By Kee Thuan Chye
COMMENT Every time the Barisan Nasional gets less than the expected support from Chinese voters at an election, the question invariably pops up among the petty-minded: Why are the Chinese ungrateful?
So now, after the Hulu Selangor by-election, it’s not surprising to read in Utusan Malaysia a piece that asks: “Orang Cina Malaysia, apa lagi yang anda mahu?” (Chinese of Malaysia, what more do you want?)
Normally, something intentionally provocative and propagandistic as this doesn’t deserve to be honoured with a reply. But even though I’m fed up of such disruptive and ethnocentric polemics, this time I feel obliged to reply – partly because the article has also been published, in an English translation, in the Straits Times of Singapore.
I wish to emphasise here that I am replying not as a Chinese Malaysian but, simply, as a Malaysian.
Let me say at the outset that the Chinese have got nothing more than what any citizen should get. So to ask “what more” it is they want, is misguided. A correct question would be “What do the Chinese want?”
All our lives, we Chinese have held to the belief that no one owes us a living. We have to work for it. Most of us have got where we are by the sweat of our brow, not by handouts or the policies of the government.
We have come to expect nothing – not awards, not accolades, not gifts from official sources. (Let’s not lump in Datukships, that’s a different ball game.) We know that no Chinese who writes in the Chinese language will ever be bestowed the title of Sasterawan Negara, unlike in Singapore where the literatures of all the main language streams are recognised and honoured with the Cultural Medallion, etc.
We have learned we can’t expect the government to grant us scholarships. Some will get those, but countless others won’t. We’ve learned to live with that and to work extra hard in order to support our children to attain higher education – because education is very important to us. We experience a lot of daily pressure to achieve that. Unfortunately, not many non-Chinese realise or understand that. In fact, many Chinese had no choice but to emigrate for the sake of their children’s further education. Or to accept scholarships from abroad, many from Singapore, which has inevitably led to a brain drain.
The writer of the Utusan article says the Chinese “account for most of the students” enrolled in “the best private colleges in Malaysia”. Even so, the Chinese still have to pay a lot of money to have their children study in these colleges. And to earn that money, the parents have to work very hard. The money does not fall from the sky.
The writer goes on to add: “The Malays can gain admission into only government-owned colleges of ordinary reputation.” That is utter nonsense. Some of these colleges are meant for the cream of the Malay crop of students and are endowed with the best facilities. They are given elite treatment.
The writer also fails to acknowledge that the Chinese are barred from being admitted to some of these colleges. As a result, the Chinese are forced to pay more money to go to private colleges. Furthermore, the Malays are also welcome to enrol in the private colleges, and many of them do. It’s, after all, a free enterprise.
Plain and simple reason
The writer claims that the Chinese live “in the lap of luxury” and lead lives that are “more than ordinary” whereas the Malays in Singapore, their minority-race counterparts there, lead “ordinary lives”. Such sweeping statements sound inane especially when they are not backed up by definitions of “lap of luxury” and “ordinary lives”. They sound hysterical, if not hilarious as well, when they are not backed up by evidence. It’s surprising that a national daily like Utusan Malaysia would publish something as idiosyncratic as that. And the Straits Times too.
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The writer quotes from a survey that said eight of the 10 richest people in Malaysia are Chinese. Well, if these people are where they are, it must have also come from hard work and prudent business sense. Is that something to be faulted?
If the writer had said that some of them achieved greater wealth through being given crony privileges and lucrative contracts by the government, there might be a point, but even then, it would still take hard work and business acumen to secure success. Certainly, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, who is one of the 10, would take exception if it were said that he has not worked hard and lacks business savvy.
Most important, it should be noted that the eight Chinese tycoons mentioned in the survey represent but a minuscule percentage of the wider Chinese Malaysian population. To extrapolate that because eight Chinese are filthy rich, the rest of the Chinese must therefore live in the lap of luxury and lead more than ordinary lives would be a mockery of the truth. The writer has obviously not met the vast numbers of very poor Chinese.
The crux of the writer’s article is that the Chinese are not grateful to the government by not voting for Barisan Nasional at the Hulu Selangor by-election. But this demonstrates the thinking of either a simple mind or a closed one.
Why did the Chinese by and large not vote for BN? Because it’s corrupt. Plain and simple. Let’s call a spade a spade. And BN showed how corrupt it was during the campaign by throwing bribes to the electorate, including promising RM3 million to the Chinese school in Rasa.
The Chinese were not alone in seeing this corruption. The figures are unofficial but one could assume that at least 40 per cent of Malays and 45 per cent of Indians who voted against BN in that by-election also had their eyes open.
So, what’s wrong with not supporting a government that is corrupt? If the government is corrupt, do we continue to support it?
To answer the question then, what do the Chinese want? They want a government that is not corrupt; that can govern well and proves to have done so; that tells the truth rather than lies; that follows the rule of law; that upholds rather than abuses the country’s sacred institutions. BN does not fit that description, so the Chinese don’t vote for it. This is not what only the Chinese want. It is something every sensible Malaysian, regardless of race, wants. Is that something that is too difficult to understand?
Some people think that the government is to be equated with the country, and therefore if someone does not support the government, they are being disloyal to the country. This is a complete fallacy. BN is not Malaysia. It is merely a political coalition that is the government of the day. Rejecting BN is not rejecting the country.
A sense of belonging
Let’s be clear about this important distinction. In America, the people sometimes vote for the Democrats and sometimes for the Republicans. Voting against the one that is in government at the time is not considered disloyalty to the country.
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By the same token, voting against Umno is also voting against a party, not against a race. And if the Chinese or whoever criticise Umno, they are criticising the party; they are not criticising Malays. It just happens that Umno’s leaders are Malay.
It is time all Malaysians realised this so that we can once and for all dispel the confusion. Let us no more confuse country with government. We can love our country and at the same time hate the government. It is perfectly all right.
I should add here what the Chinese don’t want. We don’t want to be insulted, to be called pendatang, or told to be grateful for our citizenship. We have been loyal citizens; we duly and dutifully pay taxes; we respect the country’s constitution and its institutions. Our forefathers came to this country generations ago and helped it to prosper. We are continuing to contribute to the country's growth and development.
Would anyone like to be disparaged, made to feel unwelcome, unwanted? For the benefit of the writer of the Utusan article, what MCA president Chua Soi Lek means when he says the MCA needs to be more vocal is that it needs to speak up whenever the Chinese community is disparaged. For too long, the MCA has not spoken up strongly enough when Umno politicians and associates like Ahmad Ismail, Nasir Safar, Ahmad Noh and others before them insulted the Chinese and made them feel like they don’t belong. That’s why the Chinese have largely rejected the MCA.
You see, the Chinese, like all human beings, want self-respect. And a sense of belonging in this country they call home. That is all the Chinese want, and have always wanted. Nothing more.