Interesting report on the MCP veterans:
People & Power meets Communist guerrilla fighters expelled from Malaysia and living in hiding for nearly 50 years and hears about their desire to return home.
<!-- var articleheadline = "Will the release of secret documents allow the real story of the Batang Kali massacre to be told?"; // -->
Malaya, 1948. In one of the most controversial incidents in British military history, 24 unarmed civilians were killed by a platoon of Scots Guards. Now the release of secret documents means the real story may be told at last
11 July 2009
In her recurring nightmare Tham Yong's fiancé is calling her from the spirit world to go back to the river to look for survivors. She can see the pained expression on his face and his outstretched arms beckoning her to return to the scene of a massacre that wiped out every adult male in their village.
The images which still haunt the 78-year-old grandmother are as vivid now as they were when Britain's colonial war in Malaya first broke upon this small settlement of Chinese rubber-tree tappers, 45 miles north-west of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. "I have other bad dreams too," says Tham Yong. "I dream that the British want to kill me. I tell them that we are good people, we are all innocent, but the soldiers just keep repeating that we must be bad people and we must die."
Just three years after the end of the Second World War, Commonwealth forces were again heavily engaged in a bitter jungle war – this time against a small army of Chinese communists whose attacks on Britain's industry and rubber-tree plantations threatened to overthrow colonial rule.
Sixty-one years later, Tham Yong says she cannot forget the night a patrol of 16 Scots Guards crept into her village in search of an elusive enemy whose hit-and-run tactics had won them early successes over the much larger British forces. Acting on military and local intelligence, the patrol had been briefed that settlements around Batang Kali were being used as a "bandit" supply centre. When the soldiers left the village on the afternoon of 12 December 1948, 24 Chinese civilians, including Tham Yong's fiancé, were dead. All were unarmed and all had been shot while trying to escape. There were no wounded and it was thought that there had been no survivors.
These facts were largely undisputed at the original inquiry. But the circumstances in which the Guardsmen opened fire with such devastating results remain hotly contested. The British Army has always maintained that the soldiers fired when the men ran away.
But there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the shootings at Batang Kali were in fact a pre-planned massacre carried out in cold blood either as part of a covert shoot-to-kill policy or out of a determination to take revenge for the killing of three British soldiers executed during a communist ambush a few days earlier. Two unsatisfactory investigations, one in 1948 and a second in 1970, have failed to settle these two very different accounts.
Now secret documents uncovered by lawyers acting for the families of the victims of Balang Kali have prompted the British Government to take a fresh look at the possibility of opening a third and full inquiry into the alleged massacre. One set of papers reveals that the British authorities in Malaya in 1948 had considered a proposal for introducing a policy of mass executions to deter Chinese civilians from aiding the insurgents. A second batch of correspondence shows how an attempt in 1970 by Scotland Yard to investigate Batang Kali was undermined by Foreign Office advice given to the then Director of Public Prosecutions which warned that any Chinese witnesses would be unreliable and likely to make up accounts to support claims for compensation.
Today, the site of the killing – a 15-acre clearing in the forest – has changed radically. The rubber trees which fringed the settlement have been replaced by more profitable palm oil plantations and there is no trace of the kongsis [traditional meeting halls]. A new development of luxury housing overlooks the area. But the river and the British-built bridge are as they were when the soldiers arrived at the village 61 years ago.
Tham Yong still lives close to Batang Kali, where she enjoys the company of her grandchildren, many of whom have gathered in her simple four-room bungalow to celebrate the recent engagement of her grandson. But it is with mixed emotions that she approaches this family occasion – for her own betrothal to Zhang Shi, a young rubber-tree tapper, was brutally cut short when British soldiers gunned him down along with 23 other men in the attack on Batang Kali.
Her anger seems as raw today as it was 61 years ago, when as a 17-year-old she found herself being questioned by British soldiers about her alleged involvement in the communist insurgency. Now crippled and confined to a wheelchair, it is evident that life has not been easy for her. Lifting a plaster covering a small hole in her throat, she explains that her croaky voice is the result of an 18-year battle with oesophageal cancer.
"I can still see the faces of the British soldiers. When I heard the shots I knew none of the village men would survive. The way in which they were killed was so pitiful. I don't think there has been a day since the soldiers came that I have not thought about what they did to him."
Tham Yong was born in Gaozhou, in China's Guang-Dong Province, in 1931. When she was four her family sent her to Malaya – now part of Malaysia – to live with relatives working in the profitable rubber plantations which were helping to prop up the British Empire just before the start of the Second World War.
