As early as the early 1930s, Japan had incorporated Korea, Manchuria, Formosa (today’s Taiwan) and Micronesia, established military bases and defenses in these countries, and re-equipped the local economy for its arms production and war preparations. The European colonial powers in the Region and the USA let this happen without significant protests. Nor did they react when Japanese troops invaded northern China in 1937. Even when Japanese bombers attacked an American gunboat on the Chinese River Yangtsekiang in December 1937, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt left it to the US defense industry to stop selling weapons to Japan in a non-binding appeal. In October 1939, he had the US Pacific Fleet transferred from its home port of San Diego to the Pacific – to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. But Nazi Germany’s war in Europe was closer and more threatening to the governments of Britain and France than the Japanese campaigns in Asia. The United States kept out of both.
Thus, in 1939, Japanese troops were able to take the south Chinese island of Hainan unhindered and advance into the Gulf of Tongking – all the way to the coast of Indochina. On August 1, 1940, the US ambassador in Tokyo, Josef C. Grew, warned his government that the rulers of Japan saw “in the present world situation a’ golden opportunity' to enforce their expansionist goals without obstruction by the supposedly paralyzed democracies. The successes of the German military machinery and the German system have gone to the head of the Japanese like strong wine.”
But Japan was able to invade in September 1940, in the North of Vietnam, with the administration of the collaborationist Vichy government in Indochina (today’s Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) and the military regime in Thailand the free passage of his troops agree from the Dutch colonial administration in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) require additional oil Supplies and 27. On September 20, 1940, the Japanese government signed a three-power pact with the fascist Axis powers Germany and Italy, without this having prompted any of the Western powers to declare war on the Japanese Empire. France was unable to act; the north of the country was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, the south was administered by the Vichy government. Britain concentrated its forces on defending the British Isles against German air raids and an imminent Invasion. And the US government was still trying to keep its country and its armed forces out of World War II.
Before the Japanese troops in Indochina and Thailand were ordered to invade Malaya and Burma, the Japanese forces not only carried out their attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but bombed almost simultaneously the US military bases in the Philippines and the British positions in Singapore, Hong Kong and Rangoon. Then their troops marched into the British crown colony on the South China coast, crossed the borders from Thailand into the British colonies of Malaya and Burma and ship convoys, which had already left with the fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbor, landed in Kota Bharu on the east coast of the British colony of Malaya and soon after also in Borneo.
“Blitzkrieg” against Singapore
“The British were completely surprised by the Japanese attack, “Cheah Boon Kheng, once a renowned historian at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, who died in 2015 at the age of 76, told the author,” after all, Japan had not declared war on Britain.“When the Japanese Air Force flew its first bombing raids on Singapore on the night of December 8, the city’s densely populated business centre was brightly lit. No one had expected an attack, no one had prepared for it. A resident who reported to the police that a department store in her street had sunk to rubble after an air raid received the answer that it was “just an exercise”. The sirens did not sound until the attack was over, and because the officer who had the key to the main switch could not be found, the lanterns continued to burn. 200 people had already died in this first bombardment, most of them Chinese merchants and Indian night watchmen.
When the British fleet tried to prevent the landing of more Japanese troops in northern Malaya, Japanese torpedo bombers sank the battlecruisers Repulse and Prince of Wales, two of the largest ships in the British Navy. “After that, the British troops in Singapore were completely demoralized”, says the historian Cheah Boon Kheng, " because they could not rely on support from their Air Force.“Even before this attack, Japanese intelligence agents had entered the north of Malaya from Thailand to prepare for the Invasion, and had also been able to recruit collaborators to serve as Scouts, leaders and spies.
The city of Singapore is located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and was until the Second world war as the “Gibraltar of the East” and “impregnable military fortress” of the British colonial power. But the Japanese also managed to take Singapore in a coup in February 1942, just two months after the fall of Hong Kong. The British had fortified Singapore mainly against attacks from the sea. But when the French ceded Indochina to Japan without a fight, and the neighboring Thailand, in order to maintain its independence, granted the Japanese troops free passage, the Japanese were open to land: from China and Hong Kong in northern Asia to Malaya and Singapore thousands of kilometers further south. And as in their crown colony of Hong Kong, the British also distrusted their Chinese subjects in Singapore. If the British had equipped at least part of the Chinese population in Malaya with weapons, they would have been willing to fight against the Japanese.
