"The Penang Story A Celebration of Cultural Diversity - DOC"
The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) Leong Yee Fong Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ABSTRACT This paper is a preliminary survey of Chinese secret societies and their connections with the Kuomintang and the Malayan Communist Party in Post World War Two Malaya. The period under survey covers the immediate postwar period and the early stages of the Emergency. It is specifically related to the resurgence of secret societies at a time when the absence of law and order, the fluidity of the political situation, economic shortages, inflationary prices and low wages provided a fertile environment for the resurgence not only of secret societies but also political parties that were both radical and moderate in nature. Historians have so far concentrated on the controlling forces of secret societies over the Chinese community during the prewar period but little attention on the political dimension of secret societies during the immediate postwar period. Although secret societies were not politically inclined and tended to maintain their traditional roles in running protection and extortion rackets, the profusion of KMT branches and the Malayan Communist Party during the immediate postwar period invariably dragged the secret societies into the rival conflicts between the two organizations. It is the intention of this paper to examine the rise of the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang, the resurgence of KMT branches, MCP political dominance and the dynamism of Communist sponsored General Labour Unions, KMT-MCP-Secret society connections, the Emergency and MCP’s attempts to win the adherence of Secret Societies. The evidence is gathered from police records, intelligence information and communist documents acquired by the police. Speculations and interpretations certainly reflect the colonial point of view and, as such, may not provide a balanced picture of the role of secret societies until further evidence is available. The account also contains several background references which are considered necessary to understand the role and position of secret societies in historical perspective. Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 1/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications The Hung League in China and Malaya: A Brief Historical Survey The Hung League was of great antiquity in China. It was also known as the Heaven and Earth League or the Three United League and it is from the latter that the popular English usage “Triad” is taken. Its origins were shrouded in mystery and antiquity but it was generally deemed to be a religious society with lofty aims which included “Obey Heaven and Act Righteously” with its ritualistic ceremonies associated with the journey of the human soul from Heaven to Earth and back through the underworld to Heaven.1 With the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in China in the hands of the Manchus, the Hung League changed its religious complexion and became primarily a band of political and revolutionary crusaders and took up the cause of overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty. It adopted the slogan “Drive out the Ching Dynasty. Restore the Ming”. Under the Manchus it became a prosecuted organisation but despite Manchu suppression, the League’s numerical strength increased enormously expanding to the provinces of Kwantung and Fukien from which the majority of the immigrant Chinese in Malaya were derived. The Hung League supported the revolutionary efforts of Dr. Sun Yat Sen in the final overthrow of the Manchu regime. Nevertheless, the Hung League did not associate itself with any political party after the 1911 Revolution but persisted independently and retained much of its revolutionary ideals in its ceremonial triad rituals. The ramifications of the Hung League were never totally confined to China. The Hung League spread to many of the countries outside China with the migrational tide of the Chinese. They took with them the rituals and ceremonies to countries in Southeast Asia, India, Australia and Britain.2 Their primary aim initially was to acquire hegemony over the Chinese communities in these countries. It was inevitable that once the Hung League was transplanted to overseas countries, it lost its political significance and degenerated into an organisational machine for the oppression and extortion of the Chinese communities. Its existence was sustained by its powerful armour of secrecy, its ritualistic traditions and reinforced by its imposition of the death penalty to protect itself against treachery from within and interference from without. Its activities inevitably generated violence and turbulence which became a matter of much concern to the ruling authorities. In colonial Malaya, when the Hung League was transplanted, it became known as the Ghee Hin Society. The principal lodge was in Singapore while the subsidiary lodges were established in Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 2/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications Penang, Malacca and the Federated Malay States. The influx of the Chinese in mid 19 th century also brought with them lodges other than the Hung League, one