Friday, August 24, 2007

History - Sarikei Part 5. The Trade Hartal 1955

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)

Sarikei Wharf Road fronting Rejang River.
Post WWII: circa 1950-1960s.
Source: My family album

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.

Sarikei Wharf Road 1971.
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.

SUPP founders. Circa 1956-1959.
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.


Daniel Yiek said...

This piece of history may not have the excitement of WWII but you'll find this fascinating if you immerse yourself in the hartal vs the colonial gov. Imagine goods piling up at the godowns, shops closed, etc. The colonial gov had to give in. The hartal was initiaed by Sarikei's Chen Koh Ming. What a start to the formation of political parties.

Thanks to Ikan Sembilang for the sources and idea.

Lidasar said...

The political landscape wasn’t SUPP alone in Sarikei but another political party with a Chinese name called Sa Hua, meaning Sarawak’s Chinese. If I could remember correctly Mr. Chan was the Sarikei representative to the Sate legislative and only latter did he and the others formed SUPP and hence I am not sure if SUPP is the 1st political party in Sarawak but certainly is a miss conception to assume Mr.Chan is with SUPP when he represented the town. Must later a failed assassination attempt on Mr.Chan prompt him to up root to Canada.

Kanga said...

I agree with Lidasar's comment in that Mr Chen initially represented Sa Hua (to my recollection). He may have joined SUPP later. I also can't recall Mr Chan Koh ming has a shop but I think his brother owned a shop along Wharf Rd. My memory remains to be tested here. However I do remember that he had done some great work for Sarikei. During that time, the politics of the day did plunge Sarikei into an almost dark age. I do recall those difficult days and it was also related to a 'white paper' published and stirred up the students studying in Hua Chiaw (Scholar Tinggi).

Fredy said...

The niece, is it Dr Chen that we know all along?

stlau said...

In the 1970 Parlimentary Election, it was Chen Ko Ming (SCA) at 4041 votes, Lo Pek Ung (SUPP) at 3337 votes, Wong Yuk Peng (SNAP) at 1389 votes and 2 independents (Then Kwan Long and Ching Ting Chiok). In the 1970 State Election, it was Khoo Peng Loong (SUPP) at 2399 votes, Chen Ko Ming (Alliance-SCA) at 1787 votes and Ngo King Huong (SNAP) and Ching Ting Chiok (independent).
In the 1974 Parlimentary Election, it was Chieng Tiong Kai (BN-SUPP) at 6420 and Wong Siong Kwong (SNAP) at 2974. For the State, Chong Siew Chiang (BN-SUPP) at 2667 and Ngo King Huong (SNAP) at 1849.

Kanga said...

Good stats from Stlau. The democratic approach in the 70's began to bring people into a more civil life in Sarikei. The stats/incidents before that were not that palatable.

Lidasar said...

The Chan’s shop at Wharf Rd is Kong Hup Heng and actually it was started by their father a pioneer trader in Sarikei. The Cantonese like to call the elder Chan ‘Woo Sou Lou’ because he keeps thick beard. He has a few sons and the eldest son took over the shop eventually. In those early days you could own a hunting gun and you could get those bullets from their shop or if you need to pawn your property or valuable than this is the shop that can attend to your needs. On one faithful night a gang went to Chan Ko Ming house on an assassination attempt but he wasn’t home, follow which he migrated to Canada. He had another brother whom was a police officer in Kuching then but he too gave up the post.

If I recount correctly the 1st political party in Sarawak is SNAP. SUPP was in the opposition when they 1st started. My opinion is that joining Malaysia isn’t the best option for Sarawak, it is a mistake, Lucky for Brunei otherwise the consequences is for all to see.

Daniel Yiek said...

All good feedback! I'm amazed by the great memories from you folks. Thanks to Ikan Sembilang for giving me source# 2. I managed to read the whole paper and dig out this info:

1) SUPP was formed on 12 June 1959. Have updated this info in the post.

2) Sarawak Chinese Association (SCA) was formed in Jul 1962 with founders from two business groups absent from SUPP – the wealthy Kuching Teochews & Sibu Foochows. It was more right wing with support from MCA (Malayan Chinese Association). SCA attracted the older, more conservative Chinese-educated. SUPP attracted the younger folks.

3) The colonial Gov published the Woodhead White Paper and new Grant Code regulations (to take effect from 1956) with the Gov offering financial help in return for a measure of Gov control over the Chinese Education curriculum. The Chinese rejected the white paper and formed a Preserve Chinese Education Committee. A Sarawak Chinese Education Council was formed, in line with a suggestion from Sarikei, where Chinese reps had not rejected outright the Gov proposals. After a long
discussion this Council resolved, by 13 votes to 12, to accept the Grants. By the start of the new decade, a major controversy had begun as the colonial Government sought to decide Chinese education's future.

Chen Koh Ming likely moved from SUPP to SCA later but his movement was not discussed in the paper (besides the hartal). I removed the text in the post that he's in the SUPP founding members' photo because at the SUPP website, there are more founding members listed (including Chen Koh Ming)than the # of people in the picture. The pic is also too small to clearly see the faces.

Updated the shop's name in the post: The shop at 5 Wharf Rd is 廣合興 Kwong Hup Hin (or Kong Hup Heng in Cantonese pronunciation). Thanks to Lidasar for explaining the business of the shop. As a kid, I didnt understand what the shop sold because it was bare with no paint (rustic). It's probably rented out now because the shop still has the same name now but has changed from a goldsmith in 1992 to a kopitiam in 2006!

Fredy, sorry, his niece wants privacy and I shall not revealed further. She reads this blog.

Daniel Yiek said...

Email from a new reader below (email address removed for privacy). Glad that Sarikei's history has inspired you. I have learned so much about Sarikei writing these History posts!

Belinda wrote today at 11:25 AM
Hi Dyiek. That is quite a compilation about Sarikei. Never realised it had such a colorful history. Certainly will be more interesting next time I go back.

Ikan Sembilang said...

I am proud that the Sarikei Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Kapitan Chen had the guts to be the first to stand up and said no to the unreasonable demand made by the colonial government. The drastic increase in trade licensing fees in 1954 has a parallel in the hefty rise in land premiums in 2005/2006. If only the present SUPP leadership had had the courage of their founding members, they would not have suffered such a humiliating defeat in the last state election.
Who is that wise guy who once said, “Those Who Forget History Are Doomed to Repeat It” ?!

Kanga said...

The political effect of the Woodhead white paper had strong negative results in Sarikei. Many young lifes were disturbed. Some went back to China, some headed for the jungle to carry out their political struggle, some ended in prison & perished, all in all many brillant scholars (mostly from chinese schools in Sarikei)were wasted. Years later (in the 80's) someone remarked to me that in the 60's 'Sarikei was the cradle of revolution!'. I grieved for the losses.

stlau said...

Some more stat (from Election in Malaysia - 1955 to 1990). First parlimentary election in Sarawak was in 1969 with this result (SNAP=9 seats; Alliance=7; SUPP=5; Pesaka=2; Ind=1). First state election also in 1969 (ALL=15 seats; SUPP=12; SNAP=12; Pesaka=8; Ind=1).

Fredy said...

Daniel: enuff said :) thanks for the hint.

Ease Chen (Wong) said...

It's so interesting & heartwarming to read your comments/discussions about my late father Chen Ko Ming. I'm proud of what he's done for Sarikei - he was a great man! The 2nd anniversary of his passing on is coming up (Nov 20). If you're interested, I can send you some articles from newspapers, pics, etc. You're doing such an awesome job - keep it up! Our heartiest thanks from all Sarikeians!

Daniel Yiek said...

Great to hear from you. Yes, pls email me those stuff and I will see how to compile this history! Love to have old pics as well.

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