'My country, the land where my blood is spilled': oral history of Chinese-language media professionals in Malaysia.
Malaysia consists of three major ethnic groups, namely, Malays (Bumiputera), Chinese (Cina) and Indians. Malaysia established itself as an independent country after the Second World War, having been an English colony before the war. (2) According to the Malaysian Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristic Report (2010), the Malays are the predominant ethnic group in the country, comprising 67.4% of Malaysian citizens, while Chinese Malaysians are the second largest group, with a population of 6,390,932, accounting for 24.6% of the national total. Although the ratio of Chinese to the total population in Malaysia has decreased from the 35% it reached during the Independence period, it remains one of highest in the world, ranking second after Singapore. (3)
Malaysia has been practicing a Malays-first policy. According to Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution, the Malaysian government bestows several privileges on Malays. For example, Malays enjoy preferential quotas in relation to university places, access to scholarships, positions as civil servants and so on. In 1968, the Malay language was designated the official language of Malaysia. In 1970, the Malaysian government started practicing the New Economy Policy, designed to help Malays gain more power and leverage in commerce, and to enable them to take leadership in the economic sphere out of the hands of the Chinese. (4)
Chinese have lived in Malaysia for generations and have made a great contribution to its national development that cannot be neglected. After independence, Malaysia devoted itself to constructing a national state and hoped that its citizens would become loyal to the national state rather than their original ethnic group. In 1955, the newly-established People's Republic of China abandoned its dual citizenship policy for ethnic Chinese living overseas. (5) In this context of political change in Malaysia and China, the Chinese in Malaysia experienced a historical change of identity, with their feelings of loyalty shifting from their country of origin (China) to their host country of Malaysia. As of 1959, 750,000 Chinese in Malaysia had become Malaysian citizens (6). The status of Chinese in Malaysia became more complicated with the involvement of the Taiwan issue in the Malaysia-China relationship. As there had been a long war between the Malaysian authorities and the Malaysian communist party, the Malaysian government maintained diplomatic ties with Taiwan until 1974, when Malaysia and China officially established diplomatic relations. However, Malaysia continued to practice a pro-Malay policy. Therefore, Chinese Malaysians were trapped in a dilemma; on the one hand, they faced discrimination for being "non-indigenous"? on the other hand, they had to identify with the Malaysian culture and with Malaysia as the national state. They had experienced an identity transformation at various levels, including the cultural, ethnic community and national levels. Research has found that Chinese Malaysians harbored deep emotions regarding Malaysia as a national identity. They clearly declared their national identity, saying "We are Malaysians, not Chinese (zhongguo ren). (1)" However, they also identified strongly with their Chinese ancestry and Chinese culture. Over the years and under heavy pressure of cultural assimilation, they strived to preserve their cultural roots and community identity by devoting persistent efforts in three key fields: Chinese associations, Chinese education and Chinese media. (7)
When Chinese Malaysians experienced this identity transition, Chinese media also experienced a transition from overseas Chinese media to ethnic Chinese media. As mass media serving Chinese communities, Chinese-language media in Malaysia strongly influenced the Chinese identity transition. Chinese no longer dreamed of returning to their homeland and instead developed loyalty to Malaysia. Peng (2005) pointed out that the Chinese press in Malaysia contributed significantly to assisting the Chinese community in this identity transformation. The Chinese press insisted on ethnic reconciliation, fought for the rights of Chinese-Malaysian citizens, and lead the Chinese to reconstruct the national state with other ethnic communities. (8)
During and after the transition period, how did Chinese journalists work? As a major force in preserving Chinese cultural roots, what did they experience? How did they follow Chinese media careers? To what extend did they enable the Chinese media to take a deep root in Malaysia and thus become both an important vehicle for public opinion in Malaysia and a strong bastion for fortifying the Chinese community and assisting Chinese in re-constructing their identities? How did they identify themselves with their jobs? This oral history research aims to answer these questions by collecting individual life stories of media workers and presenting them in their own testimonials.
Chinese-language Media in Malaysia and Their Predicament
Chinese-language media in Malaysia play a pivotal role in the development of overseas Chinese-language media generally. First, Malaysia is the cradle of the overseas Chinese-language press. On August 5, 1815, Chinese Monthly Magazine was incorporated in Malacca, igniting the development of overseas Chinese-language media. Second, Chinese-language media in Malaysia are well-established and have a broad range of readers. Malaysia is home to 6.25 million Chinese Malaysians, 87% (approximately 5.22 million) of whom are fluent in Chinese and 77% (approximately 4.02 million) of whom are loyal readers of Chinese-language media. (9) Besides, Chinese-language media are enjoying prosperous development in Malaysia, which is one of the countries with the highest number of overseas Chine se -language newspapers. Each day, 16 daily newspapers are published in Malaysia, with sales exceeding 1 million copies. In West Malaysia, the four Chinese-language newspapers, namely the Sin Chew Jit Poh, China Press, Guang Ming Daily, and Oriental Daily News are estimated to have a combined daily circulation of 866,917 copies, exceeding the circulation of 813,994 for local English-language newspapers. If Nanyang Siang Pau and Kwong Wah Yit Poh are included, the combined circulation of Chinese-language newspapers does not lag too far behind the circulation of 2,171,761 enjoyed by Malay-language newspapers. In Sarawak and Sabah, located in East Malaysia, the circulation of Chinese-language newspapers exceeds the combined circulation of local English-language and Malay-language newspapers. (10) As the largest Chinese-language media group in Malaysia, Sin Chew Media Corporation's Sin Chew Jit Poh and Guang Ming Dailey have a combined market share of more than 60% in the Chinese-language newspaper sector in Malaysia. (11) Details of newspaper distribution are shown in Table 1 (Huang Hongbin, Wang Hui, 2013):
Table 1: The Distribution of Major Chinese-language Newspapers in Malaysia Place of The Names of Major Chinese-language Newspapers in Distribution Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Sin ChewJit Poh, China Press, Nanyang Siang Pau, Oriental Daily News Penang Kwong Wah Yit Poh, Guang Ming Daily, Sabah Overseas Chinese Daily News, Asia Times, Merdeka Daily News, Morning Post Sarawak International Times, Berita Petang Sarawak, See Hua Daily News, United Daily News
Most importantly, Malaysia has replaced Singapore as the centre of Chinese culture in Southeast Asia. In Chinese-dominated Singapore, the Chinese language and Chinese-language media have gradually been marginalized, causing Singapore to lose its position as the hub of Chinese culture in the region. In contrast, comprehensive and systematic Chinese-language education has been preserved in Malaysia, with Chinese-language newspapers gradually increasing their influence. (12) Passionate about preserving the Chinese culture and Chinese-language education, Chinese-language media professionals in Malaysia have devoted themselves to the Chinese-language media enterprise in the face of institutional discrimination, forging a pillar to unite Chinese Malaysians and maintain Chinese cultural heritage.
