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Malaysian Studies Assignment 1

Name : Teoh Ming Miin

Matric No.: 16020
Programme: Information Communication and Technology
Semester: May 2015
Lecturers Name : Encik Mohamad Kamal bin Kamarudin

Book Title: Histories, cultures, identities: studies in Malaysian

Chinese Worlds by Sharon A. Carstens

Book summary:

Introduction to Malaysian Chinese worlds

The cultural diversity of Malayan Chinese was observed by 19 thcentury colonial observers when the Chinese ancetors immigrated
to Malaya. Therere a huge difference among the Malayan Chinese
on their dialect group distinctions, resources and connections they
carried with them overseas, as well as the diverse geographic
regions they settled.

For example, chinese men who came with

money to invest, and who arrived penniless, Chinese women who

came as wives of wealthy merchants or came to work as domestic
servants or labourers, prostitutes all have different prospects and

As of today, with chinese settlement in Malaysia for five or more

generations, the original forms of diversity haven expanded to
include differences in education, geographic regions



with its


Story of Kapitan Yap Ah Loy

The author is trying to give the readers a picture of the model of

19th-century Malayan Chinese cultural formations through Yan Ah
Loys life. A British civil servant, S.M. Middlebrook constructed one of
the most detailed biographies of the Chinese Malayan leader in the
1930s, including a record of Yap Ah Loys life.

Yap Ah Loy travelled from his Hakka home to Malayan port of Melaka
at the age of 17. Yaps first contacts in Melaka were with kinsmen
who arranged for him to work first in a nearby tin mine and then an
assistant in a small shop. After working for more than a year, Yap Ah
Loy were advised by the shops proprietor to return to China, after
giving him sufficient money for his ticket home. What happened in
the end is that, Yap Ah Loy lost his ticket in a gambling game while
waiting for his ship to sail from Singapore. Since then, Yap Ah Loy
stayed in Melaka.

Yap Ah Loy went to Lukut, a flourishing mining settlement in

southern Selangor. After working for three years as mining coolie
and cook in the tin mining kongsi, Yap Ah Loy had saved enough
money to start a pig trading business. Yap met another two Huizhou
Hakka (his hometown) in tin mining read of Sungei Ujong and he
was invited to serve as a bodyguard for the Kapitan Shin (Sheng
Ming Li) during that time.

Yap Ah Loy fought with Kapitan Shins group during a serious

fingthing in Sungei Ujong when Chinese miners rebelled against
what they considered excessive taxation by local Malay chiefs. The
death of Kapitan Shin in the fight gave the young Yap Ah Loy (aged
24) his first opportunity for leadership. Yap Ah Shak, a weathy
Huizhou Hakka merchant with connections were selected to take
over the late kapitans position but he passed this title to Yap Ah

Nonetheless. Yap Ah Loy put aside his kapitan position and

jorney further north to Selangor in 1862.

After he went Kuala Lumpur and appointed by his old friend, Liu
Ngim Kong as his personal assistant, Yap Ah Loy began to profit
considerably on his own account. He was then get married with a

Melaka Chinese woman, Kok Kang keown. Yap Ah Loys increasing

success in Kuala Lumpur paralleled the flourishing growth of the
wider area. Selangor wars which happened within two different
groups of Hakka: Jiayingzhou Hakka and Huizhou Hakka due to the
growing competition in the area. Other than the fight within chinese
sub-dialect division, secret society connections and divisions among
the Selangor Malay royalty also fought among each other. After
various rounds of conflicts and challenges, with the Selangor wars
ended, Yap Ah Loy had became the kapitan with supports from the

Kapitan in a New Era

In 1874, after the end of Selangor wars, British intervent in Malay

States. Due to the civil war that had destroyed most of the miens
and buildings, Yap Ah Loy faced economic crisis from 1873 to 1879.
Nonetheless, on the verge of bankruptcy in 1879, Yap was saved by
a sudden dramatic increase in tin prices. He was free of debt by
1880 and involved in new businesses by then.

