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Tales of a Hakka Town (8) part 1
Tales of a Hakka Town (8) part 1
This is a long story about a Hakka Japanese soldier in my hometown.
His name was Chin Koon-loy.
Chin Koon-loy's grandfather was a poor Hakka farmer who lived near the
small town of Chang Ping in the county of Dongguan in the province of
Guangdong. Koon-loy's grandfather and a few neighbours were imprisoned
for defaulting the payment of land taxes. In around 1880 Koon-loy's
grandfather with his family, his neighbours and their families were
bannished to Formosa. The exilians chosed to settled in the "Camphor
distrcts", north of Formosa because they were many Hakkas settlements there.
China lost the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese war to Japan and Formosa was
ceded to Japan at the peace settlement in Shimonnseki.
Koon-loy was born in around 1918 and had a few years of education in
Chinese and Japanese. Still in his teens he stopped schooling and worked
with his father in felling Camphor trees. Life was as tough and he was the
third generation in the Camphor industry.
Koon-loy married Siew Lan, a Hakka girl from another Hakka settlement.
Within a few years he was a father of two boys. It was after his 22nd
birthday that, unfortunately, he was conscribed into the Japanese army as
Japan was preparing to conquer Southeast Asia. Ironically, Koon-loy's
grandfather was killed by the Japanese troops a few decades ago during
the uprising. Now he was to become a Japanese soldier and he resented
it. Under the military regime of Japan there was nothing Koon-loy could
do but to submit himself to indignity.
At the end of 1940 Koon-loy was sent to Hainan Island for tropical
jungle warfare training. With little formal education and a Chinese
backgound Koon-loy was assigned to the reserve of the Japanese army. He
was there under training for about two years
In 1942 when the Japanese invaded Malaya Koon-loy did not take in the
conquest of Malaya and Singapore. After the Japanese had overran Malaya
and Singapore. Koon-loy was dispatched to Batu Gajah, a town in the
district of Kinta in Perak State. There were many small Hakka towns in
Kinta district, like Pusing (my hometown), Siputeh and Papan which were
all within a radius of about three miles from Batu Gajah.
The Japanese were cruel and treated the Chinese badly during their
occupation of Malaya. Koon-loy was surprised to see so many Hakkas here.
He felt as if he was at home in the Hakka settlements in Formosa. He was
ashamed to wear the Japanese uniform. When opportunity arised he tried his
best to help the Chinese.
In 1942 a Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army was formed in the jungle
near the Hakka towns of Pusing, Siputeh and Papan in the district of
Kinta. It was a small Hakka Communist guerilla band. The band grew
into a formidable force of over three hundred fighters who harassed and
gave the Japanese occupation forces a hard time.
There was a Japanese garrison in Batu Gajah and Koon-loy was attached to
this garrison. There were a few Korean and Formosan soldiers in this
garrison too and Koon-loy was the only person in the garrison who could
speak the local tongue, Dongguan Hakka.
Whenever Koon-loy was off duty he went alone touring these Hakka towns.
Sometimes he forgot himself that he was in Malaya as he talked to the town
folks who spoke Dongguan Hakka like him. However, they did not know that
he was a Japanese soldier. Koon-loy heard a lot about the MPAJA in the
jungle. Koon-loy did not agree what the Japanese were doing to the
Chinese population in Malaya. Defection to the MPAJA was what he was
contemplating whenever he was in the Hakka towns. He had to be very
careful lest he could be executed by the Japanese if they discovered his
Koon-loy began to cultivate friendship with some of the shop keepers who
secretly gave financial support to the MPAJA. Before any friendship began
to sprout Koon-loy casually talked about his ancestors village, Chang Ping
in the county of Dongguan. There was a shop keeper named Chin Thien-soong
who responded that his grandfather also came from Chang Ping. After a
long conversation Koon-loy and Thien-soong came to the conclusion that they
were cousins as they shared the same surname, Chin, came from the same
village, Chang Ping, and possibly the offspring of the same ancestor. To
the Hakka the surname is of the utmost important in fixing one's identity.