Since the establishment of Malaysia, Chinese-language media have encountered many difficulties in their fight to survive and develop. When the nation was established, the liberal concept of media independence, i.e., that the media are independent of the government as the fifth estate, was not fully accepted in Malaysia. On the contrary, the government enjoyed the supreme right to control the media. The media in Malaysia thus were asked to cooperate closely with the government to jointly promote national, social and economic development. (9) The Malaysian government issued a number of regulations restricting the media, including the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act, and Communications and Multimedia Act. Pursuant to these acts, Chinese-language media had to renew their publishing permits each year. Simultaneously, Chinese-language media were barred from making defamatory remarks about the various Malaysian royal families or the Malay language and also from objecting to the privileges enjoyed by the Malay people. Political infighting could also bring trouble to Chinese-language media. For example, in 1987, during the wave of arrests that accompanied Operasi Lalang (2), the Home Office revoked the publishing permit of Sin Chew Jit Poh, forcing its closure.
The status of Chinese-language education is closely linked to the rise and fall of Chinese-language media. The decline of Chinese-language education will lead directly to a reduction in numbers of both Chinese-language media professionals and readers, ultimately jeopardizing the development of Chinese-language media. Soon after the independence of Malaysia, the Malaysian government issued regulations under which government subsidies were only to be granted to schools that taught in the Malay language. The result was that 78 Chinese-language high schools opted to teach in the Malay language to receive government subsidies. These schools were called national-type high schools. Only 60 Chinese-language high schools insisted on continuing to teach in the Chinese language. These were called independent high schools. Without government subsidies, these independent schools relied for their survival on private funding from the various Chinese communities. There were also more than 1,200 independent primary schools teaching in the Chinese language. (13) In recent decades, with the rapid economic development of China, Chinese-language education has gradually gained popularity in Malaysia. Now, besides Chinese Malaysians, more and more Malays and Indians are also sending their children to attend Chinese-language schools.
Although Chinese-language newspapers are thriving in Malaysia, Chine se -language media professionals in Malaysia still face an identity crisis. As Suryadinata Leo once pointed out, the Chinese community in Southeast Asia is a living environment situated at a defined distance from the entity of "China", and the "Chinese identity" poses a threat to the survival of both individual Chinese and the Chinese community. As Southeast Asian countries began to construct nation states based on local mainstream ethnic groups, the Chinese identity became a label of "otherness". (14) Therefore, the Chinese identity not only includes a link with China in terms of blood, ethnic background and cultural roots, but also includes locally grown Chinese meanings developed through interaction and fusion with the local socio-cultural context following its separation from "China", forming a social group based on emotion, cognition, memory, myth, history, group identity, imagination, desire and a range of metaphors and implications. (15)
During cultural communication, Chinese-language media play a complex role in the construction of Chinese identity, not only providing public opinion support for the development of the nation state and the harmonious coexistence of various ethnic groups, but also fighting for the interests of and protecting the cultural heritage of local Chinese communities. They must seek a delicate balance between national identity and ethnic and cultural identity, especially in the face of assimilation pressure. Against the backdrop of accelerated globalization, the growing influence of the Internet, and intensifying cultural conflicts, Chinese-language media and Chinese-language media professionals face much bigger challenges than ever before, highlighting the significance of our study.
The current research is an oral history project and four Chinese media professionals in Malaysia (See Table 2) were invited for in-depth interviews. (16) The research involved the collection and documentation of interviews according to oral testimony. Additionally, Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT) and Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA) were adopted to refine the key semantic context. All the interviews were conducted in the Chinese language. (3)
Kvale's model (1996) of a complete interview process is adopted in the current research, which follows the procedure below:
1. Interviewing: interview four media professionals working in Chinese-language media in Malaysia individually with a semi-structured questionnaire and record the interviews using an electronic device.
2. Transcribing: Transcribe each individual interview word by word, including function words, modal particles, repetition, etc. These transcriptions are then kept as the raw materials employed in the analysis.
3. Verifying: Delete meaningless words from the first transcription e.g., modal particles and repetition and paraphrase messy sentences.
4. Verifying: Send the second draft to the interviewees and ask them to check the accuracy of the information, e.g., people or place names in the transcriptions. Slips of the tongue or inaccuracies may occur during interviews. This step helps increase the reliability and validity of the research.
