Batang Kali: Story of a dispersed family

LIM Kok used to be running around the rubber plantation where his father worked in Batang Kali in Malaya. His father Lim Tian Swee was a proud man. He drove a lorry. Every early morning when it was still dark, he would pick up his workers from the rustic villages nearby to take them to collect rubber latex in the plantation. For other workers, Lim Tian Swee was their supervisor, so he was nicknamed Lam Kow, an honorific name for ‘the head’. One day, the nine-year-old Lim Kok did not jump onto his father’s lorry for a trip to the plantation. A day later, Lim Kok’s uncle told him that his father had died.

He was beheaded.

Of course Lim Kok’s mother barred him from seeing the body of his father. Lim Kok was the oldest child with four younger siblings. When his father died, his mother was also pregnant. Soon after the baby girl was born, she was given away. It was simply impossible to keep six children under the age of nine without a father in 1948.

Lim Kok’s mother also gave him away to his uncle. His mother quickly remarried with his four younger siblings.

David K. Jordan, professor emeritus of Anthropology of University of California in San Diego, explained the concept of Remarriage in Traditional Chinese Family and Lineage:

“Traditional China always honored “chaste widows” or guǎfù 寡妇 / 寡婦), literally “lonely wives,” who, on the death of a husband (or fiancé), did not remarry, but remained attached to the husband’s household and continued to serve his family. An important consideration was such a woman’s economic security, since she was legally entitled to continuing support from her dead husband’s family just as she was obligated to continue her service to it. In the case of young widows, the practice of remarriage seems to have been far more common than not, since women who did not remarry after early widowhood could be honored for this by the erection of stone “chastity” arches (zhēnjié páifāng 贞节牌坊 / 貞節牌坊), some of them quite elaborate.

From Traditional Chinese Family and Lineage by Professor David K. Jordan

For Lim Kok’s mother, what was her choice in 1948, when the pillar of the family fell overnight? Remarrying was practical for her family’s survival. She also had to let go of her oldest boy and her new born baby girl.

Lim Kok moved to Kuala Lumpur later with his new family and he was well looked after by his uncle’s family.

“When I was 9 years old, I only knew that my father was dead, and my mum remarried. I knew that I must work hard in my life. I’m very lucky as my uncle’s family treated me well. They treated me like their own son.”

By Lim Kok, eldest son of Lim Tian Swee, who was beheaded in Batang Kali in 1948 in Malaya.

In an interview with Sin Chew Daily, Lim Kok summed up his childhood after the Batang Kali killing: “My father was dead; my family was dispersed.”

林国: 爸爸死了家也散了

Lim Kok’s father was beheaded in Batang Kali in 1948. His family was dispersed soon afterwards.

The details of the Batang Kali killing in Malaya in 1948 were harrowing. Twenty four unarmed men aged between 19-70 were shot dead by the British troops. What were the jobs of the Chinese who were killed? They were rubber tapper (胶工), worker (工人), mechanical worker (机械工人),  supervisor (工头), student (学生) and clerk (文员). Most of the men were aged between 40-50.

The names of 24 men aged from 19  to 70, killed in Batang Kali in December 1948. (Source: Sin Chew Daily)

The names of 24 men aged from 19 to 70, killed in Batang Kali in December 1948. (Source: Sin Chew Daily)

Lim Kok is now a 74-year-old frail man. He is one of the four claimants in the Batang Kali case against the two defendants last year, (1) Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, and (2) Secretary of State for Defence. You can read the full Judgment from London’s High Court (a pdf). Judges upheld the decision by the British government not to hold a public hearing into the killing in the former colony.

However, Lim Kok has not given up. He and other relatives of the victims vow to fight on.

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13 thoughts on “Batang Kali: Story of a dispersed family

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you Shimon. Life is hard and it was very hard during the colonial time. In this particular incident, the media focused on the hard facts around the killings. However, suffering continued after the killings. They went beyond the loss of fathers or sons or husbands. Mothers were put in genuine dilemmas and they were forced to give up their own children. People lived with fear and uncertainties. I know you have experienced far more than I could possibly have described.

  1. janetweightreed10

    As Shimon said, Life can be so hard, which is why I believe we must cherish the happy moments. I ask the same question. Has there been any publicity in the UK about this case?
    Thank you once again for a very interesting and thought provoking post. Janet

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Hi Nicki and Janet,

      Yes, there were British media coverage last year, when these children (now in their 70s) came to London High Court to seek a public inquiry.

      Thank you both for reading and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased that my posts have made more readers aware of what happened in 1948 in such a faraway place.

      Batang Kali massacre hearing due to start at high court – The Guardian
      High Court once again rejects investigation into Batang Kali …
      BBC News – Malaysian lose fight for 1948 ‘massacre’ inquiry
      BBC Video: In Cold Blood | Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre 1948

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