Copyright Notice

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author, at the address below.

Sakmongkol ak 47

Monday 2 February 2009

Malay and Chinese Politics


Our obsession with the current politics entitles some of us to ask, who is minding the store? Our economy seems to be on auto pilot, a trait that is also becoming part of a tradition. I hope, running the country is not an extension of how our UMNO leaders are running UMNO.

The ones jumping up and down, obsess with politics are the Malays. The Chinese, less so. The ones less prosperous are the Malays. The Chinese on the other hand, are more prosperous. Is there a link here? Could it be possible that it is the politics the two races subscribed to, that explain their relative prosperity? Perhaps it is because of the obsession with politics that explained their economic performance.

I don't want to beat around the bush. In the olden days we asked, how do we explain the differences between Chinese and Malays. By that we mean, why are the Chinese more prosperous and the Malays less so?

We would probably answer, oh, it's because the two races are made up of different cultural constitution. That is reflected in things like we differ in our work values, our appreciation of wealth, our attitude towards work, etc.

The Chinese has a long tradition of commerce. It's in them. The Malays have no such tradition. They were mostly peasants and farmers. This perception ignores the fact the early Chinese who came here in substantial numbers in the 19th century were not from the commercial class. They were displaced peasants, in other words, the same as the Malays. Yet in one generation, they have become prosperous. Many were subjects of fabled from rags to riches story.

That cultural thing, seems to me, would be the plausible conventional explanation and a starting point for discussion.

My own theory is, perhaps attachment to politics is the key to unlocking the mystery. It's the type of politics which the different races subscribe to, that explain why the two races are different. That will also explain, why the successful Malays are those willing to re-examine their relationship with the type of politics they are attached to. That sets them apart from their own brethren unwilling to re-examine their kind of politics. Those Malays who are successful are those who are willing to conduct revolutionary change in their politics.

Let me explain the politics of the Chinese and in particular their perception of government.

The Chinese it seems are less attached to the government. They are independent of the government. Being less dependent imbues the Chinese with differing world outlook. I use the term differing instead of different purposefully. The term, differing suggests a behaviour that is a product of conscious decision, while different would suggest an innate behaviour. The implication is that changing perception towards government and politics for the Malays is very possible. Changing is a doable thing.

The Chinese developed the talent of looking after themselves rather than tying up their interests in government. Perhaps it is safe to say, the Chinese has a more detached view of government.

The Chinese view government as a work of leisure and that, by definition requires people who attached greater importance to leisure. The Chinese who came here in the 19th century wanted to work, make money and sent them back to China. Government would distract their endeavours of working hard, making money, and go away. They were not interested in anything that would distract them from opportunities for the acquisition of wealth.

The Chinese view of the government is a practical one and also businesslike. As L.A Mills the historian observed, the Chinese looked upon governments as something that are to be placated, to be evaded or to be bought when they are oppressive. Most of the times, government is to be obeyed passively. It's a practical policy of live and let live. You do your thing; don't disturb me kind of thinking.

Hence to the Chinese, independence- of- government is an arrangement and even an attitude that is actively cultivated. That outlook serves the community better in making wealth because it cultivates the very important behaviour trait of relying on one's own resources to succeed. A good by product of this kind of thinking is, it gives the government less room to impinge on you and its relevance, less in your life. This is the kind of politics more favoured by the Chinese. Government is less relevant.

In contrast, in the type of politics where dependence and attachment to government predominate, a different behavioural pattern emerges. It is one that robs the independent streak. Once attachment and dependence sets in, you allow the government greater room to impinge on you. The flipside of this kind of politics is that it allows the government to manipulate you. Because its relevance is very great in your life and the government knows this, it pays for the government to continue preserving that dependence.

I am not sure that UMNO, with its tradition of rule by patronage wants to change its politics with the Malays. As the Malays realise that it is the kind of politics which they subscribed to which inhibits better progress, they will be looking for opportunities to change the government. Unless UMNO appreciates the importance of real change, blind attachment to tradition will hasten its demise.