Under Chinese custom, when Tham Yong reached the age of 14, she was sold to the family of Zhang Shi as his fiancé. A few months before the end of the war Zhang Shi and his extended family moved to the Sungai Rimoh Rubber Estate, which was located in Batang Kali in the district of Selangor. The plantation was owned by a well-known British planter, Thomas Menzies, who provided Chinese rubber tappers and their families with a place to sleep, food and a meagre wage in return for working on his 650-acre estate. In those days, the simple accommodation for the Chinese tappers at Batang Kali was arranged around three communal huts. Working conditions were tough, especially for the women, who were expected to do their fair share of rubber tapping as well as to clean and cook and bring up their children.
In the early evening of 11 December 1948, Tham Yong was chopping firewood in one of the huts. She remembers how the peace was shattered by the arrival of the British patrol: "The British soldiers came into the kongsi with two Chinese detectives and a Malay detective. The detectives were also armed. One of the Chinese detectives shouted at us to stop what we were doing and go outside. The soldiers were pointing their guns at us ... They pushed us outside."
Later that evening the huts were full of women and children. "My mother-in-law and I were forcibly herded by the British soldiers to another kongsi," she recalls.
Ominously, the British soldiers had separated the men and held them in another hut. Tham Yong says she started to cry, prompting an exchange with one of the detectives. "Don't cry, I'm not arresting you," the Chinese detective told her, trying to calm the women. Tham Yong asked: "If you are not arresting us, why are you dragging us out? You ask me whether I have seen any communists – I don't even know what they look like. Even if you kill me, I can't tell you anything because I haven't seen them. You said that there are many communists in the area. But I haven't seen any – I've just seen rubber tapping."
As she stood outside, she says she overheard a conversation between Luo Hui-Nan, one of the male tappers, and a detective. She claims that when the soldiers discovered he was in possession of a permit to collect durian, the distinctive Malay fruit with a pungent smell, they automatically assumed he must be using it secretly to supply the communists.
"One of the British soldiers said he was a bad man. 'Take him away and shoot him,' he said. 'Tell him to go over by the wood pile and tell him to stand up straight.' When he stood up straight he was shot in the back. They left his body on the road just in front of me."
Next the soldiers turned their attention to Chong Foong, the brother of Tham Yong's fiancé, who was standing over the body. One of the Chinese detectives demanded to know whether he knew Luo Hui-Nan. When Foong said he did know him, the detective took his revolver and fired three shots close to his head to try to scare him. Chong Foong fainted and collapsed on the ground. An attempt to bring him round by pouring cold water over him failed, so he was carried back into the kongsi and slung over a wooden bench.
Chong Foong later attributed the fact that his life was saved to his loss of consciousness. He was the only tapper among the 25 men rounded up by the Scots Guards that night to survive the killings.
Early the next morning, Tham Yong remembers British soldiers ordering her fiancé and the other men locked inside the other hut to move down the stairs and assemble outside. She recalls: "They were all unarmed, and dressed in their working clothes. They were walking, and not running away at all. I saw the men being led out into different groups and all of a sudden I heard gunshots from about five different places nearby. After the firing stopped, the soldiers set fire to all three kongsis. They poured kerosene on the wooden parts of the huts and then fired shots at them to start the fire. We were then driven away from the village."
Wong Then Loy, now 69, was only nine years old when he was told by his father, the local gravedigger, to accompany him to Batang Kali. It was a week after the shooting and the scene confronting the father-and-son gravediggers was deeply shocking. This is the first time Wong Then Loy has told his story.
"The police had given us some cloth treated with chemicals to put over our faces, so we knew whatever we found was going to be bad," he recalls. "When we got there I remember the stench of the flesh. There were three bodies across the other side of the river, then another three on our side. The others were scattered over the site. All the bodies had started to decompose and some of them had been badly burnt. They were in such a bad state that it was impossible to say how they had been killed."
One of the corpses was grotesquely disfigured. Wong Then Loy says the body of the rubber tappers' supervisor, Lin Tian Shui, was missing his head. "We were told to go and look for his head downstream ... but after a few hours of looking, we couldn't find it."
Wong Then Loy's account of a decapitated body corroborates stories of a grim method employed by British patrols hunting Chinese communist fighters at this time. Because the soldiers had to march deep into the jungle to engage the enemy, it was difficult to carry the bodies back for identification. Instead they got used to bringing back the severed heads of communist suspects. Jungle warfare in Malaya was a brutal business and years spent fighting the Japanese deep inside Malaya's interior had left elements of the British army desensitised to such violence.
It was during the war against the Japanese that Britain had helped to train and arm the Chinese guerrilla units as part of its desperate struggle against an enemy which had swept through Burma, Borneo and Malaya. Their successes had earnt them medals handed out by the grateful and beleaguered British forces. But once the military pendulum had swung back in favour of the Commonwealth forces and Japan's imperial armies had been defeated in the east, Malaya fell back into British hands.
Before the war, Malaya had proved its worth as a colony rich in copper and rubber. But five years of fighting had drained Britain of its own resources and had left the country close to bankruptcy. The newly elected Labour Government under Clement Attlee had conceded that while the sun may have already set on many of the conquered colonies of the British empire, Malaya was too valuable an economic jewel in the East to let go. Crucially, Attlee was supported by America's President Truman, who feared the rise of communism in South-east Asia.