of which was the Ko Lao Hoey. The lodges, in general, settled disputes by arbitration between members in any dispute between members of different societies. Each society or lodge controlled its particular area on the pretext of affording protection but in reality committed criminal violence with impunity. Riots and large scale fights frequently occurred when societies encroached on each others’ preserves. The Penang Riots of 1867 between the Ghee Hin and the Toh Peh Kong was one such example that reached severe proportions. It lasted for ten days during which period the contending parties obtained reinforcements from the mainland. Buildings were burnt and hundreds either perished or injured. The severity of the clashes attracted the attention of the ruling British authorities and in 1890 the societies were required by law to dissolve and societies that practised triad rituals were declared unlawful. Nevertheless the Ghee Hin and the other lodges continued illegally but through vigilance and pressure by the authorities they had for the most part degenerated into hooligan gangs which continued to use the jargons and symbolic rituals of the triads. Resurgence in October 1945: The Ang Bin Hoey in Penang It was known that the prevailing chaotic political and economic situation that followed the Japanese surrender in 1945 provided an impetus to the recrudesence of triad activities in Malaya. Penang, in this connection, was the centre for the resurgence of triads under the name of Ang Bin Hoey (ABH). Under the impression that all societies whether triad or otherwise were allowed to operate, the ABH functioned as a society openly. According to police records, the ABH was purported to have been formed by a Phillipine-born Chinese Hokkien by the name of Teoh Teik Chye, a small businessman. Its original headquarters was located in Sandilands Street and founded in October 1945.3 The founding of the ABH was given favourable media coverage. Towards the end of December 1945 the Society moved to a larger premise at 55 Maxwell Road. It was then run on a more systematic basis with an executive committee of 12 and a general committee of 22. The general committee of 22 represented 22 cells established in various parts of Penang island. Each of the cells was run by a supervisor. With a Hokkien majority in Penang’s population, it was inevitable that its membership consisted largely of the Hokkiens. In view of the frequency of initiation ceremonies, membership increased rapidly and by May 1946 it was reported by the Malayan Security Service that membership ranged from 30,000 to 40,000. In terms of structure and organisation, membership was categorized on the basis of senority and influence. There were two main categories : the organisers who were the Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 3/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications senior members while the rest were the ordinary members. The organisers constituted the executive committee exerting full control over the other members. On the basis of ascending senority, the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Khaw Kai Boh provided the following list in 1949.4 Rank Romanised Hokkien Duties 1. Ordinary Member Hoey-guan or Sin-beh 2. Horse Leader Tai-beh Recruiter 3. Tiger General Go Hor Cheong There were five of them. Served as killer squads and carried out the orders of the headquarters 4. Iron Plate Tee-pan Messenger 5. Grass Sandals Chou-eh Detective or agent 6. White Fan Peh-see Civil Affairs Officer and normally head of a cell. Advised members on triad rituals 7. Cell Leaders or Pang Keng Chu Head of an area and represented the area in Councillors a meeting held by the headquarters 8. Red Rod Ang Koon Executioner. Investigated any breach of discipline, conducted trials, and passed sentence ranging from fines to death. Arranged armed guards for initiation ceremonies. Organised fights and conducted persecutions against the enemies of the organisation. 9. Vanguard Sien-hong They were the armed guards for initiation ceremonies and fighters. 10. Master of Incense Hioh-chu He acted as a clerk-in-council. Made all Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 4/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications arrangements and kept the accounts. 11. Master of Incense Lor-chu Patron of any initiation ceremony. Pot 12. Master of Sia seh Koon Lam Grand Master of the Lodge. Supreme Ceremonies manager on all matters and business. Authority on rituals and conferred ranks on all triad members. At a time when the economy was in the doldrums, it was a wonder that the ABH could rake in so much revenue to support its organisation. It was reported that the ABH managed to collect in early 1946 an amount in the region of $100,000.5 The revenue was derived from entrance fees collected at the initiation ceremonies when new members were recruited. Goods entering or leaving the harbour had to pay tribute and the situation in this connection had become so bad that the Importers and Exporters Association in Penang had to approach the ABH for negotiations. Some of the committee members operated gambling syndicates dealing with the Hua Hoey of Chee Fah lotteries.6 The gambling syndicates were as a matter of fact a continuation of the gambling