The bond of kinship tie between Koon-loy and Thien-soong began to take
One day, Thien-soong was in such a shock that he nearly fainted when
Koon-loy told him that he was a Japanese soldier. Koon-loy told him to
calm down and not to reveal his identity and the secret of his intention
to defect to the MPAJA and wanted Thien-soong to contact the MPAJA. Since
they were clansmen they supposed to share the honour and misfortune.
Thin-soong promised that he would help.
A few days later, when Koon-loy was off duty he went to Pusing to visit
Thien-soong who told him that the MPAJA were ready to accept him. After
spending a day in Pusing Koon-loy went back to the barrack in Batu Gajah
and prepared for desertion. Koon-loy told no one, not his Formosan
There was a day when he was off in the afternoon Koon-loy told his
sergeant that he wanted to borrow a bicycle from the barrack to go to
Pusing, which is about four kilometers from Batu Gajah, to see a girl who
had the honoured to be friended with a Japanese soldier. To show his
appreciation he wanted to give the girl a big present. He needed the
bicycle to carry it. The sergeant was very pleased to hear that local girls
were interested in Japanese soldiers. With blessing the sergeant lent him
the bicycle. Koon-loy gathered a few personal belongings and headed towards
It was late in the afternoon when Koon-loy arrived at Pusing. The
contact man was already in Thien-soong's shop waiting for him. After the
brief introduction Koon-loy followed the contact man and they headed off
to the jungle.
That evening Thien-soong reported to the Pusing police station that he
saw his friend Koon-loy being abducted by the Communists. The next day the
Japanese sent out a search party to the jungle looking for Koon-loy. The
search was of no avail and since Koon-loy was not a Japanese personnel the
Japanese sergeant in charge of Koon-loy's platoon did not paid much
attention but recorded in the log book that Koon-loy was missing and
presumed killed by the Communists.
Tin was mined in Malaya for almost four hundred years and it was first
solely mined by the Chinese, mostly Hakkas. The Malayan tin is the purest
in the world. 99.9 per cent pure after furnacing. In the 19th century when
the British colonized Malaya, two-thirds of the tin mines were in the
Hakka Chinese hands. The profits were shared with the Malay sultans.
At the turn of the 20th century the British, financed by big cooperations
in England, began to mine the tin-ore buried under the earth in Kinta
Valley which had the richest deposit of tin-ore in the world. The British
needed labour to work in their tin mines. So the British acquired cheap
labourers from China, where there were plenty, mainly from Dongguan county.
That was how these three small towns of Pusing, Siputeh and Papan became
Before the Second World War more Hakkas arrived and these late comers
began to plant rubber trees in the fringes of the jungle where there was
no tin-ore under the ground. The rubber trees they planted did not belong
to the Hakka but the rich Chinese in Singapore and the Babas or the
Queen's Chinese living in the Strait Settlements of Malacca and Penang.
When the rubber trees were matured, after six or seven years, these
plantations were subdivided and sold to those local Hakkas, who had saved
enough money from working as mine workers in the British tin-mines. They
became small rubber platation holders. Some of the Hakkas even
established their own tin-mines.
The contact man used Koon-loy's bicycle and carried him into the jungle.
He rode on the bumping and uneven track road through hundreds, thousands
and tens of thousands of rubber trees before they arrived at the guerilla
camp at the foot of a little hill. It was the headquarters of the Kinta
district's 3rd Independent Regiment of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese
Army (MPAJA). The man in charge of the camp, Corps Commander Comrade Zeng
Gang Ren, welcomed Koon-loy to their organization.
Comrade Zeng, who was my father's neighbour, had completed the Junior
Middle High School at Yoke Choy high school in Ipoh, the capital of the
State of Perak. He was a teacher at the Pusing Overseas Chinese Primary
School before the Japanese arrived. Comrade Zeng assembled his fighters,
about two hundred of them, in a open field to wecome Koon-loy because he
was the first Japanese soldier ever defected to their camp. He made a big
fuss out of it. Besides he wanted Koon-loy to become their military
instructor to train his fighters, who had never received any military
training at all. Koon-loy was trained in jungle warefare in Hainan
Island in China. The fighters were mostly Hakka: the rubber tappers and the
tin-mine workers who were redundant when the tin industry collapsed at the
outbreak of the war.
