Who are the Chinese?

By Batsman

The demoralization and despair that resulted from the events of 7 May seem to have claimed several important victims. There is even the accusation thrown around that the Chinese are a bunch of cowards. Apparently this is because the Perakians did not seem to want to express support and solidarity for their own elected representatives anymore and left it to activists from out of state to take all the risks. 

PAS and PKR Malays are dejected because they think the Chinese are starting to buckle down to UMNO seduction and pressure while the Chinese following closer analysis of the Gantang and Selambau by-elections have lost faith and become demoralised because they think the Malays are turning back towards UMNO. This mutual despair has left negative remarks in most of the blogs around town …. “it’s all about race” and that sort of thing. 

Sadly, most of this bad temper is settling down on the doorstep of the Chinese. It is time to ask the question – Who are the Chinese? 

While many bloggers are very good at asking the question “Who are the Malays?” and drawing attention to the difficulty in defining Malayness, they are not so quick when trying to define Chineseness. In my view, the two are interlinked. This is because UMNO has basically defined Malayness with the view of cutting off the Chinese and because it is so difficult to define what Chinese is, there is consequently equal difficulty of defining what Malay is. 

This need to divide the Chinese from the Malays is so ingrained in UMNO that it takes every conceivable form and fills out every conceivable nook and cranny including the ideological one of the communist struggle which has taken on the shape of a classical Malay-Chinese fight. 

To try and remove some of the confusion and mystery, the “Chinese” comprise not just many dialect groups, but several language groups as well including English, Thai and Malay. There are many who cannot speak or write any of the accepted “Chinese” dialects or Mandarin and yet claim to be Chinese. Do the other “Chinese” accept these as bona fide “Chinese”? 

Genetically “Chinese” are divided into Northern and Southern stock, with Inuit and even American Indians claiming ancestry to Northern Chinese stock. So while Fujimori still looks Japanese, can Evo Morales claim to be Chinese? Can Fujimori himself be accused of being Chinese since the Japanese are from the same stock as the Chinese? Are the Mongols of Inner Mongolia Chinese while the Mongols of Outer Mongolia non-Chinese? The Manchus were never really part of the China proper and were barbarians “outside the Great Wall” until they invaded and formed the last “Chinese” dynasty. Are they still Manchus or are they now “Chinese”? Are the Tibetans “Chinese” since quite a few apparently don’t wish to be? Is Chen Shui Bian Chinese since he apparently doesn’t want to be? 

Is Lee Kuan Yew “Chinese” since he is of Baba stock and disdained learning Chinese even late in life? Better still is Jelapang “Chinese” since she can speak some Chinese dialects and write Mandarin to boot? Are some of the UMNO cronies who own and run corporate empires and foot most of the illegal “gifts” that UMNO wishes to bestow also Chinese? They look very Chinese to me, but do the other Chinese accept them? I suppose some do and some don’t. 

When the Chinese Empire disintegrated, “Chinese” culture and language suffered the same fate. The Chinese Diaspora turned out a great many more strands of Chineseness than the geographical areas in which they settled. Unfortunately, the memory and idealism of superpower greatness of the ancient days still lingers to this day and has become historical and cultural baggage that the Chinese community has to deal with. 

The reality is that after more than a century of dispersal, bullying and being treated worse than dogs, the Chinese have become hardened survivalists looking after “numero uno” first and foremost and the family second. This attitude has also become part and parcel of “Chinese” culture. Dispersal is built into the Chinese psyche. It is not any more possible for the Chinese to unite than thieves to have honour. That is why we have nightmare visions of a terrible-looking Jelapang holding out the mace at a terror-struck fellow Chinese assemblyman. 

The Chinese became what they are through a disastrous failure in leadership. The only way they can become a healthy community again is through re-assertion of great leadership. UMNO screwed up by drawing the keris and threatening to bathe it in Chinese blood. They are trying to make amends by something called One Malaysia. Whether the Chinese in Malaysia will meekly follow behind UMNO again is anybody’s guess. 

The opposition on the other hand cannot exercise great leadership by calling the Chinese a bunch of cowards.