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The Making of a Nation

Cheah Boon Kheng

Publication Year: 2002

This is an account of the contest between Malay ethno-nationalism and Malaysian nationalism in the making of the Malaysian nation. In spite of Malay dominance in Malaysia, the author argues, the country has not become a "Malay nation-state". This process has been checked by the rival forces of multi-ethnic "Malaysian nationalism" in peninsular Malaysia and the contesting nationalisms and communalism of the other indigenous communities, or bumiputra, in the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. The study focuses on Malaysia's four Prime Ministers as nation-builders, observing that each one of them when he became Prime Minister was transformed from being the head of the Malay party, UMNO, to that of the leader of a multi-ethnic nation. Each began his political career as an "exclusivist" Malay nationalist but eventually ended up re-inventing himself as an "inclusivist" Malaysian nationalist.

Published by: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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p. vii


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p. viii

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pp. ix-x

I wish to thank Professor Wang Gungwu of the National University of Singapore for inviting me to participate in the project on “History of Nation-Building in Southeast Asia” and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore for funding the project and my research fellowship at ISEAS. ...

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pp. xi-xviii

This volume is the first of a series of histories on nation-building in Southeast Asia. The idea of having such a series had its beginnings in Bangkok at the 14th Conference of the International Association of the Historians of Asia (IAHA) in 1996, where I noted that nation-building in Southeast Asia began fifty years ago ...

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1. 1945–57: Malay Dominance and the Making of a “Malay” Nation-State

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pp. 1-48

Who would inherit power from the British? Who would receive independence? In the contest for Malaya, these issues were quickly decided in the immediate post-war period. “For the people of Malaya,” says a British observer,1 “decolonisation was a series of profound struggles through which they fought ...

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2. 1957–2001: The “Bargain” and Contesting Nationalisms

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pp. 49-74

Malay political primacy has always been a matter of perception. During the 1957–63 period, it seemed like an illusion. As peninsular Malaya’s population was slightly still predominantly non-Malay, the UMNO-led Alliance leaders attempted to project the image of Malaya as one belonging to all citizens. ...

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3. 1957–70: “Pluralism” in Nation-Building during the Tunku’s Administration

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pp. 75-120

Tunku Abdul Rahman was not only Malaya’s first Prime Minister, but also the leader who led the country to independence; hence, his title Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence).1 He is also known as Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia), or father of the nation, ...

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4. 1970–76: Malay Dominance, Economic Integration and National Unity under Tun Razak

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pp. 121-158

The growing assertion of Malay political primacy during Tun Abdul Razak’s administration marked the most radical change from the Tunku’s administration. However, given the mixed ethnic composition of Malaysia, and in the wake of the 13 May inter-racial riots in 1969, he still felt that an official declaration of Malay political primacy ...

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5. 1976–81: National Unity and Islamic Fundamentalism under Hussein Onn

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pp. 159-184

Tun Hussein Onn’s administration was the briefest of Malaysia’s four Prime Ministers. It was the most conservative, the most resistant to change. The conservatism was most apparent in the shape of his Cabinet itself: basically it was not more than an enlarged version of that bequeathed to him by Tun Razak.1 ...

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6. 1981–2001: The Changing Face of Mahathir’s Nationalism and Nation-Building

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pp. 185-232

On 16 July 2001, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed celebrated his 20 years in office — as Malaysia’s longest serving and most controversial Prime Minister. He was still firmly in control despite dwindling Malay support for his ruling party, UMNO, and growing opposition to his rule. ...

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7. Epilogue

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pp. 233-242

Malaysia is a modern multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, with a dominant ethnic Malay base. The Malaysian nation is a political community which reflects Malay political primacy; yet is not a “Malay” nation. Malaysian government policies on national unity are based on integration, not assimilation. ...


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pp. 243-248


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pp. 249-256


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pp. 257-263

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The Author

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p. 264

Cheah Boon Kheng retired in 1994 as Professor of History at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang and is presently a Visiting Fellow at the university’s Centre for Policy Research. He has written extensively on Malaysian social and political history. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9789812305145
Print-ISBN-13: 9789812301758

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2002

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 606895864
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Malaysia

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Malaysia -- Politics and government.
  • Nationalism -- Malaysia.
  • Cultural pluralism -- Malaysia.
  • Malaysia -- Ethnic relations.
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