Time to recognise true Malaysian

Malay Mail, Tuesday, March 12, 2013

INVARIABLY, the appeal for Lim Lian Geok’s citizenship reinstatement would be on the wish list of major Chinese based NGOs’ memorandums. Teacher Lian Geok’s predicament was the focus of this column last April titled On Acceptance and Tolerance. This revisit is necessitated owing to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s decision to attend the recent Dong Zong CNY Open House. This critical decision is already setting the stage for a major thaw in government-Chinese education engagement. There is anxious anticipation from both sides.

SHOULDER TO SHOULDER: The group at the opening of ‘NEWSBITS’ Educational Cartoon Exhibition by the then education minister (Tun) Abdul Razak on Aug 9, 1956 were (from left): Liu Huai Gu (inspectorate of education), Too Joon Hing (assistant minister of education), Huang Yao (the artist), Razak and Lian Geok. The exhibition was sponsored by the Kuala Lumpur Chinese School Teachers’ Association

In political struggles the hero or villain roles are interchangeable. That’s when the common assertion about history being written by victors come to play. For context, let’s look at these personages. Dr M.K. Rajakumar of Labour Party was considered a “trouble maker” and ISA’d from 1966 to 1969. To many other Malaysians, he was a selfless man whose quest for social government policies, perhaps till today. Rajakumar was also famed for habitually not charging consultation fees from those he knew could not aff ordit. He passed away in 2008 never openly acknowledged by government leaders though much admired in private, by all.

MILESTONE MEETING: Lian Geok shakes hands with the British High Commissioner Donald MacGillivray who visited the Confucian School, Kuala Lumpur on Oct 28, 1954

Lim Hock Siew, former PAP politician and Said Zahari, former editor-in-chief Utusan Malaysia were ISA’d in 1963 under Operation Cold Storage for 20 years and 17 years respectively. They were regarded a threat to national security, though never formally charged. Arguably, the top celebrity in the ISA Gallery is Chia Thye Poh. He was ISA’d in 1966 (at 25 years old) and released in 1989 to be placed under house arrest in Sentosa Island till 1998. He refused repeated off ers to be released on the condition that he disavow affi liation with the Communist Party of Malaya and renounce violence. Chia’s conscience wouldn’t allow it as accommodating the authorities’ requests was akin to an admission. He said he wouldn’t fi nd peace. Chia could only accept freedom the righteous way. Talking about principles, one can only imagine the extreme frustration of his keepers and I must think, his kin too. Theirs was in an era where political ideologies formed the backdrop in everyday lives. Folks were routinely labelled rightists or leftists, and being the latter was perilous. I suppose the Cold War forced positions into either a “with us or with them”.

TABLE TALK: Lian Geok meeting with education minister Abdul Rahman Talib, with inspectorate of education Zhong Min Zhang acting as interpreter. This picture was taken sometime in late 1959 or early 1960

Teacher Lian Geok first came here in 1927 and taught around South East Asia until 1935. The same year he decided to make Malaya his home and taught in the Confucian Middle School. On Aug 12, 1961 he was served the notice of intention to retract his citizenship. One week later his teaching permit was revoked. His fi ght to retain his citizenship commenced on Sept 12 and by Feb 27, 1964, his case was dismissed by the Privy Council, London and his citizenship offi cially revoked on Oct 23 the same year. One of his counsels was Tan Sri P.G. Lim.

ARRIVAL: Accompanied by his deputy Zhou Man Sha, Lian Geok arrived at Penang Airport on Sept 9, 1956, welcomed by leaders of the Penang Chinese community
Teacher Lian Geok firmly believed that the only way to persuade migrant workers to stay and help build the nation is to provide a sturdy education for their children. It is a deep cultural practice that children must be sufficiently provided for, to do better than their parents so that parents can be well tended in old age. Then, it was a firmly self-help society.

And to convince the constituents he had planted his roots, he sought citizenship in the Federation of Malaya, and was granted in September 1951. His wasn’t a result of any “social contract” in the run-up to the pre-Merdeka negotiations. Malayan self-rule was a mere concept at that point.

He ran foul of the authorities when he opposed the Rahman Talib Report in 1960 which proposed the conversion of Chinese secondary schools into English medium ones.

Sixty of such schools which resolutely refused have remained until today and are known as Independent Schools. They conduct their A-levels known as the Unifi ed Examination Certificate (UEC). The UEC is accepted as an entrance qualifi cation by top universities worldwide, however it is still not recognised by our public universities. Teacher Lian Geok passed away in 1985, aged 84. The funeral procession was reported to be five kilometres long. He was a co-founder of the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association better known as Jiao Zong, which took care of the welfare of the lowly paid teachers then. The SJKCs now number about 1,300 of the nearly 8,000 primary schools and they routinely take in 20 odd per cent of total primary school enrolments.

Yes, he was undoubtedly a true champion of Chinese education. As the SJKCs are part and parcel of our National School system, it is only fair and correct to cite Teacher Lian Geok’s contribution based on our National Education Policy. He was one of the early pillars of our education foundation.

Many students from the system became leaders in commerce, industry, politics and government. His “guilt” was being steadfast with his point of view. His was an era where the authorities believed their view was the only correct view and dissenters faced the whip. Yet, Teacher Lian Geok was relentless. There was no commercial or career gain and he was already 60 years of age. Could he be just like the authorities, were “fi ghting for the same cause”?

AUDIBLE VOICE: Lian Geok (left) speaking at a 1956 function; Delegates of the ‘Three Major Organisations’ meeting the late prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman on March 27, 1958. Seated (from left) were Wen Tien Kuang, Wu Zhi Yuan, the Tunku, Lian Geok, Chen Ji Mou (president of the United Chinese Schools Committees Association of Malaysia) and Sim Mow Yu

Upon being notified by the Registrar-General of Citizens after a three year battle, he told reporters he had no regret sacrificing for a noble cause. There is no time like the present to re-instate Teacher Lian Geok’s citizenship. Symbolic it may be but still a gesture of critical fence-mending. The PM has set the tone with Dong Zong, now he can engage Jiao Zong.

The “Soul of the Malaysian Chinese” deserves to rest in peace.

YEW MENG is the media and marketing adviser to the Redberry Group CEO

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