Cheah Boon Kheng said:
“The fact that the powerful British could not hold the Malay Peninsula fundamentally changed the image that the people had of them. People were very, very shocked, especially the Chinese Community. For it too had penetrated, how the Japanese had raged in the north of China and what massacre they had committed in Nanking (around the turn of the year 1937/38 – RW). The Chinese were therefore very afraid. And because they were not accepted into the British Army, they organized their own resistance groups at the beginning of the Japanese Invasion of Malaya.”
What the British colonial rulers called “Malaya” until the beginning of the Japanese Offensive consisted essentially of three political administrative and geographical units: the so - called Straits Settlement Colony with Singapore, Malacca and Penang, as well as the Federated and non-Federated Malay states. In addition to Singapore’s strategic military importance in the southeast and East Asia region, it was mainly raw materials such as rubber, tin, bauxite and iron ore that the colonial power had hundreds of thousands of hired Chinese and Indian workers dismantled on a large scale. The census of 1921 had already shown that the Malays had become a minority in Malaya. According to this census 1.62 million Malays (48.8 percent of the total population), 1.17 million Chinese people (35.2 percent) and 471.514 Indian (14.2 per cent) lived in Malaya. The original expectation of the British colonial power that these Chinese and Indian workers would remain in Malaya only for a short time was not true. By the early 1940s at the latest, it was clear that the lion’s share of both communities would remain in the country.
War Economics-War Propaganda
The Japanese Malay Military Administration (MMA), which ruled Malaya for more than three and a half years after defeating the British, proved to be far more brutal than British rule. The entire society had to subordinate itself economically, politically and socially to the constraints of the Japanese war machinery. The existing raw materials and rice were now to be mined and harvested even faster and in even greater quantities, since Malaya was only considered as a raw material supplier for the “mother country” in the calculations of the Japanese military. Like Hong Kong, Malaya should be firmly integrated into the Japanese Empire indefinitely. Later independence was not foreseen because “the natives were politically immature”.
All strata of Malay society were politicized, partly squeezed into paramilitary militia or forced to serve the Japanese emperor as Romusha (forced labourers) inside and outside the country. The stated goal of the MMA was to educate the population strictly in the sense of the Nippon Seishin (Japanese spirit) through hard physical and mental Training, as well as Nippongo (the Japanese language). Nippon Seishin-that meant iron discipline, absolute obedience, unconditional loyalty to the emperor. These” virtues of work and life " were to be instilled into the (especially youthful) population in Malaya and they were to be drilled by means of ideological campaigns into reliable companions of the Hakko Ichiu (universal brotherhood under one roof), thus into docile Japanese subjects.
Under these harsh conditions, the Chinese suffered the most. The historian Cheah Boon Kheng explained to the author:
“The Chinese inhabitants of Malaya had to pay five million Yen in so-called “blood duty” to the Japanese. They spoke of “blood duty” because they collected this money from the Chinese in revenge for their resistance in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Later there were mass executions in Singapore as well. To demonstrate their power, the Japanese displayed severed heads on the roadsides. After the war, Japanese General Yamashita Tomoyuki admitted that his troops had massacred 6,000 Chinese here. The Chinese Community, on the other hand, spoke of 45,000 dead. The massacres began in Singapore, continued in southern Malaya and also in neighboring Sumatra, when the Japanese troops under General Yamashita invaded there.”
“Divide-and-rule” - politics with calculation
Under British colonial rule, relations between the three largest population groups in Malaya had developed without serious friction. The British had preferably included Malays in their colonial administration and had left Malay sultans in the provinces with limited decision-making powers in order to at least encourage them to cooperate. The following generations of Chinese migrants had settled mainly as merchants in the cities, while the Indians (mostly Tamils) as day laborers and miners lived more in the countryside and were on the lowest social level of the social hierarchy. There were comparatively few points of contact between the groups and no open conflicts. The Japanese, on the other hand, played them against each other.
