Saturday, 13 December 2008
The Language Ding-Dong (CsH)
I've just read Rockybru's blog 13 December. His article in mypaper gives a succinct review of the power, potential and actual, of the Chinese educationist movement Dongjiaozong which has threatened a mammoth protest concerning the state of Chinese schools in Malaysia.
I hated history when I was doing my A levels at Raffles Girls' School. Firstly my teacher, Miss Then, was the most uninterested and unprofessional teacher I have ever encountered. During her history class she remained seated and read out in the most deadpan voice her lesson for the day as we frantically copied our notes because she carried on like an express train. Secondly, Miss Then was also trying to convert me by passing on Christian books and tracts for me to read. I felt under pressure when this normally cold fish smiled at me and asked if I liked her 'literature'. And I had to lie - instead of snarling at her to leave me alone for I do have my own religion. Thanks,but no thanks.
Living in England as I did in my 40s I became more and more concerned about what's going on around me. Palestine, the Salman Rushdie affair, the Gulf Wars, visions of dead and dying children on the TV screen, racist taunts from whites, black/white teenagers and Indian bank officers all made me think. I realised how the hypocrisy, double standards, grief and injustice in this world require a comprehension of and an insight into History. I also learned that the History I was given in school was History written by the victors and the powerful, by Western academics and Orientalists , and pseudo and half-baked intellectuals whose only qualification is the Dr in front of their names or other letters after their names.
For most countries, the education system is a powerful agent for nation building and national unity. But not for Malaya/Malaysia. Why? Look at her history.
In her colonial march for profit, Perfidious Albion 'developed' and changed the face of the Malay Peninsula - creating "a political problem of the first order through the rivalry of numerically equal communities, the Malays and the Chinese" (Victor Purcell).
The immigrants from China came in droves to partake of this lucrative opportunity. I can see this in the Asians in Leicester and now the East Europeans from the EC. They slog hard because as one Polish lass told me, what she earns in the factory in a week , is what her teacher-mother gets in a month. And so according to western capitalists, "by their labours" the Chinese added to the prosperity of the Peninsula. Hence the myth of the lazy Malay who prefers to live in his kampong and tend to a self sufficient life style. Why isn't there the myth of the lazy Brit - who, after all, living in the Motherland, understandably doesn't want to do overtime because, for him, money and its accumulation is not the be-all and end-all. He does not think he should leave a legacy of pots of money for his offspring. They will have to earn it like he did! That is what Kim, Mark, Rob and Stewart my white work mates, believe in.
Enterprising economic migrants need not show any generosity or loyalty to the 'goose', only the golden eggs. Basically the attitude ranges from pragmatism to opportunism. There are of course exceptions like the Peranakan but today they are being re-sinified.
Growing up in Singapore, we had to bear the scorn and barbs of the Chinese superiority complex and it irritates me when C. L. Sharma in her/his article "Ethnicity, Communal Relations and Education in Malaysia" (1979) described post-independence Malays as being "imbued with the 'we are the masters now' attitude which encourages them to display arrogance in their behaviour". This academic should be more objective and realise that Malays do not have a monopoly on arrogance.
Peter A. Busch's "Legitimacy and Ethnicity" - A Case Study of Singapore (1974) notes in his research that "increasing tenure in the Chinese stream classes produces the strongest tendency to believe that Malays are inferior." He adds that Mandarin in Singapore (and Malaysia ? ) is more symbolic than communicative. It's "a sign of being a cultured Chinese". Outside of the institution, most Chinese speak to each other in their dialects, especially in Malaysia. This may not be applicable to Singapore today. Although the Singapore Government has successfully de-emphasised Chinese schools, the status of Mandarin has been elevated and the dialects have been marginalised and have almost vanished. Only recently Lee Kuan Yew in 2004 commented "To ride on China's growth, Singapore needs a core group with a deep understanding of contemporary China. This means a bilingual as well as bicultural group of key players. Bilingualism gets us through the front door, but it is only through biculturalism that we can reach deep inside China and work with them." A few months later the Ministry of Education set up 3 Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools. These schools have a strong Chinese tradition and are the only schools that offer the highest education stream.
In Malaysia, of course, bilingualism is a must. Biculturalism is a minefield.
Bausch added "having a proper Mandarin accent is a sign of prestige and good calligraphy is an art form and not just a matter of penmanship. Perhaps then it is not surprising that the ability to speak Mandarin well inclines the Chinese students to see their people as superior to the Malays." Well, that's 1974, you may say. But today, even if Singaporean Malays , the Malai-kwai (Malay devil) can speak Mandarin and there's a growing number of them : they are still third in line after the Indians , the Kaling-kwai.I think nuff's said. Hand on my heart, I know I'm colour blind. But the hypocrisy and selfish double standards I was subjected to brings out my bile and I do not want to re-trace that track.
I'll close this blog with this extract from Sterling Seagrave's Lords of the Rim (1996). "......the social atmosphere of Malaysia is more relaxed and wholesome, and its residents - regardless of ethnic ties - go to bed at night without dread. Mahathir's period in power has established Malay prestige without the stengun or the jackboot, in an atmosphere of civility that is remarkable for Asia and rare anywhere in the world."
Twice I saw my father's tears. The second time was on 31 August 1957. When I asked him why? He said, "I'm happy the British have gone but I have fears for my country." He went through the emergence of Malaysia, and the mantra for "Malaysian Malaysia" worried him for he knew what it implied. When the May 13 riots came , he was one of those in the kampung who rallied the various races to look after one another. It was centred at Seng Teow's kedai runcit. I'm glad he's spared from seeing what's taking place in his tanah air today.
P.S. "Get Back" refers to me only.