But Britain dithered, and for the first few months after the war, Malaya was left to manage its own affairs. This vacuum encouraged the three million Chinese-Malay, who had been discriminated against under British rule, to believe that they would at last win the right to self-determination – and they began to organise themselves into a strong political force.
The returning British had no interest in working with their former allies, and so, when confronted by the nascent Chinese-Malay independence movement, London ordered its forces to crush the rebellion before it could get properly established. The Chinese communists were driven out of the towns and back into the jungles where they had launched their offensives against the Japanese. Under the charismatic leadership of Chin Peng, the communists now directed their insurgency against British colonial rule, targeting the rubber plantations and tin mines.
It was the killing of three British rubber planters in June 1948 that triggered Britain's decision to declare the conflict an "Emergency" and put the colony on a war footing. But in war-weary Britain, a new conflict in the Far East was very unpopular. The élite jungle-fighting units deployed against the Japanese had largely been wound down, requiring the bulk of the army to be reinforced with inexperienced conscripts.
Thus it was that the platoon of 16 Scots Guards which set out from its 2nd battalion's advanced headquarters at Kuala Kubu on 11 December consisted almost entirely of National Servicemen. Their orders were to advance to the remote settlement of Sungei Remok Estate, Batang Kali, where intelligence suggested there was a communist presence. What else was said about the mission has not been disclosed. But all the soldiers would have been acutely aware of the murder of three Hussars, ambushed that week by insurgents who poured petrol over the men and burned them alive.
Unusually, the Batang Kali patrol was not led by an officer but a 22-year-old Lance-Sergeant, supported by a much older Sergeant who had seen action during the Second World War, fighting the German army in Greece. These two were the only professional soldiers among the platoon. Since none of the men spoke Cantonese or Mandarin, a Chinese and a Malay detective accompanied the patrol.
The soldiers told an inquiry established a few weeks after the killings that they had arrived at the village in the early hours of the evening in the expectation of encountering enemy "bandits". But the scene they encountered was something much more mundane. The heavy rains that week meant the Chinese rubber tappers had not been able to work on the plantations and collect any more valuable latex from the trees. When the soldiers arrived they found the villagers busy gathering wood for the fires needed to cook the evening meal. This tranquil scene was shattered when the soldiers burst in and took control of the village. They separated the men from the women and with the help of their Chinese translator conducted interviews with all the villagers. According to the 1948 inquiry, conducted by Sir Stafford Foster-Sutton, the Chinese men were all detained as potential sources of intelligence, rather than combatants. They were kept as prisoners while the Sergeants decided what to do with them next. The Foster-Sutton inquiry concluded that the deaths were the result of a mass escape by the Chinese who had tried to flee into the jungle.
It was not until 22 years later – in 1970 – that the official account of how 24 unarmed men had been killed by British gunfire began to unravel. The war in Vietnam was dominating the headlines in the British media and led to liberal commentators calling into question the UK military's role in its own "Vietnam" in Malaya. A number of the Scots Guards, haunted by their own experiences during the Emergency, had given statements to a Sunday newspaper suggesting that the deaths at Batang Kali were not the result of a failed break-out but were cold-blooded executions. Headlines compared the killings to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, where American soldiers had slaughtered somewhere between 347 and 504 unarmed citizens in the south of the country, all of them civilians – mostly women, children and elderly people. There were calls for an official explanation of the Batang Kali killings, and the Labour government agreed to set up an inquiry headed by a senior Scotland Yard detective.
Detective Chief Superintendent Frank Williams was well known to the public as the policeman who had hunted down the "Great Train Robbers". Now he and his team were given the job of exploring the events of 11 and 12 December 1948. This would involve tracing all the members of the Scots Guards platoon and taking fresh statements from them. Some of the Guardsmen, now civilians and free from the constraints of military discipline, had changed their accounts of what happened at Batang Kali. At least one of the soldiers turned the official version of the shootings on its head and told the detectives that the platoon had been ordered to shoot the Chinese.
Williams now concluded that the investigation could only be properly completed after a visit to the site of the killings and interviews taken from the Malaysian witnesses. He told the office of the then Director of Public Prosecutions that it was his intention to go to Malaysia as soon as possible. But political events intervened. In the 1970 General Election, Harold Wilson's Government was ousted from power and replaced by a new Tory administration led by Edward Heath. The Tories were less enthusiastic about digging up alleged atrocities from Britain's colonial past that might shame the nation. Williams was asked to make his report without further delay and without collecting the vital witness testimonies from the villagers. Shortly afterwards, the Attorney General, Sir Peter Rawlinson, made an announcement to Parliament saying that there was "no reasonable likelihood of obtaining sufficient evidence to warrant criminal proceedings". The case was therefore closed.
