Why the Chinese Act Like Chinese in Malaysia (or, Why the DAP is Not in Power)


The Chinese are perceived to be hardworking, entrepreneurial, adaptable, practical, pragmatic and business (or profit) minded. They also seem to prefer maintaining the status quo to taking a risk that might bring advantages. Why is this?

It is, I think, the result of both culture and genetics, shaped over the 6000 years of Chinese history.

The history of China through the millenia goes something like this: Feudal lords war against each other for power. Emperors and dynasties rise and fall and are replaced. Foreign invaders sweep through the land until they are assimilated into the Chinese culture. Revolution brings about changes that last until the next revolution. Between these are interspersed periods of peace and stability.

Is it any wonder that Chinese seem adverse to chaos and uncertainty? Though we have a reputation as entrepreneurs and innovators, most Chinese would choose tried-and-tested contentment and satisfaction over highly-risky gain. It all depends on the odds of the gamble (something else the Chinese are infamous for).

With all the power-struggles going on, adding famine, natural disasters and other harsh living conditions – and of course,  Mao’s Communism in the 20th Century – it has been thousands of years of trial by fire.

Those Chinese who left China in search of greener pastures are collectively known as the Overseas Chinese. Wherever they migrated to escape their barely-living conditions, they again had to struggle to survive in a faraway, foreign land – no backup, support or village/family to count on, and sometimes with local antipathy to their presence.

So if you weren’t capable and adaptable enough to make a living… You died. Simple as that. If you died, you wouldn’t leave (surviving) offspring and the genetic pool would belong to the fittest. If you were lazy and freeloading, the community would suffer, so hardworkingness became the enforced culture.

The Chinese people had no CHOICE but to strive and survive. It was excel, or perish.

The Chinese people were born out of lack, and forged in adversity. When we see a chance to make a good living, we leap at it. When our hairs prick up at the sense of impending danger, we try to avoid or dampen it.

To put it all in a Menglembu groundnut-shell: Stability = chance to survive.

Taken together, these Chinese traits help to shape the political landscape of Malaysia. We can see this in the current support for the DAP.

The Democratic Action Party is part of the Opposition in Malaysia (the ruling Government being the Barisan Nasional coalition of UMNO, MCA, MIC and such). Among its agenda is the push for a Malaysian Malaysia, where everyone is treated equally and fairly. This means no special privileges for any one race, religion or language group.

Now, this would clearly be desirable to the minority groups who are not accorded Bumiputra privileges. More opportunities will be open to them, and you know the Chinese just love opportunities. So why aren’t more Chinese voting for the DAP instead of the MCA?

Methinks it is, in part, because many still remember (although not as firsthand witnesses) what happened the last time the Opposition won large gains against the ruling Alliance (forerunner of the BN).

In the 1969 General Election, DAP and Gerakan received large percentages of votes, reducing the Alliance to 48 percent of the votes – still majority control, but a psychological setback. In particular, the Chinese support for the MCA was drastically reduced.

Wow, that was a pretty good showing for the Opposition! So why didn’t they improve from there on? Why didn’t their popular support keep on increasing? Because, of course, 1969 is better known for another event that took place in Malaysia.

After the 1969 election results favouring the Opposition became known, a victory rally in KL was held by their supporters. To restore confidence and encouragement, UMNO supporters decided to stage their own rally in response.

All this mass demonstration led to tensions becoming heightened in the city. Wild rumours led to wild actions, and eventually things escalated into the infamous (but rather under-reportedMay 13 incident.

After the bloodshed and fear, laws were passed making it Seditious to question special rights and birthing the Rukunegara as a standard to be followed. The Alliance reformed itself as the Barisan Nasional. The New Economic Policy was brought into play (its effectiveness in addressing the woes and gripes that contributed to the Incident depends on who you ask, no comment right now from this author).

And after that, the DAP and other opposition parties never got quite the high level of support that they managed. The BN would say that it’s because the people acknowledge how much Malaysia has achieved under BN’s rule. The very ill-thought out, foolish alliance with PAS in the 1999 elections also made a whole lot of DAP supporters feel betrayed.

But there might also be the stick of fresh communal violence waved in response to challenges, versus the carrot of stability under the current status quo.

Because we fear a violent upheaval like has happened before (and also in Indonesia where the Chinese were specifically targeted in riots and unrest), we prefer to maintain the status quo.

Thus the DAP, precisely with its stated agenda of challenging the status quo, receives less support than a casual commentator would predict.