Malays need and demand real change masters to be at the helm.


Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 09:00  

The Malays are just confused people. Torn between religion (Islam) and culture. Malay's culture are mostly derive from Hindu. The Malays were Hindus before Islam came to Tanah Melayu.Hence, the Malays are already parted between those who "religious-practicely" and those who are "cultural-inclined". The strangers with mixed identity thats what Malays are! Even, anyone may ask, who are Malays? Arab Malay, Chinese Malay...Indian Malays...or plainly "Indonesians"? The Javanese? The Pattanis? just, what or who are 'The Malay' u referring to?
The Chinese, or even Indian, on the other hand, is culturally and faithfully focused in their lives and generation to come. How much they differs have strengthen them long ago. The Malays dont need "master" to change their fate. They just need to fall, rise up and realize who they really are!

Ariff Sabri 2 February 2009 at 09:14  

anon at 9:00.
true...but there is a sequel to this article.
which begins with:
Or we(the Malays) will change them ourselves.
i am not going to be drawn into defining who the Malays are as per yr challenge. in ancient time, the Malay world encompasses more than just present day Malaysia.
the intonation of your short comments suggest a kind of racial superiority by suggesting that Malays are not pure. are you the purveyor of your version of the Aryan Race?
i am going toward the direction of exhorting the Malays to conduct a revolutionary change, you are sidetracking the issue into a racial kind of argument.

Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 10:00  

I think the first writer has a point. I know of local malays(not one but 2) who declared that they preferred workers from the kelantan malays or the indon malays. The kelantan malays she was referring to are those from thailand - the pattanis.

Why such preference ? Aren't they from the supposedly the same cultural mould ?

Cultural mould is one but I think more important and relevant at each point in time in a community is the conditioned work ethics. Work ethics arise out of necessity not politics.

KELAB PEMUDA JIWA LUKA 2 February 2009 at 10:19  

i believe dato in perak's case, we need to do it...

setiap hari...hak bangsa dan tanah air kita tergadai di sana...

perlukah kita tunggu 5 tahun baru nak ambil balik...

remember...ini bukan kedah dan kelantan yang mana ketuanan kita tidak terusik!

kuldeep 2 February 2009 at 10:50  

Every time there's a regime change within UMNO there will also be changes in the bumiputera business scene.Where is Dato Ibrahim of Promet,the Daim boys,the Anwar boys.?.and it goes on.But the Chinese tycoons remains in place.Do you think that the Chinese tycoons do not get their breaks from govt concessions,licenses or contracts?
And do u think that the Chinese tycoons are so good that they do not need or hv been given bail outs by the govt?
And this phenomena is evident at all levels i,e big,medium or small businesses.If u observe the biz in Kuantan itself u will see the same chinese guys thru the years but they hv shifted their allegiance more nimbly then a Malay.For a Malay...once ur an Anwarista or a Daimist ur in the blacklist forever...
my two cents

A.John 2 February 2009 at 12:31  

Dato Sak,
Maybe the Malay obsession with politics is b'cos it ensures power to the holder of political office, & directly opportunites to create wealth and economic benefits; whilst the chinese would have to slog to put food on the table. How the chinese create wealth is another question altogether.

Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 12:35  

Is it also safe to add that the Chinese do not deliberately go into politics to get rich?

But their association with politics is only out of necessity to obtain contracts given out by those politicians in power as mentioned by kuldeep.

And at the end of the day it still comes back making money, the only thing they are loyal too.

If Malays are left to be, without government orders, do they want to be tycoons in the first place or would they prefer a position with title and all.

de minimis 2 February 2009 at 12:58  

Bro Sak

Once again, you have touched upon an interesting issue. I have no thesis at this point. I will just make an observation that I am still pondering over.

The Chinese (whether in Malaysia, the wider diaspora or mainland China) appear to have a preponderant concern that the "next generation" have a "better life" than they presently do (the inverted commas suggest that perceptions of these matters are relative, depending on the eye of the beholder).