5. Verifying: Verify the improved draft by comparing it with other existing documents (articles about interviewees). Any contradictions among different documents should be judged to clarify the truth lies. Compare the transcripts of each individual interviewee against those of other interviewees. Since some interviewees experience the same things, comparison among different interviewees involved in the research will realize a much more complete picture of a single issue.
6. Verifying: Send the final draft to the interviewees for another check and invite them to sign the Oral History Agreement.
7. Analyzing: Perform textual analysis of all transcripts with SCT's FTA to determine the meaningful themes of the collected materials in relation to subjects' identity issues.
8. Reporting: Answer the research questions using the gathered materials.
The Stories of Chinese-language Media Professionals in Malaysia
The life stories of these four Chinese-language media professionals are representative of the identity transformation experienced by three generations of Chinese-language media professionals in Malaysia. Through FTA of the four oral histories, we have discovered several representative and identity-related fantasy themes: 1) my country, my nation, 2) I love the Chinese language and have enjoyed it my whole life, 3) I am proud and believe we are respected, and so on. These themes recur in the stories of these four interviewees, but their individual experiences differ due to the different environments and eras in which they live. To achieve consistency between the stories, we have arranged them chronologically. Each story epitomizes an era, and is associated with a general theme. Notably, the last Chinese-language media worker is more open-minded about national identity than the other three: "The world is a global village". This symbolic theme is not found in the stories of the other three Chinese-language media professionals. (17)
The four Chinese-language media professionals were all born in Malaysia, and their experiences represent a persistent struggle to carry out ethnic cultural communication by three generations of Chinese-language media workers in Malaysia. They are not "others" to Malaysia. This is where their ancestors and they themselves have spilled their blood and shed their sweat. Meanwhile, they have witnessed the continuous battle and ultimate prosperity of Chinese-language media in Malaysia.
Theme I: From Overseas Chinese to Malaysian Chinese: "My Country, My Nation"
Born in 1929, Huang Jian Bo is the eldest among the four Chinese-language media professionals and is a second-generation Malaysian Chinese. In the late 1940s, during British rule, she joined Radio Malaya as a Chinese-language radio presenter. Following the independence of Malaysia, she continued her work at Radio Televisyen Malaysia and was awarded the Most Esteemed Order of the Defender of the Realm by Malaysia's head of state. From colonial rule to the Japanese invasion, from post-war unrest to Malaysian independence, she experienced it all. The process of transitioning from an overseas Chinese to a Malaysian Chinese is a proud journey filled with hardship and sadness.
"For our generation, this process is an adjustment of an era. In the past twenty-plus years, when we said that we missed the 'motherland', the 'motherland' indicated a distant China. However, given that we chose to live in Malaysia, our motherland should be the land we stood on." "(This process of adjustment) is less difficult as we didn't suffer much. We just need to accept it with some expectations."
Huang became addicted to radio while listening to broadcasts during the Second World War.
"(I) had a chance to listen to All Indian Radio and there was a Chinese-language channel broadcasting news to Southeast Asia. Tan Gong Han, a Malaysian Chinese leader and Malaysian Senator, fled to India and became a temporary broadcaster there. The person in charge of Mandarin broadcasting was called Li Xiaoyin (4) ... At that time, I'd listen to this Chinese-language station at fixed times. Li had a crisp clear voice. I was 13 or 14 at that time and thought to myself: If only I could do that. I guess that's when I became addicted to media."
A fluent Cantonese speaker as a result of her home environment, Huang can also speak Mandarin fluently and accurately due to years of work as a Mandarin broadcaster. She first learnt to speak Mandarin from her two brothers, who were sent back to Guangzhou to study at Sun Yat-sen University after graduating from high school in Malaya. During the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia, Huang dropped out of school for four years and learnt Chinese from her brothers.
"My brothers taught me how to read the Chinese classics in Cantonese. Now I can still read classical poetry in Cantonese, such as The First and Second Ode on the Red Cliff."
"At that time, there was hardly any entertainment. My brothers bought a lot of novels and magazines in Guangzhou. I would read those novels even when it was too dark to see clearly. This soon led to me becoming near-sighted. We had lots of books then and I would read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber. I would also listen to the radio. The radio was quite big at that time. "
"(The work at the radio station) was quite a story. I had a distant cousin whose son (my nephew) was already telling stories of The Records of Three Kingdoms and Romance of the Three Kingdoms at Radio Malaya. They said they needed another person to tell stories. I immediately put my name forward and got the job. The radio station I worked at was the Kuala Lumpur Substation of Radio Malaya, whose headquarters were located in Singapore during the period of colonial rule. As we were a substation, we could only broadcast once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The establishment of the substation was a means to connect with local audiences, with all news rebroadcasted from Radio Malaya in Singapore. 'Now we'll connect you to Radio Malaya in Singapore to listen to some news in Cantonese', then we would resume broadcasting via our substation. There were local children's programs, local dramas and music performed by local bands. If there was someone from the Cantonese Guild Hall who could sing Cantonese Opera and someone from the Foochow Guild Hall who could sing Nanyin Music ... they would be invited to broadcast live. The substation was dedicated to establishing a connection with local communities and had quite a limited scale. Therefore, I was only a part-time broadcaster at the beginning."
Huang began to tell Chinese and foreign fairy tales at the radio station under the stage name "Aunt Jie". In 1949, a commercial radio station called Rediffusion was launched in Kuala Lumpur and she became one of its first full-time broadcasters. In 1952, she started to work for government-run radio stations. At that time, the British colonial government was engaged in fierce fighting with Malayan communist guerrillas, (18) and the British colonial government implemented a new village policy focused on moving people from the jungle to designated new villages. As most of the people living in the jungle were Chinese, the British colonial government launched Chinese-language broadcasting in seven dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Amoy, Foochowese, Hainanese, Teochew). These Chinese-language programs were designed to help the British colonial government with their propaganda.