The stationing of the British resident in KL in March 1880 meant a

further diminishing of Yaps power as an administrator but he
continued to serve as magistrate for the settlement of Chinese









philanthroist during this period. Yap was routinely praised by British

administrators for his perseverance in developing the Kuala Lumpur
area despite great adversity but as British control expanded, they
could find the kapitans attitude about the extent of his power quite
exasperating. Yap Ah Loy in the middle of Aprial 1885 at the
relatively young age of 48.

From the events described above, the constantly shifting events and
relationships in Yap Ah Loys life illustrate the dynamic interplay















influenced and shaped by cultural values. Yap Ah Loys behaviour

served to change both culture and context, affecting the choices
available to individuals who followed.

Economic domain

Tin mining was the dominant economic enterprise for Yap Ah Loy
and the other Chinese working in the Malayan interior after the mid19th century. Many systems of payment, and several strategies from
the workers in defending themselves were practiced by the workers
and financiers. The general economic strategy practiced by workers
and mine owners are alike, founded on hard work, savings and
investment, known as the Chiense entrepreneurial etnic. The
Chinese could indeed work his way up the ladder, as assumed by
the European observers. Yap Ah Loy is an example for this. Other
than that, the diversification of investments as ones capital
increased is also a related component in this strategy as we can see
Yap Ah Loy investing and expanding many different enterprises.
Ceremonial and ritualistic activities such as feasting, burning joss
sticks, shooting firecrackers on a lucky day chosen to open a new
mine and etc. are embedded in the daily activities of the miners,
reflected Chinese folk beliefs in the important of staying in harmony
with symbolic activities associated with the natural and cosmic
orders. We can also see Chinese ideas and beliefs about luck and
fate that could provide powerful spurs for enterprising coolies and
for mining workers to have little control over their conditions of

The Sociopolitical Domain

Most of the sociopolitical context described includes major changes

in both population demographics and the identity of the central
political authorities.

Both the Malay rulers and British during the

earlier stages of their intervention in the 1870s, chose to govern

Chiense communities by principles of indirect rule, through kapitans

or local headmen who were in turn responsible for the behaviour of
their compatriots. Some Malay royalty turned to Chinese kapitans
for political and military support in local struggles, as happened with
Yap Ah Loy. Nevertheless, during the last decades of the century,
British began to take over both central administrative and policing
functions, leaving the kapitans with largely advisory and ceremonial
roles. The various types of social ties formed by Yap Ah Loy during
his life illustrate well the mix of possible social relations and the
appropriate strategies for their use. We can see that actual blood
relatives with the same surname had the strongest obligation to aid
an individual, as reflected from the case when young Yap was
assisted by his relatives when he first came to Malaya. Social
relations among individuals such as Chong Chong, Chow Yoke and
Yap Ah Loy who some times became enemy, sometimes friends and
allies were always subject to challenge by those who possessed the
most primary bonds of kinship. Within Chinese society, there is a
range of alternative social and political relations including both
inherited and achieved statuses, which fluctuated between rather
rigid hierachies and the more fluid egalitarian relations of blood
brotherhood. Power and social status are the ideas in structuring
relations among Chinese.
Other than relations among people, leadership positions also
displayed different models of leadership in the Straits Settlements
and the Malayan interior. Chinese leaders in the Straits Settlements
were wealthy merchants from dominant dialect groups who were
recognized for their philanthropic contributions while the second
type of leadership position is not based on contributions but direct
support by a group of followers and a political title that increase
ones economic or political power.

Ideology and power















institutions, religious rituals and forms of popular entertainment

such as story telling and thetrical productions and each of these
arena comes from different sets of cultural values. The adaptation of
these and other ideological formations to the Malayan situation
depended largely on contextual factors that varied in terms of
location and time period. From the authors research on Yap Ah Loys
activities in early Kuala Lumpur, his sponsopship of temples and
theatrical performances showed that he was an active manipulator
of ideological symbols. His style of leadership still resembled much
more closely to the honourary and paternalistic styles of the wealthy
merchant leaders of the Straits Settlements, acting as honourary
officials, deserving of the recognition conveyed in the mandarin

In short, this chapter explored the way Yap Ah Loy and other
Malayan Chiense leaders drew on different and contrasting ideas
about leadership prevalent in Chinese society of this period.