The occupiers tried with some success to persuade the Malays to cooperate, brutally persecuted the Chinese and recruited volunteers among the Indians for their war against the British in Burma and India with the slogan “Asia the Asian”. In this sense, the Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) played a key role. Bose’s (supposed) patriotism made him a hero in India, while during the Second World War he unabashedly collaborated with Nazi Germany under Hitler as well as with the Japanese Empire according to the motto: “The Enemy of my enemy is my friend.“Bose promised himself a victorious campaign against the British by the Nazis and by the Indian Legion they had set up. Among German diplomats in what was then Berlin, as well as among Indian diplomats and officers, he was known as “Netaji” (“respected leader”). The ethnic division of society by the Japanese occupiers led to conflicts that were carried out violently decades after the end of the war.
Japanese companies, most notably Mitsubishi and Mitsui, confiscated the assets of foreign (mainly British, us and Dutch) companies and the Chinese companies in Malaya and Singapore. Only small Chinese dealers and suppliers were allowed to continue working under strict Japanese control. To boost production, the Japanese introduced a labor service. Under 250 inhabitants each, 20 between the ages of 15 and 45 had to join a Labor Service Corps. (In 1944, the Japanese had registered 140,000 workers for industry, trade and agriculture. In addition, they brought in tens of thousands of Romusha (forced laborers) from the neighboring Indonesian islands.
Quite a few Malays, who had to suffer from this and military Drill under the Japanese occupiers, were to assume leadership positions in the politics, society and economic and business world of the country, of all places in post - war society. Even in a survey in the 1970s, 80 percent of such “former students” expressed their admiration for the former Japanese “breeding Masters” with the words: “without Japanese training, I would never have made a career so quickly."- “I learned to work hard to achieve something."- “The training has promoted my self-confidence and my drive. After that, I was no longer afraid to take responsibility and no longer felt superior to whites. I was proud to be Asian.“The decisive factor was the experience that the Nimbus (supposed) “white and Western superiority and invincibility” under the British colonial yoke crumbled in the face of the rapid Japanese advance and victory in Malaya and Singapore.
The Malays also constituted the clear majority of the paramilitary vigilantes and block guards with which the Japanese covered the entire country. In Singapore alone, the neighborhood organizations introduced and controlled by the Japanese had 55 sections with 80,000 members in September 1943. In addition, the occupiers maintained a secret police, for which local spies monitored Parks and squares, Hotels and shops.
Cheah Boon Kheng was then “a boy of five or six years” and his parents cared
“during the entire occupation period for the fact that we children did not go outside to play. We had to stay at home, and spent the evenings mostly in the dark. Because the electricity was constantly out. My parents were afraid of the Japanese police and plainclothes agents who met in a Café in the neighborhood. We children were strictly forbidden to talk to them. Even if we had to go outside, for example to run into the next air raid shelter during a bomb alert, we were extremely careful.”
When they entered, the Japanese forces deployed Malay auxiliary troops, which had previously been recruited by Japanese intelligence, and were confronted by two battalions of a Malay Regiment, which had been recruited by the British from local soldiers. While Indian and Malay organizations and associations were relatively subdued and late fanatics of political resistance against the occupiers, the Chinese formed directly at the invasion of the occupiers by far the largest and most important military force in the anti-Japanese resistance.
Draconian course against Malaya’s Chinese population
When the Japanese troops invaded the north of Malaya from Thailand, thousands of Chinese soldiers from the colony also fought under British command. The Chinese did not represent a small minority in Malaya, but almost forty percent of the population. When the Japanese occupiers ceded the four northern provinces of Malaya to Thailand in 1943 in gratitude for its granted “Transit"rights, they even constituted the largest population group with 48 percent – ahead of the Malays with 34 percent and the Indians with 18 percent.
Although at least one third of the Chinese were born in Malaya, the vast majority were culturally and politically oriented towards China. In the 1930s, there were offshoots of Chiang Kaishek’s national Chinese party and Mao Tsetung’s Chinese communists in Malaya. Although both organizations had forged a special-purpose alliance at the time and had fought together against the Japanese since 1937, they were banned by the British in Malaya and could only operate underground. The British, in particular, had harshly persecuted the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), which called for guerrilla warfare against colonial rule.
