KUALA LUMPUR –— Malaysia’s economic and social success today is due to the contributions of the country’s diverse communities.
At the launch of his book Charting the Economy: Early 20th Century Malaya and Contemporary Malaysian Contrasts yesterday, Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak said the result of Malaysia’s economy today was not just the contribution of a single stakeholder, a single party or an individual.
“It was all of Malaysia’s diverse communities working together that made outstanding contributions to our economic and social transformation.” he said.
“The immense prosperity and development brought about by their sacrifices, innovations and talents should help inspire current and future generations of Malaysians and serve as an exemplar for other multi-cultural societies.”
Sultan Nazrin’s book charts the course of Malaya’s commodity-dependent economy during the first 40 years of the 20th century under British colonial control, contrasting that course with the economic growth and development in contemporary Malaysia.
Reminiscing the past and capturing some of the rich diversities during that period, Sultan Nazrin quoted author Dr Ho Tak Ming, who painted a mosaic of life in Ipoh during the early decades of the 20th century — when Ipoh was Malaya’s commercial capital.
“Dr Ho describes the hard working Hakka women and, I quote, ‘had to keep house, go out the whole day to work, often in isolated and dangerous places, and then come home to prepare dinner …’” he said.
“Just gangs and gangs of Chinese coolie-women, working so hard, bearing such numbers of children, making real homes in impossible places, and withal so happy, so sane, so alive, so full of fun, such friends with their husbands, such proud, loving mothers to their children …”
Sultan Nazrin pointed out another important group were the British colonialists, whose lifestyle and idiosyncrasies were fictionalised by another author (Somerset Maugham) — the civil servants and officers, planters, engineers and traders who between them ran the country and managed the economy.
Sultan Nazrin also highlighted the work of another author, Anthony Burgess, who fictionalised the lives of Malaya’s main communities, the Malays, Chinese and Indians.
“For both pleasure and purpose, Burgess wrote about the state of the State of Malaya, just as it was teetering on the cusp of freedom,” he said.
“Through his work, we witnessed this fight for independence and autonomy for the citizens of a budding post-colonial society and get a real glimpse into this emerging nation, its culture and people.”
Sultan Nazrin said: “As one of Burgess’ protagonists explains, ‘you’ve got to accept this isn’t London. That the climate’s tropical, that there aren’t concerts and theatres and ballets. But there are
“The people themselves, the little drinking shops, the incredible mixture of religions and cultures and languages. That’s what we’re here for — to absorb the country …. or be absorbed by it’.”
Sultan Nazrin said the observation was among the important lessons he gained from his study of the country’s economic history while studying for a doctoral degree at Harvard University.
The book, published by Oxford University Press, is available at MPH bookstores at RM99.90.