How much was Chin Peng worth?
On the 1st of May, 1952, the headline of The Straits Times screamed, “NOW IT’S $250,000 FOR PUBLIC ENEMY No. 1 — if brought in alive.” In modern English, it asks, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”
According to The Malay Mail online, the caption under Chin Peng’s large mugshot read: “THIS IS CHIN PENG. The brains behind the terrorism in Malaya, he is worth $250,000 to anyone who has information which will lead to his capture.”
Kids shuddered at hearing the name Chen Ping. Mothers warned their misbehaved children that “If you are naughty, Chin Peng would come and get you.”
In this BBC news report in 2003, Chin Peng, the secretary-general of The Communist Party of Malaya, once the Public Enemy No.1 of the British empire, was photographed holding the newspaper about his bounty.
The bounty of $250,000 in 1952 would be worth millions in today’s ringgit. 60 years ago, the lottery jackpot in Malaya was exactly $250,000.
Malaysian journalist Thunder Looi (aka. Hu Yidao) interviewed Chin Peng for two days over 16 hours in 2001 in Thailand when Chin Peng was 72. Mr Looi wrote that the British government issued a bounty of $60,000 for Chin Peng’s head in 1949. In September 1951, the bounty increased to $80,000.
British High Commissioner in Malaya Sir Henry Gurney was murdered on 6 October 1951 by the communists on his way to Fraser’s Hill in the state of Pahang of Malaysia. Six months later, the British government raised the bounty of Chin Peng by 4 folds, from $60,000 to $250,000, which was believed to be the highest bounty ever set by the British empire.
In the interview, Chin Peng revealed that the $250,000 bounty was later reduced to $80,000. In 1969, the Malaysian government further reduced his bounty from $80,000 to $20,000.
The Test of Nationhood is a brilliant 35-minute propaganda film on Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, by the Imperial War Museums.
“For twelve long years we fought the enemy in our midst… We fought against an alien ideology, against terror and intimidation, against militant communism. This is the story of our struggle and our victory.”
From the “The Test of Nationhood” film © IWM (COI 626) by the Imperial War Museums
In this film, you will learn about the war against the guerrillas, including
- National registration
- Brigg’s resettlement Plan
- Operation Starvation
- Henry Gurney’s assassination
- General Sir Gerald Templer’s leadership (“Winning the hearts and minds”)
- Information and intelligence operations
- Jungle warfare
- Air support
- White Areas
- The unsuccessful Baling Talks with Chin Peng
- Merdeka (Independence) amnesty offer
The Imperial War Museums keeps a vast collection of images of the Malayan Emergency. Some of the images are under IWM Non-Commercial Licence, which allows me to share some historical pictures with you in this post.
The above image shows a member of the Malayan Home Guard mans a check point on the edge of a town. In the New Villages, food was rationed, to curb food and supplies being smuggled out to support the communists. These check points allowed the authorities to search vehicles and intercept illegal activities.
The image above shows an anti-Communist demonstration in a Malayan town. The large banner with the Chinese characters 反共示威游行 mean ‘An Anti-Communism March.’
This image above shows a patrol of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry moving up a stream in the Malayan jungle.
The 16th of September this year was historically significant. On this day, Chin Peng – the guerrilla leader, rebel, terrorist, British’s number one enemy, freedom fighter, or the hero – died in exile. This day was also the Malaysia Day, a day to commemorate the establishment of the Malaysian Federation in 1963 , when Malaya, North Borneo, Saraway and Singapore joined together to form Malaysia. Coincidentally, 16th of September 2013 was also the 90th birthday of the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. He is the Father of Singapore, a man who fought and beat communism successfully, transforming Singapore into a proud nation.
The Chin Peng series was inspired by Blog Exercises: What story should I share? by Lorelle VanFossen. You can find more Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress. This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.
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Interesting history…love the perspective you’ve brought to these posts.
Thank you – I’ve done some research and hope that I have presented some historical facts to stimulate people to find out more. I am puzzled there isn’t a huge coverage of Chin Peng’s death here in the UK. Perhaps young people are not familiar with communism and Malayan Emergency, or perhaps this particular chapter of the British history is something that people would prefer to forget.
Does he merit any respect for fight against colonialism and fascism and his patriotism for his country ?
Certainly. Even today, a lot of people regard Chin Peng as a freedom fighter and a warrior, and it cannot be denied that his contribution in fighting the Japanese in Malaya was significant. Some people believe he also helped Malaysia’s independence from the British rule.
Wonder if any relationship with Ho Chi Minh ?