This is priority number 1. There is also a Confucian wisdom that states something to the effect that to ensure that the country is in harmony the province must be in harmony and, to ensure the province is in harmony every village must be in harmony and, to ensure that every village is in harmony every family must be in harmony. Therefore, begin with the family before community and nation.

The Chinese may have collectively interpreted this pearl of wisdom as being the need for financial security which is derived from a successful career or business enterprise.

I may be wrong. That is a work-in-progress observation that I thought you might be interested in, bro.

Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 13:02  

One of the many factors of Chinese success has been ...patience.

Many townships example were first started by Chinese in the middle of nowhere. As townships grew, many more shop houses are built and these at first are not well patronised ...but these Chinese still bought them and do their business.

In time these because busy areas as the townships grew.

Ask yourself... do the Malays have that kind of patience when they can get immediate upliftment of their lifestyles by working for the government? Fact is that the government's policies did go a long way to Malays not strong in the business community.

A Chinese businessman builds his wealth will hand over to his sons to better it. A Malay civil servant however good , will last until he retires. His children cannot benefit and have to try all over again.

Multiply this by a million individuals , you get overall a strong Chinese community and a Malay Civil servants community.

The Chinese have no choice but to take the risk and then gets the rewards a decade later.

They do have to work very hard too to survive without government support.

These made the Chinese successful not only in Malaysia but the entire South East Asia.

... and note the level of development of the entire South East Asia is directly proportional to the number of Chinese in that country... coincidence?

kuldeep 2 February 2009 at 14:14  

my comment as to why i feel malays have to be more enthusiastic abt politics is essentially cos malay politicians (when they acquire their position of strength) hv a slash and burn mentality when it comes to their own race but a more commercial attitude when dealing with the other races.
And anyone who is in business can attest that the demand and supply chain in many industries are predominantly govt or non malay races.And as much as Malays hv been accused of racialism the fact is that every other race is also doing the same.So Malays hv to survive a lot more on the Govt sector cos their network is limited by informal racialism.

Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 15:38  

Salam Tok Sak,
Brilliant! ... to a certain extent it explains the pervasiveness of the "tongkat mentality". This begs the question of how to change the Malays' over-dependence on the Govt./UMNO? Is it in our genes? By not voting for UMNO, maybe? Maybe not? And now the "circus" in Perak! As I said Tok, Melayu tak habis2 dengan berpolitik! Its in our blood! (Kena buat blood transfusion!)...

Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 15:42  

Dear Dato

I accidentally bumped into your blog couple of months ago and since then your blog is under my must read list. I'm quite surprise to find that there are hidden gems in UMNO like yours truly. If only you were one of the current line up we have today, UMNO definitely will be in better shape. Your views are what is missing from today's political scene.

I will not hesitate to join UMNO if what you say materialized. Until the day come i will seat back and enjoy reading your blog.


Mat Cendana 2 February 2009 at 16:26  

I'm thrilled with this theory: "Those Malays who are successful are those who are willing to conduct revolutionary change in their politics."

That's because of "vested interests". You see, if you are right - and I'm praying hard that you are - then *I* am on the road to "Successful-dom"!

I've been a hardcore Pas supporter since 1983 - the type that went all out to "make enemies with Umno-affiliated". Plus I was a hardcore Anwar supporter too (from the first trial) and was extremely anti-Mahathir. Wasn't too `setia' when it came to the Sultans either.

Well, not anymore - From the far-far left, I've gone... CENTRE. I'd say this is "revolutionary" enough. So, it also entitles me to claim to be in this group of "successful Malays". This is the most encouraging post I've read this year!:-)

Ir. Hanafi Ali 2 February 2009 at 17:06  

By the yardstick provided in this post, I can be considered successful because I consciously chosen to take my periuk nasi and gamble it out.

I once worked with our national oil company, a solid 11 years. When I decided to move to a multinational oil company that have been operating in Malaysia for a hundred years, I was told that my needs as a Muslim will not be taken care of in the MNC and that the MNC is a "Chinese company".

