Colonial rule (1): British played favourites with the various races


Introduction by CPI

“But what began to aggravate and worsen ethnic relations in the early 1930s was a series of ‘pro-Malay’ policies, which the British initiated to help Malays cope with the economic depression and to meet the demands of rising Malay nationalism based on treaty obligations.”

This statement extracted from the article below should lead us to ask whether our leaders are repeating history and why they are not learning from the mistakes of history.

During the period of colonial rule in Malaya, the British favoured themselves and other whites first and foremost, and Malays second in their policies.

As ‘protectors’ of the Malays, the British created various policies that were anti-Chinese. Most non-European residents were either workers or poor. Since the various races were in different sectors and not in direct competition with each other, ethnic conflict was kept under the lid.

As the economic depression intensified, the British rulers found it easier to resort to race-based solutions rather than deal with the real causes and issues.

Today, as the global economy and its fluctuations impact on us, will race-based policies again rise to the fore? 

The following essay by Dr Cheah Boon Kheng was published in the book Multiethnic Malaysia – Past, Present and Future under the title ‘Race and Ethnic relations in Colonial Malaya during the 1920s and 1930s’. CPI with permission from the author is carrying it here in two parts.

Dr Cheah is visiting professor at the National University of Singapore. He was previously history professor at USM, and has been visiting professor at the Australian National University and ISEAS. He is also author of several books.