After World War II had ended in 1945, Sarawak started the long journey to rebuild herself. In Dec 1954, the State Council of the colonial government approved an increase in trade license fees of 500 to 1,000% to raise M$3.5 million a year to offset lower prices for staple exports and support an increase in expenditure on education outlined in the Woodhead Report. The new rates were to be effective on 1 Jan 1955.
On 25 Dec 1954, a group of businessmen led by the politically astute Cantonese kapitan of Sarikei, Chen Koh Ming (Chan Ko Ming 陈高明), met at Sarikei Chinese Chamber of Commerce. They decided to close all shops in Sarikei for the first ten days of 1955 in protest. Binatang and Sibu decided to follow the hartal. (Hartal means closing of shops and stopping of work as a protest)
Importers in Sarikei, Binatang and Sibu refused to accept delivery of cargo, all businesses including petrol stations closed and all public transportation and cab services halted. John Pike, the District Officer of the Lower Rejang District based in Sarikei, tried to keep trade going and commandeered the Customs godowns at Sarikei and Binatang. He decided that goods not accepted by the local importers were to be sold to the public.
Source: A History of the Development of Rajang Basin in Sarawak. By Fong Hon Kah. Original picture from Sarawak Museum Archives.
Kuching joined the hartal for 3 days starting 7 Jan 1955. Bintulu, Miri and the rest of the colony joined in the hartal. Protest leaders from all major towns met the government in Kuching to oppose the new fees. As a result of this unprecedented protest, on 1 Jan 1955, the government allowed license fees to be paid by installments, set up a committee to examine revising the fees on 7 Jan and accepted its recommendations on 13 Jan. The State Council passed the amendments on 30 Mar.
Source: Sarawak United People's party (SUPP)
These Chinese who led the opposition to this colonial Government policy in 1955 were the first movers toward the formation of Sarawak's first political party, the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP). The launch of a multi-racial party was first mooted in 1956 by Ong Kee Hui, Stephen Yong, S. K. Reddi and T. G. Dunbar. SUPP was formed on 12 June 1959.
Sarikei's Chen Koh Ming became a member of the State Council and was a prominent parliamentarian. You may remember his family's corner shop at the end of the 1st Block of Wharf Road (廣合興 Kwong Hup Hin, No. 5 Wharf Rd). His family owned one of the 1st black and white TV in town. I watched Muhammad Ali fight live on TV (it's a big deal for live telecast then) in his shop in the 1970s. Later, he migrated to Vancouver, Canada and passed away on 20 Nov 2005 (updated) (Source: email reply from his niece in Malaysia).
Sarikei's Chen Koh Ming, a great fighter and leader indeed.
Sources: (submitted by Ikan Sembilang)
(1) V. Porritt, "The 1955 Trade Hartal (The Unofficial Birth of the SUPP)," Sarawak Gazette, 1530 (December 1954):58
(2) Michael Leigh, "Party Formation in Sarawak", Volume 9, April 1970 issue of ‘Indonesia’, a semi-annual journal published by Cornell University's Southeast Asia Program.