Asia's last great revolutionary, Malaysian communist guerrilla Chin Peng, dies aged 88

Communist guerrilla Chin Peng, who fought British rule in Malaysia then lost battle with homeland to be allowed to return, dies in Bangkok at 88

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 2:45am


Chin Peng

Malaysia's best-known former communist guerilla, Chin Peng, who led a bloody insurgency against British rule in Malaysia in the late 1940s and early 50s, and lived in exile ever since, died in Bangkok yesterday. He was 88.

Chin Peng, whose real name was Ong Boon Hua, died of cancer in a private hospital, according to his former lawyer in Malaysia, Darshan Singh Khaira, and officials in Thailand. He adopted a pseudonym for his political work.

He was the last of a breed of Asian anti-colonialist figures that included Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, Indonesia's Sukarno, Myanmar's Aung San and Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk, who died last year.

Chin Peng's dubious distinction was that unlike the others, he did not win his struggle. "I suppose I am the last of the region's old revolutionary leaders," Chin Peng wrote in his 2003 memoir My Side of History. "It was my choice to lead from the shadows, away from the limelight."

Chin Peng also lost a legal battle in recent years to be allowed back into Malaysia. Government leaders said his return would upset many Malaysians who lost loved ones during the communist insurgency, which he continued after the country became independent of Britain in 1957.

The mistrust of Chin Peng remained to this day.

"Well done to the Malaysian people and government," Mohamad Ezam Nor, a senator in the ruling United Malays National Organisation, wrote on Twitter.

He wrote that "because of our firmness, the traitor Chin Peng has not achieved his desire to return to his homeland until the end of his lifetime".

Chin Peng, born in 1924, first gained public attention during the second world war when he and other guerillas provided the bulk of resistance to the Japanese occupation after Allied troops were swept from the Malayan peninsula and Singapore.

After the war, he led an armed communist insurgency against British colonial rule in the country then known as Malaya. Leading a 10,000-strong force, Chin Peng faced about 70,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, Fijian, Gurkha and other British Commonwealth troops in the jungles between 1948 and 1957.

About 10,000 people are believed to have been killed during the period known as Emergency, the bloodiest time in the country's modern history.

After Malaya became independent in 1957, Chin Peng continued to fight the Malaysian government. But with the dragnet closing in on his jungle hideouts and his Marxist-Leninist campaign losing steam, he fled to China in 1960.

From there, he went to southern Thailand to reunite with hundreds of fighters loyal to him.

He was never allowed to return even though he signed a peace treaty in 1989 and pledged loyalty to the Malaysian government. Malaysian authorities remained suspicious of his communist ideologies.

Chin Peng launched a court battle in 2005 to force the government to allow him back into Malaysia. The country's top court eventually ruled he could not return unless he first produced birth and citizen certificates, which his lawyers said were lost after being seized by British authorities in the 1940s.

In 2008, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers urged Malaysia to allow Chin Peng to return home, saying he was being denied the right on "very technical grounds". Chin Peng's family hoped eventually to have his remains taken to a final resting place in his northern Malaysian hometown.

Lim Kit Siang, a senior Malaysian opposition leader, wrote that Chin Peng's death marked the "end of an era. Whether one agrees or not with his struggle, his place in history is assured".