The Ugly Chinaman

By Mariam Mokhtar
Apr 25, 11 | Malaysiakini

It is heartbreaking for Malaysians to see that the country is more fractured and divided than at any time in its history – Malays against Chinese, east Malaysians against peninsular Malaysians, Muslims against non-Muslims, and so on.

In the aftermath of the Sarawak election, the swing of votes to the opposition alarmed BN, but instead of looking in the mirror at itself, BN has again sought to blame others for its faults.

As is the norm after any election, it is the Chinese which BN conveniently picks on to ‘explain’ its poor showing in the voting pattern.

Why should we question the loyalty of the Chinese when BN should examine its own leadership, its policies and the way its conducts itself before, during and after an election?

No one is saying that the opposition is perfect or blameless, but BN has had 54 years of governance and many of the problems that we now face, like the poverty of the indigenous population of Sarawak and Sabah, the gap between the rich and the poor, the endemic corruption, the manner in which politicians see politics as a short-cut to riches, the polarisation of the various ethnic groups, are all because of BN’s own policies.

Dictators and communists like North Korea, China or the former USSR are obsessed with controlling the press or shutting down newspapers because they do not want the truth to come out. Malaysia is the same.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad does not believe that the Chinese have abandoned BN. Even the DAP and MCA are drawn into the bitter wrangle, with its leaders pitting Chinese against Chinese.

The reason for all this Chinese carping and animosity of some Malays towards the Chinese was an article by Zaini Hassan, an editorial executive at Utusan Malaysia. He penned an article after the Sarawak state election and called for a “1Melayu, 1Bumi” movement to counter what he said was Chinese political unity.

It was almost a year ago when the same author blamed the Chinese for the BN receiving less than the expected number of votes from the Chinese community after the Hulu Selangor by-election. His article was “Orang Cina Malaysia, apa lagi yang anda mahu? (Chinese of Malaysia, what more do you want?)

Utusan, the Umno mouthpiece, reasoned that it was the Chinese which caused BN’s share of the popular votes in Sarawak to slip from 63% to 55%, completely ignoring the fact that it wasn’t only the Chinese that had rejected BN, but more indigenous voters including Malays, had also crossed over from BN to the opposition camp.

Questioning Chinese ‘gratitude’

Perhaps we can examine why Utusan and Zaini feels it necessary to question Chinese ‘gratitude’ and loyalties.

Many have heard of the Ugly American or the Ugly Japanese. Whenever Zaini writes articles which are critical of the Chinese, he may be referring to the Ugly Chinaman which Bo Yang, a Chinese writer refers to in his book, ‘The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture’.

Not everyone is an angel and Malaysia is not short of the Ugly Malay either.

Nevertheless there are many facets of Ugly Chinese culture that Malaysians of all races say are typical of the Chinese. They say that spitting, talking loudly in public, bragging, their corrupting or corruptible influence, being secretive or tight-lipped especially with information, are all cultural traits which hail from the distant feudal past.

Another feature that is commonly mentioned is “dishonesty” and this is mostly to do with business dealings. The Ugly Chinaman does not do anything if he does not gain from the transaction. This means that the “trust” factor is questionable, for without trust, neither can there be honesty and truth. Utimately, these factors all have long-term implications in business.

There is also the obsession with money and so we have “No money, no talk”, or the other scourge associated with gambling.

All cultures, be it Malay, Chinese, Indian or western, have some good and some evil in them. Perhaps, Zaini is just concentrating on all that is bad about the Chinese. Of course, that would not be a fair synopsis of the Chinese character. But who said politics is a fair undertaking?

In addition to the spitting and being loud in public, the bad manners in the shops, and the rude, pushy behaviour, most (but not all) Chinese are apt to confuse patriotism and nationalism – most Chinese (especially the older Chinese) do not agree with other Chinese speaking ill of other Chinese. This clannish behaviour is very strong in the culture and is considered part of their “roots”.

Ethics inside the house, selfishness out of it

The Chinese kinship equates to being concerned with ethics inside the house, but reverting to selfishness, once out of it. This in stark contrast to the western culture where people care about people outside the house but are very cold towards their family.

No one is trying to defend the racist rants of Zaini or Utusan, but like the Ugly Malay, the Ugly Chinese could, with better education from schools and the outside world, try to be more considerate about people around them and be aware of their surroundings.

If the Chinese abandoned the Ugly Chinaman image, the ordinary Malaysian, especially the Malay, will find it difficult to accept what racists likes Zaini, or other extremists, have to say about the Chinese.

We want future generations to view Malaysia as a united country – no racism, discrimination, and selfishness. Only then will we be more objective, more open-minded, more advanced, more willing to accept criticisms and different points of views.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.