Over the years, having gone to secondary school that has 2,000 Chinese students with less than 200 Bumiputra students, then went to the States and studied and worked with Chinese from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, I can say that the Chinese aren't that spectacularly brilliant in their thoughts, it is just that they are more focused on the creation of wealth and willing to delay gratification now in order to have better gratification in the future. You and I call this virtue "patience".

Malay Muslims may talk till the cow come home about "sabar" in their religious classes, but the Chinese practice it in their lives.

Islam is wasted on the Malays.

Anonymous,  2 February 2009 at 17:27  

its a balancing act and the Malays now have more parties to vote for,,,and UMNO must by now realise it.
its no more a Malay issue but an UMNO problem that you should talk about. its a party issue if you were to ask me. lets not mix this two subject as one.
similarly for the Chinese, its an MCA problem.
we in Malaysia have more to choose from now onwards and its good, if we all look at it in the positive angle.
its survival of the fittest and let the voters decide which party will rule next.
perhaps its time for a major change,,,so be it.
all of us, should vote using our head not our heart.
lets look for leadership to lead this beautiful country of ours.
we cannot run away from our race,,Malay/Chinese, whatever/whoever does it matters ?.
Politics will always be dirty, everywhere in this World,,,,you can't run away from it,,,i just make the best of it.


Sammy 2 February 2009 at 22:21  

Maybe it's the 'pendatang' stigma that is attached to the non-Malays drives them to work harder than the rest and thus make something of their efforts. The past immigrants came with nothing and some managed to build empires. Look at the Irish in the US... also most millionaires in the UK are not English, with many Asians in the billionaires' club.

Malays have thrived elsewhere too, so labelling them otherwise or comparing them with the locals non-malays are not apt. It's when we are in another country, we will have the desire to excel and succeed. Not all chinese are that industrious as can bee seen in China, mostly the rural areas, the men are cmfortable lazing away while the women folk work away in the cottage industries from morning til dusk, sound's familiar?

Neccessity is the mother of all inventions so the saying goes (hope I got it right) so a hungry stomach makes us work harder in a foreign land. Then luck and persistance plays an important part too. Here people are quick to say connections and politics will influence one's fortunes...look around and see how many actually profited by the APs that were handed out...

Back to politics, if you were born in a certain country you would be more involved in politics too, as compared to if you were an immigrant as you would be too busy working or lookng for opportunities.

Eyes Wide Open 3 February 2009 at 03:45  


Another brilliant post!

Just to give a little more Chinese perspective on your analysis.

1) Chinese motivation. The Confucian/Chinese value of family is so demanding that it is actually part of the Taoist religion, where ancestors must be worshipped.

The mentality of the more traditional-values Chinese is that if they do not make something of their lives, they would have let down their entire lineage! Perhaps it is this fear of disgracing not just their immediate family, but the generations before them (especially if they've had illustrious ancestors) drives the Chinese to succeed.

Even if a Chinese was not a Taoist, he/she would carry this cultural burden as long as he/she has been raised in this mentality of "Family First and Always". You see very little of this drive in those Chinese who have shed their cultural heritage.

2) Chinese pursuit of wealth. This drive to do well normally manifests itself as the pursuit of wealth. Perhaps it was because China had a very long and turbulent history of wars and conquests and political upheaval.

The Chinese suffered greatly when government officials were more busy with political intrigues than managing the empire. So to these Chinese, their minds were preoccupied with escaping poverty and suffering by pursuing every available opportunity.

Given China's long history, it's probably in the Chinese's genetic memory to "pursue more wealth."

3) Chinese and politics. The Chinese have a saying: "sing koon fatt choy". Literally meaning, "promoted to be a government official, and become rich".

The Chinese mandarins held vast powers (the extent of his command depended on his rank): he was the tax collector, army & police recruiter and commander, civil and criminal court judge, city council, treasury, etc. Being just about the final say in just about everything within his command, a mandarin could easily amass immense wealth.

