Malaysians are Chinese

May 13 riot in Kuala Lumpur : Chasing the Chinese

Amok: from the Malay word “amuk” for angry or furious. "Meng-amuk" denotes a spontaneous and murderous attack against bystanders; the warlike rampage was once a combat tactic used by Malay warriors who pounced on their opponents with contempt for death.


Muda Abdu Aziz Street is located in the center of Kuala Lumpur, just north of the Petronas Towers, those huge twin towers that are now the landmark of the Malaysian capital. In the 1960s, the street still bears its name from the British colonial era that had just ended: Princes Road. In the early evening of May 13, 1969, a Tuesday, a group of Malays brought a truck to a stop and set it on fire. Then the men knock over a taxi and set it on fire as well. When the driver tries to climb outside, he is massacred with a machete and thrown back into the car. This is how the British Asia expert John Slimming describes it in his book "Malaysia - Death of a Democracy".

The events on Princes Road are just the beginning. In the next 24 hours, the government loses control of the city. Violence is spreading. As night falls, the sky is lit with fire from blazing cars and burning buildings. Police and fire brigade sirens can be heard continuously. His compatriots should take care of themselves, says the prime minister in a radio address, audibly close to tears. The central hospital is urgently asking for blood donations. People with mutilations, stab wounds and gunshot wounds are brought in.

What most victims have in common: They are members of the Chinese minority.

The ethnic tensions still exist today

It is estimated that the riots of 1969 killed almost 1,000 people. The official figures are lower, but are considered to be falsified. The anger breaks out so suddenly and so brutally that the events are often described as a collective rampage. They are changing the young Malaysia profoundly - and even 50 years later they remain a sensitive topic that is hardly touched in the country itself. The "incident of May 13th" is spoken of in a sober manner.

This is not an isolated case. The ethnic tensions that formed the basis of the 1969 pogrom persist throughout Southeast Asia to this day and have repeatedly resulted in violence. There are Chinese minorities in every state in the region, from Burma to Indonesia. In Thailand the Chinese have assimilated strongly, elsewhere they tend to live among themselves. In total, there are around 35 million people. Often they make up a tiny fraction, but in Malaysia they make up 24 percent of the population.

And they are almost always economically extremely successful, from small traders to corporate owners. US author Amy Chua, law professor at Yale University, wrote in her 2003 bestseller “World on Fire” that her dominant market position is just as typical for the region as the resentment of the local majority The precarious role of the overseas Chinese is just one example of how the interplay of unbridled capitalism and majority rule can pose a threat to “market-dominated minorities”, be it the Lebanese in West Africa or the Jews in Russia.

The Malays felt like they were economically disadvantaged

Chua, who achieved international fame as the self-proclaimed “tiger mother” with a book on harsh Asian parenting methods, comes from a Chinese family with roots in the Philippines. There “millions of Filipinos work for the Chinese; almost no Chinese work for a Filipino ”. In “World on Fire” she describes the murder of her aunt in Manila. Her own employees killed the 58-year-old out of greed. A case that the relatives accepted resignedly because it is apparently nothing special for the local Chinese upper class. The noticeably disinterested police soon stopped their investigations.

In 1969, the rioters in Malaysia loudly chanted “Chinese out!”. The army should calm the situation. Since the troop consists almost entirely of Malays, they sometimes do not come to the aid of the Chinese, who are holed up behind closed door bars and lowered shutters. On the other hand, there are many documented cases of Malay civilians helping Chinese neighbors to hide.

The unrest was preceded by the third parliamentary election in the state, which became independent in 1957. As expected, the “alliance”, which tries to make ends meet for the different ethnic groups, has won. It includes three parties, each representing one of the most important groups in the population: the Muslim Malay, the Chinese and, as the numerically smallest community, the Indians. But at the same time Chinese-dominated opposition parties have done surprisingly well. Just as the Malays feel economically disadvantaged, the Chinese feel that they are politically powerless; As early as 1965, the conflict contributed to the split-off of the largely Chinese Singapore, where there were also clashes between the ethnic groups. The supporters of the opposition parties are now celebrating triumphantly, also provocatively - at least that's how some Malays feel. A formulation will later make the rounds among the rioters: The Chinese had to be shown where their place was.

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