Sunday, January 06, 2008

Book Review: Gold in the South

Having recently read “Alias Chin Peng”, the autobiography of the leader of the Communist Party of Malaya, I ordered another book by a Malayan communist veteran to try and further understand the history of the struggles led by the CPM.

I have only the vaguest recollections of the so-called “Malayan Emergency” during which Australian troops assisted the British imperialists to suppress the liberation struggles of the Malayan peoples.

The history of the Malayan Communist Party is virtually unknown to Australians.

The book that I have just completed, Gold in the South...the story of an immigrant, is a much slimmer volume than Chin Peng’s detailed work, and mainly covers the decade of the 1930s when the author, Shan Ru Hong (born 1919) joined the communist movement and began organizational work among the tin miners.

At a very young age, Shan Ru Hong was engaged by his mine-owning uncle to work as “buyer” for the tin mine, and to oversee its personnel management. This put him in a unique position to understand the exploitative nature of the mining industry and to influence its workers. As an educated youth, he established evening classes for the employees and read them newspapers, raising their level of consciousness about domestic and international affairs. After the Japanese attack on China in 1937, his work increasingly focused on anti-Japanese agitation among the ethnic Chinese tin miners.

Drawing on his experience with the formation of the Kinta Mine Workers Union, Shan Ru Hong turned his attention to the plight of workers on the rubber plantations at Negeri Sembilan. They were more difficult to organize than the tin workers, partly because they were not thoroughly proletarian. Many farmed small plots and combined this individual undertaking with their rubber tapping for the plantation owners. Nevertheless, they were highly exploited. One of Shan Ru Hong’s skills is a capacity for recalling the details of workers wages and working conditions in both the tin and rubber industries.

Shan Ru Hong’s book provides a very personal account of his development as a communist and the growth of his understanding that “a strong political ideology and organizational discipline was necessary” (p. 114).

Shan Ru Hong (alias Ah Cheng, Ah Hai) became a leader of the Malayan Communist Party and was its representative in China for a number of years. He then returned to lead the armed struggle against the British and was one of the senior CPM negotiators in the Peace Talks with the Malayan and Thai Governments in 1988-9.

I ordered the Gold in the South online from in Kuala Lumpur.

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