"The British colonial government was quite good at managing people under its colonial control and it needed some kind of a connection with the people, especially in times of Emergency, and so chose to use radio stations to broadcast government messages to the illiterate population of new villages. Thus it began broadcasting news in seven Chinese dialects."
"They once did a program to report on the functions of helicopters during the Emergency. Someone had to experience a helicopter ride. As they were short of staff, they asked me if I would do it. I was quite intrigued. At that time, flying by plane was a rarity. I thought to myself, since I couldn't afford a plane ride, a helicopter ride was not a bad alternative. Since it was part of my job and since I was young, I agreed to do it. Before the flight, they asked me to sign a disclaimer to the effect that I was solely responsible for my safety in case of any accidents. I hesitated for a moment and then signed out of curiosity. I didn't tell my mother about it. Luckily, I had a smooth ride."
The heyday of Huang's career occurred around the independence of Malaysia. Despite having no college degree, she was still qualified to receive training at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) prior to the independence of Malaysia in 1957. As she recalls:
"When I returned from the U.K., the moment when I got off the plane and set foot on the land, I experienced a special feeling: This is my country, my nation."
In 1959, the substation set up its own news desk in Kuala Lumpur and stopped simply rebroadcasting the programs of Radio Malaya in Singapore. At this point the task of setting up the news desk was handed to Huang. Following the establishment of the news desk, she was put in charge of the Chinese-language team. Huang reported this as quite a memorable period:
"(The first radio plays) were from Hong Kong. Later on, we decided to train local talent, and so organized radio playwriting contests to discover potential talent ... We also organized some storey-telling contests to attract local broadcasting talent. During the early stage of our independent broadcasting, we organized a series of contests: story-telling, singing, playwriting, and patriotic song singing ... through which we discovered quite a number of talented individuals whom we trained. One could say we were training the second- and third-generation broadcasting talent. We discovered and trained local talent. Gradually, we began to stage local radio plays produced by local talent. Initially we had to rely on radio plays from Hong Kong ..."
However, as the balance of power in the new Malaysia gradually shifted to the largest population group, whose mother tongue was Malay, Huang and her Chinese-language broadcasting gradually became marginalized. As a broadcaster at the national radio station, Huang was a civil servant. As Malay was designated as the national language, each and every civil servant had to pass tests in Malay. Huang thus had to practice hard to improve her Malay language skills.
"For more than 20 years, (we) called Chinese our national language. But following independence, our national language became Bahasa, or Malay. For our generation, this was the major adjustment of our era. "
"(We used to speak) Malay when we went shopping at the farmers' market. Even my mother could speak some Malay. But we had to study the grammar of the Malay language to pass tests and I had to write official documents in Malay. Most meetings were in Malay, which could be mixed with some English. I was in a constant process of learning."
But Huang's passion for the Chinese language was not affected by this.
"... I still love China's literature, art and culture. Nothing can separate me from them. "
Huang retired in 1984. Now in her later years, reading and writing remain part of her daily routine.
Theme II: Write Editorials and Manage Newspapers: "I Love Chinese and have Enjoyed It My Whole Life"
Born in 1939, with the pseudonym Zhang Gong, Chong Chu Chem is a renowned chief writer in the Chinese-language newspaper sector in Malaysia and also a second-generation Malaysian Chinese. His experience highlighted the struggle of Chinese-language media professionals to create newspapers following the independence of Malaysia. Born in Jieyang, Guangdong Province, his father migrated to Malaysia to work as a traditional Chinese physician, but was killed by the Japanese army in 1942. Following his graduation from Chong Hwa High School in Kuala Lumpur, Chong was offered a scholarship to study literature in Taiwan. During his study in Taiwan, Chong won first prize at the National College Writing Contest in Fiction organized by Taiwan's Ministry of Education and married a Taiwanese. After returning to Malaysia following his graduation in 1962, Chong first worked as a Chinese-language teacher at Seremban Chung Hua High School.
Chong's media career started from his childhood dream of writing editorials:
"One of my high school teachers had a profound influence on me. He was a Chinese-language teacher who came from China and could play basketball. He couldn't return to China because of the war. He was quite cool and would stand with his hands on his belt during classes. And he would recite in Chinese. He was especially fond of me, and my decision to study literature was somewhat affected by this. What I admired most was the fact that he would go to the China Press each night to write editorials. As a literature enthusiast, I thought Mr. Zhang Bingzi was quite awesome. He changed the second half of my life. Following my graduation and before my departure to Taiwan, we ate dinner together. That night I told him, 'I'll follow your example and start writing editorials.' So I quit teaching and joined Kin Kwok Daily News. At that time, Kin Kwok Daily News was in Petaling. I joined the paper just to write editorials. Isn't that something special? "
There were fierce competition among Chinese-language newspapers in Malaysia in the 1970s and 1980s, and newspaper professionals earned lower salaries than high school teachers. Chong served as editor-in-chief and chief writer for Kin Kwok Daily News, Malayan Thung Pau Daily News, and Life Publishers Bhd. As he was recognized by Chiew Poh Chin, Malaysia's Chinese newspaper king, Chong not only realized his dream of writing editorials, but also became a successful newspaperman. In the 1980s, he set a sales record of 220,000 copies of Chinese-language newspapers in Malaysia.
