Think Tank (6/2023)
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New Perspectives on the Communist Party of Malaya: An Exploration through Film and Literature
21 Nov 2023

Held on 21 November 2023, New Perspectives on the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was a half-day webinar that aimed to broaden the scope of understanding surrounding the CMP. It saw the attendance of 34 participants from government agencies, students and researchers from autonomous universities, and members of the public. The webinar invited Dr Andrew Ng Hock Soon, Associate Professor of Literature, Deputy Head of School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University, Malaysia; and Dr Karl Hack, Professor of Asian and Imperial History,  The Open University, UK; to discuss the impact of filmic and literary media that was produced concurrently with and after the period of the Malayan Emergency by British, local artistes, and outsiders sympathetic to the CPM and its cause.

Dr Ng discussed the role of literature in the creation of public memory, and how the resultant binary of heroism versus enmity in the portrayal of the left allows the event to remain highly contentious. Dr Hack discussed the idea of “faction”, where fact and fiction overlap, and the utility of creative non-fiction in depictions of the Malayan Emergency. Dr Hack posited that these approaches have helped to produce a more well-rounded, “360-degree view” of history. The discussion that followed explored the idea of “faction” more deeply, as well as the role of language, alongside state accounts of history, in terms of supplementing the production of public memory across generations.

The discussion encouraged further analysis of both modern accounts, and those produced closer to the historical event of the Malayan Emergency, to determine how the event remains a significant contributor to understanding public perception of history, and public attitudes in current times. This discussion analysed the manners in which art functions as a record of cultural memory, and therefore functions as a resource that can either reinforce or challenge the official history of the Malayan Emergency and how it is perceived by society. Furthermore, the webinar explored how this body of art and media informs our understanding of the development of Singapore and Malaysia as postcolonial nations in the subsequent period.

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