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Chinese education in Malaya : one dimension of the problems of Malayan motherhood Hsu, William Chang Nang

Abstract

In 1957 Malaya achieved her independence from the British. This was a triumph of racial cooperation. The new Malayan nation is above all an experiment in continuing racial cooperation. It involves the coming together of peoples of diverse languages, religions, customs, value systems — in a word, of diverse cultures — in an effort to master their future. The experiment is beset with problems which the interaction of diverse cultures beyond a superficial level is bound to create, and it consists in efforts to resolve or at least to minimise conflict and to form new relations. The basic problems in the experiment are how to resolve or minimize conflict and what new relations to form. This exercise studies one dimension of the problems of the experiment, namely, Chinese education. Because education is closely bound up with language and cultural values, it throws up the full complexity of the problems of the experiment and offers a rewarding study of the nature, that is, the-how-and-the-what, of the experiment. Chinese education is here taken to mean education in the Chinese language rather than education of the Chinese people in Malaya. The distinction is that while most Chinese in Malaya have been educated in the Chinese language, there have been many Chinese who have been predominantly or entirely English-educated. This delineation of the subject of the study does not necessarily imply that the problem of Malayan unity is limited to the Chinese whose education has been in the Chinese language, although between the Chinese-educated and the English-educated the problem may be different. However, education in the Chinese language has presented an acute problem in efforts to create a Malayan unity, and it well deserves a close study. The study covers the period mainly from 1946 to 1962 when Chinese education first became an acute problem for Malayan unity and when a Malayan national education system into which Chinese education was to be integrated could be said to have been established. However, the roots of the problem had been planted long before the Pacific War, and these have been recounted in some detail so as to explain the earlier structure of Chinese education in Malaya before it was called upon to adapt itself to change. For this purpose Malaya in this study covers the area formerly known as British Malaya, comprising the Malay States and the Straits Settlements, including Singapore, until the latter was made into a separate colony after World War II, after which the term refers to what was to become the Federation of Malaya. The colonial situation in which the Chinese in Malaya were segregated socially and politically from the greater society, and the Chinese nationalism with which Chinese schools in Malaya had been saturated and which strongly drew the Chinese in Malaya towards China, have been treated as twin roots of the problem of Chinese education for the purpose of this study. This was a cultural-political problem which, in the context of post-war Malaya in which the British were relinquishing their rule, severely tested the ability of the Malayans to cooperate in order to master their destiny. The British colonial authorities had failed to overcome it because they were obliged, by their commitment to the Malays, to approach Malayan unity through a division of the problem. The Pacific War, the passing of British colonialism, and the rise of Communist China have been factors encouraging the Chinese towards acquiring a local identity, while the advent of independence, the rough balance of forces within the Malayan polity, and the moderate and enlightened leadership of the first generation of Malayan national leaders, have made for racial cooperation on the basis of a compromise of the claims of the various communities. This cooperation has been dictated by necessity rather than by choice, and it has been reached only after hard bargaining between the Malays and the Chinese. The whole gamut of the process of this bargaining and the need for compromise are brought into play in the efforts to establish a national system of education which would resolve the problem of Chinese education. The solution of the problem of Chinese education within the national system of education so far has indicated that a complete assimilation of the Chinese into Malay ways can only be a distant goal. The short-term practical objectives of the Government's educational policy have been directed towards hastening the growth of Malay economic strength and delaying the dilution of their political power. This is done by elevating the status of education in the Malay language and by enforcing a limited but increasing degree of acculturation of Malay characteristics on the Chinese, while permitting a measure of cultural plurality. In this way education in Malay is weighted with an economic value and a symbolic significance in the national system. The national system of education could be said to have been established by 1962. However, the Government's educational policy continues to divide the various communities, and the future of Malayan education promises to be full of controversy which only time can resolve.

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