"It's not that easy to secure a job (at a newspaper). As I was good at writing articles, many people knew my name. I started of as deputy editor-in-chief, then became editor-in-chief. Although I said I didn't want to serve in such a high position, the boss was quite fond of me and appointed me chairman of the editorial board, an even higher position than editor-in-chief. I also served as an executive director "
"Personally, I didn't care much about money. My salary as a teacher was RM800. When I first joined the newspaper my salary was only RM400. As I had to drive every day, there was practically no money left. In the 1970s, I joined Malayan Thung Pau Daily News, then Life Publishers Bhd and New Life Post. I worked for companies run by both the father (Chiew Swee Peow) and the son (Chiew Poh Chin)."
At that time, he had three columns: "Under the Lime Tree" (answering life questions from a Buddhist perspective), "Life Special" and "Night Talk", with each column taking up an entire page.
Malaysian Chinese during that period were most interested in kung fu novels and gossip news about movie stars from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Many local newspapers would receive newspapers from Hong Kong by air delivery and paste together articles based on this overseas content. But Chong refused to work in this way:
"In my opinion, articles pasted together were worthless and original articles were quite valuable. So I decided to go to Taiwan to find the 'Four Heavenly Kings'? Gu Long, Wo Longsheng, Zhuge Qingyun, and Qin Hong. "
Within quite a short period he increased the sales of his Chinese-language newspaper from 5,000 to 50,000 copies. Later on, Chiew Poh Chin asked him to set up New Life Post. Chong recalls this proud moment of his life as follows:
"Then he (Chiew Poh Chin) said, 'I'll put you in full charge as editor-in-chief.' At that time, credit cards were a rarity. In the 1980s, few people in Malaysia had credit cards, but my boss had one. He gave me a credit card and said, 'Spend whatever money you need to set up the newspaper ' That was in the early 1980s."
"Consequently, I used my abovementioned method of article buying. I'd buy as many articles as possible. I implemented a policy called contract authors. I would find some local correspondents and tell them, 'You write articles for me. I'll pay you RM40 per 1,000 words. You will also receive bonuses at the end of each year, just like other employees.' They were not my employees per se, but would be paid RM40 per 1,000 words plus bonuses and medical allowances. However, the articles had to be reviewed by me. So I paid authors RM40 per 1.000 words, and that was 30 years ago. Also, I would find the best authors in Malaysia and sign contracts with them. I would pay RM800 for every 20.000 words they wrote. Therefore, each month I paid RM800 for every 20,000 words from each writer That workload was quite easy. Also, the writers received medical allowances and year-end bonuses. They thought this was too good to be true, but that's what I did. Then, I'd open new columns and design them myself ... Then I'd collect articles ... At the end of the year, I'd find the top 10 authors from across Malaysia. I'd ask them, 'Can you ask for some leave? ' 'Yes.' 'Alright, let's go on a five-day vacation.' Then I'd ask the advertising department to prepare prizes, such as VSOP. I'd give each author a lot of souvenirs and tell them, 'I saw many misspellings in this article of yours.' I'd tell them, 'You were not very serious about this article of yours. But do you know what? I designed a beautiful masthead for your article. I asked the graphic designer to design five mastheads and chose this one. Isn't it beautiful?' 'Yes, it's very beautiful.' 'Also, do you know how many people are reading this article of yours? ' They didn't know. At that time, I would sell 200,000 copies, and each copy would be read by five people. So according to the standard of Malaysia ABC, a newspaper with sales of 200,000 would have a readership of one million. So I told them, 'One million people are reading this article of yours? After that, each author would take their writing more seriously, with each one producing better quality work than my own. This newspaper eventually achieved sales of 220.000 copies. Therefore, in the 1980s, I set a sales record for Chinese-language newspapers in Malaysia. That was the proudest moment of my life."
Chong has written many editorials, but that about which he is proudest was a piece on the death of Mao Zedong:
"When Mao Zedong died, the boss of each newspaper visited the Chinese Embassy to pay tribute and leave a signature. The Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia got hold of my boss and told him, 'I read the editorials of all the newspapers today, and the best piece was from your Kin Kwok Daily News. Who wrote that editorial? I couldn't find the name of the writer anywhere.' When my boss returned, he told me, 'Zhang Gong, you were the most successful today.' I asked, Why?' He said, 'I read all the editorials about Mao Zedong today and most of them were just rubbish. The ambassador only praised your piece."'
"How had I written it? I didn't talk about Mao Zedong's politics. I only talked about his literature: 'North country scene: A hundred leagues locked in ice, A thousand leagues of whirling snow' ... I used the entire editorial to talk about his literature."
As he recalls his love for Chinese-language newspapers throughout his life:
"I love Chinese and have enjoyed it my whole life, whether as a teacher or a newspaperman."
Following his retirement, Chong toured Chinese-language high schools in Malaysia to talk about Confucianism and Chinese culture.
"I toured all 60 (independent high schools) throughout Malaysia. I also toured all 78 reformed high schools. At that time, I could (still) see well, so I drove all over Malaysia myself. There was no one else like me in Malaysia, touring and spreading Chinese culture."
Theme III: From Literati Newspaper to Modern Enterprise: "I'm Proud and Believe that We Are Respected"
Born in 1954, Law Beng Chee is a third-generation Malaysian Chinese. After graduating from an English-language high school in the 1970s, he began to work for Chinese-language magazines and continued to do so for more than 30 years. He experienced the transformation of Chinese-language newspapers from the literati publications of Chong Chu Chem's generation to modern enterprises with market operations. He started as an editor, then became editor-in-chief, and then executive director. He is now in charge of approximately 20 publications associated with the New Lf Post group. Most of the publications are in Chinese. There are also some magazines in Malay and English languages. The most prominent publications are New Life Post, Newtide, and Feminine, among which New Life Post has a history of 40 years and Feminine has a history of more than 30 years. His company is currently the largest Chinese-language publisher in Malaysia. He has witnessed the rise of Chinese-language magazines, from being looked down on to becoming a thriving and expanding industry.
