Archive for June 15th, 2011

Tongsan Man in Dongshan 东山

Photo above: Lin Jixiang hugs Pan Kaiguo 潘凱國, one of Kit Siang’s two maternal uncles and the only one still alive. He is 80 (in 2008). On the father’s side, Kit Siang also has an aunt (deceased) with two daughters. Behind Kaiguo is the eldest son Pan Heping 潘和平. The two men, Kit Siang and Heping, would be the same generation and cousins.

Photo below: Kaiguo leads the procession from Kit Siang’s paternal home village to his own house, a stone’s throw away. Note how he grips both the hands. The Chinese especially Fujianese are a stoic but a warm-hearted and an all-embracing people, whom the like of Mahathir Mohamad and Petra Kamarudin would exploit in order to poison Malaysian minds with the idea they are an usurious, money-grubbing lot.

Next: A family reunion photo is mandatory under the circumstances. Kit Siang’s elder brother 林吉成 Jicheng kept both sides in Malaysia and China in contact. After his death, however, Kit Siang did nothing to follow up. It was Kit Siang’s mother, maiden name 梁玉治 Liang Yuzhi, who made Guan Eng, Guanying 冠英, promise to return to 看一看 ‘take a look‘.

Lim Guan Eng’s family tree:
father ‧父親林吉祥
mother ‧母親梁玉治
wife ‧妻子周玉清 (Anglicised as ‘Betty’; actual name Zhou Yuqing)
younger sister ‧妹妹林慧敏
son ‧兒子林煒超
son ‧兒子林煒凱
Jicheng’s daughters ‧林吉成長女林沐易,次女林沐欣
Jicheng’s grand-daughter‧林吉成外孫曾譯葵

Photos: Sin Chew Jit Poh, 2008 Nov. For captioned names hanyu pinyin is used. Lim Guan Eng 林冠英 is Lin Guanying; Kit Siang is Jixiang.

Dongshan location

Above, Fujian province in red. Below, Dongshan (it reads 东山) marked in circle is in the south of Fujian, close to Guangdong province next door. To Dongshan’s north are the two main cities, Zhangzhou, the prefecture capital, after which, to the east is Xiamen. Across the strait is Taiwan. Further below, Dongshan island, county map which is blurry. Expressway G324 from Guangzhou comes into Dongshan then onwards to Zhangzhou and Xiamen.

Dongshan hotel 东山鑫瑞商务酒店: the kind the Lim family might have stayed in. For a three-star, good-size, clean room, RM50 at non-peak season.

Dongshan landmark

Malaysia’s administrative hierarchy is fairly flat but straightforward, a taman within a district municipality (such as Subang Jaya) under a state such as Selangor.

In China, because it is gargantuan, a continent in fact, most Chinese provinces are singularly, in population and geographical size, larger than peninsular Malaysia. Consequently, administration has to be decentralized. Bottom up, it starts from a village to a cluster of villages organized under an administrative capital known as township, several townships under a county, several counties under a prefecture, several prefectures under a province. Hierarchically, there are seven levels, perhaps eight, from village to the central government. Excepting for some broad, national level matters, each step of this administrative structure is, surprising to Malaysians, rather autonomous, such as tax collection and school admission policies.

Dongshan is a county 区 within Zhangzhou prefecture 漳州市 in the province of Fujian 福建省, capital Fuzhou. Dongshan is also an island, hence, largely flat but is 80 pct forested (we’ll come back later to this forest thing). There is a port for fishermen and domestic trade, and it is served but bypassed by highway 010 that places the county roughly equidistant between Zhangzhou city, the county capital, and the next prefecture, actually a self-administrative city, to the north called Xiamen 厦门市.

Next door to Xiamen is Quanzhou prefecture 泉州市 where it is buried Zheng He, the Ming official who sailed to southeast Asia, the Indonesian archipelago, and as far as India and Africa. That was a 100 years before the Europeans arrived in Malacca, by then already an entry-port washed by a river with no name. This could only have come about from the Chinese trade happening at the river mouth: Chinese people don’t go around the world conquering nations. (Here, a 1602 Mateo Ricci map he had plagiarized from the Chinese.)

A port near Nanjing during the Ming dynasty was the original launch pad for the global sea voyages. But this was moved to Fujian, thus snipping off, by today’s road distance measure, 700 km from the sea route. That’s roughly a week’s travel at the time. Why Fujian? It’s the fir tree (above), a single trunk growing straight up producing light but sturdy wood for the shipyards, although many of the ships were later refitted using, maybe, South East Asian hard wood. These facts are important in Kit Siang’s case not for the kind of global trade the Mings started but because many Fujianese today would have descended from the people serving the Ming explorations 500 years earlier, 1405-1433.

Those ships, hundreds of them, were abruptly recalled, every single ship, all official records destroyed and the emperor’s fleet staff laid off, along with the onshore employed, shipbuilders, suppliers and so on. That total number, from the carpenter, the butcher, the ship staff family members, to the top fleet official himself would probably run into the millions. One reason for this is the expansiveness of the effort. In the 28 years of sea voyages going south, Zheng He’s mission alone (he wasn’t the only man managing the emperor’s fleets) undertook seven trips, eight if you count the last one in which he suddenly died in India. A typical fleet was 62-vessel strong with 27,800 on board.

