The purpose of this blog is to share my personal experience in researching the communist activity in Hulu Selangor, Malaysia. I do this in the hopes that my experience can inspire youth leaders to take a personal initiative in learning about their own country, not from the lens of others or media, but through their personal efforts and historical research.
I will be covering mainly the events that took place over the one weekend throughout my research that I did the most groundwork, and at the end, I will be including two files containing my slides for the presentation that I did and the entire report I wrote down (of course both of these are in Bahasa Malaysia as it is our national language - but I will be writing this blog in English).
This research was completed back in 2017 when I was 14 years old (so to those wondering if I did the groundwork during the time I am writing this blog, I didn’t go out cause MCO is still being enforced) but despite how long ago it was, I still have a good memory of the flow of events. It’s not because I have a good memory but that process had a big impact on my life and the knowledge I gained isn’t something I will be forgetting anytime soon.
That said, I guess I will start at the beginning. When I started looking for a topic of research there were a lot of options, so it was confusing, and in times like that, I just chose the one topic on my list that I was least familiar with. That topic was the Malaysian Emergency or more specifically the communist’s role in the Malaysian Emergency. Throughout my time in high school, I realised a lot of the topics were diluted and specific/detailed examples wasn’t given, so I decided this research should include fieldwork instead of taking information purely from books and the internet. The scope would also be focused on Hulu Selangor.
For students living in boarding schools, the term PB will have a lot of significance. It’s short for “Pulang Bermalam” or going back home on the weekends (we have to fill in a form and make a request in advance to leave the school which is annoying but there isn’t much anyone can do about it cause it is a rule that probably won’t change). For this project, I had already done the required reading of the textbook and other sources on the internet, and with a few friends of mine, we had to make the next 4 days beginning with Friday (that’s when the PB starts) as productive as possible.
To be honest, we only decided on visiting the local towns near our school at MRSM Kuala Kubu Bharu (that is, we will take the KTM Tg Malim - Pel Klang line, and ask the residents around Rasa and Batang Kali). It wasn’t much at the time but it was a start. The thing I would realize by the end of the next 4 days is that knowledge and information can be obtained from the places and times we least expect, and while it is possible to plan out the route of your journey when researching history, unexpected things happen a lot.
That Friday after class ended at 12.15 P.M, I packed up my bags and books I would be needing and waited for my father to pick me up. Once I put all my stuff into the car and we were leaving the school grounds, I made the impulsive decision to visit the site of the Assassination of Sir Henry Gurney (British High Commissioner) at Mile 56 ½, Kuala Kubu Road, Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. My dad had always planned to take me and my family to Fraser’s Hill before my study at MRSM KKB ended (P.S: that didn’t happen even after I finished my study there), so he agreed as it wasn’t that far from Kuala Kubu Bharu. We got there and took a couple of pictures (I included a link to a report of the incident from the New Straits Times).
Since we had already come so far, I thought why not push a little further and see Fraser’s Hill while we were at it. Past a few kilometres of winding roads, we reached the central area as seen in the picture below.
The clock tower of Fraser's Hill is the centre of the hill resort.
Walking around for a bit, I saw a group of parents talking outside the Community Library of Fraser’s Hill. With nothing else to do I approached and started conversing, I got to know that the person in charge of the library was someone who could help me out with my project. I didn’t get my hopes up at the time and went to the community library, it was pretty well kept at the time I went there and met a man who was the person in charge of the place. After introducing myself and what I was doing there, to my surprise, the man was a British historian who has lived for more than 20 years in Malaysia. I spent quite a while answering and asking questions with him, and he provided a lot of information that I needed.
For example, to answer the question of why the communists held a strong footing in Hulu Selangor at the time, after reading a few books and cross-checking information on the internet, I pointed out that the existence of the Titiwangsa Range, which provided the much-needed forests for guerrilla warfare used by the communists. My teacher for history however said that this fact could not be used because it wasn’t included in the textbooks and it was never acknowledged as a fact by Malaysian historians (to her knowledge). Prof. Roger Bell agreed with this fact and I managed to include it in my research. Although our conversation ended abruptly when it was getting dark and I had to leave because it was going to rain (it’s hard to drive down from Fraser’s Hill while it was raining), and I never got the opportunity to meet the man who should be 82 this year (he was 78 when I met him), I am still extremely grateful for what he shared with me that evening.
As soon as I got home, I compiled all the information which I unexpectedly got. The next day, I left early for the Sungai Buloh KTM station to meet up with my friends. There were only 4 of us with me being able to understand Tamil and another one of my friends being able to speak and write in Mandarin (I figured this would be useful to overcome language barriers - and it was).
While the day before I had an unexpected benefit, this time it was an unexpected problem. We all got there early in the morning, about 8.00 A.M, only for the train to be continuously delayed till 11.40. By the time we got to Batang Kali, it was pretty warm with the sun directly above us. We tried walking around and getting information from the local store owners, but we didn’t get much information that we didn’t already know. Before getting on the train to go to Rasa, we stopped at the police station where we got information on the Batang Kali massacre (I included a link to that below the picture).