  1. #1 by lkt-56 on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 11:31 am

    Mariam Mokhtar – a writer I normally associate with good writing. However this series of racial stereotyping is not what I would expect from Mariam Mokhtar. Your profile of the ugly chinaman is shallow and ill informed. Perhpas you need to read the three great philosophies: daoism, buddhism and confucianism to appreciate the chinese culture. BUt that said what is more important is please do not give credibility to racist Utusan by reinforcing racial stereotyping. I am taken aback by this series of Ugly _____ writing.

  2. #2 by lkt-56 on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 11:49 am

    Dear Mariam Mokhtar,
    In response to your reference to the writing of of Boyang, I offer this quote from Zhugeliang a brilliant strategist from the Spring Authumn period:

    “夫君子之行:静以修身,俭以养德;非淡泊无以明志,非宁静无以致远。” – 诸葛亮

    One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. – Zhugeliang

  3. #3 by limkamput on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 12:38 pm

    If the Chinese have voted for the opposition, it is because they are more aware of the incompetence and corruption that are going on in the government. They are not ipso facto anti BN or government. Similarly, the Malays and other bumis, who voted for BN, are not simply due to their love for BN. Many are simply unaware and too indoctrinated and ignorant to know what is going on. To equate Chinese with opposition and Malays and Bumis with BN is simply simplistic.

    Of course with the context of Malaysian politics, there are ugly chainman. I have described in the previous thread “Them versus Us” as follow: “Then we have the smug, who think they can live independently of the political system. They are only interested in their own palatial homes, the food, the facial and reflexology, the pubs, the message parlours and 4-D. Filthy environment, dirty eateries, flood, traffic jam, clogged drains, uncollected rubbish, poor public transport, smelly water, intermittent power disruption, bureaucratic delay and corruption, inefficient police and local authorities, moronic education system and religious bigotry can all be tolerated so long as they still can have their “hokkien mee”.

  4. #4 by mauriyaII on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 12:46 pm

    Every race has its UGLINESS though some are more overt than the other. Having said that it does not mean that we should condone their behaviour.

    Every race with a rich history, culture and tradition abhors ugliness in all its manifestations. It is only when these get out of hand and are used against the others that they should be condemned in the strongest terms.

    Only a sound education that promotes moral values, ethics and tolerance apart from progress orientated curricula can slowly displace ugliness and religious bigotry.

    For the above to happen we need an enlightened leadership who can rise above partisan politics, self glorification, ego and selfishness.

  5. #5 by k1980 on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 1:32 pm

    UGLINESS manifests itself in all races in various degrees.

    If we really wish to compare the UGLINESS in each race, then we must start with its most hideous forms. Ask yourself–

    Which race uses sex videos to humiliate and blackmail its opponent?

    Which race openly indulge in state-sponsored corruption until it can afford to live in 24 million palaces on a CM’s salary?

    Which race calls itself ‘poor’ and then sets up all sorts of affirmative actions and rules so as to get rich at the expense of other races?

  6. #6 by Loh on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 2:24 pm

    ///Nevertheless there are many facets of Ugly Chinese culture that Malaysians of all races say are typical of the Chinese. They say that spitting, talking loudly in public, bragging, their corrupting or corruptible influence, being secretive or tight-lipped especially with information, are all cultural traits which hail from the distant feudal past.///–Mariam Mokhtar

    Spitting not into the spittoon might be a habit of farmers working in the farm and where else do we expect them to spit, if they do not swallow it. But in town do we still see this habit of spitting. It might not be right to associate Chinese with spitting just because that was the environment when Chinese farmers were in. Even today, I would still expect those working in plantation would spit on the ground.

    ‘Talking loudly in public’ could mean different things. Chinese entertain in restaurant, and when on a round table, and to ensure that all the guests are informed of what was said one tend to speak louder. So in a restaurant when people speak in all tables, it sum up to be loud noise. It hurts the eardrum of people within the restaurant, but it does not endanger national unity. That is table manner one would say, and if that culture is not appreciated, it has to be respected.

    Bragging is a practice of personal choice, and it can hardly be said to be Chinese culture.

    The bragging of corrupt and corruptible influence might not be bragging in the sense to show that one is influential. It might just be stating the fact that corruption in the country is rampant.

    Being secretive and light-lipped about information is necessary for self preservation. Information is business opportunity, and one has to preserve it if it is not his profession to do charity.

    The above stated behaviours might be offensive to some but it does not happen only to the Chinese.

  7. #7 by zhukoilman on Tuesday, 17 May 2011 - 2:53 pm

    When we talk about the ugliness of a race,it is not about the Race,but more so about people who do not deserve to be associated with that particular,because they tend to insult that race where Honourable and Gentle are. So let`s not split hairs.

You must be logged in to post a comment.