Term Paper: Ethnic Relations in Peninsular Malaysia the Cultural and Economic Dimensions

Pages: 19 (5426 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: History - Asian  ·  Buy This Paper

Ethnic Relations in the Malaysian Peninsula

Some Chinese traders had settled in the country of Malaysia for centuries before other Chinese ethnic groups joined them in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although there has been an intermixture among the Chinese and other political minorities and the Malays as the political majority population, the Chinese have managed to preserve their cultural distinctions from the Malays, basically through religion and language. The Chinese use the Chinese language as distinguished from the Malay language and practice Buddhism, as differentiated from the Malays who are Muslim. The Chinese are grouped into the rural poor sector and the urban commercial sector, the latter being more economically capable and productive than the majority Malays.

There have been these fundamental and historical conflicts between the majority Malays and the minority Chinese communities. The British ruled the peninsula and Singapore through the Chartered Company in Sabah and the Brooke family in Sarawak the Japanese Occupation made these conflicts worse during the last World War, during which the Malays sided with the Japanese against the British colonial rule and the Japanese mistreated the Chinese, who rebelled against them and formed the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army or MPAJA. When Japan lost the War, the MPAJA took violent actions in establishing control over the peninsula. The Chinese rural poor sector supported it and its succeeding organization, the Malayan Communist Party or MCP, founded in 1948. The British favored the Malays in counterattacking the Chinese communists, who became the targets of repression by the government and placed them in "new villages" in the 50s where they had little contact with the majority Malays. The MCP was believed to have been instigated and led by pro-Beijing Chinese, creating an impression among the Malay population that some Chinese were loyal to Communist China. The apprehension created a deep division between the Malays and the Chinese and impelled the government to pass the Internal Security Act of 1960 in order to grant itself arbitrary police powers in controlling the activities of its opponents. It took years of bloody fights before the British government was able to contain the rebellion. Meantime, the urban and economically advantaged Chinese distanced themselves from the MCP to protect their economic interests.

In 1963, the Federation of Malaysia was created and comprised peninsular Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, the last two being in Borneo Island. Later in 1965, Singapore was separated when leader Lee Kuan Yew, disagreed with and challenged the Malay political supremacy. Malaysia is now where the ethnic Chinese are the largest minority in the entire South-East Asia or 27% of Malaysia's 20 million people.

The Malayan Constitution categorizes the population into the bumiputera and the non-bumiputera. "Bumiputera" means "son of the soil" and this is the state's official recognition of a citizen's indigenous status. Non-bumiputera means not indigenous or "immigrants." The Constitution acknowledges the ethnic Malays and other indigenous ethnic groups as bumiputera in Sabah and Sarawak, which constitute approximately 59% of the population. The rest, or the non-bumiputera, are the Chinese at 27%, Indians at 8% and the remaining 6% for other smaller minorities. The Constitution vests special legal, economic and political rights to the bumiputera. For example, the New Economic Policy or NEP of 1971, later renamed into the New Development Policy, imposed a 30% quota for bumiputera on all social and economic spheres. This policy was grounded on the assumption of Chinese historical economic advantage and that the wealth gap between the bumiputera Malays and the non-bumiputera Chinese, if uncontrolled, would lead to political instability. The discriminatory policy was a compensatory move to equalize the situation wherein the non-bumiputera and minority ethnic Chinese already made an impressive and "Constitutional" bargain during the May 13, 1969 elections in Kuala Lumpur and prior to independence.

A bargain was supposedly reached between the Malay and Chinese political elites, whereby the Chinese community acquiesced to Malays' "special rights" in exchange for citizenship based on place of birth or "jus soli." The bargain, according to some Chinese leaders, was reached without previous consultation with the Chinese community and on condition that these would be removed when the Malay or bumiputera community became economically at par with the Chinese community. Malay leaders, however, claimed that the arrangement was permanent. The Constitution bars the Chinese ethnic community from re-evaluating the old and sensitive issue of "constitutional bargain" and that citizenship and Malays' "special rights" cannot be questioned or discussed, even in Parliament, without violating the Sedition or Internal Security Act. There have been reports of Chinese activists and other oppositionists getting detained for raising such questions or issues.