Koon-loy was much impressed by the welcome and he told them that he would
try his best in helping them to defeat the Japanese conquerers. Koon-loy was
given a towel, a exercise book and a pen to keep his diary as every one in
the camp kept a diary. All the forces of the MPAJA in Malaya followed the
model of the Eighth Route Army in China. Thus Koon-loy became a MPAJA.
One night Koon-loy was told by Comrade Zeng to follow them to the
tailing of an abandoned tin mine which ws about six kilometres away from
their camp. Comrade Zeng was very excited and told Koon-loy that they had
made contact with the British who were sending two planes, that night, to
drop them supply and a few liaison officers. They arrived at the dropping
zone. As soon as they heard the sound of the aeroplanes they lighted the
beacon which was a huge burning "D" which meant dropping. Many parachutes
were seen descending from the sky. Weapons, ammunition, medical supplies
and many items as well as two Chinese and two British officers came down
that night. The Chinese and the British officers were from the force 136.
Koon-loy knew that the war was ending his chances of going back to
Formosa was approaching.
After the Japanese had occupied Malaya the British set up the Southeast
Asian High Command in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). The British recruited
many young Malayans into the 136 forces which would be used to help the
British to recapture Malaya. The mission of the 136 forces was, before
the allied forces began reconquer Malaya, to contact the resistance
forces there. They were to be parachuted back to Malaya as soon as their
training was over.
The Kinta branch of MPAJA gave the members of the force 136 officers
a big warm welcome. These officers reorganized the MPAJA under the
command of Comrade Zeng. They taught the MPAJA how to use the explosive
and how to handle the new weapons they received. Koon-loy was assigned as
the leader of the Sabotage Squad which took the responsility of destroying
the communications in the Kinta district before the arrival of the allied
On August 15, 1945 news came that Japan had surrendered. There were
big VJ cerebrations every where in Malaya. Koon-loy was very excited
because the time had finally come for him to go home where he left
four years ago. He approached the two British officers and told them
that he was a Japanese deserted soldiers. They were flabbergnasted to
hear the story by Koon-loy. They asked Koon-loy if he still posessed his
Japanese soldier's identity card. Unfortunately Koon-loy had destroyed
it because he wanted to prove to the MPAJA that he was not a Japanese spy
when he first entered the camp. It would be hard for him to convince the
British Authority of his real identity.
In Malaya, after the Japanese surrender, the first troops to appear in
the streets of the towns and villages were not the allied troops but the
6,000 or more MPAJA guerillas. The British troops were still in the sea
on the way to Malaya. The Japanese forces were ordered by the high
command in Japan to recroup in big towns and cities and stay in the
barracks awaiting for the arrival of the British so that they could
surrender to them. The Japanese forces did not surrender to the MPAJA
forces whom they did not recognized. The Communist guerillas ruled Malaya
until the British troops reoccupied the whole of Malaya in September and
immediately they set up a British Military Administration (BMA).
To show their forces Koon-loy and his comrades, with new uinforms,
shining boots and the latest new weapons, thanks to the British, proudly
marched out from the jungle with the drummers in front of them, through
the cheering crowds lining the streets of Pusing, Siputeh and Papan
and occupied the police stations of these three towns. Koon-loy went to
Batu Gajah trying to contact the Japanese troops stationed there, hoping
to be expatriated back to Formosa, but they had already retreated to Kuala
Lumpur which was about 200 kilometers away. It would be difficult for
him to go there. There was no way that he could make contact to his former
commander, besides he was a deserter and the Japanese might court-martial
him if he showed up. Koon-loy was in dilemma. He had no choice but to
stay with the MPAJA.
When the British Military Administration took over from the MPAJA they
restored the colonial status quo. The MPAJA forces were officially
disbanded and the British asked them to return the arms that they air
dropped to them. Most of the arms were returned to the BMA with the
compensation of $300 for a rifle and more for a sub-machine or a
manchine gun. Many ex-MPAJA associations were formed through out Malaya.
The MPAJA leadership and its organization remained underground. The
arms supplied by the British were buried in the jungle in case of any
hostile contingency from the British. Since Koon-loy had no home to return
to and no where to live he had to work and live in the Pusing ex-MPAJA
association which was next to my father's shop. He wrote letters home
telling his family that he was still alive. He did not know what happen
to his wife, Siew Lan and his two sons. He wanted to contact them,
desperately........to be continued.............