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“Iron Claws on Malaya”: The Historiography of the Malayan Emergency1

  • Karl Hack (a1)


This article addresses the historiography of the Malayan Emergency (1948–60). It does so by challenging two archetypal works on the conflict: those of Anthony Short and Richard Stubbs. These argue the Emergency was locked in stalemate as late as 1951. By then, a “population control” approach had been implemented — the so-called Briggs Plan for resettling 500,000 Chinese squatters. The predominantly Chinese nature of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) had also ensured that most Malays — who constituted nearly half the 1950 population of five million — opposed the revolt. The several thousand strong Communist-led guerrillas thus laboured under severe limitations.



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2 The MNLA originated in the communist-led, wartime Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army. This stood down in 1945–48, as the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) sought power through politics and unions. It was reconstituted in June 1948, when relations between an increasingly violent MCP and an increasingly restrictive government broke down, and the Emergency was declared. Initially, the re-formed guerrillas called themselves the Malayan Peoples Anti-British Army. In 1949 it switched to “Malayan National (Min-tsu) Liberation Army”; the term min-tsu was unsatisfactorily translated as “Races” by Special Branch. Thus most works on the Emergency use MRLA. See Too, C.C., New Straits Times, 3 12 1989; and Hui, Lee Ting, The Open United Front: The Communist Struggle in Singapore, 1954–1966 (Singapore: South Seas Society, 1996), pp. 3839, endnotes 100101.

3 See Short, Anthony, The Communist Insurrection in Malaya 1948–1960 (London: Frederick Muller, 1975), pp. 305306 for “worst of times”; Coates, John, Suppressing Insurgency: An Analysis of the Malayan Emergency (Boulder: Westview, 1993), p. 108, for the death being “symptomatic of a losing cause”; p. 186 for “epitaph”, p. 110 for “worst of times”; and Stubbs, Richard, Hearts and Minds in Guerrilla Warfare: The Malayan Emergency 1948–1960 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 133–40. Gurney was ambushed in a flag-flying car, with inadequate escort. Yet as short a time before the assassination as 12 Sept. 1951, one J. Jones wrote to the Straits Times about officers suicidally riding in cars with “Flags but no Armour”.

4 Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, p. 126.

5 Why does Short use hydraulic metaphors, and thus the still influential idea of Templer alone having the skills required to ride the “tide”? Born in Singapore and educated in England, having done his National Service in Johore during the period 1947–49, he taught in the University of Malaya from 1960 to 1966. His book, written with access to official records in Malaya, was submitted to the Malaysian government in 1968. He eventually had to find another publisher, possibly because his comments about race relations and policy were sensitive after the May 1969 Kuala Lumpur riots. How far did Short share the Anglo-centric, World War Two perspective of C. Northcote Parkinson (1950–58 Raffles Professor of History at the University of Malaya)? The latter's Templer in Malaya (Singapore: Donald Moore, 1954) was almost hagiographical (he also co-wrote a book on Heroes of Malaya). Short (p. 387) distances himself from Parkinson, yet they share the argument that 1951 saw stalemate, which Templer's leadership transformed. Short also adopts Parkinson's tide imagery. Parkinson entitled Chapter 4 of Templer in Malaya “Turn of the Tide”. Short (p. 387) suggested that a quotation from Shakespeare's Caesar — not Parkinson's favoured Henry V — best fits Templer: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which if taken at flood leads on to fortune”. Short drops Parkinson's lectures on the value of Britain's war-trained generals, along with his multiple quotations from Henry V. It seems strange that the difference between two historians of Malaya can be reduced to which Shakespeare to quote, until one realises that Short was a teenager during the war, while Parkinson served in wartime military education. Do their interpretations emerge not from Malaya, but from wartime England? From its images of military leadership, of Montgomery turning the World War Two “tide” at El Alamein? See Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Singapore) biographical cuttings, filed at DS510 B61 Ref; and Who's Who in Scotland 1992–93 (Irvine: Carrick Media, 1992). For World War Two and Western historiography, see Bosworth, R.J., Explaining Auschwitz and Hiroshima: History Writing and the Second World War (London: Routledge, 1993).

6 Stubbs suggests “coercion”, but he fails to make explicit the distinction between coercion per se and “population control”. The latter is an integrated attempt to survey and control a population, using proportionate and directed force. By “hearts and minds” Stubbs means political concessions and providing amenities: a votes-and-piped-water approach. In a wider sense, it could also include military hearts and minds measures, such as payments for information, or psychological warfare.

7 A few examples blending the three theses include: Cloake, John, Templer: Tiger of Malaya (London: Harrap, 1985); Coates, , Suppressing Insurgency; Barber, Noel, War of the Running Dogs (London: Arrow, 1989), chs. 12–14. Malaysian works often share these interpretations, e.g. Dato' Raj, J.J., The War Years and After (Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk, 1995), ch. 13. However, two types of British works are slightly different. Those which sell the idea of British counter-insurgency as a particularly effective paradigm emphasize “population control” as part of an overall “British” model, downplaying Templer's personality slightly. See Thompson, Robert (a British adviser in Vietnam), Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam (London: Chatto and Windus, 1972); and Clutterbuck, Richard, Riot and Revolution in Singapore and Malaysia: 1945–1983 (Singapore: Graham Brash, 1984). Some more junior figures in the British “Establishment”, especially those in Malaya before Templer, also see him in a more equivocal way. See, for example, Purcell, Victor, Malaya: Communist or Free (London: Gollancz, 1954), and Rayner, Leonard, Emergency Years: (Malaya 1951–1954) (Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1991). (Leon Comber, who formerly served as a Special Branch officer in Johore, made this point about junior/senior establishment differences in a generous e-mail correspondence.) Malaysian-focused works more critical of British policy tend to be written by Malaysian Chinese — such as the following from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) staff — and focus on Chinese communities or shorter periods of time: Wah, Loh Kok, Beyond the Tin Mines: Coolies, Squatters and New Villagers in the Kinta Valley, Malaysia, c. 1880–1980 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988); and Kheng, Cheah Boon, Masked Comrades: A Study of the Communist United Front in Malaya, 1945–1948 (Singapore: Times, 1979). It would be interesting to compare the output from USM — in the mainly Chinese state of Penang which, along with Singapore, was a part of the Straits Settlement Colony until 1946 and which had a secessionist movement in the 1940s and 1950s — with those of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in the capital.

8 Thus while A.J. Stockwell argues for continuity in colonial policy through 1945–57, I argue that a similar continuity existed in Emergency policy between 1950 and 1960. The major discontinuity was the introduction in 1950 of the Briggs Plan and its population approach. For Stockwell's views see, for instance, Malaya, ed. Stockwell, A.J. (London: HMSO “British Documents on the end of Empire” series, 1995), i, Introduction.

9 The term is used by both Short, Communist Insurrection (p. 160) and Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds (pp. 6693).

10 Min Yuen was short for Min Chung Yuen Tung, or “People's Movement”.

11 DEFE11/34, High Commissioner to Secretary of State, 15 Feb. 1950.

12 For the quotation, see Prem8/1406, MAL. C(50)6, 21 Apr. 1950, “Military Situation in Malaya”.

13 A Government Squatter Committee advised resettlement in Jan. 1949, but this was left up to the initiative of each individual state. They moved slowly because of cost, reluctance to give land to Chinese and a feeling that uncoordinated resettlement would simply displace insurgents; Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, p. 101.

14 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Singapore) (henceforth “ISEAS”), Tan Cheng Lok Papers, note dated 22 May 1950 from a “subscription collector” to Tan Cheng Lok, for the hatred caused by initial resettlement, and swelling MRLA numbers in 1948–50.

15 For the “Briggs Plan”, see Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 231–53; and Air20/7777, “Report on the Emergency in Malaya from April 1950 to Nov. 1951”, by Lt-General Harold Briggs. “Regroupment” meant moving workers' huts short distances to concentrate them in more easily defended groups.

16 It was this erosion of the distinction between civilian and insurgent which fuelled Vietnam's cycle of state counter-terror and peasant alienation. See Kolko, G., Vietnam: Anatomy of a War (London: Allen & Unwin, 1986), pp. 9296, 107108, 131–37; and Osborne, Milton, Strategic Hamlets in South Vietnam (Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1965), for the failure of “strategic hamlets” because Vietnamese peasants were settled farmers.

17 After a low of 2.5 in 1950 the insurgent:security force elimination ratio climbed to 3 in 1951, 6 in 1952, and 15 in 1953. See Coates, , Suppressing Insurgency, p. 76 (note 76), for MCP strength; pp. 190–202, for monthly figures; p. 202, for the ratio. See also Clutterbuck, Richard, Riot and Revolution in Singapore and Malaya, 1945–63 (London: Faber & Faber, 1973), pp. 183–86; and AIR20/10377, “Report on Emergency Operations”, DOO, Sept. 1957, para. 11. The latter estimates average yearly CT strengths at 7,292 in 1951 and 5,765 in 1952, numbers falling roughly 20 per cent a year from 1951–57.

18 Lam Swee was pre-Emergency Secretary-General of the Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions. On the excessive use of fear and hardening public opinion, see Rhodes House, Oxford, Walker-Taylor Papers, “Statements” of SEP, p. 1, and Liew Thian Choy file, pp. 25–29. See also Rhodes House, Young Papers, MS British Empire s486/2/1, (N), “Surrender of CTs”, pp. 29, 35–39, and (B); Coates, , Suppressing Insurgency, pp. 6365; and Pye, Lucian, Guerrilla Communism in Malaya: Its Social and Political Meaning (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956), pp. 95, 104105.

19 Distinguishing between insurgent violence as policing and as terrorising the population into support is difficult, since the MNLA did not have the luxury of a secure prison system. For “random” atrocities, including the murder of a Chinese girl by driving a nail into her head: Rhodes House, Young, MS British Empire s486/2/l, Federation Police Hq — Misc.: “Short History of the Emergency”, 21 Oct. 1952.

20 Harper, Tim, “The Colonial Inheritance: State and Society in Malaya, 1945–1957” (Cambridge: D. Phil thesis, 1991), pp. 190–93, on MCP difficulty maintaining support. Harper mentions the fear in late 1951 that ex-supporters of the SEP would be betrayed, leading to a ‘confessional kind of politics’.

21 For the Korean War boom, Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, p. 107. For MCP worries about future supply difficulties intensifying, see CO1022/187, High Commissioner to Colonial Office, 31 Dec. 1951, Oct. Resolutions, pp. 84–85 and 144. The seventh urgent task was to “strive to put food and material supplies on a sound basis”, and increase farming, “even if it reduces the combatant action of the armed forces”.

22 For the terminology, Hui, Lee Ting, The Open United Front, p. 34, endnote 43.

23 An English-language copy (not a British translation) of the Directives, in the form of seven documents, is in CO1022/187, pp. 62–158, enclosed with High Commissioner (Malaya) to Colonial Secretary (from J.P. Morton, Director of Intelligence), 31 Dec. 1952. The “Directive of the Central Politburo on Clearing and Planting” specifically dealt with the present and future dangers posed by resettlement. For the “seven urgent tasks”, CO1022/187, “Captured MCP Documents”, FO memorandum, 27 Nov. 1953.

24 It is also difficult to believe the MCP were not aware that the prospects for a “united front” strategy were poor. Political difficulties were part of the reason for the revolt, and Special Branch control of the population was now tighter than in 1948.

25 For the directives being caused by pressure, Rhodes House, MS British Empire s486/2/l, Misc., p. 53, paras 33–35, “Short History of the Emergency”, by Operations Branch, Federal Police Headquarters, 21 Oct. 1952, paras 33–34; and (F), “Aim and Strategy of the MCP”. These are filed in the Young Papers for 1952–53 as lecture notes. For MCP difficulties with support, see Harper, “Colonial Inheritance”, pp. 190–93. See also Annual Report on the Federation of Malaya: 1951 (Kuala Lumpur: Federal Printers, 1952): “Evidence from captured documents corroborated that measures to control food seriously disrupted the terrorist food supply system. These measures, coupled with the Security Forces success in finding a large number of reserve food dumps, caused no little concern to the Malayan Communist Party leaders and forced the merging of their armed units and supply organization into small mobile gangs — a continuation of the trend which had become apparent during the latter part of 1950”.

26 AIR20/10377, DOO Report 1957, p. 18, “One of the Chief weaknesses of the CTO has been its inability to live off the jungle”; and p. 18, para. 68 (a) for measures including rationing, food movement restrictions, licensing shops, etc. See also Hack, “Intelligence and Counter-Insurgency”, for the point that intelligence was best secured by combined and protracted food/Special Branch operations.

27 The Resolutions' origins are too complex to discuss in full; see Hack, , “Intelligence and Counter-Insurgency: The Example of Malaya”, Intelligence and National Security 14,2 (1999). “Mass organization” is often wrongly interpreted as being mainly or solely political. See CO1022/187, Oct. Resolutions, p. 72, which introduces the “Urgent Tasks” for connections between “starvation policy” and mass organization becoming “Urgent Task” number one. It said: “owing to the enemies’ concentration of and rigid control over the masses the party is confronted with numerous difficulties … [with mass organizations] … At present, certain difficulties in our procurement of supplies are closely connected with these weaknesses”. For clearing, planting and supplies see also Oct. Resolutions, pp. 65–66, 85, 141–50.

28 CO1022/187, “Extract from Weekly Intelligence Summary” no. 110 (no date).

29 CO1022/187, High Commissioner to Colonial Office, 31 Dec. 1951, Oct. Resolutions, pp. 65–66.

30 See CO1022/187, sheets 62–158, enclosed with High Commissioner to Colonial Secretary, 31 Dec. 1952, 63–69, 89–90, 116, 120–21; and “Captured MCP Documents”, FO memorandum, 27 Nov. 1953. The quotation is in Short, , Communist Insurrection, p. 321. Short is targeting Purcell's claim that “Templer's predecessors had succeeded in subjecting the Communists to such pressure that they had virtually called off the shooting war four months before his arrival …” (Purcell, , Communist or Free, quoted in Short, p. 318.) It is possible to argue for military causes and consequences without assuming an intention to call off the shooting. On “left deviation”, see Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, pp. 147–51.

31 White, Nicholas, Business, Government and the End of Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 97, 121–23; Capitalism and Counter-Insurgency”, Modern Asian Studies 32,1 (1998): 149–77.

32 There may be a direct line between the easing of the Malayan campaign from 1951–52 and the increasing prominence of strikes and demonstrations in Singapore by 1954–55. For an interpretation which also sees the October directives as forced on the MCP and yet identifies this link between 1951 and Singapore events, see Hui, Lee Ting, The Open United Front, pp. 1316, 34 (endnote 43).

33 Rhodes House, Young Papers, MS British Empire s486/2/3, CIS(52)(7)(Final), “Combined Intelligence Staff Review of the Emergency as at 30th September 1952”, 10 Oct. 1952, paras. 6–7. This examined reasons for changes in the Emergency in the six months to Sept. 1952. The CIS comprised civil service, police, army and RAF members who produced appreciations for the Director of Intelligence; see AIR20/10377, “Review of Emergency”, 1957, p. 15, para. 54, (c); and Short, , Communist Insurrection, p. 360.

34 For the quotations, Rhodes House, Young Papers, MS British Empire s486/2/1, (F), “Review of the Security Situation in Malaya: Aim and Strategy of the MCP”, paras. 5 and 6, pp. 35–36; and (I).

35 See Hack, “Intelligence and Counter-Insurgency”. Short, , Communist Insurrection, p. 318, argues the Cominform line was unclear. For the quotation, see AIR20/10377, “Review of the Emergency”, DOO, 1957, p. 3. Ralph Smith stresses the world context and international communist “line” (not instructions) in, “China and SE Asia: The Revolutionary Perspective, 1951”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 19,1 (1988): 97110.

36 For reductions in MNLA strength, Rhodes House, Young Papers, MS British Empire s486/2/1, item I, “Review of the Security Situation”, para. 5. For the Directives' diffusion, see para. 4. Para. 3 suggested that “too forward a policy had alienated mass support and prejudiced Party Security”. See also CO1022/187, sheet 168–69, “Secret Abstract of Intelligence” for 17 Nov. to 16 Dec. 1952. Pye, , Guerrilla Communism, pp. 105106, suggests the directives reduced the aggressiveness of MCP commanders, leading to orders in late 1952 to increase activity. These failed, because MNLA units were now too weak to increase activity significantly. For planting as “glorious”, CO1022/187, High Commissioner to Colonial Office, 31 Dec. 1951, Oct. Resolutions, p. 144.

37 See Figs. 1, 2 and 5; and DEFE11/47, “Malaya Report”, Mar. 1952, (C), Average weekly incidents by months, (1576B). By the fourth quarter of 1952 incidents were at 1949 levels. For rubber trees, Stubbs, Richard, Counter-Insurgency and the Economic Factor: The Impact of the Korean War Prices Boom on the Malayan Emergency, Occasional Paper No. 19 (Singapore: ISEAS, 1974), pp. 4344. AIR20/10377, “Review of the Emergency”, DOO, 1957, p. 9, para. 34, dates improved information to late 1951–52. Rhodes House, MS British Empire s486/2/3, CIS(52)7(f), “Combined Intelligence Staff Review”, 10 Oct. 1952, para. 4(a), and appendices, for statistics steadily improving from Feb.-Mar. 1952. Thus when Short notes (p. 306) that a week after Gurney's death security forces suffered the heaviest weekly total of casualties for a year, this is not representative of any deterioration or trend, but rather one of the erratic peaks within the pattern for 1951 to early 1952, which at best could be read as incipient but very slow, erratic improvement.

38 AIR20/10377, “Review of the Emergency”, DOO, 12 Sept. 1957.

39 Short, , Communist Insurrection, p. 381, stresses resettlement deficiencies in 1951 (e.g., insufficient barbed wire). He thereby downplays gradual improvement and the way the Resolutions reflected communist reaction to resettlement. The main test of resettlement must be empirical not theoretical, that is, based on communist documents or reactions, not on theorizing about the state of British operations.

40 Stubbs sees the October Resolutions as MCP miscalculation. Together with Gurney's death, which Stubbs feels provided a personnel change vital to allow policy modifications, the resulting lull gave the chance to introduce the winning “hearts and minds” policy (Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, pp. 191, 249–54).

41 See CAB 129/C(51)26, “The Situation in Malaya”, Colonial Secretary, 20 Nov. 1951, for a BDCC telegram of 15 Nov., describing the communist hold as being “as strong as ever”; CO1022/13 and 14, “Security Forces' Weekly Intelligence Summary”, 1951–52; and Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, pp. 302355. For Johore, DEFE11/46, “Progress Report”, DOO, Nov. 1951, Conclusions; and Malcolm MacDonald Papers, 25/2/86–87, “A note found in the handwriting of the late Sir Henry Gurney”, c. 4 Oct. 1951, states that the MNLA in Johore increased from 700 (1950) to a peak of around 2300 (1951) as resettlement pushed communists into the jungle and sorted the sheep from the goats.

42 For Gurney's death as a necessary development, see Coates, , Suppressing Insurgency, p. 186; and Rhodes House, Granada End of Empire, Malaya, vol. 2, pp. 98–99, and vol. 4, p. 70. For British frustration, the change of government, and changes in personnel but not in the thrust of policy, see Stockwell, , “British Imperial Policy and Decolonization in Malaya”, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 13,1 (1984): 7983; and Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, pp. 306353.

43 Tan Cheng Lok was President of the MCA. See Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 303 and 306, for quotations on counter-factuals. For Gurney's policy, see Durham University, Malcolm MacDonald Papers [henceforth MMP] 25/2/56–62, Gurney to Lloyd, 3 Oct. 1951; 25/2/86–87, “A note found in the handwriting of the late Sir Henry Gurney”, c. 4 Oct. 1951 (also slightly less complete version in Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, p. 300f); MMP25/2/85; 19/7/40; 25/2/54. For continuity in Chinese policy in London and Singapore, see CAB129/C(51)26, Nov. 1951. For Gurney's attitudes to Chinese, see Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, pp. 77, 8891, 114–17, 195; for additional measures, see p. 300. For the MCA, see ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers 3/271, “Memorandum submitted to the Rt Honourable Oliver Lyttelton” MCA Delegation, 2 Dec. 1951; ibid., 11/11, passim; and MMP25/2/85, 22 Nov. 1951, Del Tufo to MacDonald. See also Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, pp. 207213.

44 Barber, Noel, The War of the Running Dogs: Malaya 1948–1960 (London: Arrow, 1992), pp. 157–59, 161 for quotations. Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, pp. 148–51, presents the Directives as attempting to breathe new life into the campaign, but (like Short) portrays MCP motivation as dealing with political shortcomings, internal dissent and the need to win more support. Unlike Short, however, he links the decisions to the dramatic statistical changes which followed in 1952. See Stubbs, p. 191, for the argument that the Resolutions were a mistake.

45 Barber, War of the Running Dogs, says what others imply: “For the British the murder of Gurney would pave the way to victory. It had needed his death…” to get Templer appointed (pp. 158–59). See also Rhodes House, Oxford, Granada End of Empire, Malaya volumes, for Madoc's (Head of Special Branch, 1952–54) similar opinions. See Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, p. 324. CAB 129/C(51)26, “The Situation in Malaya”, 20 Nov. 1951, for Lyttelton and Malayan officers pitching for equipment for Malaya (wire, armoured cars, etc.) in the middle of Korean War rearmament. He probably overdrew the picture to maximise claims for priority. Yet Briggs' departing report in Nov. 1951, on the other hand, argued things were improving. One report was optimistic, the other gloomy, each for its own reason.

46 For the point about the “celebration”, see CO1022/249, ‘Translation of a cyclostyled document entitled ‘Workers Express’ Issue No. 6, 25 December 1951”.

47 Cloake, , Templer, pp. 197–98, 228–29.

48 Continuing Short's favoured hydraulic imagery, high tide — the moment before a change — is by definition precisely that time when things are at their peak, whether in terms of water-level or of incidents.

49 For Templer's undoubted efficiency and the term “energized”, Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 342–43. For peak efficiency, AIR20/10377, DOO Report 1957, pp. 25–26. Nevertheless, how far were morale and activity “energized” by the improving situation? Given new MRLA orders, the partly consequent decline in incidents, and near completion of resettlement, to what extent would resources and energy be freed at this time, anyway?

50 Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 336–37, discusses the initially equivocal response to Templer.

51 CO1022/14, SF (WIS) 7 Feb. 1952. Increasing Min Yuen troubles seem to constitute a theme, though of course some weeks could show bad figures, especially if a few big ambushes pushed up security force casualties, as they did in Oct. 1951 and Mar. 1952 (see SF WIS for 27 Mar.).

52 The Betong border area — the MCP's Yenan — became their main base until a 1989 agreement ended hostilities. See Comber, Leon, ‘“The Weather … Has Been Horrible”, Malayan Communist Communications during the “Emergency”’, Asian Studies Review 19,2 (1995): 49, note 6. The 10th and 8th Regiments moved in 1954. Against this, a Frontier Intelligence Bureau was set up by Aug. 1953. I am grateful to C.C. Chin for confirming the “Little ‘Long March’” idea, but see also Hui, Lee Ting, The Open United Front, p. 36, endnote 52.

53 Figs. 1 and 5 are from AIR20/10377, DOO Report 1957. They were constructed by reading figures from originals, then replotting. They are thus accurate for trends, but not precise numbers. The fact that these graphs use averages evens out fluctuations around the trend. For precise figures on incidents and some other indicators, however, see Coates, , Suppressing Insurgency, Appendices.

54 Many policies continued to develop across the Briggs-Gurney and Templer periods with little alteration, e.g. resettlement and increasing citizenship opportunities for Chinese. How quickly did changes made in mid-1952, such as reorganizing intelligence and police, become effective? Police retraining, for instance, involved 10 per cent of the force per month in 1952, and the opening of a Special Branch Training School. In both cases the impact would be cumulative over several months from May 1952 to 1953, not sudden.

55 For a detailed account of these techniques, see Hack, “Intelligence and Counter-Insurgency”.

56 See Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, pp. 12, 125–27, 248–9; Cloake, , Templer, pp. 224–27, 262–94; and Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 301306.

57 For “hearts and minds” as adding the “carrot” to the “stick”, see Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, ch. 6.

58 Han Suyin married Special Branch officer Leon Comber and acted as doctor to one New Village. Her autobiography, My House Has Two Doors (London: Granada, 1982), pp. 7779, 81, 232–33; and semi-factual novel And the Rain my Drink (London: J. Cape, 1956) depict New Villagers pounded between insurgents and government. For the quotation, see My House, p. 81.

59 Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 340–41, 343; Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, p. 424.

60 Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, p. 168. Onn, Chin Kee, The Grand Illusion (London: G.G. Harrap, 1961), p. 144. After writing a book on the MPAJA, Chin — an English-educated teacher and Malayan tennis champion — was made research officer in the Psychological Warfare Unit for a year, afterwards working in the federal Information Department. While interviewing SEPs, he had the idea for the book, which traces the disillusionment of “good” communist Kung Li. (This background information is courtesy of Mr. Lee Liang Hye.) As late as 1957, the DOO Report on the Emergency (AIR20/10377), p. 17, noted the loss of villagers' land or interference with their farming as a major minus point in resettlement.

61 AIR20/10377, “Review of the Emergency”, DOO, 1957, pp. 13, 17. Also Rhodes House, Oxford, Granada End of Empire series, Malaya, vol. 2, pp. 17–19, for Hugh Humphrey, Secretary for Defence and Internal Security, 1953–57. His 1983 interview described deportation as “ruthless” but “necessary”.

62 Commonwealth Records, Australia: A5954/1, 2294/4, “The Police”, 26 May 1952, Australian Commissioner's Office (Singapore) to DEA. For a more sympathetic account, see Stockwell, A.J., “Policing During the Malayan Emergency”, in Policing and Decolonisation, ed. Anderson, David and Killingray, David (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), pp. 105126.

63 Purcell, Victor, Malaya: Communist or Free, pp. 514. Purcell was a Chinese scholar, a member of the pre-war Chinese Protectorate and post-war military administration in Malaya. For critical views of him, see Short, , Communist Insurrection, pp. 379–87. For more radical and Marxist accounts of the Emergency, see Malaya: The Making of a Neo-Colony, ed. Amin, Mohamed and Caldwell, Malcolm (Nottingham: B.R. Peace Foundation, 1977); and Giukon, Asoka, A People's History of Malaya: the New Emergency (Oldham: Bersatu, 1980), pp. 36. The Tan Cheng Lok Papers confirm Purcell accurately reflected Chinese anger at the harshness of population control, though his serious lack of tact and balance caused problems; see ISEAS Tan Cheng Lok Papers, 3/158–158j, 5/304–7, 6/1–3, 10/passim. Tan refused to disavow Purcell despite severe government pressure (3/271). For Purcell on New Villages, see 6/1 passim. TCL9/2/15–16 has Tan's threat to poll the MCA's ‘200,000 members’ on whether they agreed with Purcell's views on villages point by point — in order to stop the Acting Secretary for Chinese Affairs from demanding MCA disavowal.

64 Strauch, Judith, Chinese Village Politics in the Malaysian State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 6372.

65 Wah, Loh Kok, Beyond the Tin Mines, pp. 127–28, 139, 144–47, 154, 161, 178–81, 192–99. Nonini, Donald's review in Kajian Malaysia 10,1 (1992): 9699, argues Loh “demolishes the myth” of “hearts and minds”, depicting a “Foucaultian nightmare” of control and alienation. Yet if most New Villages had (for instance) schools by late 1952, this was a gain for squatters who had previously had minimal facilities. The hope of more might have encouraged acquiescence, especially since Loh argues the squatters' mode of mobilization was socio-economic. Loh and Harper also present the Emergency as a crisis on the agricultural frontier, see Harper, “Colonial Inheritance”, Chs. 4 and 5.

66 Short, , Communist Insurgency, pp. 400401. For the good example of Sungei Boleh (near Sungei Siput, site of the three 16 June murders which provoked the declaration of Emergency), see Bartlett, Vernon, Report from Malaya (London: D. Verschoyle, 1955), pp. 5051. By 1954 it had a metalled central road, bean factory, all-important pig farm (the government later provided access to better pig breeding stock), fish-pond, elected town council, and visits from medical and veterinary services. Pigs and vegetables might make good guides to New Villagers' experiences and ‘hearts and minds’. Vegetable production plummeted with resettlement in 1950–52. Foodcrop acreage almost recovered 1948 levels by 1954–55. In 1952, the proportion of agriculturalists amongst squatters/resettlers had plummeted by 60 per cent to just 27 per cent (see Stubbs, “Counter-Insurgency and the Economy”, pp. 31–32). Not surprisingly, the October Resolutions were then desperately calling on the MNLA to step up its own farming, including pumpkins and melons (see CO1022/187, Oct. Resolutions, p. 124).

67 WO216/901, 15 Mar. 1956, DOO (Geoffrey Bourne) to Templer.

68 This view dates from an Apr. 1949 paper enclosed with a letter from Gurney to Creech Jones, see Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, pp. 129–33 (132 for the quotation).

69 For the “wind-blown” Chinese, see CO1022/148, R.P. Bingham, Secretary for Chinese Affairs, Federation of Malaya, paper on Chinese for Secretary of Defence, Malaya. This is attached as Appendix B to a memorandum for the Malaya Borneo Committee, MBDC (51) 74, 16 June 1951.

70 Kheng, Cheah Boon's review of Stubbs' Hearts and Minds, in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 22,2 (1991): 427–30.

71 In other low-intensity conflicts that Britain won for instance Kenya (beginning in 1952) and Oman (1957–59 and the 1960s), “hearts and minds” tactics were even less salient.

72 Home, Alistair, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–62 (London: Macmillan, 1977), pp. 131–36, 170–72. What made the Viet Minn and FLN level of “terror” ineffective in Malaya?

73 Yet the towkay and another son — in this fictional example — provided the Japanese with mechanical services, being dubbed “wipers of Japanese bottoms”. See Lim, Suchen Christine, Fistful of Colours (Singapore: EPB, 1993), pp. 253–79.

74 The 90 per cent figure is corroborated by communist sources. Rhodes House, Indian Ocean s251, Malayan Security Service, Political Intelligence Journal 9/1947, report for 15 June 1947, cites the communist Freedom News. According to this there were then 11,800 top grade communists (full Party members): 11,000 Chinese, 760 Indian, 40 Malay and Indonesian. More Malays, of course, would have been low level members of front organizations and farmers' unions. The largest numbers of communists were in Johore (2,650), Perak (1,800) and Selangor (1,700).