In December 1941, the British suddenly tried to win over the Chinese-majority CPM as an ally. Only ten days after the Japanese invasion, they reached an agreement with the party leadership, under which the British helped train and equip the communist guerrilla forces that would resist behind the Japanese lines after the occupation of the Malay Peninsula. On December 23, 1941, Chiang Kaishek also called on his followers in Malaya to fight alongside the British against the Japanese. In return, the British governor in Singapore, Shenton Thomas, lifted the ban on both parties and other Chinese organisations.
After the surrender of the British in Singapore on 15 February 1942, the 25th Japanese army should have marched immediately on the neighbouring Indonesian island of Sumatra. But their colonel Masanobu Tsuji insisted on performing an Operation earlier, which he called Sook Ching, which can be translated as " cleansing by elimination.” In a handbook for Japanese soldiers written by this very Colonel Masanobu Tsuji it was said:
“Read this and we will win the war! As soon as you enter the enemy’s territories, you will become aware of what the white man’s oppression means. Imposing, magnificent buildings look down from mountain heights or hills to the tiny huts of the natives. The luxurious lifestyle of whites is financed with the money that these small minorities squeeze out of the Asians through bloody oppression. As a result of centuries of oppression by European colonial powers, the natives have become submissive slaves. Our desire to make men out of them again as soon as possible is likely to encounter considerable difficulties at first. ( … ) If, after landing, you encounter the enemy, see in you an Avenger who has finally succeeded in confronting the murderer of his father. Here you come across the one whose death can relieve your heart of the burning anger in him. Only when you have completely destroyed him will you come to rest again.”
On February 17, 1942, the same Colonel issued an Order that all Chinese men between the ages of 18 and 50 should be present at five designated points in the city within four days. Violations would be severely punished. By 21 February, the Japanese army had set up five large “concentration camps” at the collection points. There, tens of thousands of prisoners were forced to endure up to six days without bread and water and to line up in front of units of the Japanese Kempeitai military police, assisted by local informers with hoods and eyesight slits. Everyone they pointed at was taken away by the Japanese for interrogation in torture cells and prisons or by trucks to the outskirts of the city to be murdered. The Rest was allowed to leave, provided with a control stamp on the Arm or on the shirt. By 3 March 1942, however, the Japanese had detained 70,699 people in Singapore alone and Radio Tokyo reported that the campaign “against anti-Japanese Chinese and other opponents of the Axis powers” in the “radiant South” (Singapore) was making good progress.
Forced collaboration and expected cooperation
In March 1942, Japanese soldiers abducted some prominent Chinese from Singapore to the headquarters of their military police to force them, under torture and death threats, to join an “association of Overseas Chinese” to collaborate with the occupiers. Some Chinese also volunteered to cooperate in order to maintain their social Position. The first task of this association was to collect 50 million Malay dollars from the Chinese population. The Japanese provided them with the registration and tax documents they had found in the offices of the British colonial administration. Because the association had only raised $ 28 million by June 20, 1942, it had to borrow the remaining $ 22 million from the Japanese Yokohama Bank in order to be able to publicly hand over the total sum to Japanese Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was in charge of Malaya, on June 25. He regarded the money as” atonement for anti-Japanese activities " in Singapore. Because the members of the association had agreed to cooperate with the Japanese, younger Chinese partisans publicly denounced them as “collaborators of the enemy” and carried out attacks on them.
Bitter Partisan War
No other ethnolinguistic group in what was then Malaya had such a strong underground army as the Malay anti-Japanese people’s Army (MPAJA), founded under the leadership of the CPM in January 1942. At its peak, it counted between 7,000 and 8,000 active fighters and enjoyed great support among the population. From jungle camps they operated in the countryside and in guerrilla commands in the cities. The partisans carried out attacks on Japanese positions, but also on Malays who had agreed to cooperate with the occupiers. In the countryside, they carved the word “collaborator” into the skin of the helpers of the Japanese whom they had convicted, sentenced and executed, and in many villages they imposed a “war tax”. This created tensions between Chinese and Malays, which led to violent clashes in the province of Johore before the end of the war, in February 1945, to which the Japanese occupying power looked on idly and with satisfaction.