What Rawlinson meant by his assertion about the state of the evidence has never been made clear. After all, Williams, the detective heading the investigation, regarded his work as unfinished business.
It has taken almost 40 more years for ministers to look at the case again. The London law firm Bindman & Partners has unearthed vital new documents that suggest the Heath Government may have been prejudiced by their officials who had advised them in the case.
A letter written by a senior official in the Foreign Office to the Director of Public Prosecutions shows why the Attorney General thought there was "no reasonable likelihood of obtaining sufficient evidence". The correspondence reads: "When the Batang Kali allegations were made public earlier this year, they formed headline news in Malaysia for several days. If the presence of a British investigating team now became known, the Malaysian press would be sure to give its activities close, and, possibly embarrassing, attention. In theory it might be feasible to limit publicity by avoiding public announcements. But it would be virtually impossible if the team wished to take evidence in the area of Batang Kali itself."
The High Commission in Malaysia was also concerned over "local difficulties" which they said "might complicate the normal problems" connected with taking eye-witness statements 22 years after the event. The official wrote: "In making enquiries among Malaysian villagers the team may find it difficult to establish with certainty the credentials of witnesses claiming first-hand knowledge. In addition, the number of first-hand accounts could multiply if there were any suggestion that possible compensation claims might have some chance of success. Furthermore, villagers' powers of recall are rarely accurate."
Successive British Governments have partly been able to quell interest in further inquiries because there has been so little support for an investigation in Malaysia. The Malaysian Government has also tended to treat the claims
made by survivors and the families of Batang Kali as something of an embarrassment. Many Malaysians supported the Emergency and actively assisted in crushing the minority Chinese rebellion. When reports first emerged of the shooting of 24 Chinese communists at Batang Kali, most Malays celebrated it as an important victory in the conflict. After Malaysia was granted independence in 1957, Malayan ministers, who owe their own positions of power to the legacy of colonial rule, have been reluctant to open an inquiry into the killings.
But now a group of Chinese-Malay businessmen and lawyers, some of whom were badly treated during the Emergency, are funding a legal case which is being prepared for the High Court in London on behalf of the families of those killed at Batang Kali.
In the face of this legal action the Foreign Office has agreed to reconsider its decision not to hold a full inquiry into the alleged massacre. And last week, Foreign Office officials met representatives from the Chinese-Malay community and British lawyers to discuss how to take their grievances further.
But for the survivors and witnesses of Batang Kali, time is running out – and any inquiry may soon come too late. Tham Yong's husband, Chong Foong, whose brother (and her finacé) Zhang Shi had been killed at Batang Kali, was the only male living in the village to survive the attack. He died last year, leaving Tham Yong as the only adult witness to the events of Batang Kali.
Since her husband's death last year Tham Yong has begun wondering how differently her life would have turned out if her fiancé had survived the killings. What might have happened if the soldiers had let Zhang Shi live and the couple had married as their families had intended?
"After the shooting we survivors were left without clothing, a home or any money. We had nothing and had to rely on others for support. We were very sad because all these people who had been killed were innocent. They were not communists, nor had they seen any communists, yet they were killed."
One week after the alleged massacre, the police allowed the women to return to the plantation estate to identify and claim the corpses. "I found the body of my fiancé with that of many others. We took him away and buried him. One of the corpses was Lin Tian Shui, who had been beheaded. I later heard that a Malay lady saw his head and threw it into the river. The head was swept away by the current of the river."
Tham Yong finally married Chong Foong in 1951. "It has not been easy for me, not easy at all. What I have always wanted, and all I have ever wanted, is for the British Government to admit to this massacre, to say sorry and pay me some compensation."
And what of the British soldiers who carried out the killing? "Are they alive?" she asks. When told that eight of them are living out their peaceful retirements in Britain, Tham Yong says: "I have no hostility towards them. They know what they did. But now is the time for them to ask their Government to do the right thing."
THEY KILLED BECAUSE RUBBER TAPPERS MEANT NOTHING TO BRITAIN.NO USE....SAME AS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD INCLUDING SPORE.
IF U ARE OF NOT MUCH USE IN THIS DUMB WORLD THEN ANYONE INCLUDING YOUR GOVERNMENT,FRIENDS AND EVEN FAMILY WILL EVENTUALLY WIPE U OUT FROM THIS PLANET.
GOD FORGIVE THEM.
walau, what era liao, still talking about old time communism, please lah, china and russian also open up liao,
Mr Fang Chuang Pi, 71, was a powerful communist underground
leader in the '50s and '60s. In a recent interview, he called
Singapore a "freak". ALETHEA LIM speaks to someone who knew
HE seemed an innocent-looking court reporter on the rare occasions when he sat opposite police prosecutors in court during the 1950s.