There were basically 2 ways to become mandarins - get a good education and pass a tough government exam, or bribe a high official. Both ways costs lots of money. And of course, people expect returns on their investments!

So, to the man-in-the-street who has to work hard to survive, there is a natural suspicion that government officials do not have their interests in mind at all. Officials are seen as necessary to manage the country, but beyond that, the Chinese do not expect anything more.

If you got a good official, you would get fair treatment in tax, business and judgements. If not, you just accept your fate and make do, because China was an empire and the bottom did not tell the top what to do, unlike a democracy.

So to the Chinese, only the rich and powerful depend on the government, because they can then become MORE rich and powerful. (Same scenario in Malaysia! How many millionaire families depend on government "kindness"! YTL, Genting, Berjaya, etc) Those who don't have such access will just have to depend on themselves.

4) Dependence on government patronage and handouts. Just look at the welfare states, like France. The govt is so damn afraid of its people, it's paralysed, unable to bring France to the next level of competitiveness. Yet, the attitude of its citizens were the creation of its own policies. Try to take away the French workers' month long leave, living-wage welfare, and other perks and they will be up in arms!

So they are locked in a death embrace - neither willing to change, but neither being able to survive without change.

Anonymous,  3 February 2009 at 09:27  

Eyes Wide Open,

Based on the traditional Chinese teaching of

士、农、工、商 - shi, nong, gong, shang

the businessman is always at the bottom of the hierarchy! They r been looked DOWN in the Chinese society.

This trend is start to change within modern Chinese societies throughout the world. More so in current China!

Thus, if one has to look inwards to the Confucian wisdom, which r so infused with every Chinese thinking, then yr explanation falls far short!

Why the Chinese r more successful in business comparatively than the Malay can ONLY be peeled down to the simple fact that The Chinese Malaysian has NO 'Ah Gong' to look for support when the chips r down.

In many other countries, most of the Chinese immigrants do survive better than the bottom layers of the society due purely to their survival instinct.

For the Chinese it is always u r on yr own - even within the helpful confinement of their clans, where helps r only that much in presence when needs arise.

The social-Darwinian is very much alive within every Chinese, unlike the others.

This could be ONE of the basic guiding factors of the Chinese business endeavour!


Eyes Wide Open 3 February 2009 at 11:03  


You didn't read my post clearly enough.

My first assertion was that Confucianist culture demanded that the Chinese not disgrace their ancestors but bring greater honour by making something of themselves. And that this thinking is embedded even in the modern Chinese psyche. I ended my point there.

My 2nd point was about how that thinking EVOLVED into "pursue more wealth" as influenced by the environment in which the Chinese found themselves.

Re your assertion about "shi, nong, gong, shang" (Scholar, Farmer, Artisan, Merchant).

A little study on the context of traditional Chinese society would be more enlightening. In today's context, "business" would mean anything from Donald Trump type enterprise to your local char kuey teow stall.

Using this definition, many of the "gong" or Artisans/Skilled Labourers were actually "businessmen". They made and sold their wares such as pottery, food, art, music, etc.

The kind of businessmen that the Chinese disliked were those that had NO skill, but thrived on monopolies and connections - rice traders, salt traders, and such. Even then, not all were disliked - merely those who abused their monopoly. Or those who were in despicable businesses, such as opium or flesh traders.

So your assertion that the businessmen class as a whole is traditionally looked down upon by Chinese society is utter nonsense! As most urban Chinese had no choice but to depend on such merchants for their essential needs, they were in no position to "look down" on them.

And then you spent the rest of your post agreeing to what I had already said.

Anonymous,  3 February 2009 at 11:27  

Eyes Wide Open,

This is not the place to argue about yr or my understanding of '士、农、工、商 - shi, nong, gong, shang'.

Do a google about that phrase will throw up a lot of of scholastic write-ups for U to contest about!

The point HERE is Malay & Chinese 'business-sense' within the Malaysia setup.