In consultation with British officers, the MPAJA liberated large parts of Malaya at the end of the war. The partisans took over police stations, disarmed Malay collaborators and sentenced some of them to death. The British publicly acknowledged the communists ' contribution to the liberation of the country, and Chin Peng, who had become one of their military commanders and the “hero of the national liberation struggle”, was to be awarded the “order of the British Empire”.
Chin Peng, who died in 2013 at the age of 88, was just 15 years old when he went underground and joined the Communist Party in Perak, part of the CPM. Before later becoming the party’s charismatic general secretary, Chin Peng served in the MPAJA’s Military high Command during the Japanese occupation. Because of the outstanding position and organizational skills of the MPAJA and CPM in the anti-Japanese resistance, the British command of the South-East Asia Command (SEAC) stationed on Ceylon (Today’s Sri Lanka) under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten also resorted to their members as informants and Liaison officers. During this time, the British formed an entertaining mutual-purpose community in the form of Force 136. This special unit had to ensure that the contacts between Ceylon and Malaya were established and that the informants deployed there behind the Japanese positions with parachutes remained protected, as well as adequate supplies and logistical equipment were brought in by submarines. Chin Peng was also an important hinge between the SEAC and the CPM.
Only in the final phase of the war had Japan also considered for Malaya to offer the country an “independence” from Tokyo’s graces. Military setbacks in the Pacific, ongoing and targeted acts of sabotage by the MPAJA and CPM, and already discernible plans for a major Allied offensive had made the Japanese General Staff think about this step. Not out of human love or care for Malaya, as the historian Cheah Boon Kheng pointed out:
“When the resistance of the local population against the forced labor prescribed by the Japanese became too great, they brought in workers from Java. They came in thousands. I estimate that 20,000 Javanese came to Singapore alone. As the end of the war approached, the Japanese simply gave them nothing to eat. And so hundreds of Indonesians starved here on the streets.”
Postponed end of War-12-year “emergency”
After the war, the CPM was unwilling to trade the Japanese colonial power again for the old British colonial yoke. Meanwhile, the British persisted in their plan to recapture Malaya and did not want to give up the Naval Base Singapore, which was important for them in terms of geo - and military strategy. Military conflicts were programmed. A protracted war of extermination began, which the British euphemistically called” state of emergency”. For insurance reasons alone, the term “war"was avoided. This Emergency lasted for twelve long years – from 1948 to 1960. Chin Peng, who was still chosen at the end of the war to receive the “order of the British Empire” for his merits in the fight against the Japanese, had become the most wanted “top terrorist” within a few months, for whose capture the British had now put a bounty of the equivalent of 250,000 dollars on his head!
It was not until December 2, 1989, that a fight in the southern Thai city of Haadyai ended, which had begun for Chin Peng and his comrades-in-arms during the war. There it came to a peace agreement, which assured the former guerrilla fighters free guidance. Chin Peng, who has lived in the Thai-Malaysian border area since then, caused a furore again when he presented his memoirs entitled My Side of History in autumn 2003. Decades after the war and the politically turbulent period of the “emergency”, Malaysian authorities confiscated 900 of the 2,000 copies of the first edition of this book published in Singapore. Even a bookstore in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur was searched by employees of the interior ministry, the copies there were confiscated and the title temporarily put on the Index. Although the authorities did not justify this censorship and did not officially prohibit the book, it was obviously a thorn in their side that Chin Peng in his memoirs spread a variety of declassified British intelligence reports and minutely recalled the perfidious tactics used in their Counterinsurgency.
In addition to the country-wide forced relocation of at least 600,000 “illegal settlers” to so-called “new villages” in order to cut off the supply lines and logistical infrastructure of the guerrillas, their fighters were not only branded as “bandits”, but as CTs, “communist terrorists”, literally declared free game. To sow fear and fear among the civilian population, British soldiers publicly flaunted the severed heads and hands of members of the CPM, ostensibly to “accurately identify"the enemies. Like the Japanese occupying power before, the British Military Administration for Malaya and Singapore did not shy away from “exhibiting” the bodies of guerrilla fighters in busy and busy places after the end of the war and leading the bodies of once high-ranking CPM cadres in processions through the villages. Lieutenant General Gerald Templer, the British High Commissioner in Malaya at the time, had expressly sanctioned all this in an official communiqué.
