GOING beyond race and culture, Chinese Malaysian youth groups are now running and supporting universal causes, such as human rights and environment, across the country.
The shift that began in the watershed 2008 general elections has seen new groups rise to take up causes that depart from traditional concerns of Chinese activism, such as preserving Chinese education by groups like Dong Zhong (United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia) and Jiao Zong (United Chinese School Teachers Association of Malaysia), said Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) chief executive officer Tang Ah Chai.
“A lot of Chinese youth who care about human rights, good governance and the environment have started their own NGOs. This is healthy for our democracy in the long-term, ” he told The Malaysian Insight in Kuala Lumpur.
“In the 2008 and 2013 elections, we saw cooperation across ethnic lines. (Now), the Chinese Malaysian community have largely come to think that it is time for Malaysia to move away from communal politics … towards multiracial, multicultural, multireligious approaches to politics,” Tang added.
The lobby work of earlier Chinese Malaysian generations that focused on vernacular education and the business interests of clan and guilds was also closely tied to establishment politics, with the pre-Independence ruling Chinese party MCA providing a channel to the federal government.
Tang said the younger generation no longer carried the baggage of history, which made it “easier for them to accept new approaches to political mobilisation”.
Among the new non-profit groups that have gained some traction among vernacular-educated Chinese Malaysians over the past decade include the Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy, Baram Kini and Johor Yellow Flame.
The Malaysian Insight spoke to these three groups to find out what motivated them to dive into causes such as human rights, culture preservation, environmental advocacy and civic education.
Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
National laureate A. Samad Said is the chairman of the trust, but the group is mainly driven by about a dozen Chinese Malaysian activists.
They came together to seek justice for Teoh Beng Hock’s family and the truth behind his mysterious death in custody in 2009. Teoh was the aide of DAP Selangor assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah. He died after falling from the 14th floor of the Selangor Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission building in Shah Alam, where he was questioned as part of an investigation into graft allegations against Ean Yong.
“We did everything possible but no one was held responsible (for his death). We still want justice for Beng Hock. We believe their family has the right to know the truth,” said the trust’s vice secretary and lawyer Wong Siew Yun.
The group, which raised more than RM200,000 in 2014, morphed into a trust fund to provide support for Teoh’s family members and others who have had loved ones die in custody.
It currently supports a Bukit Mertajam Malay family, who travel to Ipoh frequently to attend the coroner’s inquest into their son’s death in police custody after being arrested for theft in 2016.
The trust also runs human rights courses in Malay and Mandarin, and organises public talks on human rights-related topics, such as the forums to commemorate Operasi Lalang last month.
Wong said the group hoped to scale up their work next year, to organise an anti-torture campaign and come up with anti-torture legislation to reduce custodial abuses by enforcement officers.
Driven by a core group of about 30 people, Baram Kini brings mostly Chinese Malaysians from the Peninsula to visit and understand indigenous cultures in Baram, Sarawak.
“We want them to appreciate the native cultures and beautiful nature in Baram,” said one of its key movers Lawai Liew.
The group, founded in 2013, has also thrown its weight behind the campaign against the proposed Baram Dam, which could displace some 20,000 people from various tribes – Kenyah, Kayan, Penan – and submerge some 41,200ha of rainforest.
“(Former Sarawak chief minister) Adenan (Satem) had promised to scrap the dam but we believe the state government should say that in black and white to reassure the locals,” said Liew.
The group also plans to raise funds to install micro-hydro systems to provide electricity to remote villages in Baram valley.
Johor Yellow Flame
A group of Netizens in Johor Baru started the group in 2011 to support Kuala Lumpur’s Kill The Bill movement to protest against the Peaceful Assembly Bill, which has since been passed into law.
They later set up a Facebook page that hosts regular discussions on current affairs and politics.
Among the topics that have been hotly debated include the plight of Rohingya refugees, Bersih 2.0 and the transparency of the country’s electoral process, opposition to the Lynas rare earth refinery in Pahang and the Pengerang integrated petroleum complex in Johor.
The discussions on Facebook Live are usually conducted in Mandarin.
“We want citizens to care about what is happening in society. It’s a platform for them to discuss freely.
“If there is any specific topic we want to promote actively, it would be voter education and political reform. We are non-partisan.
“We want citizens to be more active and informed,” one of its committee members, Elson, said.