Little did they know that the smiling Mr Fang Chuang Pi was really a Singapore leader of the now-defunct Communist Party of Malaya.
The Reds, as the Communists were known, could stir up trouble in trade unions and Chinese schools in those days.
Mr Fang himself became a legend for his ability to "disappear" and avoid arrest.
One person who remembers him well was fellow court reporter Philip Goh of the now defunct Malaya Tribune.
Said Mr Goh: "It's quite an irony that on the days Mr Fang attended court trials and sat across the police prosecutors in court, they never knew who he really was."
Mr Fang then worked for the Chinese newspaper, Nan Chiau Jit Pao...
China-born Singaporean Fong Chong Pik or Fong Chong Pi @ "The Plen", (1926-2004) was an important force in the Communist Party from 1950 until his death.
These memoirs, originally published in Chinese, offer Communist Party points of view on various aspects of the anti-colonial struggle, the policies of the People's Action Party, and underground activities including jungle guerrilla activities in Northern Malaya.
The pieces are illuminating, savagely bitter, episodic and combative as well as at times ruminative and more humane than self-justifying. After the 1989 Peace Accords the author and his family lived along with other former comrades at the Peace & Friendship village in Southern Thailand. With black-and-white photographs and sketch maps.
Sai Siew Min
To write the history of the Communist Underground or the Left-wing movement in post-war Singapore demands more than simply filling in the blanks of the existing dominant narrative with authentic voices of erstwhile participants hitherto denied their right of articulation by the hegemonic Singapore state.
It also demands resisting the temptation to flip the dominant story around, championing the cause of the so-called “losers” and turning them into heroes who have arrived decades too late on the historiographical scene in contemporary Singapore.
In late 2006, the memoir of Fang Zhuang Bi, who Singaporeans have come to believe, was the Number One man in the Singapore Communist Underground was published.
Written in Chinese, Fang’s memoir provides some clues for a historian or any student of Singapore history on the task of reconstructing the position of the Communist movement in post-war Singapore. If Fang’s memoir is anything to go by, the most critical insight that it affords is the realization that the idea of a recoverable authentic voice from the Communist Left is a pipe dream.
One fundamental historiographical question confronting any scholar or student investigating this topic is not that concerned with the recovery of untainted “facts” or ascertaining who had been “right” or “telling the truth”.
For too long, historiography in Singapore has been dominated by a particular genre and practice of history that idealizes and therefore aspires to apolitical historical truth.
The practice of history in Singapore, naturalized by the general apoliticization of Singapore society from the 1970s onwards, failed even to recognize how the production of ideas about knowledge (epistemology) and power are thoroughly intertwined.
By this, I do not mean that the dominant state deliberately produces historical falsehood in a conspiratorial fashion. Instead, the state draws strength from demanding of itself and its detractors nothing less than “the truth” and certainly persecutes in the name of “truth” which it understands as decidedly monosyllabic.
These fundamental attitudes and beliefs about epistemology, shared by non-state agencies such as the mainstream media and the academia in Singapore, encourage a particular understanding of the very nature of the historiographical inquiry.
History is concerned with the search for an objective truth about the past, and some narratives are more right than others. Posed in this manner, scholars, students and ordinary citizens can pretend that we may leave out the whole process by and through which historical truth is produced in contemporary Singapore society.
The production, practice and dissemination of historical truth which is after all, embedded in the entire apparatus of knowledge production in Singapore society is thereby taken out of the Knowledge/Power grid.
Fang’s memoir does not begin as most autobiographies do with the moment and place of his birth. Chapter one reads almost like a preface. It is perhaps not a matter of chance that Fang begins his memoir with an interrogative gesture. He declares himself an “ordinary Singaporean” and a “subaltern” in Singapore society.
In an important move which should be evaluated not for its veracity or bias but for its interrogation of Singapore historiography, Fang names his particular perspective of history — the narrative that he is about to present in his book “a subaltern perspective on history” (äººä¸‹äººçš„åŽ†å�²è§‚):
I live in Singapore, in the lowest rung of its social and political life. I breathe the air of the lowest rung of its social and political life. Therefore, I believe I reflect the voices of those from the lowest rung of society and politics in Singapore: “a subaltern perspective on history”. The “subaltern” (“äººä¸‹äºº”) refers to those who have been oppressed or trampled on. My feelings and my perspectives will therefore, diverge in every way from those of “Mr Elite” (“äººä¸Šäºº”å…ˆç”Ÿ).
In pre-World War Two Singapore, Fang describes himself as not a legal subject of the British colony and thus labels himself a “Third Class Being”. After the war, Fang being Chinese-educated was not proficient in English which was the official language of the British government and hence, the dominant language of colonial society.
Although citizenship issues had emerged into the forefront of post-war politics in Malaya and Singapore, Fang writes that he was still living in a colonized society. He thus labels himself a “Second Class Being”. In the struggle against the anti-colonial movements, the British turned Fang into a “terrorist” and a “criminal of the nation”. In social and political terms, he was classed together with the criminals.