“No compromise with Japan, no Arrangement with the British”
Chin Peng wrote in his memoirs about himself and the lifelong commitment of his combat vehicles:
“Each of US has options – we can be steadfast or compromise, we can save or throw things out the window, we can confront someone or just look away, we can forget or remember. For my part, I decided to become a freedom fighter. Anyone who, like me, grew up in a rural Malay community such as Sitiawan and had to experience up close every day how contemptuously the British colonialists looked down on us and treated us would quickly have felt the attraction of a Malay Communist Party. My commitment did not arise solely from a series of intimidations and humiliations suffered; rather, it was the result of close observation and years of intellectual insight. Anyone who later experienced the time of the corrupt British Military Administration immediately after the Japanese surrender and the bitter poverty years after the Japanese atrocities, when one had to suffer at every turn the incompetence and inefficiency of this administration in the Malay villages and towns, should not be presumptuous and claim that one should have kept a cool head and taken a different path. I could not make any compromise with the Japanese. Nor could I ever have arranged and worked for a System that relied solely on the continuity of British colonialism.”
The summary of war veteran Chin Peng:
“This book is neither intended to make things up nor excuse them. Rather, it should invite us to understand what led us to fight at that time, what shaped our ideas and what ultimately fueled and allowed conflicts to escalate. At the same time, however, it should also show how peace can be achieved.”
According to the population at that time, the Chinese resistance fighters in Malaya paid the highest blood toll in the fight against the Japanese occupation after China and the Philippines. In the retrospective, the Emergency proved to be a successful model of colonial counterrevolution from the point of view of the new-old colonial power Britain, a successful Counterinsurgency that the US soldier failed in a traumatic way almost a decade and a half later in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Excursus: “I love the smell of Pines” - Malaysian Feng Su Qiong alias Xiu Ning spent five decades in the political underground
“My brother did not believe in the slightest that we could endure all the hardships. He was sure that we would never survive as’ mountain ridges', as he called it. When I heard this, I was determined to leave my parents ' home and never return there again. More than 50 years have passed since then. I haven’t seen my mother in all these years”
Out Feng Su Qiong alias Xiu Ning on record. She was born in 1927, on the Malaysian island of Penang:
“Such is life, you must be cheerful and optimistic, otherwise nothing will be good enough for you and for the time of your life you will remain deeply unhappy. Never will the smell of pine go out of my mind; even in Winter it permeates everything.
Youth years I loved playing sports at a young age. After school we went straight to play – Badminton, Basketball, Volleyball and table tennis. I rarely went straight home from school. Housework was never my forte. My sister was just the opposite; she was very domestic and preferred to spend hours sewing.
I was 18 or 19 years old when I started my high school studies in Penang. During the war it was customary to start school much later than usual. Already at that age I was seized by revolutionary ideas and took care of my first contacts with the political underground. A friend from the neighborhood, who was a classmate of mine and came from a wealthy family, arranged a meeting every evening where he taught us about Marxism.
When I graduated from College, I became a Chinese teacher in a small school that only had between 30 and 40 students. My younger sister also became a teacher. Together, we had to go underground when Lin You Cai, who was our liaison to the party (the Communist Party of Malaya, CPM – RW), was captured. His Jiao Tong Yuan (ambassador to the underground or liaison officer – RW) was also arrested with him. Both were later executed. Fearing that we might be next, we left our parents ' home, and I joined the guerrillas later in the jungle.
Japanese Occupation Period I was in my fourth or fifth year of Primary School when the Japanese invaded Malaya. Penang was too dangerous and too small a place, where everything would quickly be razed to the ground as soon as the Japanese also bombed the island. So my mother, my younger brother, my younger sister, a nephew of mine and I moved to Bukit Kajang on the mainland. We left Penang by ferry and had just reached the port of Butterworth on the mainland when the first bombs actually fell. When the Japanese Devils also invaded Bukit Kajang, they themselves raped little girls. We were terribly afraid, it was terrible! Together with other families, we hid in rock caves.
We heard that the Japanese wanted to kill anyone they thought was a resistance fighter. “Cleaning campaigns,’ they called it. Crowds of people were arrested on the street. They also took my younger brother. He was only nine or ten years old and had to spend two days and two nights in prison. Fortunately, we were able to get him out on bail. When he left the prison, he looked very bad and emaciated.
