Tag Archives: history

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Batang Kali: Inspiration from a historian

When the writer Mr QUEK Jin Teck moved to a new village called Ulu Yam in Selangor in Malaysia in 2005, he was trying to retreat from a hectic life as a social activist, and was ready to retire due to his ill health. Mr Quek was a historian with 9 major books into Malaysian history, including the War of Resistance against Japan in Malaya and his research into Lai Teck the Spy (马新抗日史料: 神秘莱特).

However, with a twist of fate, Mr Quek did not retire quietly. Instead, he shouldered a massive burden in 2008, culminating in a moving campaign in Malaysia to bring justice home to the families whose fathers and sons were brutally killed by the British troops, on the 11th or 12th of December 1948, six months after the 12-year Malayan Emergency was launched. Continue reading

“No Woman, No Cry”: A mother’s torturous road to justice

When I did an introductory arts course with the Open University a few years ago, one of the modern arts we analysed was Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry painting. Chris Ofili is also known as the “Elephant Dung Artist,” as he created his work using elephant dung, including one inspired by the grief of the parents of Stephen Lawrence.

I arrived in London on a grey day in May 1996 and Stephen Lawrence was the name I constantly heard during the years I was trying to grips with the British culture. “Who was Stephen Lawrence?” As a foreign student I often wondered who this fine young man was and how his murder rocked the nation. The murder of Stephen Lawrence dominated the press for two decades. Continue reading

“And The Rain My Drink” new edition by Han Suyin

When the medical doctor Han Suyin arrived in Johore Bahru of Malaya in the early 1950s, what was Malaya like? What was the smell of Malaya?

I have a few still images to show you.

Continue reading

Chin Peng, Leon Comber and Han Suyin

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.”

Continue reading

Chin Peng’s favourite poems

In Flanders Fields is the best-known war poem, written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915. The first stanza carries these famous lines:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

From the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

This poem has been immortalised by the image of scarlet poppies. Now, I am going to share with you a Chinese war poem, which is marked by the image of thousands of bleached bones. Continue reading

Chin Peng’s farewell letter: Dare and Duties

What is your view on Chin Peng? A brave freedom fighter who fought alongside British forces in the Second World War and defeated the Japanese? A colonial villain whose ambition was to drive out the British to establish a communist state in Malaya and Singapore? An unrepentant and unpardonable terrorist who was responsible for atrocities in the 40-year conflict in Malaysia?

In his death, Chin Peng wanted to be remembered “simply as a good man.” Continue reading

How much was Chin Peng worth?

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.” Continue reading

Migration to the New Village

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival this year is on the 19th of September, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. The lustrous full moon is a symbol of reunion on earth.

Reunion was a luxury in war-time Malaya. First it was the Japanese invasion, later the 12-year Malayan Emergency  (1948–60), in the backdrop of intense fighting between the communist guerrilla insurgency led by the communist leader, Chin Peng, and the British administration. Thousands of people were killed; families were broken. Fear, betrayal, hatred and racial tension ensued. Continue reading