Even after Singapore achieved independence first in 1963 and then again in 1965, Fang remained a “criminal” in the eyes of the ruling People’s Action Party government, a fate he describes as being pushed into the “nineteenth level of hell”. For the next thirty years, Fang describes himself as a “fugitive” and an “outcast from Singapore”.
I am not too concerned with Fang’s reconstruction of his “street credentials” or how genuine they are. Rather, I am interested in exploring what Fang’s bold assertion of “a subaltern perspective on history” can do for the state of historiography in Singapore. I suggest we should read the memoirs and life stories of Left-wing historical personalities like Fang’s not because they give us an innocent and authentic portrayal of the other side of the story which somehow, make our knowledge of the past more complete.
Such a chimera of historical truth can only be accomplished if we willfully ignore how Fang’s subaltern narrative is shot through with the valance of contemporary historical discourse straining to re-connect with a past, the logic of which is already beyond the comprehension of Fang’s readers in present day Singapore.
Moreover, to read and evaluate Fang’s memoir merely as testimony from an erstwhile participant who had really “been there and done that” misses the double move he is making when he asserts from the outset that his narrative is a reconstruction of his life story as well as an interrogation of dominant historiography. Giving himself different labels to mark his subaltern position —“Third-Class Being”, “Second-Class Being”, “fugitive”, “outcast” and “a quarter of an intellectual” (å››åˆ†ä¹‹ä¸€çš„çŸ¥è¯†åˆ†å�)  —Fang’s self-descriptions of subalternity re-visits the workings of the Knowledge/Power grid. What were the forces shaping Fang’s transformation into a subaltern? How has historiography abetted this transformation? Fang’s challenge raises the important question of how a “subaltern perspective on history” is produced within the Singapore context.
What can such a “subaltern perspective on history” do for Singapore historiography? A focus on the subaltern helps to reverse the elitist bias of political history and the practice of elitist politics in Singapore.
Thus far, the mainstream and dominant narrative about political events in post-war Singapore — now rapidly transmuted into “national history” and taught to students in Singapore schools — has suppressed completely the lower/under classes and their politics.
Uncannily similar to the state of South Indian historiography prior to the intervention of the Subaltern Studies Collective in the 1980s, post-war Singapore history depicts colonial and nationalist elites as the primary agents of change. In fact, Ranajit Guha’s critique of Indian historiography would be equally applicable to Singapore:
The historiography of Indian nationalism has for a long time been dominated by elitism — colonialist elitism and bourgeois-nationalist elitism…Both these varieties of elitism share the prejudice that the making of the Indian nation and the development of the consciousness-nationalism which confirmed this process were exclusively or predominantly elite achievements. In the colonialist and neo-colonialist historiographies those achievements are credited to British colonial rulers, administrators, policies, institutions and culture; in the nationalist and neo-nationalist writings — to Indian elite personalities, institutions, activities and ideas.
While the archetypal subaltern in Guha’s sense is the peasant insurgent who stood for a heterogeneous under-class in Indian society â€• peasants, low-caste communities, widows — and does not include self-styled representatives of these groups such as the Indian Left, conceptual debates emerging from within the Subaltern Studies Collective connect subaltern subjectivity to the ideological reproduction of dominance. The subaltern is not a ready-made category cast in stone as a consequence of economic inequalities. The subaltern in any society is an ideological product of above all, the hegemonic order which works to secure and naturalize the identity of dominant groups.
Thus, historians from the Subaltern Studies group read the voluminous texts produced by dominant institutions, often the only available evidence of subaltern activities to reconstruct, albeit not in the manner of positivism, the “consciousness of the subaltern”. One methodological implication of such reading for the subaltern is not to champion the cause of the down-trodden or to make the historical account more true and complete, but to examine the ground, always power laden, through which historical agents take their place in history. In the words of Shahid Amin, a member of that research collective:
It is, I feel, quite important for any historian of the subaltern classes to investigate the discursive practices within which statements by the police, administrators, judges, and by the accused themselves, are produced. This is required not in order to discern bias, rectify it and thereby arrive at an untainted, proper narrative of things pasts, unsullied by the context within which such a narrative was produced: that would be to indulge in a pointless positivist venture. It is necessitated by the fact that most statements about the dominated are produced in well-defined fields of power. The way out does not simply lie in the search for new sources for new history, for the issue of reading evidence as text is not brought to a close by the discovery of new testimonies, new depositions. It is posed afresh with every such discovery. (my emphasis)
Following Amin, the subaltern in history is not a saviour of truth. The subaltern appears in history as a figure who is defined through his/her unequal relationships with the dominant order.