I wouldn't go into all that U have subscribed. Such description paints a picture of superiority, whether subtly & unconsciously!

Despite of what U claimed that I spent the rest of my posting agreeing to what U had already said. I rather like to keep to the basic human instinct of socio-Darwinism for the achievements of ANY human species.

This trace IS not race/culture based. Rather its environmental & fundamental to all Earthlings!


Eyes Wide Open 3 February 2009 at 15:55  


you said - "Such description paints a picture of superiority, whether subtly & unconsciously!"

Let's not throw out wild accusations. Please quote me where I gave that impression of superiority.

You, on the other hand, unflinchingly state (is it subtly & unconsciously?):

"one has to look inwards to the Confucian wisdom, which r so infused with every Chinese thinking"


"most of the Chinese immigrants do survive better than the bottom layers of the society"

and again,

"The social-Darwinian is very much alive within every Chinese, unlike the others."

and yet again,

"Why the Chinese r more successful in business comparatively than the Malay can ONLY be peeled down to the simple fact that The Chinese Malaysian has NO 'Ah Gong' to look for support when the chips r down."

Compare to what I said in my first post: "he/she would carry this cultural burden as long as he/she has been raised in this mentality of "Family First and Always". You see very little of this drive in those Chinese who have shed their cultural heritage."

How is my description of a "cultural burden" an expression of superiority compared to your statements above?

And despite your blatant adulation of the Chinese's so-called superior "survive and succeed" instinct in your first rebuttal, in your second rebuttal you backpedal and state that - "the basic human instinct of socio-Darwinism for the achievements of ANY human species."

Huh?! But you just said not so many hours ago that:

"The social-Darwinian is very much alive within every Chinese, unlike the others."

So who's being superior here?

And another thing.

In my 1st post, I said: "Officials are seen as necessary to manage the country, but beyond that, the Chinese do not expect anything more."


"Those who don't have such access will just have to depend on themselves."

You followed with: "For the Chinese it is always u r on yr own - even within the helpful confinement of their clans, where helps r only that much in presence when needs arise.

So if you said something similar to what I said earlier, aren't you in agreement with me on that point?

As I said, you don't read my posts clearly enough.

And you still don't.

Anonymous,  5 February 2009 at 02:03  

Eyes Wide Open,

Your comments at 03:45 above include some interesting observations.

I am interested in your reaction to my comments (no ill intention, only observations) in Dato's continuation of this posting,
"Malay and Chinese Politics (2)".

Here are additional comments for the purpose of discussion and mutual understanding and, hopefully, they will provide some guidance on the stand we take on national issues:

I note your statements about

- Chinese genetic memory "to
pursue more wealth"
- expect returns on investment re.
capital on requirements to join
the civil service (in ancient
China, they recouped when
getting the posts)
- distaste for dependence on
government patronage and
handouts, only the rich depends
on the government because they
can become richer
- natural suspicion of the man-on- the-street that government
officials do not have their
interests in mind at all

I agree with you and I have observed the above myself.

I also note the statement of some commentators that, due to the endless corruption (made rampant by the consort families and palace eunuchs) throughout thousands of years of Chinese history, and due to the frequent wars in the country, the Chinese developed a strong disdain for and were not interested in government service and resented joining the Army.

Is it not possible that the same "genetic memory" also applies to the above, to the extent that among the Chinese in Malaysia to day, there is almost a total lack of interest in joining the Army and the Police, and only a slight interest to join the civil service?

If so, I find it difficult to understand the politics of the Chinese who complain about the preponderance of others in government service. On the other hand, not seeing many Chinese in the Armed Forces and the Police,
I find it understandable that the Malays often commented that the contribution of the Chinese is only in respect of the economy.

Hope to hear from you.

Best wishes.

Anonymous,  5 February 2009 at 07:21  

Eyes Wide Open,

I should have ended my 02:03 comment by saying let's discuss the subject of where everybody should contribute more.

I look forward to it.

Best wishes.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP