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About this book

First published in 1982, this text is widely regarded as a leading general history of the country. This new and revised edition brings the story of this fascinating country up to date, incorporating the latest scholarship on every period of Malaysian history, including recent research into pre-modern times. This text thus provides a historical framework that helps explain the roots of the issues dominating Malaysian life today, and the difficulties of creating a multicultural state where resources are equitably shared and the rights of all citizens are acknowledged.

This book is a key text for courses on Southeast Asian history and politics. Covering a range of disciplinary subjects in the humanities and social sciences, it is also useful for anyone interested in the assessment of young, modernizing nations.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Environment and Peoples of Malaysia

Hoping to foster national identity and cultivate patriotism, the Malaysian government announced that from 2013 history would be a required subject for the secondary school SPM examination (Malaysian Certificate of Education). This decision generated considerable public debate about the way Malaysian history should be presented and what citizens should know about their collective past. Even the apparently straightforward task of establishing a historical chronology raises questions because Malaysia is a relatively new country, and its current borders were only finalized in 1965. By the same token, the basic issue of when Malaysian history begins is problematic because developments in the Melaka Straits and western Borneo cannot be reconstructed with any certainty before the beginning of the fifteenth century CE. The rise around 1400 of a great entrepôt, Melaka, on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, has thus been accepted as the starting point for a ‘national’ history. Since the 1980s the ‘pre-Melakan period’ has been accorded more attention in school textbooks, but it is still generally regarded as of minor significance in the evolution of contemporary Malaysian society. Yet Melaka’s development from a quiet fishing village to a world-renowned emporium and centre of Malay culture cannot be explained unless one realizes that behind the splendour of its court and the vigour of its commerce lay traditions of trade, government and cross-cultural cooperation that had evolved over centuries. This chapter will therefore show that the story of Malaysia does not begin at Melaka but stretches back deep into the past. An examination of Melaka’s heritage not only provides the context essential for an understanding of later events, but reveals themes that continue to be relevant as Malaysian history unfolds.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

2. The Heritage of the Past

Hoping to foster national identity and cultivate patriotism, the Malaysian government announced that from 2013 history would be a required subject for the secondary school SPM examination (Malaysian Certificate of Education). This decision generated considerable public debate about the way Malaysian history should be presented and what citizens should know about their collective past. Even the apparently straightforward task of establishing a historical chronology raises questions because Malaysia is a relatively new country, and its current borders were only finalized in 1965. By the same token, the basic issue of when Malaysian history begins is problematic because developments in the Melaka Straits and western Borneo cannot be reconstructed with any certainty before the beginning of the fifteenth century CE. The rise around 1400 of a great entrepôt, Melaka, on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, has thus been accepted as the starting point for a ‘national’ history. Since the 1980s the ‘pre-Melakan period’ has been accorded more attention in school textbooks, but it is still generally regarded as of minor significance in the evolution of contemporary Malaysian society. Yet Melaka’s development from a quiet fishing village to a world-renowned emporium and centre of Malay culture cannot be explained unless one realizes that behind the splendour of its court and the vigour of its commerce lay traditions of trade, government and cross-cultural cooperation that had evolved over centuries. This chapter will therefore show that the story of Malaysia does not begin at Melaka but stretches back deep into the past. An examination of Melaka’s heritage not only provides the context essential for an understanding of later events, but reveals themes that continue to be relevant as Malaysian history unfolds.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

3. Melaka’s Legacy in a Changing Malay World, 1400–1699

During the fifteenth century Melaka rose to become, in the words of the Portuguese apothecary Tomé Pires, ‘of such importance and profit that it seems to me it has no equal in the world’.1 Yet Melaka’s great success and its honoured place in Malay history were not due merely to its prosperity and renown as a trading centre. Building upon an illustrious past, it established patterns of statecraft and a lifestyle in which the Malay language and the Islamic faith were central. Emulated by subsequent Malay kingdoms, the values promoted by Melaka became the basis of what was later termed ‘traditional’ Malay culture. The rulers of Johor, direct descendants of the Melaka dynasty, could only partially replicate the success of their predecessors, but memories of Melaka’s formidable accomplishments lived on. Well after the Portuguese conquest of 1511, Malays told Europeans that their forebears had built a world-famous city from ‘seven or eight fishing huts’ and had there developed ‘a language named Malay’ that was regarded as ‘the most courteous and refined in all India’.2 As an inspirational emblem of Malay achievement, the 1957 decision to announce independence in Melaka even before it was proclaimed in Kuala Lumpur symbolized the town’s special status in Malaysia’s national narrative. This chapter accords Melaka considerable attention, not only because of its contribution to the evolution of Malay identity, but because its legacy has been subject to various interpretations, sometimes to further political, ethnic or religious agendas.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

4. The Demise of the Malay Entrepôt State, 1699–1819

The fall of Melaka in 1511 and its aftermath led to a reshaping of the Malay world. Though Johor appeared as the logical successor, its claims were challenged by other Malay polities and the regicide of 1699 fundamentally ruptured its prestigious dynastic line. The implications were far-reaching, since the door was opened for Bugis migrants to establish themselves as effective rulers of Johor. Intermarriages did not resolve the resulting tensions, for questions of ethnic identity and loyalty acquired a new complexity. In the absence of an acknowledged leader of the Malay world, individual Malay states had greater freedom in seeking their political and economic goals and the period covered in this chapter saw a marked increase in the number of Chinese arriving in the region. The northern Malay states enjoyed considerable independence because of the internal problems of their overlord Ayutthaya, but in the seventeenth century a new dynasty and the resumption of Thai-Burmese conflicts once more brought Thai pressure on their Malay vassals. Meanwhile, increased Anglo-Dutch rivalry introduced further shifts in the regional power balance. By the early nineteenth century the British had established their dominance of Asian waters, most obviously represented by their new settlement on the island of Singapore, which bore all the hallmarks of the traditional Straits entrepôt but lacked the fundamental element of Malay leadership.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

5. ‘A New World is Created’, 1819–74

This chapter covers a period in which the trajectory of Malaysian history was fundamentally redirected. In 1824, a few years after the establishment of the new British settlement in Singapore in 1819, Britain and the Netherlands signed a treaty in which Dutch and British spheres of interest were delineated by a line drawn down the Melaka Straits that divided the cultural unity of the Malay world in ways still evident today. Broadening British interests halted the penetration of Thai authority further down the Peninsula, but diplomatic arrangements acknowledged Siam’s long-standing overlordship in the northern region. Britain’s expansion into Asia encouraged individual Englishmen to try their fortune further afield, bringing Borneo into the imperial orbit. In 1874 the Pangkor Agreement laid the basis for the residential system, and thus opened the door to the eventual extension of British control over the entire Peninsula and effectively over northwestern Borneo. These political arrangements took place against a background of wide-ranging changes, including a marked rise in the numbers of Chinese arriving in the Malay world to work in tin mines and gambier and pepper plantations. Nonetheless, it is not change as such that makes the nineteenth century of special significance, since the Malay world had been absorbing and responding to outside influences for hundreds of years.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

6. The Making of ‘British’ Malaya, 1874–1919

This chapter traces political developments in the Melaka Straits and northwest Borneo from the signing of the Pangkor Treaty in 1874 to 1919. In a process that stretched over many years, colonial authority on the Peninsula was formalized in several different administrative units that were collectively known as ‘British’ Malaya, while Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo became British protectorates. Although 1874 is thus a convenient date to mark the beginning of Malaysia’s colonial period, it did not signify a radical change in imperial policy, since for some time the Colonial Office had been discussing the possible appointment of British Agents in the western Malay states. Nor does the Pangkor Treaty signal a clear break between two different phases of economic development. Despite the expectations of the commercial community in the Straits Settlements, Chinese predominance continued in both tin mining and most forms of plantation agriculture and not until the 1890s did the initiative pass to Europeans. The significance of the Pangkor Treaty is the fact that it represented a turning point in the formal relationship between Britain and the Malay states. Arguments for and against expansion of British control had been tossed back and forth since Singapore’s founding, but once the Pangkor Treaty had been concluded it essentially became a question of how and when the British ‘sphere of influence’ would become a legal reality.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

7. The Functioning of a Colonial Society, 1900–41

With the conflicts of the nineteenth century behind them, the British claim that they were simply ‘advising’ the rulers became the foundation myth of colonial government. Without any fear of contradiction, a British politician visiting Malaya could thus assert that ‘British influence became established in the Malay States – Federated as well as Unfederated – not as the result of conquest or aggression, but at the invitation of the rulers’ who had ‘always displayed a sincere affection and loyalty towards the British Crown’.1 The fiction that the ‘traditional’ structure of government had survived unaltered and should be maintained by the colonial regime was openly expressed in 1927 by Hugh Clifford, the second Resident of Pahang and now High Commissioner to the Malay states, who told the Federal Council that ‘no mandate has ever been extended to us by Rajas, Chiefs or People to vary the system of government’.2 Such assertions ignored the reality of the imposition of colonial political control discussed in the previous chapter, as well as the far-reaching effects of the socioeconomic changes the British had introduced to provide European capital with a supportive investment environment.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

8. Negotiating a New Nation, 1942–69

At the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941 the outlines of contemporary Malaysia, though certainly visible, were only lightly drawn. More than a generation after the creation of ‘British Malaya’, the administrative unity envisaged by colonial officials remained elusive, and though closer connections with the Borneo states were contemplated, the nature of any future affiliation was unclear. Singapore’s fall to the Japanese initiated a long and sometimes painful process which involved not merely the negotiation and defence of political boundaries, but debates about the determinants of a national identity and the extent to which priorities should be shaped by ethnic considerations. Critical events – the Japanese invasion in 1942, the rejection of the Malayan Union in 1946, the Emergency, 1948−60, independence in 1957, the formation of Malaysia in 1963, and the ethnic riots of 1969 – can all be seen as steps in ‘the making of Malaysia’. As this chapter will show, at no stage was the outcome predictable; indeed, at times the very existence of the country seemed threatened by the succession of challenges that marked the end of British colonialism and the beginning of the experiment in nation-building.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

9. Restructuring Malaysia, 1969–1999

Most accounts of Malaysia’s post-independence history treat 1969 as a watershed marking the beginning of a new era in the country’s political, economic and social development. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the sight of young Malaysians ice-skating in a shopping mall built where Chinese tin-miners once toiled encapsulates the often breath-taking changes that have occurred since the inception of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971. The implementation of the NEP was a major turning point in Malaysia’s history and for the first time its leaders sought a new direction in ethnic relations that diverged significantly from the colonial conception. Because the implications of this important shift continue to be felt throughout Malaysian society, the NEP deserves to be studied carefully. For almost a generation, debates over the impact of these changes have provided the stuff of academic discussions on Malaysia, with the inclusion of many contending voices. This chapter gives particular attention to the economic developments that have had such wide-ranging effects on Malaysian society. Many of these were introduced during the long tenure of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister of Malaysia (1981−2003), which shaped Malaysia’s social restructuring in fundamental ways.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya

10. Malaysia at a Cross-Roads, 1999–2015

Despite the government’s optimism as expressed in the new millennial slogan, Malaysia Boleh!, the economic and political events of 1998−1999 helped to widen existing divisions within Malaysian society. A series of drastic emergency measures by no means guaranteed immunity from the effects of the 1997−1998 Asian currency crisis, even though food prices were restrained. The massive outflow of foreign direct investment contributed to the doubling of unemployment figures to 5.2 per cent, in turn exposing the lack of social protection policies for the poor and vulnerable. Coinciding with the economic crisis was a political struggle for power within the government, resulting in the dismissal and imprisonment of the Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. At the time the implications of these events were unclear, but with historical hindsight they can be viewed as signaling a shift in the country’s political mood. As the new millennium dawned, the emergence of a Malay anti-government sentiment in support of Anwar Ibrahim encouraged non-Malay groups to voice more openly their deeply-felt but mainly silent discontent. A rapid decline in Prime Minister Mahathir’s popularity presaged his eventual replacement as head of state in 2003, ending the longest and the most controversial government in Malaysia’s turbulent history as an independent nation.
BW Andaya, LY Andaya
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