Sunday, September 1, 2019


'The Chinese Dilemma’ by Ye Lin-Sheng ISBN:978-097-5164-61-7

Why do you recommend this book?

This is a book written from the perspective of a business person; so maybe it is personal because I am a business person myself. It is written in a very pragmatic way. It looks at the country from both sides and takes in both the positive and negative aspects. It is very honest, very brave, and very direct. The author Ye Lin-Sheng’s parents were from China; he grew up in a middle-class family but made it big in Malaysia and became a successful businessman.

Ye offers the perspective of a Chinese Malaysian, mainly addressing issues of affirmative action and preferential treatment. It has been suggested that ‘The Chinese Dilemma’ could be as controversial as Tun Mahathir’s ‘The Malay Dilemma’ because in the same way it openly addresses many controversial issues that are on the minds of many Malaysians. But the author is pragmatic because he discusses it from a non-partisan angle, pointing out both the positive side and the negative effects of the NEP and other challenges faced by Chinese Malaysians in the bigger picture. At the same time he admits that his opinions may not be accepted by many other Chinese Malaysians.

What does ‘The Chinese Dilemma’ address?

Mainly, it addresses the attitudes of the Chinese, the Malays, and the Westerners towards the New Economic Policies. Ye Lin-Sheng’s position is that Malaysia found a viable solution to historical problems of race and economic division through the NEP, which to him has “delivered the goods” at “an acceptable price”. (pg. 38)

He compares the situation of the Chinese in Malaysia to Chinese Diasporas in other parts of the world.

“Think of those Boat People (many of them of Chinese origin) forced to flee Vietnam; think of Cambodia, where the Chinese were killed or driven away; think of Indonesia, with its persecution and expulsion of the Chinese; think of the Philippines, where for so long the Chinese were effectively denied citizenship. Of course there is Thailand, where the Chinese are said to suffer no discrimination, but that is because they are assimilated to Thai society and have in a way given up their Chinese identity.” (pg. 39)

He also extrapolates this comparison further out to the United States, Canada and Australia, where the Chinese has had to struggle against exclusion and victimisation. In these states, the Malaysian Chinese who migrated to these countries have had more difficulty achieving economic success because of “lack of opportunity, indirect discrimination, the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ and stiffer competition”. (pg. 39)

Ye Lin-Sheng steps out of the fold to present views which are not commonly spoken among non-Malays. To the author, what is missing is the sense of appreciation of how well the Chinese have been able to do even as minority migrants in Malaysia. At the same time, he feels there has also been a lack of sensitivity towards how galling it must be for the Bumiputera to see “the Chinese…putting our stamp all over their cities, how wounded they must have been in their pride”, even if it is not their nature to express their frustration (pg. 46).

The author argues that whatever the cost, because the NEP has helped to reduce the socioeconomic gap between communities, returned a level of autonomy to the Malays and allowed both the Malays and Chinese to increase wealth, its benefits are indisputable.

The book is balanced as it also addresses the grievances of the Chinese. In the same way that Tun Mahathir gave feedback on what is in the heart of the Malays in ‘The Malay Dilemma’, I see Ye Lin-Sheng does the same thing here for the Chinese. He airs out the apprehension of the Chinese towards losing the right to live in the country, which leads to their defensive posture. Another is their difficulty reconciling the idea that the Chinese position is ‘subsidiary’ to the position of the Malays. He brings out the question that is in the back of the minds of many Chinese - “How long must we continue to pay the price of citizenship?” (pg. 56)

“Rightly or wrongly, many Chinese are not reassured that the Malay will act in good faith. Can we trust them to be fair? In shifting the balance of advantage do they know where to stop? If we lower our defenses, will we find ourselves at the start of a slippery slope? If we don’t complain about the NEP, will they think it is not hurting us enough and prolong it indefinitely?” (pg.57)

At the same time, he also deals with the negative points of the NEP – among others, how Chinese-Malay relations is made worse by what he terms ‘Ugly Malays’, individuals who have exploited the NEP (pg. 62). Other negative impacts he points out are the demoralising effects on the beneficiaries of NEP, how it encouraged past victimisation and blaming the Chinese for the plight of the Malays; and how it has polarised race relations.

These are fair questions that are nagging at the back of the minds of the Chinese which often dictate their behaviour. It is fair and important that someone expresses how we Malaysians feel to help us understand each other better; and this book actually does that.

In the concluding chapters, the author brings the discussion to a bigger picture, comparing the experiences of Chinese Malaysians with other Chinese communities around the world.

“When we keep an open and skeptical mind, we may see that the non-Malays has not had a bad deal in Malaysia. To those who disagree with me, my rejoinder is just look around the world. The lesson is clear - peace and national cohesion is better than war and disintegration. I’m not saying that the non-Malays have no grounds for complaint - they have, as earlier chapters have made it clear. But in grievances as in all things, it’s best to have a sense of proportion.” (pg. 135)

I like this idea of a sense of proportion. Let’s have a sense of proportion and evaluate things in a balance. We need to look ahead. In his book, Ye does not deny that some Chinese may feel hurt by the NEP and it is hard to put the past behind, but he writes, “we Chinese have always been good at saying, Suan le (‘Forget it’ or, ‘let it be’) and getting on with the next task.” (pg. 192)

Ye ends the book by sharing a quote from a young black American from the book ‘Native Stranger’:

“Neither a black American or a white American says he has anywhere else to go now. He is here to stay, he must make it work or lose it all here.” (pg. 197)

Ye suggests that this also reflects the situation of the Chinese Malaysians – make it work or lose it all here.

In short, the book is written very directly and pragmatically - not everybody will agree with what the author says, but it is a book worth reading to understand the feelings and position of the Chinese Malaysian community better.

End of Part 2

Anas Zubedy
Malaysian Movement for Moderates

PART 3 will cover the Malays - ‘The Malays: Their Problems and Future’ by Syed Husin Ali. ISBN: 978-983-9541-61-8

Note : This article is taken from my book The Middle Path, chapter 4.

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