operations during the Japanese Occupation. The usual sources of revenue also included protection money collected from prostitutes and hawkers as well as extortion money from businessmen. The ABH declared its own dissolution in May 1946 when its criminal and illegal activities became a source of concern to the authorities. Nevertheless, despite its dissolution, the ABH influence spread to other parts of the mainland. Traces of ABH influence were found in Province Wellesley, South Kedah and the coastal areas of Perak. They were invariably off-shoots of the ABH lodge in Penang but under the guise of various names, probably to escape detection. In Perak at Kampung Koh, Sitiawan dan Pangkor Island, they reappeared as clubs – the Sung Club in Kampung Koh and the Ek Ching in Pangkor Island.7 Triad documents had been found in these clubs and in the possesion of individuals in Sungei Patani, Kulim Ipoh and Bidor but there was no explicit reference to the ABH. Nevertheless, documents recovered from the premises of the MCP controlled Perak Fedaration of Trade Unions referred to the ABH’s interference in the Perak Disturbances in October 1946.8 Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 5/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications The tendency for the ABH to the function under the guise of recreational clubs or benevolent societies was a normal trend in postwar Malaya. It was probably a means for members to meet openly without attracting the attention of authorities. A case in point was found in the document issued by the Selangor Branch of Malayan Communist Party dated November 1952. The MCP stated that the Wah Kee Secret Society in Selangor existed under the cloak of benevolent and provident associations. The associations were registered with all the office-bearers and the members being members of Wah Kee.9 Although the ABH was dissolveed in May 1946, it continued to retain its illegal existance underground. Inevitably, it had to scale down its operations as a controlling force over the Chinese community but its existance was complicated by the rising dominance of postwar MCP and the resurgence KMT branches in Malaya. In order to examine the connections of the ABH and the other secret societies with the MCP and the KMT, it is necessary to provide a brief survey of the rise of those two political organisations in postwar Malaya. The Emergence of the MCP and the KMT in Postwar Malaya. The resurgence of the secret societies was accompanied by the proliferation of Chinese political organisations. Apart from the KMT and the MCP which were the two main Chinese political parties, there were also other organisatons, albeit insignificant , that sought the allegiance of the Chinese. The Review of the Chinese Affairs in November 1947 referred to three such organisations, the Chi Kung Tong, the China Democratic League and the New Democratic Youth League.10 The Chi Kung Tong had two rival divisions – the communist oriented half that was linked to the MCP and inclined towards supporting the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) and the nationalist half that backed the KMT in China. Both the New Democratic League and the China Democratic League supported the aspirations of the MCP and the CCP. It was apparent that Chinese politics in postwar Malaya reflected the sharp division between the two political camps – the KMT and the MCP. Manifestations of the rivalry between the KMT and MCP supporters were often related to the China – oriented political issues. By the end of 1947 it had reached a stage that was described by the Chinese consul in Malaya as “social disintegration of the Chinese community” in Malaya.11 Although the KMT had been banned before the War, the political confusion that followed the Japanese Occupation saw the revival of the KMT branches under auspices of the Chinese consulate. In many centres of Chinese population, it was known that wherever MCP branches were set up, the KMT would follow suit immediately. These branches were initially subsidised by the Chinese Nationalist Government. To win over the Chinese youth to the KMT, San Min Chu I Youth Corps Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 6/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications were also set up. They were eventually amalgamated with the KMT in November 1947.12 The KMT District Branch in Penang, located at 29 Carnavon Lane, controlled 20 other sub-branches. 16 in Penang and 4 in Province Wellesley with a total membership of 3,360.13 Even in backward town of Balik Pulau in Penang, there was a KMT branch. This was known as the 16 th branch of the Penang KMT. It was declared open in November 1947 by the Chinese consul in Penang who administered the oath of allegiance. The KMT members were mostly drawn from the merchant and business class who formed the backbone of the Chinese Chambers of Commerce. They maintained a close relationship with the Chinese Consul and provided the leadership to many of the Chinese associations. They constituted the upper class of the Chinese Society and invariably were at odds with the labour unions sponsored by the MCP. The MCP, on the other hand, emerged as the champion of labour interests. Under the hegemony of the MCP which operated openly for the first