This Ming legacy would have endured – thanks in part to the prodigious Chinese habit of recording down events, especially routines. And for this purpose they have a language called hanzi which would have scripted daily transactions coming from a muddy river with no name. The 20th century Chinese who fled Fujian during Japanese conquest would have heard of the shipyards, the forest trade, Zheng He’s visits, and especially the south seas because people don’t sail off to faraway places they know nothing about, especially to a river with no name.

Below are pictures of the Dongshan port today. It almost certainly wasn’t like this when Lim Kit Siang’s parents left Dongshan which he, with deeply-rooted Anglophile prejudices, had described to Nut Graph as ‘poor, backward‘ as if Batu Pahat where he was born in 1941, or Petaling Jaya then, was rich and advanced. Reflected in a trait handed down to his son Guan Eng, Kit Siang has a conceited streak fed by an ill-education and a father who probably spent more time with his pigs than with the children.

Ming voyages: the common term ‘voyages of Zheng He’ is incorrect and fallacious because there were other officials of rank equalled to Zheng He but commanding other fleets going off at different times to other places, for e.g., Borneo to Kelantan or sailing up the western coast of Sumatra from Java stopping in what’s today Acheh. The Ming fleets were the only jumbo seabuses going back and forth the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits. In that 30-odd years, anybody wanting a ride would have to ask the captain, travel charges applicable. Back from Arabia, it is entirely possible the Ming voyages gave rides to Mahathir Mohamad’s distant forefathers (from Kerala?), bringing with them Islam into southeast Asia. Too bad, Lisa Ng?

So many ships to choose from: Did Parameswara hitch a ride to ‘Melaka’ on one those ships, made in, says Kit Siang, a ‘poor, backward’ place? Did the Ming Chinese ‘discover’ Melaka? And, after the Chinese ships were recalled, Parameswara sequestered the river port with no name, but in his name? Below, a Ming vessel compared to a European ship (foreground), but 100 years apart.

Dongshan port in Fujian today. Poor and backward in 1941, says Kit Siang. In 1405 as well? That man, like so many Anglophiles and their prejudices, has a conceit that stems from their own ignorance and Jesuit ill-education.


Kit Siang says his parents came from Dongshan, which if true is imprecise. More likely it is one of the rice farming and husbandry villages in the county.

Kit Siang’s laojia was almost certainly, by his description, ‘poor’ and ‘backward’ when his parents left for Malaya, probably via Singapore which was how he came to be born in Batu Pahat as his parents headed north; Kit Siang himself settling in Malacca then conquering Penang with his good Christian son Guan Eng.

Villages in China, many but not most, tend to be a lot of mud, goats, cows roaming the fields to chew up the weeds and grass but seldom pigs which are usually penned. Kit Siang’s father worked with pigs which tend to be farmed in places with lots of water whereas most villages in Fujian, because of its terrain, are lodged in the mountains. This explains why Lim Goh Tong would have like Genting the moment he saw it.

Kit Siang’s ancestral home was probably on flat land, with little going for it today because of the geography, in an island corner, bypassed by the industrial, agricultural and financial centers to the north in Xiamen and south in Chuizhou, Guangzhou further on and then Hong Kong. It’s also lousy to live in. Directly facing the moist, warm winds of the South China Sea, winters are mild but summers steam like buns in a wok, the temperature on Jun 6 was 37 degrees.

In 2008 when Kit Siang and son returned for a visit, the late autumn temperate at under 20 degree C would have made his stay pleasant. If summer, the Dongshan village would have reminded him of Batu Pahat or Malacca, those accursed, god-forsaken places good only for mosquitoes and PKR toads.

Throughout the interview with Deborah ‘Nutty’ Loh, Kit Siang, in contrast to other interviewees, speaks next to nothing of his parents, suggesting that in his previous harsh, brutal life with his parents, themselves probably sparingly educated in any formal way, not even in Chinese, what’s there to talk about? Photographs supplied by Kit Siang suggest that he had secondary education in one of the mission schools that charged no fee.

This is an important idea. Education in the Confucian sense does not mean formal education only, which costs money. So free education was alien to Chinese whether in China or Malaysia in the 1950s and earlier. If Kit Siang had grew up in latter years under Jesuit tutelage (secondary school), he would had had been infused with all things orang putih. But it is a price many Chinese are willing to pay: better some education from Christiandom than no education. The influence from its impact persists today – Guan Eng is such a son from that colonial literary culture.

Consequently, culture to such a Lim family mostly meant new year, moon cakes and so on. Culture wasn’t Tang poetry or Li Bai’s life of wine under a full moon by a stream or the great histories written by Sima Qian, 2,000 years earlier.

Returning to China in the months after their March 2008 electoral victories and Guan Eng had been installed as Penang chief minister, the Dongshan folks would appear to father and son as country bumpkins – and good for showing off his Anglophile, suburban, city conceit. Notice the jacket and tie worn by the father and son in ‘poor, backward’ Dongshan. Betty Lim, Guan Eng’s wife, would probably bellyache about the toilets, the hard beds, and the internal plumbing that works only at some hours of the day.

Set against this background, against the chief minister’s spacious office and a colonial governor’s mansion of hedge rows and an immaculate lawn, the Dongshan ancestry of the Lim family wouldn’t be just ‘poor’ and ‘backward’. It would be, in their order of priorities, a waste of time and money. Even in tongsan, Chinese are not First. What need is there to make them second?


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