Towards Satu Bangsa : a reevaluation of the race-based narrative and its impact on Chinese communities in Malaysia

  • Chun Lean LIM

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Pakatan Harapan has terminated Barisan Nasional’s 61-year rule in Malaysia through the ballot box in the 2018 14th General Election (GE14) of Malaysia. The regime change did not happen overnight; it resulted from (a) the democratization progress in Malaysia over decades, (b) the exposure of corruption and crime related to top tier government officials, and (c) the changing political landscape of Malay political parties. Criticism from the people and its coalition and party overwhelmed Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional. On the other hand, Pakatan Harapan successfully incorporated all the opposition voices to vote against Najib’s regime, but the opposition front, too, had its dilemma. Pakatan Harapan had the same enemies but did not have a firm ideological foundation across parties. This issue was soon back to haunt them while they were in the reign. Barisan Nasional brought up many race and religion issues that Pakatan Harapan did not have a counter-narrative to respond. Hence, the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed in 21-month during a political coup.

Pakatan Harapan’s fall was due to many reasons. However, the main one was its failure to address Malay anxieties. The Malay anxieties were rooted in the race-based narrative used by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) since the 1950s. To make a comeback, the opposition alliance needed an alternative discourse to combat UMNO’s race card. In this thesis, I investigate the nature of race-based narrative and suggest an alternative way to interpret the history of Malaysia, i.e., the Bangsa-based narrative. Bangsa is a Malay word that carries many meanings like race, nationality, ethnicity, and locality, but all denote unity. Through understanding the idea of bangsa, we can see how Malaysians revise their imagination of collective at different times and thus formulate an alternate discourse other than the race-based narrative. Furthermore, I will use Malaysian Chinese as a case study to show how we can apply bangsa as a lens to read their history. Chapters One to Three analyse the political competition in Malaysia. Chapters Four to Six introduce the bangsa-based narrative. Chapters Seven to Nine examine the history of Malaysian Chinese through this new perspective.
Date of Award30 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorChing Kiu Stephen CHAN (Supervisor)

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