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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dangerous moments : an oral history of the May 1969 riots in Kuala Lumpur Chia, Stanley Leng Hon


This study foregrounds the experiences of urban Malaysians during the May 1969 riots in Kuala Lumpur. Based on oral life history interviews, it takes a microhistory approach to argue that Malaysians cooperated with each other across lines of race, class, and religion at life-threatening moments, even though the violence was primarily one between members of different races. The study differs from previous scholarly work, most of which have taken a top-down approach to the riots and builds on more recent scholarly work. There are two primary sites of inquiry: neighbourhoods and cinemas in Kuala Lumpur, and the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. Accounts shared by Malaysian cinemagoers who were stuck at theatres demonstrate how quickly racial identification was done by rioters to decide between friends and foes. On a neighbourhood level, Malaysians provided refuge to their neighbours even if they were of different class or religion. Narratives by hospital workers and volunteers problematize our understanding of the violence’s scale, temporality, and spatiality. They also help us see how Malaysians helped each other across racial lines, as well as the varied enforcement of the state of emergency promulgated following the riots. Understanding the riots from the perspective of these particular Malaysian interviewees not only allows us to gain a more nuanced understanding of what happened during the riots, but also permits us to hear the voices of riot victims, some of whom were speaking about their experience for the first time.

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