04. THE 1948 EMERGENCY | The May 13 Tragedy

The Chinese-dominated Malayan Communist Party started an insurrection at the end of the Second World War with the object of overthrowing authority and taking over the country. To cope with this threat, an Emergency was declared on 20th June. 1948. This outbreak of communist violence, a naked attempt at seizing power, was inspired and directed by the Cominform. This insurrection was skilfully and chauvinistically presented, and not surprisingly large sections of the Chinese community responded. On the other hand the ranks of the security forces were drawn mainly from the Malays. The Malays, therefore, identified Communist terrorism as a Chinese threat. The Chinese, on the other hand, having chosen to remain culturally separate, felt little attachment to the country. This made the Chinese, in the eyes of the Malays, suspect.

The Government, meanwhile, realised that the population had to be welded into a single Malayan nation in order to resist the threat from the Communist Chinese. The mass media were extensively used to propagate the concept of a single Malayan nation. The success of this was initially limited. Between 1949 and 1951. the efforts of the colonial government to attract the Chinese into joining the Police met with little success: only 200 Chinese youths came forward. When National Service was introduced in 1950 considerable


numbers of Chinese and Indians sought to leave the country-. Between February and August 1951, over 10,000 Chinese youths fled to China to avoid the call-up. This further added to the disillusionment of the Malays and attracted a certain amount of official comment. The late Sir Henry Gurney observed.

"A feeling of resentment is growing among all the other communities of the apparent reluctance of the Chinese to help. These people (the Chinese) live comfortably and devote themselves wholly to making money ...."

In 1952, the next attempt to recruit 2,000 Chinese youths did not succeed despite an offer by the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to donate between $50 and $300 to every Chinese recruit during his period of training. This should not, however, detract from the fact that several thousand Chinese from all walks of life, particularly those from the MCA and the public services, stood fast by Government and contributed significantly towards the final outcome of the Emergency.


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