1960), including murderous reprisals against villagers and the forced relocation of about half a million people.