time, labour unions appeared all over Malaya and Singapore. These were the General Labour Unions(GLU) the membership of which was drawn from various industries and trades, In effect, they were political organisations manipulated by the MCP to gain mass labour support. It was MCP’s strategic move to force the Government to give political concessions such as recognition, representation in govenrment bodies and particition in mainstream politics.14 The GLUs were coordinated by State Federations of Trade Unions which in turn were centrally controlled by a Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions(PMFTU). The aim of the PMFTU was to mobilise labour support for the political consolidation of the MCP. During 1946 and 1947 the PMFTU literally extorted the employers by their persistent strikes to gain economic concessions. The PMFTU, in this respect, had developed a formidable coercive machine which caused considerable industrial disruption. Between April 1946 and March 1947 the PMFTU’s unionisation campaign unleashed a proliferation of strike activity causing huge losses to both employers and workers. Invariably, the employers especially the Chinese who were largely pro-KMT were soon caught up in bitter conflict with the GLUs. MCP-KMT Rivalry and the Role of Secret Societies. MCP-KMT rivalry in postwar Malaya was in reality a continuation of a prewar phenomenon. In the 1920s conflict was centred on the rivalry between the left-wing and right wing KMT at a time when the CCP functioned as a block within the KMT in China (1924 – 1927). In the 1930s the Anti- Japanese National Salvation movement provided the backdrop in that both established rival Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 7/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications organisations for the collection of relief funds and the boycott of Japanese goods in Malaya. The postwar period saw the revival of rivalry when both endeavoured to win the allegiance of the Chinese community over issues pertaining to the civil war between the KMT and CCP in China.15 In this respect, the Double Tenth Anniversary in October 1947 was a clear manifestation of the KMT-MCP rivalry which was reflected in the acute polarisation of Chinese political opinion.16 Separate celebrations were held by right and left-wing sympathisers. Rightist functions were dominated by the KMT and the San Min Chu I Youth Corps. Speakers by Chinese consular and KMT officials eulogised the foundations of the Chinese Republic, urged support for the Chinese Government and despatched congratulatory telegrams to Chiang Kai Shek. Leftist functions, on the other hand, were dominated by the MCP, the Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions and other left- wing organisations. Fiery speeches were made condemning the totalitarian and oppressive regime of Chiang Kai Shek. The Chinese were urged to call upon the whole Chinese nation to overthrow the KMT Government and to form a democratically constituted coalition government. With reference to Penang, it was significant that the MCP organised function was attended by various labouring groups including harbour labourers, factory workers, shop employees and a few cabaret girls. Speeches, in particular by the Penang Federation of Trade Union officials, condemned the KMT regime. A telegram was addressed to various papers in China condemning the KMT Government for negotiating treaties with the United States which undermined the sovereignty of China.17 It was within the context of this political rivalry that Blythe, the Secretary of Chinese Affairs discovered that Secret Societies had established connections with the KMT. Initially, in September 1945, it was reported that the ABH was seemingly on the side of the MPAJA. It shared the same premises of the MPAJA and that several members of the MPAJA had joined the ABH. Nevertheless, when the ABH realised that the MPAJA had encroached on its sphere of influence, it became increasingly anti-communist.18 This was not necessarily related to any ideological dispute but due to the fact that both pursued the same objective – control of Chinese population. The leaders of the Penang ABH who were arrested in 1947 categorically remonstrated that the Government should suppress the communist activities instead of the ABH. The communists were regarded by the ABH as the “apotheosis of evil” and had no right to exert influence on the Chinese.19 The anti – communist stance of the ABH invariably brought about a reorientation of its attitude towards the KMT. Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 8/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications Apart from its anti-communist orientation, there could be other reasons behind the forging of a closer relationship between the ABH and the KMT. It is difficult to ascertain these reasons but speculating from the remarks provided by the committee members of the ABH arrested on warrants issued under the Banishment Laws, it could be said that the ABH, after its dissolution in May 1946 desired to enhance its standing and influence by persuading Chinese merchants not only to join the ABH but also to become high office-bearers in the ABH’s committee.20 Some of the merchants who joined the ABH were also members of the KMT and might have been influenced to join by their sheer antagonism towards the communists. The existence of merchants in the ABH was supported by evidence from communist documents acquired by the police. The communist document issued by the State Secretariat of the Selangor Branch of the MCP stated that the ABH leaders consisted of “proprietors of mediocre and small business shops, kepalas(contractors) and proprietors of mediocre and small estates. It further claimed that a minority of them were pro-KMT but their attitude towards the communist revolution was one of neutrality or sympathy.21 It was evident that there was no direct linkage between the ABH and the KMT organisations and that members of the latter as well as pro-KMT sympathisers joined the ABH as individuals. It was possible that pressure from the communist labour unions and MPAJA intimidation had forced them to join the ABH for the purpose of protection. As Chinese employers were not effectively organised as the Europeans or had any assistance from the Government to counteract the communists, they had perforce to resort to extra-legal methods to counteract that excessive demands of the communist – controlled unions. The use of force to counteract force was no more that a traditional method of the Chinese. Finally, W.L. Blythe claimed in his memorandum on “Triad, Ang Bin Hoay and Kuomintang in Malaya” that the KMT branches in Malaya turned towards the ABH upon receiving instructions from China in November 1946.22 This was in keeping with the KMT line of thinking upon the revival of the Hung League in Shanghai in August 1946. The ABH, in this respect, was regarded as possessing powerful potentialities which could be utilised to sustain the existence of the KMT in Malaya, As such, it was considered favourable to cultivate friendly relations with the ABH. The resort to extra-legal methods involving violence and strong-arm tactics was clearly shown in the occurrence of what was known as the “Sitiawan Incident” in October 1946, the anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Republic. A circular issued by the Perak Federation of Trade Unions lamented that the Government did not take effective measures to suppress the ABH thugs from destroying labour union premises, kidnapping and assaulting GLU personnel in Sitiawan, Dinding, Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 9/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications Simpang Empat, Taiping and Pangkor Island. The outrages were said to be the work of careful planning which implicated the ABH, the Sam Min Chi Yi Youth Corps and another third Party presumably to be the KMT. The PKM exhorted the members of the Perak FTU to be more vigilant and to be more aware of “those cunning, shameless murderous elements” who were all out to strike a fatal blow at the labour unions.23 The MCP and the Secret Societies, April – June 1948 In March 1948 the MCP had committed itself to a policy of industrial disruption at the Fourth Plenum of the Central Executive Committee(CEC). It called for a “people’s revolutionary war” and preparation of the masses for an all out struggle for independence. Shortly after the CEC meeting the PMFTU staged a conference during which labour unrests and strikes were planned to disrupt the country and to bring industry to a stand-still. The conference was followed by a resurgence of militant and violent strikes in Singapore and Malaya in April 1948. Letters of intimidation were sent to Chinese contractors and estate managers while labourers were forced to join the labour unions.24 By June 1948 the situation had deteriorated into a state of terrorism when MCP “killer squads” carried out a campaign of not only extermination European managers of estates and mines but also pro-KMT proprietors, schools teachers, labour contractors. In Rengam Village, Johore, the vice- president and secretary of the KMT local committee were assassinated. Similarly, the president of Layang – Layang Village KMT branch was murdered. Significantly, secret society members were also targets of the MCP assassination campaign. By then, the focus of MCP attention had turned from the ABH in North Malaya to the Wah Kee in Selangor. The ABH was said to be less a rival to the labour unions than the Wah Kee organisation which was controlled by the KMT proprietors and, significantly labour contractors who were attempting to form employer-sponsored unions to divert the workers away from the communist-controlled unions. According to the MCP released circular, “The Wah Kee is in the hold of the KMT in Malaya, and hence it is pro-British, anti-communist, anti- revolution and anti-democracy”.25 They had body guards to force the masses to join the organisation and to exert control over associations and societies which operated openly. The MCP claimed that the Wah Kee elements had “submitted themselves to the British Imperialists and openly became the running dogs to oppose the Revolution and secretly to betray the Revolution”.26 Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 10/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications The MCP and the Secret Societies during the early stage of the Emergency With the outbreak of the communist armed revolt and the declaration of the Emergency in June 