Chapter 03 - Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


Clementi's governorship was a turbulent one, and it was plagued with such problems as decentralization; the downturn of the economy due to the Great Depression (1929—32); the growing power of Chinese political societies in Malaya; the realization, which came as something of a shock, that the Malays were outnumbered for the first time in their own country by the non-Malays, and that something had to be done to control Chinese immigration; and the underlying and growing friction between Malays and Chinese.

At the time of Sir Samuel Wilson's mission to Malaya in 1932 to investigate the decentralization issue, the two opposing rallying slogans of 'Malaya for the Malays', which represented the feeling expressed in the Malay magazine article referred to earlier, and 'Malaya for the Malayans', which represented the Chinese and Indian stand, were heard for the first time. The term 'Malayan' in this context was taken to mean all locally born and domiciled people regardless of their ethnic group. A number of documents which summed up the fears and hopes of the Chinese in Malaya, were submitted to Wilson, during his stay in Malaya, by Tan Cheng Lock, Lai Tai Loke (another prominent Chinese community leader), the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce in Malaya, and the Perak Chinese community.

Tan Cheng Lock spoke for the Chinese community in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council in October 1932: '[The] Government has no fixed and constructive policy to win over the Straits and other Malayan-born Chinese, who are subjects of the country, and foster and strengthen their spirit of patriotism and natural love for the country of their birth and adoption,' he said. 'I look in vain for any tangible sign or indication of any active interest, practical sympathy and encouragement that has been, shown by the Government of late years ….One is driven to the

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


conclusion that the Bill is part and parcel of an anti-Chinese policy, probably with a political objective, based on distrust and fear, which the Chinese on the whole as a community have done nothing and have given absolutely no cause to merit."

The Bill that Tan Cheng Lock was referring to was enacted as the Aliens Ordinance 1933, and it was the outcome of Clementi's concern that the Malays were outnumbered 44.7 to 53.2 per cent by the Chinese and Indians, as brought out by the 1931 Census (see Appendix 2), and Clementi said that it was essential for the Malay rulers to formulate a 'policy for the immigrant races'. He advocated not only the placing of restrictions on the entry of Chinese immigrants, but also a much stricter control over Chinese who were already in the country.

In the UMS, with the exception of Johore, which was affected by the forces of modernization in Singapore, the pace of development was slow, and they had a much more Malay character about them than the FMS. Yet, in the FMS, which apart from Pahang were on the west side of the peninsula where the main economic transformation was taking place, the Malays were in a greater minority, and the 1931 Census brought out that they were outnumbered 34.7 to 63.7 per cent by the non-Malays, as the following bar chart will indicate:

In 1927, Chinese immigration into Singapore, which was the main port of entry for Malaya, peaked at 435,708: Malaya was experiencing a boom at this time and there was a great demand

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


for labour which the Malays were unwilling to meet. Moreover, it is probable that the troubled warlord period in China provided an added stimulus to Chinese immigration. During the period of the Great Depression, however, Chinese immigration fell sharply and, for instance, in 1932, 282,779 Chinese left Malaya to return to China against only 32,925 arrivals, and it did not rise again until just before the Japanese invasion of 1941.

So, in fact, the Aliens Ordinance 1933 was a case of 'shutting the stable after the horse had fled' but, nevertheless, together with the Immigration Restriction Ordinance of 1928, it marked a radical departure from the old policy of throwing Malaya open to all comers by imposing a quota of 1,000 per month for male Chinese immigrants. The importance of the 1933 Ordinance was that it remained the law by which Chinese immigration was controlled up to the time of the Pacific War.

With reference to Tan Cheng Lock's speech in the Singapore Legislative Council, it should be noted that by 1931, 31 per cent of the Chinese in Malaya were local born as compared with 22 per cent in 1921, and clearly this group could no longer be treated as transient aliens. It therefore seemed reasonable to expect that they should be considered by the British authorities and the Malay sultans as 'Malayan Chinese', having a stake in their country of birth and adoption.

Clementi then addressed himself to suppressing the Kuomintang (KMT) in Malaya. The KMT had been formed in China in 1912 and had established branches in Malaya, where its activities in the 1920s developed a marked anti-British tinge. The problem was that the KMT was the government of China, and when Clementi banned the KMT as a subversive society in Malaya in 1930, it placed the British in an embarrassing position as Britain had recognized the Chinese Republic of China. Clementi overcame this difficulty by denying that the Straits Government advocated the suppression of Chinese nationalism. He said that Chinese immigrants to Malaya were required to leave their politics behind them, especially when they were inimicable with the aims and interests of the host country. Many Chinese schools in Malaya run by the KMT were affected by the ban, and the importing of textbooks from China, which were deemed to be anti-imperialist and inculcating loyalty to China and not to Malaya was controlled.

