Archive for January 8th, 2011

For Zhao Mingfu (赵明福 or Teoh Beng Hock, dead)


Chen Yimin (陈乙敏 or Tan Yi Min, in captivity)

(By repetition this answers the questions in the post dated 2009, July 9.)


It has been said that Thomas Mann, the German novelist (Felix Krull, Death in Venice) arriving in New York from escaping Nazism, was asked the question about his cultural heritage since he had fled his homeland. His reply: “Wherever I am, I’m German (culture).”

While being subjected to ridicule, “Cina bodoh” (stupid Chinese), Tan Boon Wah, the Kajang municipal councillor, was asked by an MACC interrogator if he was from China. But Tan’s disclosure leaves out a critical piece of another information: What was his answer?

Almost routinely, it appears, MACC interrogators asked the same sort of question or related questions. To Dariff Din, an assistant to the Selangor state legislator Lau Weng San, the interrogator asked him if he was Malay or Chinese.

Both men were not the subjects of an ongoing MACC investigations, supposedly for corruption; rather, they were called in to offer evidences. So was Teoh Beng Hock, accurately Zhao Mingfu (赵明福). What might the MACC officers have asked him? More pertinently, what had they said to him? Or, how had they insulted him?

The picture drawn by Tan and Dariff is uniformly clear: the MACC do not expend niceties on citizenship assistance in an investigation or to prefer questions pertinent to the same. Instead, they were more interested and eager to insult, to ridicule and to harangue the Chinese (or Chinese-looking) politicians that challenge the Umno government. This is not new; in Parliament, the Chinese is told to leave the country. A Chinese, especially if political, in front of immigration, police, the road transport office, or the anti-corruption agency, MACC, is always a liability.

More than anybody else, the former premier Mahathir Mohamad must bear responsibility for this racism, promoted in his pseudo social commentary, The Malay Dilemma where he virtually invented Malay grievances and directed them to the Chinese as the primary cause. This is racism par excellence because it mirrors the way Nazism pinned the problems of the entire German nation on the Jews. Which probably explains why Mahathir is still so loved by many Malays, whose identity is simultaneously exalted and ridiculed while the Chinese existence gets the boot. This way shows that Mahathir lacked any viable means to deeply anchor the Malay self, save for directing it to a materialist culture. And why not, if such a culture offers a chance to distribute positions and wealth among his underlings in Umno and outside.

More than 20 years of Mahathir’s grand vision, openly lifting up one race while insidiously subverting the other, is not without neutral or no effects. In his material legacy – Tajudin Ramli, MAS, Proton, Perwaja, and so on – they are left standing, essentially with only their shells. They collapse without government infusions of money. But his existentialist (that is, the nature of identity) legacy is something else. For this, it is found in the MACC interrogation rooms. Its interrogators lift material straight out of the pages of The Malay Dilemma, using the existence of the Chinese as a bludgeoning tool, to browbeat and to cudgel people into submission. To be Chinese in Malaysia has in the days of Mahathir, and after, become a very serious liability, even a death question: “You dari Cina? You orang Cina?”

What were Tan Boon Wah’s answers to the questions?

Probably, anyone of those kinds of questions was intended to be rhetorical. It means, as the interrogator intended it, to be an insult, “stupid Chinese.” But this method is not restricted to MACC. It is also a favourite of Raja Petra Kamarudin, a half-Malay, half-Welsh, and his horde at Malaysia Today, where like in MACC interrogation rooms they adopt race as a popular sport, a destination place for mockery and derision rather than as a source of national strength and, therefore, an asset.

So, what insults did they hurl at Teoh Beng Hock? Did they use “you-orang-Cina?” to bludgeon him? Or, “Cina bodoh”?

The answers are self-evident; after all, the MACC had used the race question as a target-tool against two of Teoh’s political colleagues. But here is the thing left untouched: the answer to the MACC question, are you Chinese?

That answer has to be found, not just because it will help determine the actual cause of Teoh’s death, but because it has the corollary, why MACC deploys such racism. And the upshot is this: the liability of being Chinese is today converted into a national shame.

This shame is so prevalent and now so deep-rooted that the Chinese among the English-educated class become the most vocal in criticizing not just MCA as chauvinistic but also the very existence of the Chinese schools. To shed the shame, you therefore attack your ethnicity (think of the Sinophobic Chuah Siew Eng, grandmother of Malaysian fascism; it seems she used to write propaganda disguised as news for the Mahathir regime). It is like the flip side in speaking of a “mamak” being more Malay than the Malay, a favourite topic among the Malaysia Today horde who, not coincidentally, is an English-educated, semi-literate lot. At the individual level, the respond to the shame might be to take on an English name so as to subsume the Chinese name; Nathaniel might be an example. Or, a variant of that method is to put on a cover and typically it is Western garb, “ e contrario” for example.