"When I first started, my classmates would laugh at me, 'Why did you choose to work for some Chinese-language newspapers and magazines? ' Why indeed? My classmates had all joined other industries, and I was the only one working in Chinese-language newspapers."
As Law recalls, at that time, conditions at Chinese-language newspapers were miserable, and the salary was not high either:
"I think my salary at that time was no more than RM500. The equipment was primitive and there were only a few staff. Forty years ago, Life Publishers Bhd only had about 20 employees. Now, it has 200 to 300 employees. The equipment was no good either. It's quite different now. Now we are all typing. At that time, it was typesetting and the equipment was primitive."
The publisher he worked for-New Life Post-published more than 20 magazines targeting niche markets, with Rod & Line achieving the best sales.
"Nowadays, we are gradually targeting niche markets, such as fishing. Rod & Line has a history of approximately 20 years. We first published the Chinese-language version, which proved to be quite popular. We didn't know so many people were fond of fishing. I still remember we printed approximately 15,000 copies, which we thought would be adequate. We didn't expect them to sell out in just a week. Many people were fond of fishing, yet there were no magazines about it. So we printed an additional 10,000 copies and they also sold out in roughly a week. Fishing was quite a big market. We also visited the markets in Hong Kong and mainland China. Although they also had publications about fishing, they didn't do so well. They probably didn't pay enough attention to this niche market."
"Our magazines are targeting niche markets, not the mass market. As the market changes, as the times change, we also need to change. Otherwise, we'll be eliminated."
Under the leadership of Law, Life Publishers Bhd is not only targeting the niche market
"As we were mainly targeting the Chinese-language market, when we contacted business owners they would ask us, why don't you publish something in the Malay language? Given the Malay people were the majority, we eventually decided to publish magazines in the Malay language."
"Nowadays, the consumption abilities of the Malay people are gradually rising. In the past, Malay-language publications didn't have any advertisements as business owners considered advertising in Malay-language publications to be useless. So, Malay-language publications had to rely on sales to fund their operations. Nowadays, Malay-language publications contain many advertisements as business owners have become aware of the consumption abilities of the Malay people. In fact, the Malay people are more willing to spend than Chinese. They don't save money and tend to overspend ... Therefore, the Malay people have big spending power. Because of this, business owners are starting to place advertisements in Malay-language publications."
As a Chinese-language media worker, Law feels especially proud.
"(As a Chinese-language media professional, I feel) quite proud ... I believe that we'll be respected. As media professionals, we must remain neutral and we mustn't be afraid of telling the truth. Otherwise, we won't earn people's respect."
Theme IV The New Era: "The World is a Global Village"
Born in the 1950s, Poon Chau Huay is a second-generation Malaysian Chinese. She currently serves as editor-in-chief of the Guang Ming Daily of Media Chinese International Limited, the largest newspaper group in Malaysia. As a newspaperman, her father came to Malaysia in 1949 during the Chinese Civil War. Her mother was a Singaporean Chinese. Her decision to enter the newspaper sector was influenced by her father who used to be an editor in mainland China and fled to Malaysia during the war. During her high school years, her father's Chinese citizenship prevented him from staying in Malaysia and so he had to go to Hong Kong. The family lost contact with the father for a long time and she had to suspend her studies, instead doing some work to help support her family. In the 1970s, Poon, still in her early 20s, entered the newspaper business because of her love of writing.
"When I was young, we didn't have much entertainment. I just loved writing. I was probably influenced by my father, who served as chief editor of a paper."
She first worked for the supplements division of Malayan Thung Pau Daily News, then Newtide, then China Press. After working there for more than 10 years, she left the newspaper in 2000 and joined a publisher in Singapore where she managed Chinese-language books. She re-entered the newspaper industry in 2005 and became editor-in-chief of Guang Ming Daily.
"In the later 1970s, there were few females in the newspaper sector. Nowadays, there are more females than males."
"As I used to write about literature and art, I started off as an editor of the Supplements. Salaries in the newspaper sector were not very high. Malayan Thung Pau Daily News used to be a private newspaper and was later acquired by the Malaysian Chinese Association. Malayan Thung Pau Daily News thus began its group operations and established a sound platform. That was when I joined the newspaper."
"Later on, I began to do news reporting, first in Malayan Thung Pau Daily News, then I job-hopped to Life Publishers Bhd to join Newtide, a magazine targeting young readers. The 1980s were the infancy of magazines. I was the second generation ... It was not bad then. Magazines could survive. "
"While working for Life Publishers Bhd, he (the same boss) bought another newspaper, namely China Press and closed The New Evening Post. Then he sent me to work for China Press ... I would produce two newspapers a day, one evening edition and one daily edition."
"I started off as planning editor, then became assistant editor-in-chief, and then editor-in-chief. "
In 2000, Poon left the newspaper sector for about five years to join Page One in Singapore where she managed its Chinese-language books.
"At that time, I decided to leave (the newspaper sector) to see if I could do something else. But later I returned to the newspaper industry. At that time, I had to travel a lot, so I decided to retire. I was planning to stop working all together It's quite tough working for the newspaper industry, with long working hours. Each day, we had to work for 15 or 16 hours with no rest. At that time, I felt I was burned out and needed some rest ... Then Ms. Siew Nyoke Chow (chief editor of Sin Chew Jit Poh) contacted me. They were launching a magazine and asked me to join the team as its chief editor The magazine was called EyEasia. Then I was transferred to work for Guang Ming Daily."
