Dong Zong and racism: how much does Mahathir understand?

[Aliran published an edited version.]

About Dong Zong, how much does Mahathir know, let alone understand – when many Malaysian Chinese themselves do not?

Among Malaysian Chinese who did not attend Chinese schools, Dong Zong can be a distant alien. Many haven’t even heard of Dong Zong. Now that it is splashing the headlines, non-Mandarin-speaking Chinese themselves struggle to pronounce ‘Dong Zong’ correct. It in fact sounds more like ‘dung jung’; that is how ‘u’ and ‘z’ are defined in romanised Chinese pronunciation.

Malaysian Chinese who attended Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) would have heard of Dong Zong. They would know which Mandarin character is behind Dong and which character is behind Zong. Off and on they would have heard of some internal turmoils from the news. But they don’t necessarily associate or identify themselves with this organisation by the name of Dong Zong.

Dong Zong is closest to the heart of Malaysian Chinese affiliated to Chinese independent schools. These do not make up the majority of Malaysian Chinese.

Dong Zong (short for Dong Jiao Zong) as a group has been far from the pink of health. In-fighting is no less gripping and persistent than that of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Airing of dirty laundry is no less daring either.

Mahathir, as much as the media, over-estimated Dong Zong’s reach. Dong Zong is nothing like DAP, which many Chinese draw personal association with.

Disagreeing with national education policies can’t make a group racist. The statement, “Dong Zong is racist because it never agreed with national education policies” reflects not on Dong Zong. Rather, it reflects on our Prime Minister, who hasn’t yet learned that there is nothing wrong disagreeing with government policies, and there is no need to axe those who do.

By seeing Dong Zong as nothing but a group who never agreed with national education policies, by not being able to see Dong Zong beyond that, reveals how discriminating Mahathir is. Discrimination happens when we can’t see the person(s) beyond the label we put on others.

Discrimination, for example, happens when we fail to see the person beyond the colour of his/her skin, or his/her orientation. Likewise, seeing just the ‘KU’ and missing the leading ‘O’ spell the discrimination against OKU. The person is reduced to an entity less than a person. That’s discrimination.

Mahathir reduced Dong Zong to less than what it is. It is an organisation with a valid and noble mission (regardless of whatever internal conflicts within). It rightly and naturally has to disagree with national education policies, which have so far been gravely racist and biased.

Defending one’s own heritage without claiming supremacy over others cannot be racist.

Don’t Japanese descendants take pride in speaking, reading and writing Japanese even following generations of migration? Don’t Greek migrants do everything to avoid that embarrassment of not being able to understand Greek? Italians and Spaniards share that similar sense of pride and shame. Why should Malaysians take ultimate pride in speaking the coloniser’s language instead?

By the way, Chinese have no problem sharing their heritage. Non-Chinese are always welcome to speak and use Mandarin and the various dialects. No word is reserved as exclusive. Even the word ‘God’ in Mandarin and as a matter of fact, any Chinese dialect — for example – can be uttered by any non-Chinese without the faintest concern. Dong Zong never proposed any law prohibiting its use. There is also no ‘kafir’ equivalent in Mandarin or any of the Chinese dialects.


What does Mahathir understand as racism? Tactical fielding of Malay candidates in areas of Malay majority is racist. Tactical fielding of Indian candidates in areas of Indian majority is racist. Tactical fielding of Chinese candidates in areas of Chinese majority is racist. Sadly, racism was t-h-e formula underlying Barisan Nasional as much as it is the formula that underlies Pakatan Harapan. This was how PH was minted from its component parties; the same way BN was minted from its component parties. Racism was how PH gained Putrajaya; the same way BN controlled Putrajaya. That’s racism without hiding, racism blessed by the Ubah crowd. Racism was how Mahathir became Prime Minister.

On 16 January 2019 Karen Wang was ejected from a by-election in Canada. Her political career was killed by her post on social media calling on Chinese voters to vote for her as the other candidate was Singh. That’s racism. Does Tun understand? Do Malaysians understand? Guilty of racism, Karen became one of the most despised persons in Canada. Even Canadians of Chinese descent disowned her.

If we go by the same standards, our cabinet and our Dewan would be empty. Even ministers openly and shamelessly lobby for racist support. Recall Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran’s speech, “Where will I put my face if my people, my community… we are of the same blood, what will happen if we do not support our own community… What can we tell the cabinet? ‘Those fellows’ will say, ‘Dei, he (Umno acting chairperson Mohamad Hasan) is of a different race, different religion, but the Tamils (Indians) voted for him. Think carefully… When I am a minister, so many problems (facing the Indian community) can be brought to Chinese ministers, Malay ministers, but they (the Indians) don’t go (to ministers of other races)… This is because they (Indians) feel happy when they go to a Tamil (Indian) minister.. I have come to Rantau so many times, there are so many Chinese shops, so many Malay shops, but I do not like to eat (in these places)… We go to Tamil (Indian) shops.”

Comfortably as Human Resources Minister Kula remains. He should have joined the falling dominoes.

When uttered by BN, the Ubah crowd condemns the same words as racist and inciting hatred. When uttered by PH, the Ubah crowd echoes and cheers, claiming that all is for the rakyat. This jarring inconsistency and lack of objectivity are very wrong and shameful.

Malaysians have always been hypersensitive to any question, “I thought Malaysians live on trees?” Well, if we don’t, we really need to stop behaving as if we do.

Our sensitised nation

Khat or no khat? Is khat right or is khat wrong? Is khat good or is khat bad? Introducing khat is not without its controversies but the surest bit is that among people who want it, many want it for the wrong reason – as much as many who oppose it are opposing for the wrong reason.

Whatever the motivation when the idea was first conceived, whatever the after-thoughts – reactions would have been entirely different if our nation weren’t this sensitised.

We have become hyper-sensitive. The issue is not khat. The issue is that our nation is gravely sensitised.

Our sensitised state rhymes with the word, ‘curiga’. In Kamus Dewan, ‘curiga’ reads ‘syak wasangka, waswas, sangsi, …’

Where do the three dots lead us? May 13. That’s right – the sensitisation we’ve been experiencing is May 13 reinvented. May 13 of our own making; not a recurrence of history. The modern-day version is chronic rather than acute. It is subtle. It comes in the form of internal bleeding rather any open bloodshed.

Recall the controversy over building lights lighting up in the form of a cross in Jelutong. Whatever the motivation when the design was first conceived, whatever the after-thoughts – reactions would have been entirely different if our nation weren’t this sensitised.

People who want it want it for the wrong reason; I can’t see any depth in expressing Christianity this way.

People who reject it reject for the wrong reason; I can’t see how a stable person could find the alignment of those lights offensive or threatening in any way.

We end up fighting when those who want want it for the wrong reason and those who reject reject it for the wrong reason.

Leadership overtaken by populism

If Ubah is about building a nation, then stop that scramble for Malays. Disarm, and let everyone feel secured again. The first step in disarming is simple: stop talking about Malays and Chinese — ban that m-word and that c-word from political discussions and campaigns.

Both words have only been over-used and abused as part of political weaponry. The i-word and other words are used less frequently, which only exposes the gravity of the weaponry involved.

As in sports training and competitions, prompt corrections are critical. The Ubah movement is in urgent need for correction, to steer us away from populism, where those in power sway in all directions going by the loudest clamour. The loudest clamour is not always correct — we ought to know by now.

We should always be careful with the loudest clamour anyway. We should have learned that historical lesson from the history books documenting that loudest clamour from that crowd facing Pontius Pilate.

We need firm leadership. Somebody has to do it. Will Mahathir please try? If not, will Anwar please try? If not, stop claiming seats as birthright, and pass on the baton to those capable and willing.

Good leadership would be able to convert, correct and direct the crowd. Stop that scramble for Malays, de-sensitise the nation. This can only happen when politicians are able to see Malays beyond that vote in their hands. The scramble for Malays will go on if politicians continue to reduce the Malays to mere voters, failing to see the persons holding the ballot papers. In the name of defending the Malays, supporters and politicians from both sides of the divide have been (ab)using the Malays for their own selfish ambitions.

Free speech for the academia

If Tun and DSAI (as Mahathir and Anwar are frequently referred to with great affection) were stronger leaders less populist, they would have been able to energise the academia. As university campuses demand greater freedom of expression, remind the university folks that yes, the government can grant and respect free speech – but never forget that the academia needs to give back to the society. And giving back to the society doesn’t mean passively chanting that Ubah sing-along.

The problem with the Ubah sing-along has been that it painted its little world into either black or white, with no gray shades in between. Its world is a reduced world that is self-absorbed, narrow-hearted and narrow-minded. It failed to put things in the context of history and geography. It failed to learn lessons from other times and places. That is how we landed on the present baggage-laden Ubah – a change that never was – a mess that was completely foreseeable way before GE14.

The academia has a unique contribution to make, to lead the society in ways no one else can. The bravery we expect from the academia is not the sort of bravery we’ve been getting – speaking out against BN during BN’s reign, and speaking out against PH during PH’s reign. The academia got to dare to speak out against Ubah during BN’s reign itself – provide the analysis, put things in context, issue warnings others can’t see, offer better options besides that blind support for PH at all costs, lead the society in understanding and managing the many shades of gray.