Batang Kali: “Heaven knows the truth.”

A Chinese tear-a-page calendar is hanged on the wall in Chong Koon Ying’s front room. The much cherished traditional Chinese lunar calendar informs her of Chinese festivals such as the New Year, Dragon Boat Festival and Tomb Sweeping Festival. Last year, when I visited my mother in Singapore, I also saw a similar Chinese Lunar Calendar on the wall in the kitchen, even though my mother is illiterate and she could not possibly understand the Chinese characters embedded in the calendar.

People of a certain age are particularly fond of the Chinese lunar calendar. It relates to their culture and tradition. It reminds them of their ancestors’ ways of life thousands of years ago. Traditional people observe the rules set out in the calendar in their everyday life, from farming, entertaining guests, travelling, moving furniture to worshiping ancestors. By adhering to the rules, Chinese people feel attached to their root, usher in happiness, and avoid misfortunes.

Traditional Chinese tear-a-day calendar.

Traditional Chinese tear-a-day calendar.

Chong Koon Ying’s father was shot dead in Batang Kali in Malaya in 1948 when she was 9 years old. She was the eldest daughter with two younger siblings. On the 11th or 12th of December 1948, her father returned home at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, completely drained. He collected rubber latex from rubber trees for hours since the morning broke.

Chong Koon Ying: waiting for news on Batang Kali verdict.

Chong Koon Ying: waiting for the Batang Kali verdict from the High Court in London.

Chong Koon Ying always felt protected by rubber trees as she grew up surrounded by them. Most men in the village worked in rubber plantations and there was a strong brotherhood spirit. Chong Koon Ying knew tapping knives were dangerous for a child. Her father would make a thick, diagonal incision in the tree’s bark with his tapping knife, which cuts through the latex vessels, and the milky-white latex fluids would run out of the bark, entering a small and overused bucket.

After an exhausting day, Chong Koon Ying’s father Chong Voon chilled out with a cup of fragrant coffee and a few biscuits, enjoying his usual chit-chat with his wife and three kids. Suddenly, a few British soldiers arrived.

Latex being collected from a tapped rubber tree. Image by PRA via Wikipedia.

Latex being collected from a tapped rubber tree. Image by PRA via Wikipedia.

Within a day, 24 workers were first separated from their wives and children, surrounded by British troops, and then shot. Their village was set alight. British newspaper Telegraph published a gruesome image of the men, with this caption: “The “Batang Kali massacre” occurred in a village in central Selangor state on Dec 12, 1948, when 14 members of the Scots Guards are alleged to have killed 24 unarmed ethnic Chinese and set fire to their village on a rubber plantation.”

What did it mean to lose a father in 1948?

The death of a father meant a total loss of financial support. Villagers did their best to help, but everyone in the village was poor. Chong Koon Ying recalled she once begged for rice in the village, and “I was given two grains of rice,” she said.

For a young woman lumbered with her three small children, the most practical solution was giving her children away. That was exactly what Chong Koon Ying’s mother did.

Chong Koon Ying’s younger brother and sister were given away, but her mother kept her. Keeping the eldest daughter was sensible, as the 9-year-old Chong Koon Ying was old enough to work, to feed herself, increasing her chances of survival. The sensible girl often picked some leftover to feed herself from the market. In an interview with Sin Chew Daily, she lamented her lost childhood.

Chong Koon Ying’s family had survived the horror of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya just a few years previously. However, the re-occupation by the British came with this mass killing of 24 unarmed men, in this small, tight community in Batang Kali. Was that their fate? The Chinese language has an expression called Mìng (命), an inscrutable fate which was impossible to fathom.

Her mother was distraught. She coughed out blood, and died. Chong Koon Ying was orphaned at about 12 years old. She got married at 15, to a rubber plantation worker.

“Now we are so old, and most of us are dying. I hope the British government would honour us justice that we deserve. I used to have a good family: my father earned money, and my mum cooked. But, suddenly, my family was torn apart. I had nothing.”

By Chong Koon Ying, daughter of Chong Voon, who was killed in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

The British considered the Batang Kali killing a great success of the time. The British was trying to suppress the communist insurgency. The story of Chong Koon Ying was just one of the many stirring stories, almost forgotten in the past 60 years. The human cost of the Batang Kali killing is immense.

“The troops killed my father and the men, but nobody would admit it. What can we do? We know the truth. Heaven (天 tiān) knows the truth.”

By Chong Koon Ying, daughter of Chong Voon, who was killed in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

Chinese rulers were traditionally referred to as Son of Heaven (天子 tiānzǐ), and their authority was believed to emanate from tiān. Though Chong Koon Ying lost her father 65 years ago, she trusted the Heaven as her witness. Her faith in the supreme power reigning over the happiness and suffering on earth has kept her spirit alive.

Below is a news report after the Batang Kali hearing at the High Court in London 2012:

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19 thoughts on “Batang Kali: “Heaven knows the truth.”

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thought. I hope more people will hear about this case, and the human suffering must not be forgotten. I hope these posts would generate more discussions, and with more research, the truth of Batang Kali may finally surface.

      Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you Nicki for reading. Some of my sources were written in Chinese, and they covered more in-depth interviews with the descendents of the victims. I hope I have presented fresh information to my English readers.

      Reply
    1. 国樑 KL

      Dr Comber,

      I am attracted by Janet for her Chin Peng series. I also thought of seeking her help to gather your opinion about that era. Since you are here, may I seek your views of the following:

      1. Some analysts said that MNLA had advanced Malaya’s independence by about a decade. Some analysts also said that if not because of the presence of communists, British would not return Malaya and Singapore to the local people. What are your views on these?

      2. One of the key reasons cited for Malaya accepted the idea of merger with Singapore was due to the large number of Chinese in Singapore at that time. These Chinese were heavily influenced by China and to a certain extent, MNLA, and they would threaten the stability of Malaya. What are your views on these?

      3. 1950s was a turbulent era in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew cited his key comrade cum opponent Lim Chin Siong would probably become the Prime Minister if not because his party was able to suppress the leftist movement then. Do you have any information, or do you think that Lim Chin Siong was a communist?

      4. Operation Coldstore in 1962 was a major action for the British government to remove 100 over perceived communists and stage Singapore for the merger with Malaya. In your opinion, were they communists or just leftists? Was Operation Cold Store necessary?

      5. Was merger the only way for Singapore to gain independence from the colonial government?

      6. Chin Peng was not allowed to re-enter Malaysia. He visited Singapore once and was driven through the city in a car with tight security escort. What are your views on the ways the Malaysia and Singapore governments handled this ex-communist?

      7. What are your personal views on Chin Peng?

      Reply
      1. Janet Williams Post author

        Dear KL,

        These are excellent questions to Dr. Comber. He knew Chin Peng and he dealt with him, and it would be fascinating to hear from Dr. Comber soon. Here are some of the books by Leon Comber. One of his famous books is
        Malaya’s Secret Police 1945-1960: the Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency.

        “…Dr Comber analyses the pivotal role of the Malayan Police’s Special Branch, the government’s supreme intelligence agency, in defeating the communist uprising and safeguarding the security of the country. He shows for the first time how the Special Branch was organised and how it worked in providing the security forces with political and operational intelligence….”

        Thank you for your questions.

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