1948, the Colonial Intelligence Committee reported that KMT influence over the ABH had virtually disappeared for the simple reason that the MCP was able to exert pressure on the ABH elements. The Anatomy of Communist Propaganda, a compilation of communist propaganda documents acquired by the police, did not reveal any reference to the secret societies as targets of communist propaganda.27 There were no MCP policy statements or directives on MCP relationship with secret societies until October 1951. In that month, two directives pertaining to secret societies were issued. The first instructed that secret society elements should not be liquidated and that liquidation should be confined to those who were opposed to the MCP or were government spies. The other was an emphasis on the necessity of forging a united front which should include “irregular forms of mass organisations”.28 The secret societies, in this respect, were considered one of the irregular mass organisations. It was apparent that based on these directives, the Selangor Secretariat of the MCP issued a pamphlet in November 1952. The pamphlet entitled “The Question of Secret Societies” was exclusively for party consumption. It was basically an appeal to the secret societies to join the MCP in a united front against British imperialism. At the same time, another pamphlet was also issued in October 1952. this pamphlet entitled “An Announcement to the Brethren of the Various Secret Societies” was specifically addressed to the ABH members. The MCP according to the pamphlet, admitted that it had clashed with the ABH because the latter was opposed to the trade unions.29 This was an obvious reference to the clashes between the ABH-KMT coalition and the Perak Federation of Trade Unions in October 1946 and the assassination of ABH members on the eve of the Emergency. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that the situation had changed, the MCP was prepared to overlook the “misunderstanding” and to call upon the ABH members to join the MCP united front since there could be no “fundamental differences” between the working class membership of the ABH and the MCP.30 The following is an extract from the document on “Secret Societies and the Malayan Communist Party” released on 31 December 1054. It contained a summary of the approach adopted by the MCP to win over the secret societies. “…the secret societies were a greater and more deeply rooted force amongst the mass of the Chinese people than was communism, and that the previous approach by the MCP to the Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 11/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications societies had been too uncompromising and that therefore it failed. The statement (Question of Secret Societies) explained further that the party should not aim at replacing the present leadership of the societies with its own men, but at gradually winning over as many of the societies’ members as possible, thus making the societies its allies in the revolutionary war. This, the statement admits will be a long term project and any attempt to accelerate it would lead to conflict and possibly the failure of MCP. The MCP’s policy towards the secret societies in future should therefore be guided by the following considerations: (a) Winning the sympathy of members who are not reactionaries (b) Winning, uniting and organising the large mass of workers and peasants who form the lower strata of the societies, but guarding against infiltration of undesirable elements into the masses organisations so formed. (c) Eliminating reactionary members of the societies, only if they are spies. (d) Non-interference with benevolent societies as long as there was no compulsion to induce the masses to join them; such societies should be penetrated and eventually controlled by masses executives. This however will be a long process. (e) No direct attacks should be made against the secret societies when they perform criminal acts but the masses encouraged to resist them with party backing.”31 Response to the MCP Directives. It is difficult to gauge the success of the MCP in recruiting the secret society members. The recruitment exercise, in any case, was a long term project based on MCP’s intentions to penetrate mass organisations which included trade unions, student organisations and political parties. Secret societies, in fact, were given a lower priority than trade unions. The Registrar of Trade Unions in 1956 indicated that MCP interests were centred on trade union subversion A case in point was the Pan Malayan Rubber Workers Union which was organised by Tan Thuan Boon, a labour Party leader and a leading trade unionist who had connections with Lim Chin Seong, the founder of the Singapore Factory and Shop-Workers Union. It was reported that 13 branches of the PMRWU were managed by office-bearers from the masses executives of the MCP, active communist sympathisers and even members of secret societies.32 It was not certain whether the involvement of secret societies was through the influence of MCP or they were union members who were also secret society elements. A police report indicated that the Union was highly regarded by the MCP as the reactivation of the pre- Emergency rubber workers union which was an integral