75 Rhodes House, Malayan Security Service, Political Intelligence Journals, 1947/6, MCP ‘Freedom News’, 15 Jan. 1947.

76 C01022/187, Precis of MCP document in English, “Central Committee's Resolution on the Question of Policy in Regard to Malay and Indian Work”, 15 May 1952. See Roff, William, The Origins of Malay Nationalism (Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1967), for the roots of Malay nationalism. Up to 10 per cent of the MRLA were non-Chinese, often radicals or recruited through unions. The MRLA 10th Regiment was formed from Pahang Malays in 1949, though government action soon crippled it. See also Kheng, Cheah Boon, Red Star Over Malaya, pp. 6373; and Chee-Beng, Tan, “Ethnic Relations in Malaysia”, Kajian Malaysia 6,1 (06 1987): 99—119. Diaries of MNLA Malays can be found in Rhodes House, Brewer Papers, box 1, file 4, “Interrogations, Johore, 1948—49”.

77 AIR20/10377, DOO Report 1957, Appendix D. The small but heavily Chinese populated island of Penang, which was dominated by urban Georgetown, had 40 guerrillas. In fact, Johore and Perak also suffered two-thirds of the total “incidents” for 1951, see DEFE11/46, “Progress Report on the Emergency in Malaya”, DOO, 15 Nov. 1951. There were roughly 444,000 Chinese in Perak and 738,000 in Johore, meaning that around half the total Chinese population of Malaya lived in just two states (ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers, D.H. Sinclair to Tan, 31 Sept. 1952).

78 See the television broadcast “Malaya: The Undeclared War” (BBC2, 19 June 1998), and its review in Straits Times, 18 06 1998.

79 For the figure, see AIR20/10377, “Review of the Malayan Emergency”, DOO, Sept. 1957, para. 11.

80 This analysis stems partly from sources such as Gungwu, Wang, Community and Nation: Essays on Southeast Asia and the Chinese (Singapore: Heinemann, 1981). However, UK officials also saw the Chinese community as fractured; see Gurney to Lloyd, 8 Oct. 1948, in Stockwell, , Malaya, ii, pp. 7377.

81 This point should not be taken too far, given that Chin Peng's father ran a bicycle repair shop. Were perhaps shop, workshop and moderate plantation owners those whom the MCP had in mind in wanting to court the “medium national bourgeoisie” from Oct. 1951? For Chin Peng, see Coe, John, “The Rusa Merah: Reflections on a Revolutionary”, in The Beagle, Records of the Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences 5,1 (1988): 163–73. Stubbs, “Counter-Insurgency”, p. 51, also cites Tan Cheng Lok as saying most Chinese were overwhelmingly economically motivated. In a December 1946 memorandum, talking of the lack of interest in political developments among the majority of Chinese, Tan Cheng Lok stated that “it has been said that …‘the Chinese in Malaya don't care a damn who owns Malaya so long as they get to milk the cow’” (ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers 1/3, Memorandum of Dec. 1946).

82 The Penang KMT's Blood News of 10 Oct. 1951 specifically instructed members to support MCA work (CO1022/198, extract from PMR10/1951). There were an estimated 40–50,000 KMT members in Malaya (ibid.).

83 ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers, 3.266.

84 Tan Cheng Lok to Thio Chan Bee, May 1949, in ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers, 3.145.

85 I am grateful to Leon Comber for his comments on this, and much else besides.

86 Short, , Communist Insurrection, p. 266.

87 ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers, folio 11, (11b). By early 1952 the MCA was reorganizing as a more mass-based party and specifically planning to recruit a paid Secretary-General for Emergency matters, an Intelligence officer with CID experience and a corps of “intelligence men” country-wide.

88 ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers, folio 11, (7a), message from Police HQ (KL) to all Chief Police Officers, 10 Feb. 1951. Membership was to include three or four MCA and civil representatives. The relevant CID officer was to chair these meetings, and a Special Branch representative was to attend.

89 ISEAS, Tan Cheng Lok Papers, D.H. Sinclair to Tan Cheng Lok, 31 Sept. 1952. Of Perak's 444,000 Chinese (out of a total population of 953,000), 60,000 or 13.2 per cent were MCA members. Johore had 354,000 Chinese out of 738,000 inhabitants; 28,000 or 7.9 per cent of the Chinese were in the MCA. Among Selangor's 362,000 Chinese (out of a total 710,000 inhabitants), 8.5 per cent or 31,000 Chinese were MCA. Another salient point is that the period from the 1940s to early 1950 was, in Malaya as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a time of pemudai (youth). Forty-seven per cent of the Federation of Malaya's population was under twenty, while MRLA fighters tended to be mostly around 20 to 30 years old.

90 See Gungwu, Wang, Community and Nation, pp. 142–90, especially 188–90; and Harper, “Colonial Inheritance”, pp. 152–54, 199–203. See also Koon, Heng Pek, Chinese Politics in Malaysia: A History of the Malaysian Chinese Association (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988). Heng may be too uncritical in assuming MCA influence in New Villages; see Wah, Loh Kok's review in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 22,1 (1991): 200201.

91 Pye, , Guerrilla Communism, pp. 128–60, 225–47, 331–32. We should not exaggerate negative Chinese “hearts and minds” factors: just over 20 per cent surrendered (1948–60), 67 per cent were killed and most of the rest captured. For the MCP's recognition that damaging the populace's economic livelihood was undermining support, see, CO1022/187, High Commissioner of the Federation of Malaya to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 31 Dec. 1952 [from J.P. Morton], sheets 63–67, containing the October 1951 Resolutions' comments on “The Party's Main Achievements and Their Significance”.

