Voon discusses his involvement in the leftist movement in Malaysia in the 1970s.
Voon had gotten involved in the leftist movement in Malaysia after the Labour Party reached out to him, and by 1974, was wanted by the police, who had even come looking for him twice at his house. He fled that year into the jungle to join the guerrilla forces to evade arrest, as he was at risk of receiving a long prison sentence. He served as a telegraph operator in the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and was part of the Malayan National Liberation Army. Many Malayan citizens, including women, joined the Communist forces. Voon’s younger brother was one such member who was caught and sentenced to death without trial for wielding a weapon, as he was trying to arrange for his comrade’s wife to give birth. Voon also highlights how alternate narratives of Malaya’s postwar history, such as his experiences in the leftist movement, are largely overlooked in the official histories; and emphasizes the need for them to be included. For his part, he tries to create a record of this history, despite his illiteracy, by videotaping commemorative ceremonies held by leftist groups.
Interview with Voon – A former Telegraph Operator of the Communist Party of Malaya
Date: 1 Dec 2019
Place: New Era College, Kajang, Selangor on the occasion of the commemoration of the 30 years anniversary of the signing of the Hadyaai Peace Treaty Agreement 1989.
Interviewee: Voon, currently in his 70s, was formerly a telegraph operator of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).
Interviewed by Pa Kuan Huai
The Interview was conducted in Mandarin Chinese. The transcript was translated into English.
Voon: I entered the jungle and joined the guerrillas in 1974. I was young back then. I was in my 20s.
Q: You joined the guerrillas in 1974. Did the 13 May 1969 killings have any impact on your decision?
Voon: I was in Ipoh, so I heard about May 13 but I didn’t experience it. I was driven into the jungle because of government suppression. I was still young then. I became involved with leftist activism after the Labour Party reached out to us. The government suppressed leftist activities very badly during that time.
I remember the year 1974 so clearly. I had no choice but to join the guerrillas because I was wanted by the police for my participation in leftist activities. The Special Branch had already went to my house twice; luckily I was away in hiding each time. However, this could not go on for long. I had to make a decision – it was either the prison or the jungle. If I didn’t go into the jungle, I would be caught and sent to prison for sure. I didn’t know how long they would keep me in there. What if they kept me there for twenty years? Wouldn’t my youth be gone? Wasted?
Many people joined the guerrillas, you know. Many people took up arms. Even women(He pointed to a lady seated beside me). Many of us took up arms, including me. Though I was actually tasked with telegraphy, I was part of the (Malayan National Liberation) army.
My younger brother was one of us too. He passed away – death by execution after he was caught by the special branch police. He was hanged. He was caught with his comrade. They were both hanged. His comrade’s wife was pregnant and due for delivery. My brother went to receive them as they came out of the jungle, to arrange for the birth of the child. Now his comrade’s son is active in our circle. He gave a speech at the commemoration in Johor this year. Their family is from Johor.
Q: They sentenced him to death without trial?Voon: Yes. He had a weapon on him. In those days, being caught with a weapon meant a death sentence. There was no way out of it.
It is important to record history for the younger generation. Due to the censorship of the government, young people like you don’t know about our history and stories. I didn’t study much, so I can’t write. Therefore, I try to videotape events and ceremonies. Perhaps written sources are more valuable, but I’m doing what I can. I hope you write a good historical account about us.
Interviewer: Kuan Huai
How does Voon’s testimony challenge traditional understandings of Cold War bipolarity in light of Asia’s experience?
Discuss, in light of Voon’s reflections, the issue of curated silences in official/state histories. What are the strengths and limitations of the public memory of the Cold War in Malaysia today?
Consider the significance of oral histories of the Cold War era in Malaysia and Asia more broadly, given Voon’s testimony.