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The Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army – Facts Known Half a Century Later

 

Hara Fujio

 

   The Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) led by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) deployed the most effective resistance movement against the Japanese occupation. When the MCP was virtually a legal political party between the end of World War II and the declaration of Emergency in 1948, various documents and memoirs dealing with the struggle of the MPAJA were published. After the MCP started armed struggle in 1948, former members either went underground or were deported to China. Those who remained in the legitimate world kept silent. Thus, there emerged half a century bereft of information. However, ever since the MCP signed its cease-fire treaties with the Malaysian and Thai governments and stopped its armed struggle in 1989, former MPAJA members have begun to publish their reminiscence once again. Firstly, those who had been deported to China and lived there ever since started to come out with their memoirs. Then, in recent years, others who had participated in the anti-British and later anti-Malaysian armed struggle began to publish their versions. Furthermore, historians such as Prof. C. F. Yong also began collecting important information from the former members in China. Mainly relying on these new sources of information, I would like to reconstruct the actual features of the MPAJA.

 

1.         Leaders of the MCP

(1)  Lai Tek    

     As the MPAJA was the military wing of the MCP, the central committee of the MCP led the MPAJA as well. The supreme, dictatorial leader of both organizations was Lai Tek, a Vietnamese. He came to Malaya at the end of 1934, became a central committee member of the MCP in 1936, its deputy secretary in 1936 and finally, its secretary general in 1939. It is well known today that he was an agent of Britain both before and after the war and of Japan during the war.

     I refer to a few facts revealed recently. Firstly, his Vietnamese name is Hoang A Nhac (Huang A-yue in Mandarin). Secondly, the date of his arrest by the Japanese kempei-tai, who made him a Japanese agent, has not been ascertained. However, the evening edition of the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun dated 15 March 1942 (Issued on 14 March) clearly stated that the president (sic) of the Malay (sic) Communist Party, Huang Shao-dong (another pseudonym of Lai Tek…Hara) aged 33, was arrested on 8th March and was forced into revealing the entire clandestine structure of the Party. Had the Malayan people been aware of this newspaper report at that time, severe damage to the MCP and the MPAJA could have been avoided.

     After his betrayal was revealed in early 1947, he ran away to Bangkok and was killed there either by members of the Thai Communist Party or the MCP.

   

(2)        Huang Cheng @ Huang Shi

When the war started, Huang was the No.2 in the party hierarchy. He was born in Xian You Xian of Pu Tian, Fujian, in 1913.  He joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1933 and assumed the position of secretary of the CCP Zhong Xin Xian Committee of Pu Tian in 1934. He was arrested in April that year. Huang was expelled from the CCP because of misunderstandings over negotiations which he had made himself in order to secure his own release. He soon afterwards came to Malaya. Huang joined the MCP and was readmitted to the CCP in 1936. He became a central committee cum politbureau member of the MCP in September 1936 and then was made the organizational head cum central committee member in April 1939.

 Due to the betrayal of Lai Tek, he was arrested by the Japanese army in April 1942. At that time, he was the propaganda head and also a central committee member. He died in prison on 9 August 1942. His wife, Li Ming, who was arrested together with him, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by the Japanese military court. She suspected that there must have been a traitor among the top party leaders. An ex-MPAJA source claims that if each party member’s awareness and his/her theoretical level of Marxism had been high enough, they would have been able to detect Lai Tek’s betrayal earlier.

 

(3)        Ke Min @ Cai Ke-ming @ Da Li

      Hainanese. Ke became a central committee member in 1941. When the war started, he was concurrently an East Pahang local committee secretary. After Pahang was occupied, he worked at the party centre. Ke narrowly escaped the Batu Caves massacre on 1 September 1942 in which most of the top MPAJA leaders were killed by the Japanese army.    

      Ke Min was arrested on 10 April 1943. Ng Yeh Lu (Renamed Wee Mong Chen after the end of the war) was taken to the spot of his arrest and forced to identify him. A former kempei confirms that his arrest was also dependent on Lai Teks information.

None of the MCP materials refer to Ke Mins personal history. However, in a memoir of the wife of Cai Bai-yun, who had been the MCP secretary in the mid-1930s, we find an extremely interesting passage as quoted below. The couple had left Malaya towards the end of 1937 and entered Yen-an in early 1938 (where the headquarters of the CCP was located at that time). 