92 Philippine insurgency was vulnerable to surrenders when concerns about the ‘moral economy’ (land, justice, fair elections) were addressed but would recover when these problems resurfaced (Lansdale, Edward, In the Midst of Wars… [London, 1972], p. 51.) Ideological-nationalist motives, by contrast, may have led peasants to support the Viet Minn when rational self-interest did not, Luong, Hy V., Revolution in the Village: Tradition and Transformation in North Vietnam (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1992), p. 167. For Loh, , Beyond the Tin Mines, p. 90, the squatters' mobilization was socio-economic. The MRLA also suffered leadership problems: in Sept. 1942 a key meeting was ambushed near Batu Caves, and more leaders were arrested by the British by July 1948. As early as Oct. 1949 one SEP admitted he did not think the MCP would win, because of its lack of experienced leaders. For SEP doubts, Rhodes House, Walker-Taylor Papers, “Statements” of SEP, pp. 29–32. Coates, , Suppressing Insurgency, pp. 4976, is excellent on MNLA weaknesses. See also, Stubbs, , Hearts and Minds, pp. 248–49.

93 For radical politics dividing along communal lines, see Said, Muhammed, “Ethnic Perspectives of the Left”, in Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia, ed. Kahn, Joel and Loh Kok Wah, Francis (Sydney: ASAA and Allen & Unwin, 1992), pp. 254–81, especially 275. Furedi, Frank, “Britain's Colonial Wars: Playing the Ethnic Card”, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 28,1 (03 1990): 7089, argues, by contrast, that Britain precipitated “emergencies” in Kenya, Malaya and British Guiana in order to control radical nationalism.

94 At one point in 1949 Gumey told the Colonial Office “the bandits” had orders not to kill Malays, and to fire only three rounds at police posts (DEFE11/32 (242), 22 Jan. 1949).

95 AIR20/10377, DOO Report 1957, p. 7, para. 21. Stubbs, “Counter-Insurgency”, p. 45 suggests 650,000 were regrouped.

96 Even the moderate, English-speaking teacher Chin Kee Onn (later a government information officer) saw the wartime MPAJA as heroes, an unseen force causing Japanese soldiers to temper brutality lest revenge be taken. See his Malaya Upside Down (Kuala Lumpur: Kuala Lumpur Federal Publishers, 1976, first published 1946). Early insurgent propaganda and diaries made use of the idea that the British were like, or worse than, the hated Japanese, see Rhodes House, Oxford, Brewer Papers, box 1, File 4, Insurgent Diary, entry for Nov. 6, “The British are operating in the same way as Japanese — torturing the people …”, and p. 39, documents recovered on 17 Nov. 1948, on police searches: ‘Their tactics were worse than the Japanese’.

97 Kings College London Archives, Stockwell Papers, Stockwell 7/1–7, 1953 propaganda leaflets (in Chinese and Tamil). Leaflet 1534 mentioned consequences including deportation, arrest, being shot by security forces or communist liquidation as a suspected traitor. It concluded: “So any action in helping the bandits will lead to only one end — death”. This message — betrayal means life and possibly rewards, while loyalty means death — was reinforced by using deportation or the death penalty for insurgents who remained loyal. For only a one-month period, see Straits Times, 16, 23, 24, 30 08 1951.

98 See above and Suyin, Han, My House Has Two Doors, pp. 7779, 81, 232–33; Wah, Loh Kok, Beyond the Tin Mines, Ch. 3–4; and Observer, 4 Jan. 1953, for a Johore Resettlement Officer thinking 75 per cent of New Villagers were “choking with animosity against us”, as quoted in Carruthers, Susan L., Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media, and Colonial Counter-Insurgency, 1944–1960 (London, New York: Leicester University Press, 1995), p. 121.

99 More work is still needed in a number of areas, including: Malay-language sources and especially the Jawi script newspaper Utusan Melayu; Chinese-language newspapers; and oral and documentary work on communist organizations, members and sympathizers.

100 T.N. Harper's thesis (“Colonial Inheritance”) attempted to relate the Emergency to politics and the post-colonial security state. In revised form, it is forthcoming as The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya from Cambridge University Press. See also Ahmad, Zakaria Haji and Sandhu, K.S., “The Malayan Emergency: Event Writ Large”, in Melaka: the Transformation of a Malay Capital, c. 1400–1980, ed. Sandhu, Kernial Singh and Wheatley, Paul (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1983), vol. 1. The effect of the post-colonial Malayan “security state” on its history-writing is hinted at in Kheng, Cheah Boon, “Writing Indigenous History in Malaya: A Survey on Approaches and Problems”, Crossroads 10,2 (1996): 4952.

1 The title is from a captured communist booklet, which talks of Britain setting “iron claws on Malaya” to monopolize its postwar wealth. See Rhodes House, Oxford, Hamer Papers, Box 2, “Lesson 4”, “Aims of the Revolution on Malaya” (c1949, p. 74). The title phrase of my “Screwing down the People: The Malayan Emergency, Decolonisation and Ethnicity” (in Imperial Policy and SE Asian Nationalism: 1930–1957, ed. Antlov, Hans and Tonnesson, Stein [London: Curzon Press, 1995], pp. 83109) is taken from a 1956 quotation from the Director of Operations (DOO).

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“Iron Claws on Malaya”: The Historiography of the Malayan Emergency1

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