Who was Chin Peng’s opponent in Malaya? Chin Peng’s rival was the former British intelligence officer Dr Leon Comber.
“It struck me that if there is anyone alive who knew Chin Peng “professionally” it had to be Dr Leon Comber.”
This revelation above came from the human rights activist and Malaysian politician Tunku Abdul Aziz in the New Straits Times. In his column, Tunku Aziz described Chin Peng as an enemy of the state and Chin Peng was not a patriot who fought for Merdeka (Merdeka is a Malay word for Independence).
A bit harsh? Tunku Aziz continued to describe Chin Peng as an alien. Now I could not help but imagine Chin Peng as a green man with three heads and six arms who possessed supernatural power and travelled through time and space across the lush jungle in Malaya.
“He was an alien. The CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) was an essentially Chinese show. Malays steered clear of communism…”
By Tunku Aziz on Not a patriot who fought for Merdeka
Who is Dr Leon Comber?
Dr Leon Comber was a former Special Branch officer in Malaya who reached the rank of acting Assistant Commissioner of Police. He came to Malaya as part of the re-occupying forces that took over as the Japanese surrendered. The name “The Special Branch” would make many Malaysians tremble. It was the government’s supreme intelligence organisation responsible for political, security, and operational intelligence.
Leon Comber was at the forefront of the colonial forces’ battle against the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and its guerrilla army, the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). He even learnt Cantonese to understand his enemies. He trained both British and Malayan officers and took great risks. In 2008, The Star newspaper interviewed Dr Leon Comber, the officer who loved Malaya.
Dr Comber met Chin Peng in 1999 at Canberra.
“I met Chin Peng in 1999 at a conference at Canberra. There was no animosity. He was like a towkay (Janet’s note: towkay means ‘boss’. This word is derived from the Hokkien language of Chinese.) He spoke English, Malay and Chinese. He seemed forthright but who knows what he held back,” says Comber. “In retrospect, he was probably gathering information for his so-called history.”
From Dr Leon Comber’s interview with The Star in 2008
I almost screamed when I saw the name of Dr Leon Comber being mentioned in Tunku Aziz’s article last week. Of course I had heard about Dr Leon Comber, but it was through literature. He was the second husband of the Eurasian writer Han Suyin, who died last year. Han Suyin was born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou (周光瑚: Zhōu Guānghú). In Malaya, Han Suyin was famously known as a medical doctor as Dr Elizabeth C.K. Comber, or Dr Chow. There were a few varieties of her Chinese pen names: 韩素音/韩素英/汉素英.
I wrote about Han Suyin in January telling you where HAN Suyin was in Malaya in the 1950s. For those nostalgic souls who could not get enough of the romance in the award-winning film Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, the film was based on her autobiographical novel of her tragic love affair with journalist Ian Morrison, who was killed in the Korean War. Han Suyin actually shunned away from the publicity and avoided the film that brought her instant fame, as she was busy practising as a medical doctor in my hometown Johor Bahru in the south of Malaya at that time.
Han Suyin is remembered as a prolific writer, whose works included The Morning Deluge: Mao Tsetong and the Chinese Revolution 1893-1954 and Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China (1994). Blogger Justin Choo is an avid reader of Han Suyin’s fictions and historical accounts, and he wrote a brilliant well-balanced review about Han Suyin’s works and shared fascinating facts about her life.
Before Han Suyin ran her private clinic Chow Dispensary at the upstairs of Universal Pharmacy in Johor Bahru in the south of Malaya, she worked at the Johor(e) Bahru General Hospital where I was born many years later. You can imagine my surprise when I found two photographs of this hospital on the website of the Imperial War Museums recently. The significance of this hospital during the colonial time was therefore beyond doubt. Should I feel honoured to have been born in this hospital, as the world’s first class museums so cherish its historical value?
According to a WordPress blogger nachmeinemeinung, the Johor Bahru General Hospital keeps two plagues on the walls of the main entrance of the hospital. The plaques list the names of the medical and auxiliary staff of the hospital who died during WWII.
I also found a picture of Han Suyin’s first husband on the website of the Imperial War Museums. In 1938, Han Suyin married her first husband Tang Pao-Huang (Chinese: 唐保璜), a Chinese Nationalist military officer. He was later killed in the Chinese civil war in 1947.
In 1952, Han Suyin married Leon F. Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch. Their marriage lasted seven years.
In 1956, Han Suyin published And the Rain My Drink, a novel set against a backdrop of the Malayan Emergency.
Dr Comber’s career suffered as a result of the publication of this book by his wife and he left the police force in the same year.
“The novel portrayed the British security forces in a rather slanted fashion, I thought. She was a rather pro-Left intellectual and also a doctor. I understood the reasons why the communists might have felt the way they did, but I didn’t agree with them taking up arms.”
From Dr Leon Comber’s interview with The Star in 2008
It is rumoured that the Chinese translation of And the Rain My Drink (餐风饮露 cān fēng yǐn lù) was incomplete because the British government banned its translation. However, I could not find any evidence to support this claim, which has been circulating in the Chinese community around the world. The rumour is that only half of this book was translated, by the famous journalist Li Xingke (李星可) in Singapore and was published by The Youth Book Co.（青年书局）. The common belief was that the second half of the book was banned.
I hope you have enjoyed the trails that I have taken you in this post. In the deep, dense jungles of Malaya where Chin Peng commanded his armed men and women, Leon Comber never stopped pursuing the British number one enemy with his might. History was so tangled. Now, when you enjoy the glorified romance of Love is a Many-splendored Thing by Han Suyin again, you may imagine her life in Malaya, as a respectable doctor, wife to a high-ranking Special Branch officer, a romantic yet politically controversial writer, and a friend of Chairman Mao.
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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