If the Sky Were to Fall … An Intergenerational Journey of Trials and Tribulations in Malaya During and After the Wars exposes the myths and mysteries surrounding the most tumultuous period of Malayan history and illuminates our understanding of the subterranean forces shaping the people and country then and now. Almost immediately after World War II, the British fought a long “Emergency” war against the communist guerrillas who had bravely helped them to fight against the Japanese earlier. This book details the gruesome atrocities suffered by the people of Malaya under the Japanese Occupation during World War II. It also unveils the reasons behind the rise of communism among the young and not so young Malayans. It shows the British’s lack of appreciation for the subtleties and complexities involved in the various issues facing innocent people.
In this decade long war, the innocent people of Malaya bore the brunt of the sufferings. More than half a million of them were forcibly relocated, with neither proper notice nor compensation, into double-barbed wired concentration camps called New Villages (新村). This book reveals the heavy-handed surveillance and restrictions adopted by the British as well as the resistance towards and rejection of this totalizing disciplinary project by the villagers. It shows how they confronted and contended with the unfair and unconscionable classification, normalization and reformation of them into “docile” subjects. By interrogating the official narrative, this memoir reveals the hidden truths, tensions and dilemmas involved. It gives voice to the dislocated, dispossessed and discontented and attends to the neglected, subjugated and persecuted caught up in this turbulent historical era.
Much of the first half of the book is about the Japanese invasion and the British last-ditch efforts to slow it down at Kampar and Slim River, very close to the Lit family home. Fear of what the Japanese would do to the Chinese who sympathised with China’s defence against the Japanese military’s brutality was followed by horror at what the Japanese actually did, not least to the British forces ordered to hold the line. While many books outline what many in Malaya had faced, few can match the poignancy of the tragic stories of family and friends that are told here. Younger readers will find much to think about should they ever find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This may also apply to having a suspect identity. Interspersed with wartime horrors and post-war revenge and ethnic killings after the war, the book describes efforts by local leaders to avoid the fury and irrationality of racial differentiations. The Japanese invasion had exposed many fault lines that the British had tried to play down but, in their last stand against the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), the bitter war between erstwhile allies who had fought against the Japanese together wag turned into a struggle in which Chinese people were seen as the enemy. This created a dangerous condition where few families could escape becoming collateral damage. What that meant for the Lit family and their friends who were unfortunate to have lived close to the headquarters of the MCP underlined the racial identities that came to be emphasised.
The book’s larger point reminds us how ideologies came to dominate the desire to be free and independent after the war began in 1941. The reaction against imperialism that was channelled through a passionate anti-colonialism led to a post-war battle of abstractions at the apex of which was that between capitalism and communism. One focused on wealth creation and the few who monopolised power for that purpose; the other on the masses seizing control in order to redistribute that wealth more equally. The Lit family is seen as representing the majority of ordinary folk whose wish above all is to be left alone to live and work in peace. Lit Kam Chong held firm to that wish all his life and his son remained loyal to that cause. The faith in being left alone to secure peace and prosperity may be at the heart of the only true democracy that the world can peacefully live with.