 

When we had completed our study at the Anti-Japanese Military College of Yen-an at the end of September 1938, we prepared to proceed to the front line. It was decided to organize an Overseas Operation Corps which consisted mainly of overseas Chinese. The corps was to go to Southeast Asian countries to engage in operations to mobilize overseas Chinese for the anti-Japanese war of our home country (meaning China … Hara). The chief of the corps was Cai Ke-ming, his deputy was Cai Bai-yun. It had more than twenty members including me.

 

Cai Bai-yun went to Vietnam from Yen-an and died of illness in Saigon in 1946.

 

      It is certain that Cai Ke-ming was ordered by the CCP to mobilize Malayan Chinese for the anti-Japanese war of China, i.e. their home country. This was confirmed by another MPAJA source recently. It clearly states that Cai Ke-ming had once studied in the Anti-Japanese Military College of Yen-an.

 

(4)        China, Malaya and the Leaders

      Of 13 Central Committee members of the MCP (excluding Lai Tek), 6 persons were born in China, 4 were born in Malaya (the place of birth of 3 others are not known). Putting together all the available sources, of 27 leaders whose birth places can be identified, 18 were born in China and 9 in Malaya. Thus, the vast majority of the MCP and the MPAJA leaders were born in China. Besides this, the Chairman of the MPAJA central military committee, Lau Yew, had already been a CCP member before coming to Malaya. As typically exemplified by Huang Cheng and Cai Ke-ming, they had close, specific relations with the CCP.  Nonetheless, compared with the top MCP leaders of the pre-war years who came to Malaya as adults (and as CCP members), the leaders of the anti-Japanese war exhibited a few new characteristics:

1.       Many of them had come to Malaya during their childhood.   

2.       There emerged many Malayan-born members.  

 

(5) Sequela of the Campaigns against the MCP and the MPAJA    

      Of 14 Central Committee members of the MCP, 12 were annihilated by the Japanese army due to the betrayal of Lai Tek. Besides them, many other leaders were arrested and/or killed due to betrayal either of Lai Tek or of someone else. Ng Yeh Lu, who had been arrested due to Lai Tek’s betrayal, was suspected by the Party of being a traitor because he was not executed but instead, was kept imprisoned by the Japanese throughout the war. Many other leaders who were captured but either survived imprisonment or escaped from prison were suspected of collaboration with Japan. They had either to prove their innocence by showing concrete evidence of innocence or had to prove their obedience to the Party by executing traitors or Japanese agents. Those who failed to do so were demoted or expelled from the Party. It is supposed that this created serious mistrust within the Party and as a result weakened it when they resumed armed struggle in 1948. When the MCP split in the early 1970s, many ex-leaders who had been demoted earlier supported the splinter group. This can be considered to be another sequela of the earlier war against the MCP.

 

2.         Why the MCP Surrendered their Weapons

      As to the reasons why the MCP decided to surrender their weapons to the British authority although the former had enough strength to fight against the latter, many arguments have been presented on this subject. The best accepted explanation is that, as a British agent, dictator Lai Tek imposed this decision directly on the Party.  Here I would like to introduce a recent view of an ex-MPAJA member.

 

  The crime of Lai Tek… was really grave enough to surprise the others. However, it is wrong if we consider this internal spy as a man who could cause astounding storms and alter history…. He could only damage the revolution slightly. He had no ability to stop the great torrent of revolution.    

 

  There were three fundamental reasons why the strategic objectives of the anti-Japanese war in Malaya were not realized. First, conditions were not ripe enough for Malaya to achieve independence. Secondly, the MCP itself, a leading nucleus of the anti-Japanese war, commited serious mistakes while leading the movement. Thirdly, the British government stuck to its colonial policy and effectively suppressed the Malayan independence movement….

 

  In order to establish an independent country immediately after the Japanese surrender, several conditions had to be met. First of all, there should have been a united organization attractive to the people of all the three major ethnic groups. This was necessary to gain their support and lead them to move on from the anti-Japanese war to the independence war. However, due to the different historical backgrounds of the three ethnic groups and due to conditions at that time, this could not be achieved.

     In the case of the Chinese, a majority of them still identified with China rather than with Malaya at that time.  Japans war in China had aroused strong anti-Japanese sentiments and strengthened pro-China feelings among the Malayan Chinese. As for the Malays, except for a few who were close to the Chinese, most took no more than sympathetic or neutral stands toward the MPAJA.