Another answer to the MACC question – are you Chinese? – is given as “Bangsa Malaysia”. That answer is in a sense linguistic and referential, that is, to call each other Malaysian and so drop the Chinese or Indian or Malay prefix. Dariff Din gave that answer, “I’m Malaysian” when asked if he was Chinese or Malay. Dariff had no choice with that answer and, besides, it is true: his father is Malay and his mother Chinese. But, what if both parents are Chinese?

Never mind if Bangsa Malaysia is just a surreal thing; the trouble is, it doesn’t get you off the hook. Only when Dariff finally acknowledged he is Malay-Muslim did his interrogators eased up on him. But, more to the point, the Bangsa Malaysia proponents (Haris Ibrahim et al) have thrown open an idea that, if its surface was scratched, it exposes a fundamental principle parallel to the you-orang-Cina? method used in MACC interrogation sessions and found in Mahathir Mohamad’s legacy. The principle is to suppress individual birth identities and after that to root it out. If not suppressed, then, as Chinese, a man is in trouble with MACC. It could even be so with a “Bangsa Malaysia” government, that is, if it comes into being. On point of principle, therefore, a Bangsa Malaysia state rule is similar in ways to Pol Pot’s Year Zero concept that all Khmer history was to be rooted out and individual identities purified to conform to a single model, Kampuchea. (See how Asian followers of the Western Left are equally prone to and have a great proclivity for social re-engineering?)

So, what then if you are not a Chinese but a Malay during a MACC interrogation session? The answer is found in Terengganu where Umno members arrested by the MACC have alleged they were beaten. This is to suggest that racism is effective as a bludgeoning tool, but without it there are other means to inflict terror or to extract a confession. To be a Malay during interrogation is only to have one reason fewer to be tortured. For a man to say he is a half-Chinese is no less patriotic than to say he is a Malaysian, or Malay-Muslim, because the former is true while the latter would be equally true, only self-serving under duress, not that there is anything wrong ethically.

For Bangsa Malaysia to propose dropping all ethnic identification is, in essence, a category that says, let’s give in, acquiesce to and, thereby, accept the MACC interrogation technique that demands this answer: “I’m sorry I’m Chinese, I’m sorry my culture is Chinese, please forgive me; I promise to be Malaysian.” Kampuchea’s Year Zero has an identical psychology. They merely switched ethnicity for social class: never say you are a capitalist, always say you are a peasant; it is safer. Year Zero reduced everything to one class, the Kampuchea peasant class and all became equal, the same, and indistinguishable. They became united and those who refused this unity and equality were exterminated, about a million or more.

What then was Tan Boon Wah’s answer to the question, are you a Chinese? What was Teoh Beng Hock’s answer?

So much of shame is attached to the Chinese identity that it is today a popular subject of ridicule, of slur, of abuse, and now, in MACC, of legally sanctioned intimidation so that well-meaning people like Nathaniel Tan, already converted to the cause of Bangsa Malaysia, is bound to dissolve under pressure and is likely to answer, “no, I’m not Chinese. Forgive me for being Chinese.”

Did Teoh submit? Not likely, because he is dead. For him to do so is to deny his family, his community, his language, that is, all the elements that go into his existence. (Are Bangsa Malaysia people capable of comprehending what that means?) Death, given such options, might have been more tolerable.

For Teoh to say yes – I’m Chinese – to the MACC question, then his interrogators might rain down on him. This is, of course, speculation but given the testimonies of Tan and Dariff not implausible. They might even call him stupid, a pig, a communist, that they will imprison his sister, then brother, mother and father, in that order, all driving him to his death. They might say if Anwar Ibrahim can be fixed, Teoh Beng Hock can be fixed so that if any of these is true, then Teoh might have wished for a noble way out of his predicament.

Teoh died a Chinese – and a Malaysian. The two are not mutually exclusive; the first is identity, the second is citizenship. Without the first the second is fickle. But the Bangsa Malaysia clique of Haris Ibrahim, unable to tell apart the distinction in the two, has inadvertently made identity a liability – and not just liability but also a shame – to citizenship. In Teoh’s case, had the MACC made it a death question?

On point of causation, Teoh’s death arose in the MACC, that is, it must answer. On point of principle, his death was also seeded outside MACC. Up and down the country, some classes of people – the Mahathir legacy boys, inside Dewan Rakyat and outside, the make-pretend People’s Parliament, the Malaysia Today horde, the English-educated, the Anglophile Nathaniels, the philistine suburban class – have ruled that one class of people, that is, those who wish to stay true to their roots, their culture and identity, must convert. Or, to be made to do so. (On this point, Mahathir likes to compare Malaysia to Indonesia and Thailand where no Chinese is allowed to keep the Chinese name.) Uniformly, then, all pick on the Chinese to surrender his original identity – that is, don’t be Chinese.

Wherever I am, I’m Chinese – now, is that a crime?

As depicted by Zhang Yimou, the Chinese identity and soul: filial respect, family, community, language, education …

Postscript: In Malaysia, the agonies men endure to stay Chinese; one losing a son, the other a daughter.


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