Malaysian Studies

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  • Topic: Overseas Chinese, China, Chinese language
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  • Published : January 25, 2013
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MALAYSIAN CHINESE ETHNOGRAPHY Introduction The Chinese are quickly becoming world players in areas of business, economics, and technology. At least one in five persons on the planet are of a Chinese background. Chinese are immigrating all over the globe at a rate that may eclipse any historical figure. These immigrants, known as overseas Chinese, are exerting tremendous influence on the communities they live in. This ethnography will focus specifically on those overseas Chinese living in urban Malaysia. Malaysian Chinese have developed a unique culture that is neither mainland Chinese nor Malay. In order to propose a strategy for reaching them with the gospel several historical and cultural considerations must first be examined. This paper will provide a history of Chinese immigration to Malaysia, then explore the unique Chinese Malay culture, and finally will present a strategy for reaching the Malaysian Chinese with a culturally appropriate method. It will be demonstrated that a successful strategy will take into account the unique culture of Malaysian Chinese, including reshaping the animistic worldview, finding a solution to the practice of ancestor worship by redeeming the cultural rituals, and delivering biblical teaching through a hybrid oral/literate style. History of Immigration Malaysia has long been influenced by travelling cultures and neighboring nations. Halfway between India and China, Malaysia has been influenced by both. Historically, India has had more influence on Malaysia than has China. The primary reason is that the Chinese have

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2 long been a self-sustaining empire, seeing themselves as the center of the world (zhong guo) and were not prone to long sea voyages. So, although China grew in power, much of the culture was contained within her borders. Meanwhile, until the 16th century, Malaysia was ruled by a series of kingdoms and empires. Control of the land and surrounding seas changed hands depending on who had the strongest army at the time. By the mid-16th century the strongest forces yet seen, the colonial powers, had arrived.1 First came the Portuguese and then the Dutch, and finally the British at the end of the 18th century. Prior to, and then concurrently with, the advent of the Colonial powers, Chinese people and their culture began to trickle into other countries, eventually coming to Malaysia.2 Chinese trading communities began forming in Malaysian port cities. As long as trading prospered, the cities remained, though none grew large. Hundreds of years passed with little permanent Chinese influence on the indigenous Malay people. The tide began to turn when the British founded Singapore and the Penang region of what was to become Malaysia in the early 1800s. Industrial centers formed and the Chinese began immigrating in large numbers.3 The largest draw for Chinese immigration came with the opening of tin mines around 1850. The exploding popularity of canned food in Europe drove the demand for tin high. More permanent Chinese communities began to be formed as workers flooded in. At this time, unlike during previous eras, Chinese customs, religion, and language began to take root in Malaysia.4 Jaime Koh and Stephanie Ho, Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2009), 9. N.J. Ryan, The Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore: A History from Earliest Times to 1966 (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 4. 3 4 2 1

Ibid., 121. Ibid., 124.

3 Just before the dawn of World War Two the Chinese found themselves flourishing on the Malay peninsula. Life was not to proceed smoothly for long however. The Chinese population of Malaysia suffered extensively during the Japanese occupation from 1942-45. The Japanese performed the Sook Ching (purification through purge) where all Chinese males aged 18-50 were systematically rounded up. Each person was interrogated and all anti-Japanese elements were executed. Many thousands of Chinese men were killed, most...
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