A further complication was that the 1929 KMT Nationality

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


Law, by application of the principle of jus sanguinis, treated all Chinese living in Malaya, whether local born or not, as Chinese citizens. This had the effect of increasing the suspicions of the Malays towards the Chinese living in their midst, especially when their spokesmen were beginning to ask for political rights and a greater say in the running of the country. The split between the left and right wings of the KMT in 1927 introduced yet another element of discord in Malaya as it led to the development of communism in Malaya. Nevertheless, Chinese underground political activities in Malaya died down somewhat after the Sino-Japanese War began in 1937, when Chinese nationalist fervour was directed primarily against Japan.

The widespread Chinese political activities in Malaya which were connected with events in China, but which nevertheless caused considerable local unrest, did not pass unnoticed by the Malays, and only served to increase Malay doubts about the sincerity of Chinese protestations of loyalty to Malaya.

The Great Depression (1929 — 32) caused economic disaster on a worldwide scale, and had very serious effects on tin and rubber which were the mainstay of the Malayan economy. Although the Malays were not affected by the large-scale retrenchment of staff which had to take place in both these industries, the overall effect of a slump in an integrated economy is cumulative. Money was in short supply, the wages of government employees were cut, and great hardship resulted among all sections of the population, not only among tin mine and rubber estate workers, but among workers in many other sectors of the economy too.

By this time, it was evident that the Chinese and the Indians already controlled the economic life of the country as the Malays lacked the opportunities to participate in modern economic life and preferred their subsistence economy. The rubber and tin industries were in the hands of non-Malays (see Appendix 3), and the bulk of employees in commercial undertakings as well as most of the petty traders and craftsmen, were Chinese and Indians. By the time of the Great Depression, it was abundantly clear that the Malays had become economically dispossessed in their own land, and although the policy of decentralization did to some extent enable them to retain political control, some of the more far-sighted Malays already perceived that the Chinese were beginning to pose a challenge to their political primacy. Many, indeed, felt that the British had not looked after Malay interests as well as

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


they might have done, and that the Malays would have to assert themselves more forcibly to make sure that they were not overrun by the non-Malays, in particular, the Chinese.

However, as it transpired, the Great Depression was turned to the advantage of the Malays as, although a considerable retrenchment of government staff became necessary, wherever possible the policy followed was to retain Malays and dispense with non-Malay employees. Also, in those cases where in the interests of economy local officers were substituted for the more highly paid Europeans, preference was given to Malays.

When Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang were federated as the FMS in 1896, the four separate state civil services were welded together to form the Malayan Civil Service (MCS). Recruitment to the MCS was by open competitive examination in London, but it was noteworthy that in 1910, recruitment had been restricted to natural-born British subjects of European descent.

This policy effectively barred the recruitment of Asians into the higher ranks of the government administration service in Peninsular Malaya, but in 1933, Clementi established a Straits Settlements Civil Service, that is, a completely separate body from the MCS, which opened certain of the more junior administrative appointments in the Straits Settlements to 'locally-born Asiatic British subjects'.

The position in the FMS was that while the sultans refused to allow non-Malays to hold senior posts in the government, they were not opposed to Chinese and Indians being appointed to technical posts if there was no Malay candidate available to fill them, provided that the ruler agreed, and 'the applicant had been born and had lived all his life in Malaya and his father had served the country well'.

With the opening up of the Malay Peninsula in the late 1890s and the early 1900s, there was a tremendous expansion of European staff in the administrative and specialist branches of government, which was accompanied by an increase in the number of subordinate staff employed as clerks and technical workers. The majority of the junior staff were Chinese, Indians and Eurasians, with the Indians predominating in the Public Works, Post and Telegraphs, and Railway Departments. From the mid-1890s onwards, many senior British officials felt remiss at not employing more Malays in the junior ranks of government service, and as it-was realized that employment in government depended on an

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


education in English, increased opportunities were offered to Malays to gain entry to English schools with a view to their being employed as clerks and interpreters.

Sir William Treacher, who was Resident-General of the FMS between 1902—4, said that the British were morally obliged to afford the Malays a prominent part in government and the development of their country," which, of course, was in keeping with the 'special position' of the Malays under the Residential System.