I have never heard about this man before I read one of your previous posts. I wonder how do Malaysian people feel and think about him…
Hope you’ve got to know a bit more about Chin Peng, and if you ask the elderly in Indonesia, perhaps they’ll have a lot of stories to tell you too. Don’t forget that in the 60s, there was a major Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.
I heard about the confrontation but it was not in the history books (it’s actually not that surprising. Since 1966, the government has strong control over what should or should not be included in the school textbooks).
I think I’ll go some searching on Google later.
I’m not surprised. Many topics are very sensitive in our region, and forming civilised discussions about some topics relating to religion and ideologies are still impossible.
I think that Chin Peng wanted a independent Malaysia – first from the Japanese and then from the British. He didn’t care who the occupying power was – he just wanted them out. This makes his turn from “friend” to “enemy” more understandable – and is probably a scenario that has been played out many times in other countries (Taliban, for example – trained by USA to fight against the society invasion of Afghanistan, then use that training against USA).
Interesting historical note about putting a bounty on someone’s head. Not sure we tend to see that nowadays. I can’t imagine the Times would ever have a headline “£250,000 for the body of [insert your own enemy of the state]”.
My father fought in the Malaysian uprising (on the British side). Well, he spent his National Service in Singapore; not sure he did much actual fighting. He got a medal for it recently – from the Malaysian government.
Ruby, this comment is too good to believe. If I buy you a drink, can you dig out more stories from your father? I would love to see his medal.
I’ve just spoken to my dad and he said he has written up some details and will send them soon (if he hasn’t already).
He also said that he was amazed how Chin Peng had been pretty much erased from Malaysian history.
Thank you! I’m still waiting for your dad’s reply. I can’t wait. Will keep you updated.
Another fascinating post, and I particularly like the old photographs…..Your posts bring home to me how interconnected everything is and although these events happened 60 years ago, in terms of time and space, it is a mere blink of the eye.
I am learning so much from your blog. Thank you, Janet.
Thank your for your appreciation. It took me two days to reply to you, as I was checking the copyright policy about the images. The Imperial War Museums have allowed me to use the images, and I have added a few more on previous posts in the same series.
It’s fascinating to read about these stories, from different perspectives. I was born after the Malayan Emergency, but the shadow of communism was still overhanging above us for a long period of time. Now the politicians are still debating over Chin Peng’s remains. Even in death, Chin Peng is still feared by many. This is an irony of history.
I’m glad you were able to post those photographs. It helps us visualize the scene.
In the West during that time, Communism was greatly feared. In the United States in the fifties, Americans were jailed for having Communist sympathies. The “McCarthy Hearings” are infamous for what we now consider their “witch hunts” for Communists. The United States fought the Vietnam War of the sixties and seventies mainly because of an irrational fear of Communism. As soon as the word was mentioned, people stopped being able to think straight.
The Imperial War Museums have a comprehensive collections. I struck gold when I found these images. The annotations are brilliant and it is a wonderful website for researchers.
Thank you for sharing. There are so much to learn from history, and I hope young people get to read about these recent wars, understand the human suffering, and appreciate how our world is shaped today.
Chin Peng was an evil man as can be seen from the tactics he used, many books written by people who were there during the emergency. I was in Johore Bahru with the 11th Hussars 1954/55 and saw the way the people had to live.
Thank you for your comment. I read a few books about Chin Peng and was appalled by his brutality and the tactics that he employed. So many innocent people were caught in the war, and many lives – western planters and the locals – were lost. Chin Peng later lived a rather luxurious lifestyle in China, while many people were still struggling in the jungle, and many people were living in fear.
Thank you for your contribution, and I would love to hear more of your stories. Thank you.
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Remember the words of Gerald Seymour in his 1975 book about the IRA, ‘Harry’s Game’ – ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’
A PS to my earlier comments, and without for one moment supporting Chin Peng and/or his methods, one has to understand where else, other than the Soviet Union or Communism per se, could anyone fighting for freedom from a colonial power turn for support? Russia was quite happy to fish in any troubled waters. At about the same time that Chin Peng started his campaign Ho Chi Min was trying to get France to understand that he was first and foremost a nationalist. He was rebuffed. He then turned to the US for help but the US, not wanting to upset France and NATO turned him down. Go forward a few more years and Nelson Mandela is accused of being a Communist, but again, where else could he have gone for any help against Aparthied? Nobody else in the West was going to upset such an important trading partner a South Africa. A few more years and a similar fate awaits Patrice Lumumba. Belgium just decamps from the Congo but immediately, and with support from the US, South Africa and France, persuades the mineral rich province of Katanga to break away. Lumumba asks for help to prevent this and the only country prepared to help is Russia for which sin he is assassinated.