Poon believes dedication is needed to work in the newspaper industry:
"You must have a certain degree of dedication to work for newspapers. Otherwise, if you just consider it a job, you won't stay at the job for very long, because it's a very tough job ... There's no nine-to-five in our industry. You can't just switch off after work. You must devote yourself to it."
Poon feels quite lucky to know Chinese:
"Personally, I feel quite lucky to know Chinese, because the world of the Chinese language is quite beautiful and extensive. I don't need a translator to read Chinese and I think that's quite a lucky thing."
She also believes that it's not enough to just know one language:
"I think no language can become dominant anymore. It's not like you just need to know Chinese or English. You also need to learn other languages. In Malaysia, you need to know Malay, English, and Chinese in order of importance. That is to say, the new generation must have a good mastery of the Malay language. Young reporters need to have a better mastery of the Malay language than the other two languages. Otherwise, they won't be able to do official reporting or interviews. As Malay is the official language, reporters must have a good masterly of the language. As long as their language skills are balanced, then they'll do just fine, unless they are in certain majors which require higher proficiency of a particular language. At Chinese-language newspapers, we as editors need to review the articles, so we require a certain mastery of the Chinese language."
Poon believes Chinese-language newspapers in Malaysia are an important tool to unite various ethnic groups.
"Before the national transition, education was not popular in Malaysia. Many Malaysian Chinese did not understand languages other than Chinese. In my parents' generation, most of them only understood Chinese. Therefore, Chinese-language newspapers meant a lot to them. Without Chinese-language newspapers, they would not know what was happening around the world."
Chinese-language newspapers have another important mission: the elimination of ethnic and cultural differences.
"We shouldn't create more conflicts. We need to eliminate conflicts. That is one of the missions of Chinese-language newspapers. I think the situation now is much better than before. In the previous generation, there was a distinction between Malaysian Chinese and the Malay people. The previous generation couldn't understand other languages, and so could not blend in. Nowadays, our next generation is born and raised in Malaysia. This is the environment of their livelihood."
Poon is more open-mined when it comes to national identity:
"I think the world is a global village. The place you choose to live in doesn't mean you love or do not love your country. It's not that you have to stay in your country to be able to love your country. There are many ways to express patriotism. There are many ways to serve your country. Just because you live outside your country doesn't mean you can't do things to express your patriotism."
The oral stories of these four Chinese-language media professionals are highly representative of how Chinese-language media professionals have adapted themselves in the emerging country of Malaysia and taken roots and established a position for themselves in Malaysian society. From the 1940s to the beginning of this century, their stories have spanned 60 years. Thanks to their devotion and dedication, Chinese-language newspapers in Malaysia have successfully transformed from literati newspapers to modern enterprises with successful commercial operations. Nowadays, they and their careers are deeply rooted in Malaysia. They have experienced a difficult process of identity transformation, but have never given up: They love their country-Malaysia; they value their cultural roots-the Chinese language; and they admire Chinese culture. During the process of their evolution, Chinese-language media have become intertwined with local cultures. Against the backdrop of the accelerated pace of globalization and prosperous development of new media, the new generation of Malaysian Chinese has become more open-minded in their self-identity.
First of all, these four Chinese-language media professionals love their native country of Malaysia. "This is my country, my nation." This is where their ancestors lived and they have spilt their blood. They've devoted their blood and sweat to the development of this land and have made significant contributions. By continuing their bloodline on this land, they've become deeply rooted in Malaysia with its harmonious coexistence of various ethnic groups.
Secondly, they love the Chinese language and Chinese culture. The Chinese language is not only a cultural medium, but also a carrier of identity for the Chinese community. In an environment where the mainstream society regards "Chinese" as "others" and discriminates against them, the preservation of the Chinese language is not only a means by which the Chinese community protects its cultural roots, but also a means through which Chinese construct self-identity. "Who am I", "Where did I come from", "Where shall I go" ... all four subjects have clear understandings of these questions: "I love Chinese and have enjoyed it my whole life." As an anchor, the Chinese language fastens the cultural identity of Malaysian Chinese; as a link, the Chinese language connects Malaysian Chinese with their ancestral land strengthening and complementing bonds based on blood relationships, ethnic background and original culture. As a generator of collective memory, the Chinese language contributes to the formation of the collective memory of Malaysian Chinese in terms of emotion, cognition, history and culture.
These four Chinese-language media professionals have a clear sense of the social responsibilities and professional obligations of Chinese-language media professionals. This is clearly exhibited in one of Law's quotes: "I'm proud and believe that we are respected." They also have a clear sense of the mission of the Chinese-language media: The media are a tool to unite various ethnic groups and a bridge ethnic and cultural differences. They've successfully realized Malaysian newspapers' transformation from small-scale literati newspapers to modern newspaper enterprises. The dedication of these professionals has not only created glory for media enterprises in Malaysia, but also created a beacon that stands out among Chinese-language media worldwide.
The four are representative of three generations of Chinese-language media professionals in Malaysia. We've discovered some differences between these three generations in terms of self-identity. The first two generations (Huang Jian Bo and Chong Chu Chem) learnt Malay and English after growing up. They are fluent in Chinese, but not Malay or English, and are more deeply aware of the richness and profundity of the Chinese culture. Compared to them, the third-generation media professionals (Law Beng Chee and Poon Chau Huay) were brought up following the independence of Malaysia. They are fluent in Malay, English and Chinese and are more inclined to adopt a professional perspective when discussing their media work. Against the backdrop of globalization, their national identity is relatively diluted.