When Fang Zhuang Bi names himself the subaltern par excellence in Singapore’s history, he does so self-consciously as a counter-reaction to mainstream interpretations of post-war history put forth by the ruling government in Singapore, in particular, that of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as well as that presented in the widely-circulated book The Tiger and the Trojan Horse by Dennis Bloodworth. Fang’s lengthy riposte takes up the whole of chapter one.
For this reason alone, Fang’s subaltern perspective on history cannot be read literally for what it reveals about the genuine voice of “the other” in Singapore history. Fang’s deliberate positioning as a subaltern only makes sense in relation to the mainstream interpretation of post-war history he now challenges. Speaking in the voice of the subaltern enables Fang to pierce through existing historical accounts from which he has been exiled. Taking on the subject positioning of the subaltern in retelling his story enables Fang to speak from his current position as “a fugitive” and “outcast” of Singapore society.
Fang’s description of how he was politicized and chose to go Left illustrates perfectly how the subaltern is defined through his/her unequal relationships with the dominant.
According to Fang, his political awakening took definite form only at the precise moment when he felt the sheer force of detention without trial enacted by Emergency laws.
Fang shatters a couple of Singaporean historical myths when the Number One Communist in Singapore recounts his years in school. Fang remembers his days in Chinese High School, surprisingly as years he spent outside the political circle.
He was not politicized through the usual channels of student organizations and study groups in Chinese High, attributing his absence from student activism to the dire economic straits his family was in. Driven by the need to earn a living and study at the same time, Fang was fleeting in and out of school. Student politics was a luxury he could ill afford.
Also surprising is the time he spent in an English-medium school i.e. Saint Andrew’s School (after he graduated from Chinese High and was teaching at a Chinese-medium primary school) where, Fang reveals, he once managed to top the class in “Scripture”! Fang recounts these years in school as time he spent drifting, and without a definite direction in life.
Fang muses that had he not been subjected to a classic Kafka-like detention one day by the Special Branch on the prowl for Communists and their sympathizers, which then triggered off an existential crisis in him, he would have continued with his studies at Saint Andrew’s School, ending up half-English-educated and maybe even realize his ambition of becoming a civil engineer:
For how long was I detained, there is no way to be sure, about ten days to half a month! Life’s hardships, psychological struggles, physical pain do not have too huge an impact on me. I have always been able to be at ease in my surroundings and adapt myself to circumstances. I was young and full of vigour. I had huge reserves of energy and an appetite for life. I was driven by the will to succeed in life. Yet, it was precisely at such a difficult moment, my body locked away in a prison cell that I was terrified to realize I did not have a definite direction in life at all! Where was my future? What should I do next? How should I move on? I simply had no answers to these questions. … It was precisely that dark and dingy prison cell, precisely the air that stank of animals crowded into terrible living conditions, precisely that kind of hopeless situation where one’s fate was in the hands of another, that finally pushed me, and there within me the search for a new direction in life was awakened.
Fang’s subaltern perspective on history throws up a blind spot in Singapore historiography i.e. the character of Singapore’s anti-colonial movement. Fang argues that between the 1950s and 1960s have been so sorely misrepresented in the dominant narrative as a clash between “the Communists” and “the non-Communists” it was as if the anti-colonial movement never really happened. Such a characterization transforms the anti-colonial movement into a power struggle between the Communists/Left and the “non-Communists”, to whom the British chose to transfer power, leaving the latter’s interests and legacy in post-war Singapore completely un-problematized:
Was the anti-colonial struggle by the people of Singapore merely a matter of mutual killing amongst the Communists, the Left-wing and a couple of socialists? All that had nothing to do with the British Empire and the British colonial authority? Were the British Empire and the British colonial authority innocent by-standers?
Who were the real enemies of the anti-colonial movement? What were the objectives of Singapore’s anti-colonial movement? What were the Communists, the Left and the non-Communists fighting for? Fang’s critique points to the need to move beyond partial accounts of Singapore’s anti-colonial history offered by self-professed “non-Communist” protagonists.
His critique points to the marked absence of the Communist and Left-wing movement in Singapore’s anti-colonial history that the British colonial authority was so anxious to suppress and to which, the “non-Communists” owed the raison de’tre for their political existence. Against the backdrop of the Cold War and coercive Emergency laws, the label “non-Communist” is itself revealing of the real need to define a political stance vis-à-vis “the Communist” for a particular audience.
As for the characterization that the Communist movement was a “terrorist” movement, Fang rejects this as language the British had used deliberately to discredit the Communist movement. He was particularly upset that the label “ex-Communist Terrorist” was still imposed on him in independent Singapore, way after Singapore’s anti-colonial struggle was over:
On 25th September 1995, in two letters the Home Affairs Ministry had issued me, my comrades and I were labeled three times as “ex-Communist Terrorists”. Readers can imagine my indignation. If the British colonial authority called us “Communist Terrorists”, so be it. They were the enemies and nothing good would come out from their mouths. But if the People’s Action Party government calls us “Communist Terrorists”, it would be intolerable. If I had accepted this label, it would be tantamount to admitting that opposing British colonization, opposing the Japanese invasion, fighting for national independence and the glorious and great liberation of the people constituted “terrorist activity”.