We moved on to Rasa and decided to go to the Police Station again after walking around as it was a good place to get information. In Rasa, our experience was better, after getting some food at a convenience store which was our lunch, we wandered into a Chinese shop where a group of Chinese men in their advanced years were talking. Since my friend could speak with them without any barriers we sent him as a “delegate” to ask questions on our behalf. The first question was regarding communists, and after my friend asked that question, all of them stopped talking and focused on him. We then got a lecture on when not to ask sensitive questions, technically it was “we”, but the rest of us never studied Mandarin, so only my mandarin speaking friend got chewed out.
To our surprise, after the lecture, they gave us the address of a convenience store and asked us to take the stairs to the second floor. Leaving the store we used google maps, walked there and then we didn’t know where the stairs were or how to get up there. Minutes later a man brought us up the store through the back door of the store (we were already pretty tensed up at this point), and walking up, we saw groups of people gambling and playing traditional games like Mahjong and Go. The middle-aged man took us to an empty room at the back and we waited nervously for 15 minutes. As we were planning to just run out, an old Chinese man came in with his son supporting him (the son was the middle-aged man from earlier). He could only converse with my friend, so we recorded the interview session with us telling the questions to my friend who translated them and took down the replies he got on a piece of paper. (We later made a transcript of the conversation and translated it). It was a fruitful session as getting the first-person perspective on the development of Rasa, the Malaysian Emergency, communist activity, and the Japanese invasion wasn’t something we heard every day, and there isn’t anyone in my own family that I could ask. We learnt a lot of surprising things about how our nation was governed back then too. For example, there was a law in the early 1900s in Rasa where the land that you worked on could be claimed as yours. Sure enough, the man who was 81 years old at the time helped out a lot.
Once we wrapped up there, we tried our luck again at the police station in Rasa. Honestly, we were surprised by how friendly they were in answering our questions and providing help. After much discussion, they brought us to a place called the Tan Boon Chia Mansion with a police officer as an escort. The police officer called some of his friends who knew the place and maintained it. The mansion is right by a road that I and my friends were quite familiar with as we often use it to get to our school, but it was the first time we realised the existence of such a large mansion as it was blocked all around with overgrown shrubs and large trees. Here’s an excerpt of a report from the New Straits Times:
According to the MyHuluselangor Facebook page, Tan Boon Chia was one of the most influential tin miners in Rasa in the early 1900s. The Hokkien from Anxi province was born in the town of Fong Lai in 1892 and came with his father to Malaya as a child.
He started working as a tin miner and later owned mines. His venture into rubber plantations, in addition to other businesses, made him very rich. Down the road from this shophouse was a dilapidated gated mansion known to locals as the Tan Boon China Mansion.
Tan was believed to have built this in 1918 on a five-hectare land. According to one source, he had believed that Rasa would develop faster than Kuala Lumpur and so decided to build his mansion there.
However, the Japanese invasion of Malaya not only disrupted Rasa’s economic growth but also dampened Tan’s hopes. The Japanese Imperial Army seized the mansion and made it their headquarters. It was believed that many Chinese residents of Rasa were tortured, killed and buried in the mansion grounds.
Today, the mansion is overgrown with creepers and the gates are locked. An out-of-bounds notice hangs at the entrance. A local who saw me taking photos there told me that the mansion had undergone some facelift and repair work a few years ago.
There were rumours that it would be turned into a tourist attraction. However, nothing has come out of the refurbishment work as can be seen today.
Cars were abandoned in the mansion ground.
We were in the process of contacting the owners of the mansion to go in see the place, however as it was already getting dark, we just got as much information as possible from the friends of the police officer who escorted us. One piece of information that I found interesting was that underneath the mansion, there’s a tunnel that stretched to Kerling and was used by the Japanese soldiers who was using this place during the time of their invasion. Once we took the pictures, we went back as it was already an extremely productive day and we had to organize all the information.
Day 3 was our last day to be able to do fieldwork before returning to our boarding school. This time we started at Pustaka Raja Tun Uda, Perbadanan Perpustakaan Awam Selangor (PPAS). After spending a few hours getting all the relevant books/documents and photocopying them, we realized that it wasn’t enough.
Since it was pretty early, we made an impulsive decision to take public transport to go to the National Library of Malaysia at 232, Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I guess that decision was the best one we made as the resources available were much more than what was available at the previous library.
We split up and gathered information from different floors (I included a link to the directory of the library for your reference), I went to the 6th floor where there was newspaper Microfilm Services provided. There were 33 newspaper titles in microfilm consisting of newspapers that are in Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil, Jawi and Punjabi. Of course, I only gathered the ones relevant to the communist activity in Hulu Selangor and the Malaysia Emergency (there is a printing service for the microfilm newspapers which made my life so much easier). Once we gathered again and exchanged what we got, we packed up and went back. From that point onwards, it was just reading, analysing, and writing out the entire research paper, which was what we did from Day 4 when we had to go back to school till the end of our project. Below, I will add in the PDF of the slides that briefly sum up my research and the full report. Thank you for reading till the end!
Waktu Perkhidmatan - Kuala Lumpur (Directory for PNM)
Doc & Slides: