Understanding Malaysian Chinese

Understanding Malaysian Chinese

The Chinese are known to be traditional and superstitious. While such practices are slowly fading off in the society and among the community, there are still many who follow the “old wife’s tales” that has been passed down through generations.
The most common superstition would be on numbers. Most Malaysian Chinese are usually concerned when it comes to car number plates where the number 8 is mostly preferred while the number 4 are the least favourites. This is because the pronunciation of the numbers sound like ‘prosperous’ and ‘death’ respectively.

Fortune is considered to be one of the most important elements in Chinese superstition, hence everything that are used for decorations, apart from their decorative elements would be influential where red and yellow are commonly used for good fortune while black represents mourning and bad fortune.

Where this is concerned, one would notice that on occasions like the Chinese New Year are times when superstitions are exercised to its fullest. This is where ill feelings are forgotten or subdued while kind and generous wishes are spread among all in the community. The most significant element in Chinese superstition is that one must respect the elders in every sense whether they are still alive or not and to be good mannered so that they do not offend anyone.

Food and Culture of Malaysian Chinese

Malaysian Chinese generally observe the festivals and celebrations of the Chinese community around the world. This means that the Chinese New Year, the Mooncake Festival, the Hungry Ghost Festivals, Ching Ming and others are observed and commemorate with reunion dinners, offerings and burning of worship items on the specific day of the event. It is very common to see an altar in most Chinese homes while another is placed at the front door and another in the kitchen which are common Chinese beliefs.

In practicing their traditions, food becomes an integral part of the typical Chinese family as they are always a form of celebration as well as used for offerings to deities and gods. One would usually find food like roast pork, steamed chicken and roast duck during such festivals.
However, food is also an important and integral part of the Chinese community. Most Chinese food are non-halal hence careful classification need to be adhered to in Malaysia, which upholds Islam as the official religion. Among the most popular Chinese dishes in Malaysia include Dim sum which is enjoyed in the mornings, particularly during weekends, Bak Kut Teh which is a pork herbal soup cuisine made famous from Klang. Other common dishes include Wan Tan Mee, Claypot Chicken Rice, Chilly Crab, Char Siew Rice and many others.

Education for Malaysian Chinese

In Malaysia, public education is provided for all citizens regardless of race, religion and background and are funded by the government. There are generally 2 types of national schools in the country namely national schools where they use Bahasa Malaysia (National Language) as the main medium of delivery and communication. The second type of schools are known as National Type Schools that uses either Chinese or Tamil as the main language catered to pupils from the respective communities. Families from the Chinese communities are therefore allowed to choose either type of schools to send their children to. Where this is concerned, students from both type of schools are prepared for the national examination namely the PMR, SPM and STPM.

Alternatively, Chinese families can also send their children to independent self-funded Chinese schools where they have to pay a certain fee. These are schools that delivers education based on the Unified Examination Certificate or UEC. The independent schools have been around for more than 30 years now where students sit for the examination in 3 different levels namely Junior Middle (UEC-JML), Vocational (UEC-V), and Senior Middle (UEC-SML). This qualification is accepted in most private tertiary education institutions both in the country as well as abroad in countries like Taiwan, USA, the United Kingdom and Singapore.

Malaysian Chinese demographics

The Chinese community is the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the Malays. It was reported in 1835 when the British Malay states showed that the Chinese makes up 8 percent of the total population of the states where they are mainly congregated around the Straits Settlements. The Malay community grew rapidly around the 19th and 20th centuries and by 1921, 30% of the population in Malaya were Chinese. This number would continue to grow until they form some 38.4% by 1947. It then continued to grow until recent times where the percentage is reduced with families opting for fewer children due to economical and financial reasons.

Records show that there were about 2.66 million Chinese in 1957, the year of Malaysia’s independence and by 2000, there were almost 5.7 million which is 25% of the total Malaysian population. Among all, the southern state of Johor records the biggest percentage of Chinese among its population while Kuala Lumpur, the capital of the country by itself has almost 50% Chinese. The most significant areas in Kuala Lumpur with a large Chinese community are areas like Cheras, Pudu, Segambut, Kepong, Old Klang Road, Sri Petaling and Bukit Bintang while nearby suburbs like Damansara, Puchong, Serdang and Klang too are known to be Chinese dominant areas.

Tang Hao – remembering your ancestors

One of the most common things you will see when entering a Chinese family’s home is a big plague on top of the front door with 2 Chinese characters proudly embossed on them. What is that you might ask? In fact, some of the older pre-war homes today still has that while the more modern homes would no longer practice them. These are known as the Tang Hao and it is still very much seen around the state of Malacca while in the villages, there are still many families who still practices it.

Known to be a Chinese culture which is fast diminishing, it is the characters that basically tells you who and the names of the household. But it is not as easy as just reading the characters there. Most of the younger Chinese generation would no longer be aware of this culture as it is no longer given much prominence today.

Make no mistake about it, the characters do not hold the surname of the family. In fact if you can read the characters, it will only allow you to guess the names of the household. There are many sources of where the 2 characters come from. It could be the village of the family’s origins which if you are familiar with the geography of China would tell you the surname. Some are titles which were given historically by the Emperor previously and passed down through generations. So if you really want to know the household’s surname and origin, you will need to know a bit of history as well.

Pregnancy and Chinese customs

As the Chinese are generally a superstitious community, there are certain so-called ‘guidelines’ during pregnancy. This is considered to be very important and crucial because if the traditions are not followed, it might risk giving birth to an ‘abnormal’ child.

While most of the rituals are not scientifically proven and some claims to be false, they are still very much followed and observed. One of the most common superstitions is the emotional state of the expectant mother. It is said that she must be kept happy at all times so as not to have any negative feelings. This is because any hatred, anger or depression will be ‘channelled’ to the child in her stomach.

They are also not allowed to watch movies or pictures of disfigured objects. Alien or horror movies are not allowed because it might also ‘affect’ the baby. Funerals are also not allowed while they are also not allowed to be directly involved during weddings.

Any sort of cutting using knife or scissors are not allowed because it symbolises cutting the umbilical cord. In some cases, it is considered to be bad luck to have an empty stroller in the home before the child is born. Pictures and posters of babies should also be plastered in the walls of the bedroom.

The Chinese Kopitiam

The Chinese Kopitiam is a common eatery business in Malaysia. The word Kopitiam is typically a Hokkien/ Teochew word that comes from 2 words, namely Kopi and Tiam. Kopi is obviously the local word for Coffee while Tiam means shop. So put together, it means Coffee Shop. While coffee shops in the west could mean a place for drinking coffee or tea and cakes, in the Chinese community, it takes an entirely different definition.

This is where you can enjoy coffee, which in most cases are Kopi ‘O’, the local word for black coffee and toast bread. Half boiled eggs are served too while milk tea, Cham and such are also provided. However, in Kopitiams, you would usually find food as well sold by the stalls in the shop. In big cities there are usually many stalls selling all types of food like fried noodles, wan tan mee and such but in the smaller cities, usually there are lesser stalls.

If you go to a kopitiam in a small town, you will come across the ‘uncles’ who are here enjoying their Kopi ‘O’, chit-chatting, probably having a game of Chinese Chess, cards or with their pet birds. You can find them usually in the mornings or towards tea time which is around 3pm and after. This tradition is now rarely seen in the big cities like Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian Chinese Politics

Despite being the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, the Malaysian Chinese have the highest household income among all the groups with an average of RM4,437 per household. In Malaysia, the Chinese community is considered as non-bumiputera where they are not the original people of the land. However, those born in Malaysia are considered as citizens of Malaysia and enjoy all the benefits of any Malaysian although there are some differences between the bumiputeras.

In politics, the Chinese are mainly represented by the MCA or Malaysian Chinese Association which is one of the senior members of the ruling party Barisan Nasional. The party is led by Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek. Another party, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia or known just as Gerakan is a multiracial party although is made up primarily of Chinese. On the opposition front, most Chinese support the DAP or Democratic Action Party who are elected in most places around Kuala Lumpur.  The rights of the Chinese in Malaysia has been an issue in the political arena for many years now with the most recent one coming from Malay rights NGO Perkasa who claims that the Chinese were ungrateful to the government for not electing the MCA in the last general election. In 2018 Lim Guan Eng was elected as Malaysia’s first finance minister of Malaysia.

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