After all, racial tension in the 1960s contributed to (some would contend, were intentionally used to achieve) the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. What if a similar occurence were to happen again today? There is nowhere for the Malaysian Chinese to be ‘separated’ to.

We have built up lives, friendships and partriotic loyalty here (one reason why every Chinese has not left for Singapore yet). Societal upheaval would destroy all our hard-made investments and leave us unable to provide for our families – two things that are anathema to the Chinese.

Even if it is our general disadvantage and long term disadvantage, it still allows us to make a decent living and live comfortably. Thus, the Opposition is given just enough power to check and balance the Government.

And where to from here? We do not know for sure. But one thing is very likely – The Chinese will do their best to live up to their reputation for… Well, living.

PS. Seeing the state of Malaysian politics these days, in retrospect, I should have subtitled this post ‘Why the Opposition is Not in Power’, rather than just the DAP. But then, if the Opposition gained the majority, they would become the ruling party and no longer the opposition.


9 Responses to “Why the Chinese Act Like Chinese in Malaysia (or, Why the DAP is Not in Power)”

  1. kean loong Says:

    guess that’s why DAP are not able to garner many votes from non-chinese as they are always perceived as a Chinese party instead of a party for Malaysian, though that’s changing nowadays if we follow Uncle Lim’s blog, many malays are pro-DAP as well.

    However to lump not voting DAP with fear of racial strikes are a long shot and purely hypothethical. There is no way we can know how many people (or Chinese specifically) voted for DAP. Although one theory which I believe is Chinese don’t like political struggle coz bad for business. That’s why they prefer to maintain the status quo though the gov may be injustice. So for the price of stability chinese just keep on voting the current gov and try to make do with the situation that gov dish out.

    I don’t agree that the opposition is given enuf power to check and balance. If they have power, the gov will not be so blatant in their corruptions and mishandling public funds. the oppositions dont only have no bites, they have no barks as well. They only whimper. which is why we must use our votes to put more power back into the opposition. Not to change the gov, but to reinforce and add the number of whimpers so that they collectively can bark and hopefully, bite back when suitable.

    on another note, agreed bout what you say bout Chinese. just remembered a speaker said God loves Chinese the most, that’s why they are the most people in the world, can be found almost every corner in the world, and suffer the most hardship as well 🙂

  2. oneforthelord Says:

    I think the last quote is quite wrong. If that’s the case, the same argument can be made for the Africans and the blacks. God loves them the least, which is why they were made to suffer for many years as slaves and still face discrimination all over the place.

    This kind of reasoning is dangerous and quite unbiblical. God loves all races equally; it’s just that each has been allocated a different destiny.

    Scott I think the part about lack of support making them hardworking might not be the only reason. Part of it is due to Confucian values such as being a gentleman (junzi), etc. Similar to the Protestant work ethic, but not exactly. Also, it’s well known the the Clan Associations were very important to every overseas Chinese. After they were established, the Clan Associations were known to provide support, a base for establishing oneself and a group to belong to as long as you were of the same clan (we tend to use the term dialect group nowadays instead). So in the first few years the migrants did not have a lot of support, yes, but after some time they’d have support from the Clan A’s and also from their local Chinese community most of the time.

  3. kean loong Says:

    sorry, i meant for it for it to be a tongue in cheek comment 🙂 not to stir up any controversies about which race God loves the most coz you and me know that God loves them equally 🙂

  4. oneforthelord Says:

    Paiseh paiseh, I was too zealous liao 😮

  5. SA Omar Says:

    May I say a word about the Chinese.

    Number one factor that Chinese can live in Malaysia peacefully is due that fact majority of Chinese elites are charitable minded people, helping the poor, donating thier knowledge and properties, protecting the lower strata from all races and people of the country.

    But after fifty years of independence, some Chinese don’t even know to converse in Bahasa, or write. They prefer to mingle around with own race. Work in thier own enviroment, practices the same traditions, of which alienate the local from being part of the society. This plural against singular enviroment that the Malays or the local was trying to achieve or emualuate to the Chinese or the INdian in Malaysia seems drifting apart.

    My comment is that unlike Indonesia, Malaysia seems lost on that count. When things are didvided there will never be a singular society, who then would join a party with the Chinese in any celebration for the nation, if it is not forced to?.

  6. Scott Thong Says:

    On Indonesia, I beg to differ.

