Malaysia Cultural Influences on Ethnic Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

After a series of uprisings, the people of Malaysia, non-Malays, Malays, the Chinese and others, all agreed to develop a country that was multicultural, especially in modern times when globalization is a topic of high-priority among many people's of the world (Brunnel, 2004). Brunnel (2004) is one of many researchers that notes that growing interest in nations that are ethically diverse has caused many of the leaders in Malaysia to highlight their diverse culture in recent years inclusive of non-Malays and Chinese and Islamic peoples, rather than hide it (Wong 2001, Kheng, 2002)

Hock (2000) and other historians (Kheng, 2001; Yun, 2001) noted that during the early years or colonial times most cultures were allowed to do as they please, and all ethnic groups had "equal access" to the land and the public spaces of Malaysia to do as they pleased; however, during the post-colonial period, more and more ethnic cultures attempted to dominate each other in at attempt to "promote the public presence of Malay culture" (Hock p. 5). This early culture reflects how Malaysia is set up today. While the Malay culture dominates the country from a political and economic vantage, the culture of Malaysia is richly filled with many different influences including Islamic, Chinese and non-Malay influences (Brunnel, 2004).

When Malaysia gained its independence from Westerner's during the Colonial times, many problems related directly to ethnic groups' desires to construct what would later be the Malay culture known to other people throughout the world (Hock, 2000; Brunnel, 2004). Leaders in Malaysia wanted to promote the Malay culture without assimilating all other non-Malay cultures and those practicing Islam; the idea was that a national culture could be accepted that would not "alienate" other communities that were non-Malay but living in Malaysia. Hock (2000) concludes that too much ambivalence existed about whether to include or exclude non-Malay cultures from the modern nation (p. 5). The primary point however, that most historians make is that even though the Chinese fought for their rights, as did the people of non-Malay cultures, they did so because they were concerned their culture would not survive, and they wanted their children to immerse themselves in their ethnic culture as much as they would the culture of the Malay people (Brunnel, 2004). Again, historical evidence points to culture as the leading factor and element that led to peace. While the Malay government fought to make its presence known for some three decades, now that the Malay culture is finally entrenched, there has been little strife politically or economically throughout Malaysia (Brunnel, 2004; Yun, 2001).

There are many reasons the Malay dominant party decided not to assimilate other cultures. One reason for this was to keep the peace (Brunnel, 2004). During the 1960s the religions and language systems of non-Malay people varied a great deal from the Malay culture. This is one reason it was impossible to assimilate the cultures, and one reason there was much turmoil regarding ethnicity in Malaysia. Malay people's at this point in history were "privileged" people's, especially given their status as the dominant culture.

There was much disorganization among the Malay people, and since the government failed to quickly institute or advance a uniform language or culture many non-Malay's lost faith in the government at the time, which included the United Malays National Organization (Hock, p. 6). Mandarin was the primary language spoken so the people that acknowledge the Chinese way of life and religion felt they should have more privileges or at the minimum gain equal stature with the Malaysians. The ethnic riots did not change the Malay "dominating" culture within Malaysia, but the Malays did work to "reconstitute" the lay of the land and the cultural landscape that the public would come to know. So, how does all of this translate into a country that widely accepts all ethnicities and manages to do so in peace?

Malay cultural policies put into place in recent years established the Malay language as the primary medium through which children would communicate and learn in school, and the primary language that most Malaysian people would use during interactions with the public or with people of other nations. The Malay people did much to make present in public places, symbols and other aspects...
...There are for example, many items that are decorative in nature or culturally significant in nature displayed in public places. Malay officials have allowed other cultures to carry on their traditions in a way that doesn't usurp the Malay people or threaten their culture. Hock described the phenomenon as "reasonably accommodating" meaning the people governing Malay have been willing to change many aspects of the "public" landscape so that it reflects the Malay culture but also demonstrates the presence of other major cultures including Islam and Chinese in public areas.

While there was much tension in Malaysia throughout the seventies and eighties, during the 1990s through the present, many of the old tensions revolving around culture and ethnicity in Malaysia have waned. Chinese citizens are able to recognize their own cultural symbols and are allowed their own practices. Chinese people's are also allowed to teach their children Chinese at Chinese schools, a trend that started during the 1980s; that means while in the "public's" eye, while most people learn Mandarin and adopt Malay culture, the major subgroups living in Malaysia are comfortable embracing their own culture without much threat from the current government.

The Chinese education allowed is a compromised resolution; this means the state recognizes primary schools and the education they provide, but people of Chinese descent are still required to attend Malay secondary schools. The reason many Chinese schools agreed to this was the funding provided to them by the government. The government funded primary schools as long as the people of the Chinese culture agreed to send their children to Malay schools for secondary education. By then, most Chinese will have already learned their ethnic tongue, so it was not cause for rioting (although many Chinese did not like the agreement). The Ministry of Education has kept tabs on enrollment, noting that most Chinese prefer Chinese primary schools, but move to national secondary schools that offer Malay as the medium through which teaching occurs.

While the Chinese did gain support with regard to education, it is important to note that this was short-term; the rise of primary Chinese schools occurred from the 1970s to the 1980s; gradually the government that was Malay began enforcing the 1971 National Culture more so than ever before, and re-emphasized how important Malay was as a medium in primary and secondary schools. It is important to note that during this time, all the turmoil that existed between the Malay people and the Chinese, and the turmoil between the Malay people and the non-Malay people of Malaysia, all of this turmoil focused on cultural and social rules, not political or economic ones. The class system in Malaysia did not change much during this time; most people of society were classified as lower, middle or upper- middle class. This held true whether people were Malay, non-Malay or Chinese or Islamic.

During the late 1990s the Islamic people began to speak out, wanting more of a presence within the population. Thus, much like symbols of the Chinese came about in public places during Malaysia's early history, now Islamic symbols started to appear in public places. Malay officials in the government continued, even in the face of potential uprisings by the people of Islam, to push for a Malay oriented culture and nation. Of emphasis in the government was how important it was to adopt Malay culture. Religion and language were secondary at all times to culture, suggesting the peace and harmony of Malaysia lie on cultural bounds.

There were other problems during the 1990s, including the loss of standing of the Chinese schools which caused tension among the Chinese people, who felt they had no support in Malaysia. However, tension with other groups including the non-Malays receded. The Malay and non-Malay people, from the 1990s through today, live in relative peace and harmony. This is because the Malay government is no longer fighting the Chinese people for supremacy; much of the land is already inundated with Malay cultural symbols, beliefs and practices (Hock, 2000). Hock (2000) notes the non-Malay people generally "accept their subordinate position" to the point where they rarely object publicly to the Malay cultural movements. The Chinese are content to a point where they appreciate their own space, and have not made further efforts to rise against the Malay government; especially given their efforts in the past were minimal at best. Many may say the Chinese have given up their hopes for a Chinese-oriented culture, and are simply grateful for…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bunnell, Tim. (2004) Malaysia, modernity, and the multimedia super corridor: A critical geography of intelligent landscapes. New York: Routledge Curzon.

Freedman, Amy. (2000) Political participation and ethnic minorities, London:


Gomez, Edmund T. (2004) the state of Malaysia, New York: Routledge Curzon.

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