The Chinese ethnic minority - and other minorities - has suffered discrimination, specifically in employment and economic opportunities. They can get employment only in private businesses, because work recruitment in the public service is almost exclusive for the bumiputera at a traditional ratio of 1:4. Observers say the practice has further reduced this proportion to 1:10. In the top levels of public service, there were less than 10% non-Malays.

The Chinese believe that the survival of their culture depends largely on the retention of Chinese schools for their children. but, after independence and over the years, vernacular schools were established throughout the country and used the Malay language, Bahasa Malaysia, as the official language and medium of instruction in all government schools. The government did not recognize independent Chinese and other vernacular schools that would perpetuate their indigenous language and culture. Neither could their graduates apply to teach in government institutions or work in the public service. These schools were also ineligible for any kind of government funding or support, since government views these as obstacles to national unity and assimilation.

The Malay government also wanted to integrate the Chinese and Tamil languages into the dominant and Malay school system, to which privately funded Chinese schools that used Mandarin as medium of instruction lobbied heavily against. Among Malaysian Chinese advocacy and lobbying pressure groups were the Democratic Action Party or DPA, which regularly contested election results against the National Front or NF.

The government also enhanced the Malay share of the economy by strongly promoting only select Malay businessmen, who were awarded multi-million contracts without requiring them to go through difficult processes. The government also gave first preference for government projects, supply tenders and trade licenses to these bumiputera businessmen for whom all financial institutions were obliged by law to set aside 30% of their loans. The objective was to establish a bumiputera industrial and commercial community that would be economically competitive with the Chinese. But what evolved was a kind of rentier bumiputera business class that took advantage of the government's favorable treatment in turning itself into a group of genuine entrepreneurs.

The big Chinese businesses could withstand the slanted treatment and discrimination, some of them using Malay fronts in order to survive. But the small to medium businesses were significantly disadvantaged by the NEP and the NDP, which deterred their expansion. Nevertheless, Chinese businesses still constituted approximately half of the economy while the Malays share stood at only 20-3o%, the rest being foreign.

The Chinese were likewise significantly undermined in employment. The law required large companies to maintain a minimum of 30% bumiputera staff. Some Malay companies had a 90%, even 100%, bumiputera by observing a bumiputera-first hiring policies.

Overall discrimination covered religion and culture. The official religion in the peninsula was Muslim, while almost all of the Chinese ethnics in Malaysia were non-Muslim. They were Taoists, Confucians, Buddhists and Christians. The Malaysian Constitution guaranteed religious freedom but, in practice, the law seriously banned proselytizing to Muslims, building new temples and churches and the use of "Islamic" terms. The glaring fact was that it was government policy to promote Islamic values in the entire arena of public life, begun in the 70s but became aggressive from the 80s. This policy built a International Islamic University, Islamic banking and finance, expanded Islamic schools and a state-funded mosque-building program. Students in tertiary levels in government-funded schools and universities were obliged to take and pass a course on the basics of Islam, whatever their religious faith.

State-sanctioned missionary groups, called Dakwah, concentrate on the Chinese for conversion to Islam and reports were received on some high-profile Chinese teen-age girls turning to Islam without parental consent, pressure applied on non-Muslim students in boarding schools to change their religion, and a Chinese Muslim preacher verbally attacking the Christian religion and traditional Chinese faiths on television. In other cases, money or financial help was offered for a shift in religion. A change to Islam involved a change in ethnic identity itself in that the Malaysian Constitution defined a Malay as a Muslim and that, therefore, a change in faith or conversion to Islam in Malaysia meant a racial or ethnic alteration or adoption. In so doing, these converts would have to severe all cultural and language links and orientation, even a change to Malay names. The government also announced in 1971 that a National Cultural Policy or NCP… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Ethnic Relations in Peninsular Malaysia the Cultural and Economic Dimensions."  Essaytown.com.  November 4, 2004.  Accessed September 21, 2019.
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