My older sister started teaching Japanese in a school that used to teach Chinese. She was very gifted to learn languages quickly. Her husband worked in a Japanese company. One day, it was early in the morning, the Japanese again carried out one of their’ cleansing campaigns'. Everyone who was found in our neighborhood had to come out on the street and line up. Names were loudly invoked by people suspected of being against the Japanese. Mostly it was the names of men. Then people dressed in black with hoods appeared, who only had a visual slot to identify the " rebels and enemies.” These poor creatures were arrested on the spot and mostly killed. Such arrests were commonplace. Since I, too, had begun to learn Japanese, we had the opportunity to sometimes serve the Japanese as translators. This kept us from being arrested ourselves.
I became a nurse, first at the General Hospital and later at the Japanese naval hospital, which was opposite the General Hospital. I remember the director of the Naval Hospital well, because he wore a long moustache. He asked us why we had left the General Hospital. We told him that the sisters usually only spoke English there and treated us condescendingly. He understood this and accepted us immediately. Meanwhile, we were able to speak Japanese almost fluently.
Japanese hospital staff usually left the clinic between 12: 00 and 14: 00. Then we started our service. They gave us the keys because we were the youngest and they trusted us the most. The patients in the Hospital were all Japanese soldiers. They were violent and terrifying. I have seen some sailors who suffered from severe venereal diseases and were therefore brutally beaten by their superiors. I was especially afraid of the military police. Their people looked grim and carried long, sharp swords.
Every day the staff left the clinic around 5 pm. Then it became quiet. One night I heard a truck drive in front of the hospital and park there. Blood oozed from the vice. I thought that wounded people were being transported to be treated. I did not know whether the people in those trucks were still alive or dead. The doors were usually locked, and only opened very late at night. I was surprised that there were cars parked and nothing happened for hours. If the inmates had been Japanese, at least someone would have taken care of them.
One night I snuck near the operating room. Horrified, I saw that half-dead people were operated on – for experiments! The operating room was brightly lit, and I could hear the sound of the medical instruments. Chinese newspapers had reported something like this. Now I understood why these people were left on the trucks to die there. They were Chinese who looked like workers. I was shocked and angry that the Japanese were abusing our people for experimental purposes! I lost all joy in my profession. A little later the Japanese surrendered. First, they took their nurses away on trucks. Japanese military police ran around excitedly, brandishing their swords and searching people indiscriminately. The faces of the policemen were full of anger. They beat people indiscriminately or simply beheaded them with a single blow.
Underground When the Japanese were gone, the British came back. The Chinese schools opened their doors again. I also returned to Fujian High School, which was later renamed Peng Hwa Girls’ High School. We had access to many writings and books with progressive or revolutionary content. Already in the first year of teacher training at this College, our class went on strike for three days against some teachers, one of whom had to resign. In the school, there were several Guomindang members, followers of Chiang Kai-shek from China, who monitored the students’activities and ratted on people when they thought they were ‘red’. We had been told not to engage in politics as students. But the circumstances of life pushed us to act politically. After the strike, I was immediately called a’ red'. I had to go underground with like-minded people.
In the underground, my first task was to help partisans buy supplies. I have also made numerous purchases for Ah Yen, the deputy general secretary of the CPM. I was just over 20 years old when I decided to join the party. It was a decision for life. There was no other choice, because the enemies were chasing us. I did not dare to tell my mother that I would leave the house. Before I disappeared, I burned all my photos so that no profile letters could be made of me. We had learned that such pictures facilitated the search for wanted persons. We did not want to take this risk in any case. I signed a paper saying that I was now a party member :” I swear to serve the people loyally. With heart and brain I follow the party’. Next to the Text were the portraits of Marx and Engels.
I decided to live in the guerrilla because my name was on the black lists and I could not move freely anyway. I took a boat from Penang to Butterworth and took a Taxi from there to an agreed meeting place. I had to look for a certain store in the border area between Malaya and Thailand. There I spent some time with an elderly woman, whom I called’ mother', before someone picked me up and led me to our quarters in the jungle. First I had to proofread texts. The food was taken care of by’ mother', who cooked for us. She had created a small garden in which she planted vegetables. During the first days I often cried in secret. I missed my mother and siblings. I could not remember my father; I was three years old when he died.
