Malaya 1946-1957

World War II : Malay Principalities

The Malay peninsula had a very peculiar political structure, consisting of the STRAITS SETTLEMENTS - Penang, Malacca, Singapore, British colonies, the FEDERATED MALAY STATES - Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Pahang - and the UNFEDERATED MALAY STATES - Kedah, Johore, Kelantan, Trengganu, Perlis, all of which were, politically and economically, more or less tied with Britain. Together they were one of the world's leading producers of both TIN and NATURAL RUBBER.
The country was dominated by the ethnic Malayans, but was home to a large Chinese minority, brought in by the British to work the plantations and mines.
In December 1941 the Japanese easily occupied the peninsula, to stay until the end of the war. The Japanese were interested in securing the peninsula's natural resources. The northern principalities of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Trengganu were annexed by Thailand. Japanese occupation resulted in food shortage, rationing, inflation, factors which in turn caused a partially voluntary, partially enforced migration of urban, mainly Chinese, into the countryside, greatly increasing the number of squatters. Blaming the Malayan Chinese for having supported China during the Sino-Japanese War (since 1937), Japanese authorities in February 1942 launched a pogrom against the Chinese (Sook Ching Massacre), in the course of which several 10,000 persons were killed. Resistance emerged, developing along ethnic lines, the most significant organization being the MPAJA (Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army; Chinese-dominated). At the end of the war, the northern principalities' independence was restored; the MPAJA moved to punish collaborators; as the latter were mainly Malays, the relation between Chinese and Malays became tense.

The cession of the northern 4 Malay states to Thailand and the placement of the remainder - disregarding the previous status (Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States, Straits Settlements) under a common administration had creatd a Japanese-occupied Malaya with an ethnic Chinese population majority.
The Japanese pursued a policy of ethnic discrimination, the ethnic Chinese being treated the worst, the Malay, comparatively, the most lenient, the ethnic Indians somewhere in-between. The Malay peninsula was rich in rubber and tin, which, for Japan were of little interest as both resources were not in short supply. Malaya was of strategic value, for it provided access to the vital oil fields of Sumatra, and because of Singapore's naval base.

REFERENCE Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore Story, 1999, 680 pp., memoirs of Singaporean PM until 1965, has chapter on Japanese occupation
Kumar Ramakrishna, Emergency Propaganda. The Winning of Malayan Hearts and Minds 1948-1958, Padstow : Curzon 2002
Article Federated Malay States, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1945, pp.282-283; Straits Settlements pp.663-664; Unfederated Malay States p.706 (on events in 1944) [G]
Article Federated Malay States, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1946, p.308; Straits Settlements p.702, Unfederated Malay States pp.744-745 (on events in 1945) [G]
Article : Malaya, British, in : Americana Annual 1943 pp.448-450 (on events of 1935) [G]
Article : Malaya, British, in : Americana Annual 1944 pp.423-424 (on events of 1936) [G]
Article : British Malaya, in : Americana Annual 1945 pp.115-117 (on events of 1944) [G]
Article : British Malaya, in : Americana Annual 1946 pp.124-126 (on events of 1945) [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 16th 2002, last revised on October 20th 2006

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