The Malayan Emergency: Essays on a Small, Distant War examines the Malayan Emergency afresh and brings into focus issues not normally covered in other accounts. It also explores the moral costs of modern counter-insurgency. One of the first conflicts of the Cold War, the Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and communist insurgents in Malaya from 1948 to 1960. Souchou Yao tells its story in a series of penetrating and illuminating essays that range across a vast canvas. Throughout the book runs a passionate concern for the lives and struggles of ordinary men and women in colonial Malaya.
Here, the effect of counterinsurgency measures is captured by the anthropologist’s art of ethnography and cultural analysis. Among the vignettes is an ethnographic encounter with a woman ex-guerrilla, and the author’s remembrance of his insurgent-cousin killed in a police ambush. As such, this fascinating study examines the Emergency afresh, and in the process brings into focus issues not normally covered in other accounts: nostalgia and failed revolution, socialist fantasy and ethnic relations, and the moral costs of modern counterinsurgency.
The book is peppered with the sense of futility, of times lost, as felt by the ex-insurgents the author encountered. Yet, even as the author shares their melancholy, he does not forget the forces of the hope for justice that communism once inspired. Until the signing of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939, communism seemed to many to be the only serious opposition to Fascism. Young communists like Cheng Peng and Xiao Hong did not talk about the Hitler-Stalin friendship. If they knew of it, it would not have dampened their dream of a socialist utopia in Malaya. The author’s telling of the life-careers of Xiao Hong and Second Cousin is an indication enough, he imagines, of how seriously he perceive the importance of communism to the young people of their respective generations.