Chin Peng

(c. 1921)

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(b. Sitiawan, Perak, c.1921)

Malaysian; secretary-general of Malayan Communist Party/Communist Party of Malaysia 1947–Chin Peng, whose father ran a small bicycle business, attended Chinese and English schools in Perak and joined the Malayan Communist Party in 1940. During the Japanese occupation (1941–5) he became secretary of the Perak State Committee of the MCP, a member of the Central Military Committee, and leader of the 5th regiment of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army. He liaised with British officers of Special Operations Executive Far East (Force 136) and was later awarded the OBE.

After the British reoccupied Malaya in September 1945 he joined the MCP's Central Executive Committee. Although he was the lieutenant of its secretary-general, Loi Tak, he became frustrated with the party's slow progress and eventually unmasked Loi Tak as a double-agent. After Loi Tak fled in March 1947, Chin Peng became secretary-general and in March 1948 abandoned the ‘united front’ strategy for armed struggle. In June the British declared a State of Emergency which lasted until July 1960.

The Communists adopted Maoist techniques, deploying 4,000–5,000 guerrilla fighters, supported by a network of food and intelligence gatherers, in order to undermine colonialism and establish liberated areas. Although it held down many more British, Commonwealth, and Malayan forces, the Chinese-dominated Communist movement was unable to achieve lasting control over rural Malaya: it lacked significant outside assistance, failed to attract Malay support, and was starved of supplies by the counter-insurgency of Generals Briggs and Templer. Losing the shooting war, in December 1955 Chin Peng attempted to gain political recognition at the Baling talks with the recently elected Chief Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, but returned to the jungle empty-handed.

By the time Malaya achieved independence (31 August 1957), Chin Peng's force of some 450–500 had retreated to the Thai border from which sporadic incursions were launched. After 1968 the MCP (renamed the Communist Party of Malaysia) split three ways: the CPM, the CPM (Revolutionary Faction), and CPM (Marxist-Leninist). Insurgency revived in urban areas in the 1970s and in the mid-1980s, but by then Chin Peng was living in southern China. In December 1989, as the Cold War ended, Chin Peng returned to southern Thailand to conclude an agreement with the government of Malaysia, whereby the Communists disbanded their military units in return for assistance in peaceful resettlement. At the same time Chin Peng vowed that he was still a Marxist-Leninist. He has since made a number of unsuccessful attempts to return legally to Malaysia. His autobiography, My Side of History, was published in 1983, and the Malaysian film, The Last Communist, made by Amir Muhammad, was inspired by his life (and was banned in Malaysia).

Subjects: Politics.

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