  In the case of the Indians, their sojourners thinking was even stronger than that of the Chinese. They abhorred the British colonial authorities and longed for Indian independence. Neither the MCP nor the MPAJA really understood the situation of the Indians. Therefore, work for the united front of the various nations (meaning ethnic communities … Hara) could not be formulated effectively.

 

     This is a very objective and persuasive viewpoint. Thus, circumstances did not allow the MCP to turn the anti-Japanese war into an anti-British war.

 

      Lastly, I would like to refer to the Japanese who joined the communist guerrillas. About 200 Japanese consisting of soldiers and civilian employees joined the MPAJA. While most of them joined soon after the end of the war, some who could not support the oppressive Japanese policies deserted the Japanese army to join the MPAJA during the war. They were resolved, together with the Malayan people, to liberate Malaya from British colonial rule. When the MCP finally decided not to wage an anti-British war, Lai Tek considered them to be obstacles to the implementation of this peaceful line. In accordance with his order, nearly 100 Japanese members were killed. Of the remaining one hundred, only two managed to survive the protracted armed struggle that ended in 1989.

      I do not intend to accuse Lai Tek here. I wish, instead, to stress the multiplicity of tragedies caused by the war.

 

(Italicized Chinese names mean Mandarin pronunciation).

 

Hara Fujio is a Professor of Asian Studies at Nanzan University in Japan

 

       References

 

1.       Daini Yasen Kempei-tai (Second Field Military Police), Malaya Kyousanto Hatten Narabini Katsudo Jokyou (Development and Activities of the Malayan Communist Party), dated 8 March 1942.  This file was provided to me by Prof. Akashi Yoji. Japanese contemporary sources called the MCP all the while as Malai Communist Party. However, the cover of this file is a rare exception that correctly called the party as Malayan.  

2.       Tsutsu Chihiro, Nampo Gunsei Ron (Treaties on the Southern Military Administration),  Tokyo: Nohon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai, 1944.

3.       Zhong Ping, Quanquan Chizi Xin, Tiaotiao Ben Shengdi (Soundly Kept Pure Heart, Took a Long Way to the Holy Place), Cultural and Historical Materials Studies Committee, Peoples Political Consultative Conference of China, ed., Zhengrong Suiyue Huaqiao Qingnian Huiguo Canjia Kangzhan Jishi (Harsh Years Documents of Overseas Chinese Youths Who Returned to China to Participate in the Anti-Japanese War), Beijing: Zhongguo Wenshi Chubanshe, 1988.

4.       Interview with Mr. Zhang Ming-jin in August 1991. See, Hara, Malaya Kyousanto Moto Kanbu Kaikenki (Interview Records with the Former Leaders of the MCP), Institute of Developing Economies, Ajia Keizai, July 1992.

5.       Xinma Qiaoyou Hui, Malaiya Renmin Kangri Jun (Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army), (“MPAJA henceforth), Hong Kong: Witness Publish Co., 1992.

6.       Xinma Qiaoyou Hui, Malaiya Renminj Kangri Douzheng Shiliao Xianji (Selected Historical Materials of Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Struggle), (“Selected Historical Materials henceforth), Hong Kong: Witness Publish Co., 1992.   

7.       Zhongkuo Kangri Zhanzheng Shixuehui (Anti-Japanese War History Society of China), Zhongkuo Renmin Kangri Zhanzheng Jinian Guan (Chinese Peoples Anti-Japanese War Museum), Haiwai Qiaobao yu Kangri Zhanzheng (Overseas Compatriots and the Anti-Japanese War), Beijing: Beijing Chubanshe, 1995.

8.       C.F. Yong, The Origins of Malayan Communism, Singapore: South Seas Society, 1997.

9.         Editing Committee of the Enlarged “Xie Bei”, “Enlarged ‘Xie Bei (Blood Monument)’”, Hong

    Kong, Publisher not available, 1997.

10.   Interview with Mr. Chin Peng, Secretary General of the MCP, in Canberra, Australia, on 24 February 1999.

11.   Shan Ru-hong, “Senmeilan Kangri Youji Zhanzheng Huiyilu” (Recollection of Anti-Japanese

   Guerrilla War in Negeri Sembilan), Hong Kong, Nan Dao Chubanshe, 1999.