As a member of the 12th Regiment of the guerrilla army, my next task was to send and decrypt telegrams. Our working hours began between 10 and 11 o’clock in the evening and ended, depending on how much to do, in the early morning hours. I was very happy to do that. It was quiet, mostly a cool breeze was blowing. In the early sixties, I was sent with a few other comrades to China for further Training. There, however, we could not travel around on our own, which annoyed me very much. It was said that we were secret bearers of the party and should not risk falling into the hands of party enemies and revealing military secrets. So we spent most of our time in classrooms to study. When the Cultural Revolution began in the mid-sixties, we had to leave China and return to Malaya, which was now called Malaysia.
In 1955, peace talks were held for the first time, in which a delegation from Singapore and the later Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, participated alongside our party leadership. But without results; the Malaysian side insisted that we should give up arms first of all, which we strongly opposed. At that time several people came from far away. They were curious and eager to see our party chairman Chin Ping, who was already famous, or to give us rice and chicken. It was not until the 1980s, at the Initiative of the Thai government, that the next round of peace talks between the CPM and the Malaysian government began. On December 2, 1989, the negotiations ended in Haadyai (southern Thailand – RW), after it had been guaranteed that no hair would be bent.
Although most of the” rebel returnees”, as the Press called us ex-guerrilla fighters who came from the jungle to fit into” normal " life, were afraid of being killed out of vengeance or lured into an ambush, nothing like this happened. The Haadyai peace agreement was actually observed. I no longer have contacts with my siblings. Many of my ex-comrades, like me, now live in southern Thailand. Some already have a Thai passport, others are still waiting for it. Of course, people like me do not receive a pension or other support from either The Malaysian or Thai authorities. I work in Betong as a” Nanny " – that means: I take care of the children of friends, acquaintances and Ex-comrades during the day. They all help me to stay afloat. I like the work, the children like me and it is enough to live.
A great, bitter loss was the death of my mother, whom I never saw again after I left home. She was very warm, helpful and had many friends. I hardly knew my father since he died when I was young. They both came from Canton, more precisely from Shun Dak or Shun-de (in Mandarin) in Guangzhou province. I will travel there and pay my last respects.”
Epilogue or from Malaya to Malaysia – State-Building in a state of emergency
On 16 June 1948, units of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) attacked rubber plantations in the Malay Hinterland and killed some planters. The strategic objective of the CPM leadership was to attack unsecured rubber plantations and tin mines, as well as local and regional security forces, in order to force the British to retreat to the cities. In the Hinterland, guerrilla bases were to be established in liberated zones and new recruits were to be recruited. From there, attacks on larger cities were also planned and significant lines of communication were to be interrupted. Backed by the people’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, the CPM believed it could increase political pressure on Britain to such an extent that London would eventually pull in, withdraw its troops, and Malaya would become independent.
On 31 August 1957, the Federation of Malaya was created as part of the Commonwealth and included the Malay states as well as the settlements of Penang and Malacca. Although the” state of Emergency " officially ended at the end of July 1960, a nationalist guerrilla force, the North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU), was formed in the eastern British protectorate of Brunei, seeking a confederation of states on the island of Borneo with the Sultan of Brunei as head of State. Over 10,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers took action against the poorly equipped “insurgents” and captured the TNKU leadership in mid-April 1963. The TNKU was supported by the then Indonesian President Sukarno. He pursued the ambitious goal of creating a great Malay Empire, Maphilindo, under the leadership of Indonesia, which would include the Malay heartland, Sabah, Sarawak and the Sultanate of Brunei, as well as the Republic of the Philippines, which had already become independent on 4 July 1946. Sukarno regarded the foundation of Malaysia as a neocolonial construct that thwarted his plans.
Despite repeated Indonesian attacks, the Federation of Malaysia was established on 16 September 1963, which now included Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah in addition to Malaya. Relations with Indonesia’s large neighbour remained extremely strained in 1963 and 1964 and only improved from August 1966, when the coup General Suharto, an outspoken Darling of the “Western community of values”, had politically sidelined his predecessor Sukarno.