part of the PMFTU.33 Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 12/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications The involvement of secret society members in the PMRWU could not be interpreted as a sign of positive response to the MCP’s directives. Secret society collaboration with the MCP occurred only in a few isolated instances and collaboration with MCP personnel in the PMRWU was one such isolated occurrence. Even then, where collaboration was known, it was largely on an individual basis and available evidence indicated that it was mainly for “the purpose of collecting subscriptions, extortion or assassination with financial gain the principal motive”.34 The only instance of collaboration on an organisation to organisation basis was in Penang where a branch of the MCP’s Penang Anti-British Alliance Society was in league with a local unit of the ABH. In this instance, ABH members were collecting funds in the name of the Anti-British Alliance, probably showing ABH’s intention to bolster its coercive influence to extort money from the Chinese Community.35 It could be said that the ABH turned to the MCP whenever it was to its advantage. It was not in any way politically attuned to the aspirations of the MCP. MCP-ABH relationship lacked any consistency of purpose and frequently deteriorated into mutual enmity, fights and assassinations. In 1952 it was noted that the Anti-British Alliance was instructed not to enlist any more ABH members as they could not be trusted, and the MCP committee members who had arranged the collaboration was removed from office.36 In conclusion, it could be conjectured that the tenuous relationship between the MCP and the secret societies, in particular the ABH was partly due to intensive police surveillance over the secret societies. The Banishment and Restricted Residence Enactments were frequently used against leaders of secret societies, particularly the ABH, to remove the menace. Since July 1953, sixty-six 37 members of the ABH and twelve members of the Wah Kee were arrested and deported. Most of these operated in Selangor while some were active in Negeri Sembilan, Perak and Penang, albeit on smaller scale. Nevertheless, the police admitted that it was difficult to identify whether those arrested were secret societies, communist sympathisers or communist terrorists. This was largely because both operated in a clandestine fashion and membership was secret. ENDNOTES 1 There are a few standard histories of Chinese secret societies in Malaya among which are: Blythe W.L. The Impact of Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Historical Study, UOP, London, 1969 and Wynne M.L. Triad and Tabut: A Survey of the Origins and Diffusion of Chinese and Mohammedan Secret Societies in the Malay Peninsula, 1800-1935, Singapore 1941. 2 Dobree C.T. Notes on Secret Societies (undated) 3 Ibid p.10 4 Ibid pp.13-17 5 Ibid p.10 Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 13/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications 6 Chee Fah was a popular gambling game during the Japanese Occupation. It was based on literary flower puzzles involving riddles with allusions to Chinese classical literature. Chee Fah is still popular among the Chinese in Kuala Lumpur. 7 Triad, Ang Bin Hoey and Kuomintang in Malaya, Labour Department, Selangor, ACA 10/47. 8 Registrar of Trade Union Files (RTU) 128/46. 9 “The Question of Secret Societies”, inssued by Selangor State Secretariat, MCP, Nov. 1952. 10 Review of Chinese Affairs, Nov. 1947, Pahang Secretariat Files 195/46. 11 Ibid 12 Ibid 13 Ibid 14 For a more detailed account of GLUs, see Leong Yee Fong, Labour and Trade Unionism in Colonial Malaya, 1930 – 1957, USM Press, 1999. 15 For a more detailed account of KMT-MCP rivalry, see Chui Kwei-Chiang, The Response of the Malayan Chinese to Political and Military Developments in China, 1945-1949, Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang University, Oct.1977. 16 Review of chinese Affairs, Oct. 1947 17 Ibid 18 Triad, Ang Bin Hoey, and Kuomintang in Malaya 19 Ibid 20 Ibibd 21 “Question of Secret Societies” 22 Triad, Ang Bin Hoey and Kuomintang 23 “An Open Letter to Compatriots of Various Nationalities in Malaya Regarding the Sitiawan Incident”, RTU (MU) 128/46. 24 Labour and Trade Unionism in Colonial Malaya, 193-1957 25 “The Question of Secret Societies” 26 Ibid 27 J.N. McHugh, The Anatomy of Communist Propaganda, July 1948 – December 1949, Published in December 1949) 28 Chinese Secret Societies and the MCP, prepared under the Instructions of the Federation Intelligence Committee, 31 Dec. 1954. 29 Ibid 30 Ibid 31 Ibid Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 14/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952) The Penang Story – International Conference 2002 18-21 April 2002, The City Bayview Hotel, Penang, Malaysia Organisers: The Penang Heritage Trust & STAR Publications 32 “Memorandum of Reply by the Registrar of Trade Unions to Memorandum of Appeal on behalf of the Pan Malayan Rubber Workers Union, 10 July 1956, RTU 10/56. 33 Ibid 34 “Chinese Secret Societies and the MCP” 35 Ibid 36 Ibid 37 Ibid Leong Yee Fong, Secret Societies and Politics in Colonial Malaya with 15/15 Special Reference to the Ang Bin Hoey in Penang (1945-1952)