By Kua Kia Soong

The overwhelming response to the publication of May 13 in 2007 took everyone, including the author, by surprise. What people say about this book reveals the depth and diversity of feelings generated by this book from both supporters and detractors.

The book certainly struck a chord among Malaysians, releasing years of pent-up emotions regarding an episode in Malaysian history that had left a festering wound thereafter and torn ethnic relations asunder. Malaysians were clearly elated that the bubble of official myth-making about this tragic yet loathsome historical event had been finally burst.

This book maintains that the pogrom of May 1969 was actually orchestrated by the emergent Malay state capitalist class to facilitate a coup d’état against the Tunku.  It explodes the myth created by the UMNO ruling class that the May 13 incident was a spontaneous post-election riot between the Malay and Chinese masses. This myth had been brazenly propagated at every general election since then to deter any challenge to UMNO dominance.

Interestingly, when the political tsunami of the March 2008 general elections happened and the Barisan Nasional suffered its heaviest defeat since 1969 with four states falling to the Opposition, “May 13” didn’t happen!

The author would like to believe that the publication of this book had contributed in some way towards this new spirit in the Malaysian public sphere. The ghost of May 13 was finally buried! The hantu that UMNO told us dwelt within the communalist cave turned out to be nothing but a manufactured myth.

Yes, perhaps now that the BN government has realized that it is time for the government to act like a mature and enlightened democracy, they will decide to declassify the official secrets in the vaults of the Cabinet and the Special Branch. We might then be able to get to the full story of the May 13 Incident. But then again, these May 13 secrets may already have been destroyed to protect the villains and stymie the truth.

In recent years since the publication of May 13, we have seen more and more challenges to the official interpretation of history as well as the “official literature”. The former was evident in the recent campaign to demonise the PAS deputy president Mat Sabu’s interpretation of the Bukit Kepong incident; the latter was seen in the “Interlok” controversy over the stereotyping of Chinese and Indians in the official literature textbook.

Without a doubt, the publication of May 13: Declassified Documents on the Racial Riots of 1969 made publishing history and it was a landmark in the deconstruction of that blemish on Malaysian history. Just as it helped to free the minds of Malaysian voters at the 2008 general elections, the author hopes that the publication of this new edition will further liberate more Malaysian minds before the next (13th) general elections due very soon.


“May 13: A Sunday morning well-spent at the book launch. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dr Kua had penned a very important book – indeed, to my mind, he has made “publishing history” of sorts. I came out of the book launch feeling only half-satisfied with the discussion that took place and half-pessimistic about the future. It did not, however, diminish my appreciation of Dr Kua’s book as an important contribution to my understanding of Malaysia’s contemporary history, and for such interesting and thoughtful presentations by the guest speakers.”

l  Rustam A. Sani, Suara Rakyat 13 May 2007 

“Dr Kua Kia Soong’s new book may look like a dry academic thesis, but it moves at a cracking pace. It is also undoubtedly one of the most important books ever published on Malaysian society and politics. May 13 made this country, or more accurately, it un-made it. This was the book that HAD to be written…To paraphrase Falstaff, you are not only insightful in yourself, but inspire insight in others.”

l  N.Surendran, Malaysiakini 17 May2007

“A day after the book hit the shelves, three senators called for action to be taken against the book and Kua, while Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow said the ministry was studying the contents to decide on a course of action. Ten copies of the book have already been confiscated for “studying” by the Internal Security Ministry from a major bookstore chain in Kuala Lumpur.”

o   Andrew Ong, Malaysiakini 18 May 2007                

            “Lim considers the book important as he described it as “unbiased

            information” on the May 13 incident which the government must


l  Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Malaysiakini 15May2007

            “The allegations made in the book could stoke racial sentiments…I have been told that (Kua) named certain leaders as people responsible for the riots. That of course can lead to all kinds of unpredictable responses since the leaders he named were apparently not Chinese but Malay. It creates a difficult situation in our fragile society…Khoo said the authorities should have monitored the progress of the book earlier rather than reacting after the book was published…But then people will be unhappy that such actions curb freedom of speech, which is a very relative thing. People have to be careful in dealing with such matters.”

l  Prof Khoo Kay Khim, Malaysiakini 15 May2007

“Why can’t we read declassified files of BOTH the Special Branch AND foreign diplomatic intelligence at the same time and compare them to get an even fuller and more accurate picture? Why must we always think in terms of ‘this-OR-that’, not ‘this-AND-that’ (get some tuition on Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking, Prof!)? If the Special Branch was so knowledgeable at that time, why couldn’t the authorities prevent the outbreak of the riots?”

l  James Wong Wing-On, OnlineFriday 18 May 2007

“Banning a controversial book on the May 13 riots will violate the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Federal Constitution… In an age where information flows freely, constitutional freedoms must be honoured rather than breached. Laws and regulations which purport to grant power to the state to proscribe publications arbitrarily must only be used under the most exceptional circumstances…The book may indeed be controversial but if the government does not agree with the issues raised, it should refute them in an open and transparent manner…More significantly, banning this book will reinforce its thesis that the May 13 riots were indeed caused by a coup plotted by certain leaders to oust (then premier) Tunku Abdul Rahman.”           

l  PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysiakini 17 May 2007

            “(Banning the book) is an act that is definitely contrary to the open and transparent society that our prime minister wants promoted… dissent and contrarian views must be allowed on any issue, event and incident if Malaysia is to progress towards a developed status. Kua’s book on the May 13 racial riots is based on erstwhile classified records and information that have since been declassified. It is not therefore a book that is concocted but is based on historical records. Of course, one can disagree with his analysis and viewpoints. If so, one should then engage in a debate with him. But at no time must his book be confiscated and the public denied access to his book.

l  Dr Toh Kin Woon, 18 May 2007

“If the government chooses instead to ban the book, it will effectively confirm the claims made in the book, amongst others, that the May 13 riot was a coup to remove the Tunku. If this is a truth that Malaysians cannot take after 39 years, then the government has failed for 39 years to lead the nation towards progress and integration.”

l  Civil Rights Committee & Writers Alliance Media Independence  17 May 2007

            “Dr Kua Kia Soong’s book provides a channel for our peoples to genuinely investigate the matters surrounding May 13 in the interests of nation-building and democratic discussion. It also serves as an important reference point for academic research. Dr. Kua is an intellectual who has shown his social responsibility and courage to make Malaysia a better place to live in.

l  Youth For Change (Y4C) , 16 May 2007

    “Spokesperson Hasmi Hashim said though the incident was deemed sensitive, continued efforts to re-examine facts based on latest researches to obtain new interpretations of the tragic event must be encouraged.”

o                         Komunite Seni Jalan Telawi,  Malaysiakini 19 May 2007

      “As with Kua’s earlier works, it is written in a passionate style that drives the narrative forward with a sense of urgency, so much so that reading it was a pleasure. I think that this is an important book. It raises issues and questions that challenge the official story of the riots and it adds new information that is vital if we as a nation are ever to truly understand that horrible period of our history.      

l  Azmi Sharom, The Star 31 May 2007

“I was taken aback by the statement of Dr Kua Kia Soong at the launching of his new book on the May 13, 1969 incident based on the reports of British Embassy personnel to the British Foreign Office that the incident was engineered by Umno members who were out to topple Tunku Abdul Rahman. He asked for a commission to be set up to get to the truth. Shockingly he is alleged to have added that, unless this is done or unless the truth is out, there cannot be national unity or something to that effect. At 38 years old, I think this is too “ancient” an animosity to be allowed to hold national unity to ransom. Should the past be allowed to destroy our future?

l  Tun Hanif Omar, Sunday Star 3 June 2007

“The ministry has examined the book and decided that it will not be banned under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. Prime Minister and Internal Security Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the book did not contain elements that could jeopardize national security. The police have never seized the book or issued any warning on it.”

l    The Sun, 19 June 2007

“Shamsul said that based purely on news reports on the matter, he did not technically consider the book academic material…Two conditions must be met – there must be two referees and that the book must be published by a recognised publisher of academic material.”

l  Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, Malaysiakini 15 May 2007

“Keep up the good work Soong …Remember the definition of “academic” is:

‘…any piece of writing that is understood by fewer than two people’.”

l  Dr. Paul Kelemen, Manchester University UK, 19 May 2007

“Thank you for sending us your article on the 1969 race riots in Malaysia. The article is a very important record that certainly needs to be published and we would be pleased to do so in RACE &CLASS. We will publish your article in the January 2008 edition of the journal. Warmest wishes.”

l  Arun Kundnani, Deputy Editor RACE & CLASS, Institute of Race Relations, London,  25 June 2007

“Dear Mr Kua, I have not had the pleasure of shaking your hand. I read your book in between trekking in the highlands of Ecuador last month.  Most impressed with the frankness. You are a courageous man. I was in KL during May 13 teaching in the University Hospital. One day, should we have the karma to meet there are one or two non-documented tales I can tell you. We were in the thick of it. Congratulations.”

o      Kimboo, Sydney, 24 Mar 2008

           “Popular Bookstore will continue to sell a controversial book on the May 13 race riots despite indications that a ban could be imposed. Customers had snapped up the books the moment they were put on the shelves, said a company spokesperson who declined to be named. However, he declined to reveal the number of books sold.

            “This book has gained a lot of response from readers. The first shipment has already finished in such a short time and we already have a second order, which will reach next week,” he said.

            On Wednesday, Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow said bookstores were permitted to sell the book, ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian riots of 1969’, written by academic Dr Kua Kia Soong.  The ministry is mulling over whether to ban the book. Checks by Malaysiakini yesterday found that two major bookstores have stopped selling the book – MPH Bookstores and Kinokuniya Bookstore. However, Popular stated that it would continue to sell the book unless it is banned.

            An MPH spokesperson, who also declined to be named, told Malaysiakini yesterday that it made the decision after officers from the ministry confiscated copies of the book on Tuesday. However checks today revealed that MPH had taken fresh orders for the book from the publisher. Kinokuniya said it pulled the books off the shelves due to bad publicity.

            “The book has created a lot of controversy in the newspapers. We pulled the book off the shelves voluntarily,” said manager Ebby Wong.

            “At first, we thought this book was just a normal history book, or a journal. That’s why we ordered only 30 copies,” she said.

            Wong said when the book was put on the shelves on Tuesday, all 30 books were sold within three hours.

            “However, we find that the book is a cause of much controversy, as seen in the dailies. Therefore, we decided it was better to stop the sale of the books. We are imposing self-censorship,” she added.

            She said the bookstore will continue selling the book if the Ministry makes “a clear announcement” that the book is not banned. Wong said she did not have a chance to read the book. According to one of the ministry guidelines, the government has the right to confiscate materials found to cause racial disharmony.”

o   Malaysiakini, 18 May2007