In the end, after writing to the Singapore government, Fang managed to get the Home Affairs Ministry to re-issue the letters, dropping the label “Communist Terrorist” and using in its place, the more accurate term “Communist Member”.
In Fang’s subaltern perspective, the anti-colonial movement was an unequivocal political struggle between the Communists, the Left-wing and the people on one side, and the British Empire on the other. The “three-cornered fight” featured in the dominant narrative between the Communists/the Left, the British and the “non-Communists” who inherited power from the British only demonstrates in retrospect to Fang the extent to which the anti-colonial struggle had been hampered by enemies from within and without.
Fang’s revelations about the inner workings of the Communist movement when it operated underground in Singapore underscored what a mammoth task it was fighting the colonial machinery, especially its capacity for capture, persecution and punishment, incidentally a point Chin Peng’s memoir also brings across.
The grand conspiracy of Communist subversion certainly sounded more plausible in the British “prose of counter insurgency” than in the memoirs of these two Communist leaders. Fang, for example, seems to have spent a great deal of time dodging arrest or trying to figure ways of printing and disseminating Communist propaganda under arduous circumstances.
It would be easy to dismiss Fang Zhuang Bi’s memoir as the voice of a disgruntled loser if we read him simply as an erstwhile participant of events in the 1950s and 1960s in Singapore. It would be far more difficult, however, to dismiss his interrogative gesture directed at the state of post-war Singapore historiography. Fang’s subaltern subjectivity, ever sensitive to the implication of power in the production of history, raises a different set of issues than “the search for an objective truth” sanctioned by the practice of positivist historiography. The subaltern has written back.
 All quotes from Fang’s memoir are my translations from the original Chinese text. Fang Zhuang Bi, “The Plen From the MCP”: Fang Zhuang Bi’s Memoir (“Ma Gong Quan Quan Dai Biao”: Fang Zhuang Bi Hui Yi Lu) (Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2006) p. 2.
 According to popular Chinese religious beliefs in Singapore, there are only eighteen levels of hell.
 Fang, “The Plen From the MCP”: Fang Zhuang Bi’s Memoir, pp. 2-3.
 Ibid., p.3.
 Ranajit Guha is a historian and one of the founding members of the Subaltern Studies Collective in India.
 This quote is taken from a sixteen-point critique on Indian historiography by Guha. It combines the first 2 points of Guha’s critique. Ranajit Guha, “On Some Aspects of the Indian Historiography of Colonial India” re-produced in Vinayak Chaturvedi ed. Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial (London and New York: Verso Press, 2000) p. 1.
 Shahid Amin, “Approver’s Testimony, Judicial Discourse: The Case of Chauri Chaura” in Ranajit Guha eds. Subaltern Studies V (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987) p. 167.
 Fang Zhuang Bi, “Ma Gong Quan Quan Dai Biao”: Fang Zhuang Bi Hui Yi Lu (Selangor: Strategic Information and Reseach Development Centre, 2006), pp. 64-65.
 Ibid., p.19
 Fang, p. 13.
Sai Siew Min is Assistant Professor at the Department of History, National University of Singapore, where she teaches courses on history in Singapore, Indonesia as well as gender history in Asia.
Uncle, Please stop it, after reading it, i am slowly turning my mind to communism...i dun want to be communist..they like to pyscho young mind like me
i am slowly turning my mind to communism...
No problem, antidote:
Originally posted by Ah Chia:
No problem, antidote:
Mao!! mao!! Chairman Mao...Revolution!!!! i want the red book!!!
Originally posted by Ah Chia:
ke ming!! ke ming!!! ke ming!!! kick out the capitalists!!! kick the capitalists!!! ke ming!!! ke ming!!! Chiong ar!!!!
wha lau, siao liao...communism, really very mind boggling, can change your mindset...better go read PAP policies...
Originally posted by Ah Chia:
you speechless for so many threads?
Originally posted by sgdiehard:
you speechless for so many threads?
Uncle old liao mah, no more strenght to talk to mei mei anymore.
PAP is right, they taught me that if you keep pestering those goondo, one day they will give up and go into silent protest..hmmm
Originally posted by sgdiehard:
you speechless for so many threads?
Uncle old liao mah, no more strenght to talk to mei mei anymore.
PAP is right, they taught me that if you keep pestering those goondo, one day they will give up and go into silent protest..hmmm clever
Originally posted by sgdiehard:
you speechless for so many threads?
No, ah Chia is trying to push up those legitimate threads, which forumites want to discuss, so that they rise up and let knnbccb's threads, which no forumite wants to bother, sink to the bottom.
that's why i like you..same same...but different