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Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Chinese Dilemma - Ye Lin-Sheng (Review)

Random Reviews - 4

Ye Lin-Sheng 
(East-West Editions, Kingsford, NSW, Australia, 2003)

When I pick up a book whose cover blurb tells me, "This is a book every (lumberjack/Mongolian/card player/lorry driver etc) should read,"  my dormant critical faculties, such as they are, immediately become alert. This, of course, is a book that "all Malaysians, Chinese and Malay alike, should read," according to Mahathir Mohamad, the author of  The Malay Dilemma according to the cover blurb.

Despite Ye's self-effacing protestations at the start of the book, it is very well written and easily readable. Within a short time I was beginning to be convinced that Mahathir's recommendation wasn't too far off the mark. Here was a Chinese Malaysian setting out to examine a set of fairly usual moans and groans of his fellow Chinese Malaysians about the affirmative action in favour of the Malay population since Mahathir came to power. What is more here was a Chinese Malaysian setting out to argue that the New Economic Policy (NEP) was a 'good thing.'

Generally he does make a fairly convincing argument that is, for the most part, cogently argued in the first half of the book. For those who have not lived through the period of change, there are ample statistics to demonstrate the increased Malay participation and leadership in many aspects of life where they barely featured before the start of the NEP. Few would argue that the virtual exclusion of the majority of the population from these areas was something that needed to be redressed. Again most would agree that the policy, despite the grumbles, has been a success. It's gratifying to read these views being endorsed by a Chinese Malaysian, although one wonders to what extent he himself has made the total commitment to the country that he advocates for his fellow Chinese Malaysians. The book was published in Australia and his brief biography states that he's an international businessman. So one wonders whether Malaysia is still his home, but maybe that's being unkind.

However, nothing in life is perfect, including the NEP. When Ye starts to tackle criticisms of the NEP he is on weaker ground. Generally in the book he's the master of generalisation with very few facts or statistics to back up his assertions. This really made him ill equipped to argue against the critics of the policy. For example he attempts to tackle complaints that people have been discriminated against on account of their race. He speculates that individual failures may be the result of individual inadequacies. True, but what about those who have suffered purely because of their race and the inadequate who have advanced purely because of their race? He either does not tackle this issue or fudges his response.

The statistics which fail to be used by the author do show that that both Malays and Chinese have benefited from the NEP. However to what extent has it and successive affirmative policies benefited those at the bottom of the heap? Interestingly the Mahathir quote on the front cover of the book only makes reference to Malays and Chinese, but, as in the quote, the Orang Asli, Borneo tribes and Indians barely get a mention in the book. The poor Malays and Chinese are also forgotten in the book. One could argue that affirmative action policies in Malaysia and elsewhere might produce more harmonious and egalitarian societies if they were based on uplifting the economically marginalised rather than members of one or more racial groups.

Despite all that, the Chinese Dilemma is certainly a book that needed to be written. It's refreshing to read something from a member of a minority in support of a policy which in some shape or form was certainly necessary and has had more successes than failures. In fact I would agree that it's a book that needs to be read by all Malaysians who may then be better equipped to deal with the next phase of the country's economic and cultural development. The book is likely to provoke thought, but also many more questions  than answers. The author can be seen to be trying too hard to argue that all in the Malaysian garden is lovely. However he may have provoked someone some day to write a more rounded assessment of all that's happened in the country since Mahathir's The Malay Dilemma was written. The new book's title could well be The Malaysian Dilemma.

The Chinese Dilemma is available at The Penang Bookshelf at RM60 or at our eBay store


Anak Ismail (AI) said...

Hi dear, is that possible for me to buy the book and get it post to Scotland?

Penangbookshelf said...

Thanks for your post. I don't have the book in stock, but can get a copy. Please write to me at

Unknown said...

Can you get the copy?

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