    The Chinese in Indonesia have long been completelty assimilated (not accepted, mind you – digested and absorbed). They speak Bahasa Indonesia and often no Chinese dialect. They have Indonesian names that are indistinguishable as ‘Chinese’ names.

    And yet, when the riots took place, they were immediately exclusively targeted because EVERYONE ELSE still considers them Chinese. Their skin colour, their features and their hardworking prosperity set them apart.
    http://indcoup.blogspot.com/2006/05/may-riots-in-jakarta.html

    What person doesn’t find comfort among others who are similar? I’m not just talking about race. Most people would rather spend lots of hanging-out time with others who think like they do (Democrat or Republican), speak the same language (Good evening good fellow or L33t), have the same tastes (classical or Linkin Park), or even things like the same standard of personal hygiene and dorm-room cleanliness (one of the reasons mandatory mixed-race uni dorms didn’t work when we tried it).

    To try and steamroll whitewash brainwash everyone to be exactly the same in mind and mannerisms is the way of totalitarian Communism, fundamentalist Islam (especially the women) and the Borg.

    Besides… The language and environment and traditions that are upheld and extolled in Malaysia are very much Malay norms.

    At functions with food, everything must be halal – no pork allowed. But seldom are the requirements of other religious believers even given a spare thought, such as being forbidden to eat beef, or pure vegetarian.

    Offending Islam is an ISA offense, but other religions are regularly denounced – even in university lecture halls seating more than 500 students who have to sit and listen to the lecturer declare Buddhism a false belief as a fact, not just his opinion.

    Given that the country is MALAYsia, and the other races have agreed to allow Malays special rights. But these special rights should not be abused, nor the meager rights of the minorities refused.

    It is even highly questionable if the special rights actually help the Bumiputeras as a whole. Many a criticism has been raised that it only benefits the rich and politically influential Malays, while shortchanging the poorer ones – thus keeping them unsatisfied and willing to vote for an extension of the same policies that should be helping them, but instead are hampering them.

    The Chinese will always be Chinese. There is a deep and rich cultural and habitual legacy that binds them together. Yet the Overseas Chinese are loyal and devoted to their adopted homes, not slaves to their ancestral ties.

    During the rise of modern China, the South-East Asian Chinese were openly and covertly wooed to return to China, or to overthrow the countries’ goverments in Communist revolution.

    Yet hardly anyone returned to mainland China. Only a minority of Chinese joined the Malaysian Communist Party, and they had little reason to once the British gave Malaya independence. After a few decades, even mainland China itself started officially stating that the Overseas Chinese are citizens of those countries and should work hard to support the governments there.

    So in conclusion, don’t let it be said that the Chinese are not loyal to Malaysia. We have not yet all run off to become Singaporeans or Canadians. But just remember that the Chinese are loyal to the country of Malaysia and to their own concerns… Not to any particular political party or set of traditions and cultural practices.

    PS. If you want to talk about immigrants who completely and adamantly refuse to adapt to the norms, cultures and laws of their new country, but rather try to change the countries to suit themselves… I suggest you take a look at a group other than the Chinese (who have established Chinatowns everywhere they land, but have somehow not ever tried to change things more to their liking by force, riot and bombs).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_French_riots

  7. kweky Says:

    the adaptability of the chinese to the surrounding environment and their natural survival instincts have brought to themselves a range of perception that are both good and bad. most of the time, malaysian chinese are normally branded as selfish, arrogant, egoistic and they think that they are smarter than any other races in malaysia. such perceptions will only be harmful to the chinese community in malaysia. it will not bring credit. it’s time for malaysian chinese to learn to be more humble even if they are the smartest.

  8. Will Chow Says:

    MCA and Gerakan are getting irrelevant these days. Barisan Main components are becoming racists. Just take a look at the recent Malay unity talk by Khir Toyo . A united Malay as malaysia’s backbone? Protect Islam and Malay guarantee country’s stability? I dont think so. I think problem lies in corruption, injustice, and discrimination. This CID policy,attitude and way of living are the main problem of malaysia. Not malay hate non-malay or non-malay hate malay.

  9. jeff Says:

    I don’t eat with chopstick, i do not read moa’s red book, i barely speak n write in manderin, i was born n raise in malaysia, i have a malaysia passpot, birth certificate, but my skin color is neither dark or black, , so i am a “chinese” for all these dimwits who see me as “chinese”??? In the language of “english” there is only a smal number of “chinese” in Malaysia, get the fact right, alright!!!!!

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