At the end of our interview, the 84-year-old Huang Jian Bo sang a verse from the national anthem of Malaysia. She became moved to tears as she sang, and we would like to use her words as the conclusion of this paper:
"(Malaysia) has no natural disasters ... As long as our government
continues with its reform; the people will devote themselves to a prosperous and peaceful Malaysia in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. I'm holding a positive view about this country. The second line of our national anthem, "Negaraku, Tanah tumpahnya darahku" (Malay), means "My country, the land where my blood is spilled". Every time I sing this, I'll become quite emotional. This land is where the blood of our ancestors and ourselves was spilled. The rich Chinese culture has enriched us and we feel very close to it ... But this land is where our blood has been spilled ..."
(1.) The author would like to thank the Academic Committee of the University of Macau for its funding of this project and would like to thank Sin Chew Jit Poh for its contact support.
(2.) Malaysia gained its independence as the Federation of Malaya in 1957, later changing its name to Malaysia as Singapore and North Borneo joined the federation in 1963. Singapore decided to become independent in 1965.
(3.) As Malaya gained its independence in 1957, the Malay people accounted for 55% of the total population and Malaysian Chinese accounted for 35% of the total population.
(4.) Liang Yingming (2001). Study on the Social Changes of Chinese in Southeast Asia after the War. Beijing: Kunlun Publishing House.
(5.) On April 22, 1955, the then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed a treaty on dual citizenship with the Government of the Republic of Indonesia, abolishing the policy recognizing overseas Chinese as Chinese citizens implemented by the Qing Government and the National Government.
(6.) Figures in 1959, see Liang Yingming (2001). Study on the Social Changes of Chinese in Southeast Asia after the War. Beijing: Kunlun Publishing House, 38.
(7.) Peng Weibu (2009). Comparative Study on Chinese-language Newspaper Cultures, Ethnic Groups and National Identities in Singapore and Malaysia. Guangzhou: Jinan University Press, 128.
(8.) Peng Weibu (2005). Study on Chinese-language Newspapers in Southeast Asia. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press.
(9.) Peng Weibu (2010). The expansion and innovation of overseas Chinese-language media against the backdrop of media convergence-with Sin Chew Media Corporation as the example. Around Southeast Asia, 2010, 10.
(10.) Huang Hongbin, Wang Hui (2013). A review of Chinese-language media development in Singapore and Malaysia. Yearbook of Global Chinese Language Media, 8-11.
(11.) Peng Weibu (2010). The expansion and innovation of overseas Chinese-language media against the backdrop of media convergence-with Sin Chew Media Corporation as the example. Around Southeast Asia, 2010, 10.
(12.) Peng Weibu (2008). Comparative study on Chinese-language newspapers' discourse power in Singapore and Malaysia. Southeast Asian Studies, 2008 (03), 72-82.
(13.) Liang Yingming (2001). Study on the Social Changes of Chinese in Southeast Asia after the War. Beijing: Kunlun Publishing House.
(14.) Yang Yuanning (2010). Suryadinata Leo and Chinese Heritage Center's proposition of human nature. Published at the Annual Conference of Chinese Association of Political Science & Able Citizen? The Ideal and Reality of Democracy.
(15.) See Yang Yuanning's Suryadinata Leo and Chinese Heritage Center's proposition of human nature.
(16.) Judith T. Shuval. Diaspora migration: Definitional ambiguities and a theoretical paradigm. International Migration 38, no.5 (2000): 43.
(17.) This project has checked the oral history materials stored at Singapore's Oral History Center and discovered 4 oral records related to Chinese-language media professionals, i.e., Datin Aw Kow (Eldest Daughter-in-Law of Aw Boon Haw), Huang Yihuan (Sin Kok Min Jit Pao), Li Jiongcai (Sin Chew Jit Poh, Nanyang Siang Pau, Singapore Standard), and She Changnian (Kin Kwok Daily News, Life Publishers Bhd) and completed its own questionnaire design by referring to these four records.
(18.) Known in history as Malayan Emergency. In 1948, the Malayan Communist Party decided to seize power in an armed struggle, leading the British colonial government to declare a state of emergency. The war lasted for 12 years, and the state of emergency was not lifted until 1960 following its independence.
(1) The English word "Chinese" can be translated into two terms in Chinese: zhongguo ren, literarily meaning "Chinese nationals" and huaren, meaning "ethnic Chinese".
(2) Operasi Lalang (Operation Lalang or Weeding Operation) was a major police crackdown carried out on October 27, 1987. The operation was stated by the Malaysian government to prevent the occurrence of racial disturbance.
(3) All the oral testimonial quotations used in this article are translated from Chinese to English by the authors.
(4) The translation of this radio name [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is in pinyin.
Wu Mei, Ph.D.
Department of Communication
University of Macau
Room 2045, Humanities and Social Sciences Building, E21
Avenida da Universidade, Taipa, Macau, China
WU, Mei, University of Macau
Y.E. Lin, University of Macau
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Peng Weibu (2005). Study on Chinese-language Newspapers in Southeast Asia. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press.
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Table 2: Interviewee List Interview Date Name Nationality 1 March 28th, 2013 Law Beng Chee Malaysia 2 March 29th, 2013 Huang Jian Bo Malaysia 3 March 29th, 2013 Poon Chau Huay Malaysia 4 March 30th, 2013 Chong Chu Chem Malaysia Institution of Employment Present Position 1 Life Publishers BHD. Chief executive 2 Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) Retired 3 China Press; Page One Publishing; Editor-in-chief Guang Ming Daily 4 Kin Kwok Daily News; Life Publishers Bhd. Retired
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|Author:||Mei, Wu; Lin, Ye|
|Publication:||China Media Research|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2016|
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