The broad policy followed to implement this programme was to make available free vernacular education to the Malay peasantry, although it was of poor quality and had little developmental value, and, at the same time, to provide English education for a selected number of sons of the Malay elite to prepare them for more senior posts in government service. The elitist Malay College, established in 1909 in Kuala Kangsar, which was run along the lines of a British public school, became the main English-medium school used to produce a cadre of English-educated young Malays for appointment to the Malay Administrative Service (MAS), which came into existence in 1910 as a junior branch of the MCS. Non-Malays were not eligible to join this Service.

However, most English-medium schools were situated in the towns, and not in the countryside where the majority of the Malays lived. Some were government institutions and others grant-in-aid schools, established and maintained by missionary societies with a certain quantum of government aid. In theory they catered for children of different ethnic groups, but as the majority of pupils were non-Malay, they only served to divide the English-educated from the vernacular-educated.

From very early times, the Chinese community founded and financed their own schools which were outside the government system. There were no government Chinese-medium schools, and, in fact, Chinese schools were not brought under government inspection until 1920 and then only for political and not educational reasons. It was not until 1923 that Chinese schools became eligible for a nominal grant from the government.

The rationale of government in providing education was that while education in the vernacular should be free for all Malay children as 'Malay is the lingua franca of the country', it was not thought necessary to provide education for 'the children of alien temporary population in their own language'.

Thus, the development of a plural school system in Malaya

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


seriously exacerbated racial tensions, and the non-Malays considered that the British were following a pro-Malay policy in furtherance of their intention to build up 'Malaya for the Malays'.

As a result of the large scale Chinese immigration into Malaya in the latter half of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centuries, the whole demographic picture changed. The towns and urban centres became predominantly Chinese settlements, and Chinese farmers and agriculturalists spread out, too, to fill vacant spaces in rural areas. Aliens had always been entitled to hold land and the Malays soon came to fear that they would be driven off the land if this movement continued, and reduced to becoming tenants of western, Chinese and Indian landlords. Representations were therefore made to the colonial government that Malays should be afforded special protection to safeguard the land held by them under customary tenure to prevent its loss to non-Malays, which meant notably the Chinese, and the British created great Malay reservations in which land could only be alienated to Malays and must not be transferred out of Malay hands.

The first Malay Reservation Enactment was promulgated in the FMS in 1913 and similar legislation was enacted in the UMS between 1930 and 1941. The extent of the reservations can be gauged from the map given in Appendix 7.

However, non-Malays were allowed to retain land acquired before the various enactments were promulgated and, usually, to transfer their holding to other non-Malays, as well as to own land outside the Malay reservations.

The official position was given in an unpublished report of the FMS Malay Reservations Committee in 1931 which stated: 'We do not hold that the protection of a backward peasantry is the sole or the chief object of the policy of reservation. The policy is territorial, and whatever the competitive capacity of the Malay may be he cannot, as a race, compete with the far more populous peoples of other races who are attracted to Malaya. It is a question of numbers. If the future of the Malay is to be assured, he must have room for expansion, and that requires land to be reserved.'"

The principle followed was based on the formula that in no state in the FMS should the ratio between cultivable area in Malay reservations and the whole cultivable area of a state fall below 60 per cent, although, as far as can be traced, no public

Population Growth and Social Change: Chinese and Malays | 13 May 1969


announcement was made to this effect. But in some more densely populated states such as Selangor and Negri Sembilan not even 50 per cent of the cultivable land could be so allocated 'without cutting into either forest or other reserves or into lands alienated to members of other races'.

While it is true that the original legislation made it impossible for a Malay to transfer reservation land to a non-Malay, it did not prevent his pledging the land as security for a loan or advance. This loophole permitted Chinese and Indian (chettiar) moneylenders and speculators to obtain effective control of the land, with the Malay remaining owner in name only.

In 1933, the Malay Reservation Enactment of the FMS was therefore amended to forbid charge or lease to a non-Malay, and similar laws were introduced in the other states.

Whereas the Malays regarded the reservations as necessary to protect their special rights as cultivators, the Chinese, on the other hand, looked upon them as just another example of the 'Malaya for the Malays' policy being followed by the British authorities. They felt it all the more acutely when it became apparent that for purposes of the enactment, the term 'Malay' was defined as 'a person belonging to any Malayan race who habitually speaks the Malay language, or any Malayan language, and who professes the Muslim religion'. Immigrants from the Dutch East Indies came within this definition, no matter whether they were recent arrivals or not, but the Chinese were excluded whether they had been settled in Malaya for generations or had recently arrived from China.

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