Note: Adapted from my comment in a ReCom thread.
That was a heck of a long title, but it summarises what I am going to write, i.e. Chinese-educated Chinese, English-Educated Chinese, and the mutual disparagement and aversion between them.
To begin with, let me define the terms in this article. Chinese-ed and English-ed are vague and ill-defined terms; but in the context of Malaysia, Chinese-eds are people who learned Chinese language up to the level of primary school / secondary school / Form 5 (depending on the context); while English-eds are simply any Chinese who are not Chinese-ed. Not terribly accurate terms, but this is how it goes.
If you have been living in Malaysia long enough, I am sure you would have noticed the commonplace prejudice towards people from different education backgrounds. Some Chinese-eds tend to paint a generalised, biased picture of the English-eds, that is, they are often perceived as being more self-centred, ardent admirers of everything from "the West", and most importantly, they "forget their roots". They are often referred to with the derogatory term "bananas" - yellow on the outside, but all white inside. On the other hand, English-eds tend to view the Chinese-eds as being deeply engrossed and obsessive of their language / culture / "root" to the extent of compromising other responsibilities such as the national unity (e.g. the resistance to Vision schools). There is also some counter-aversion by English-ed, stemming from their suffering from prejudice cast by the Chinese-ed.
The rabbit hole goes deeper. Even among the Chinese-eds, you have this stratification of "Chinese-eds who learned the language up to UPSR","Chinese-eds who learned up to PMR but 'betrayed the culture' by dropping SPM Chinese"; and "the TRUE Chinese who took Chinese paper up to SPM without fear for the A2". (See note for more information) The first two groups are deemed to be inferior and more disgraceful than the last group.
I am absolutely appalled by this phenomenon.
Chinese need to wake up to the fact that racial chauvinism is not the way to go in this world, or at the very least, outside China. Yes, written and spoken language are a huge part of a race's identity; but to disparage your fellow friends because of his inability to write, read or speak in Chinese language simply show arrogance and ignorance on your part. Some Chinese in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc look down on foreign Chinese who can't speak Mandarin, but to do so is pathetically ignorant of the stories of Chinese diaspora throughout the world.
For the case of "people who didn't take up SPM Chinese" = shameful... why, why, why? Some people might be native Chinese speakers, as they are brought up in a mandarin-speaking family who speak Mandarin and read Chinese papers on a daily basis. Naturally, they will be relatively more fluent and proficient in the language. Some others may have it the harder way, as their family may not be the most conducive environment for learning Chinese, but yet they managed to build a good command in the language through sheer hard work. They definitely deserve our respect. However, some people have never had conducive environment, and had struggled to do well in Chinese language despite continuous effort. In your opinion, are they obliged to take up SPM Chinese just to prove that "they are Chinese", or so that they do not appear to leave out their compatriots who are fighting the cruel grading of SPM Chinese?
I personally know a friend who is from the last category, and he had to go through the ordeal of SPM Chinese as my school makes the subject compulsory. Despite his blood, sweat, and tears, he "only" got an A2 in the end, to much detriment of his scholarship opportunity in spite of his overall excellence in every subject. He only managed to get the scholarship he truly deserved with the help of MCA.
And no, he didn't "become more Chinese", as some claimed SPM Chinese's benefit to be. In fact his aversion towards the language only grew stronger. The only thing we gained from forcing him to take up SPM Chinese, is the false sense of vindication among the overzealous Chinese, who think that "YES, another student has preserved his root and has stood up to the injustice of deviant SPM Chinese marking." But that is also where the benefit ends.
I am all for Chinese learning Chinese language, or for that matter, any foreigner learning Chinese language. It is a beautiful language, it has painted sublime poetry throughout history and adorned the Chinese civilisation. I have always given my wholehearted support for the effort to preserve the opportunity of learning the language in Malaysia and other countries. However, I think that people ought to do away with the systematic discrimination down the "levels of Chinese education", which in turn depends on a lot of factors like opportunity, logistics, interest, and to a huge extent, odds. We need to rethink our obsession of linking Chinese exam papers and Chinese-ness, Chinese identity, Chinese culture or what have you. If there's a single most detrimental effect of the ridiculously low A1 percentage in SPM (with respect to other subjects), in my opinion, it is to widen the divide within the Chinese community.
I must say that I have had enough of it. It ought to be rectified, or there will come a day when I am ashamed to identify myself as part of this racial group.
Note: For the uninitiated, SPM Chinese is one of the most dreaded subjects in the SPM exam, the reason being that only a very low percentage of candidates obtain A1 in it (around 1 - 2% since 2001) compared to most other subjects (around 10 - 20%). Many people dropped this subject in SPM because it lowered their chance of getting scholarships if they did not get an A1. Many people allege that the low percentage is an attempt by the government to deter Chinese from learning their own language, while some claim that this is to cut down the number of Chinese getting the much-coveted JPA scholarship. Read more about this issue in Education Malaysia blog and ReCom (Malaysian Student Forum).
Image Credit: Saratoga News
Monday, March 31, 2008
Note: Adapted from my comment in a ReCom thread.