The Penang Story A Celebration of Cultural Diversity - DOC

Document Sample
The Penang Story A Celebration of Cultural Diversity - DOC Powered By Docstoc
					                         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: yfleong@usm.my

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)