Saturday, October 6, 2007

Chinese New Villages: Forced Urbanization

There are many instances of forced "ruralization" where city folk were exiled to the countryside. This happened during the Cultural Revolution in China, and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The programs were disasters; those who survived went back to the towns. In Malaysia there is the case of country folk forced to settle in towns......

Damansara New Village in the middle

After the Second World War, the returning British rulers found their colonial power challenged by the Malayan Communist Party which had played a leading role in the anti-Japanese resistance during World War II. The Colonial authorities looked upon the Chinese farmers in the rural areas with suspicion: these farmers were scattered thinly in the countryside, working on land without legal ownership. Some were sympathisers to the communist cause; others could be prevailed upon to contribute.

To isolate the communists from this support, the government implemented the Brigg’s Plan, named after the Director of Operations of the anti-communist war in Malaya who devised the plan. A massive program of forced resettlement of Chinese farmers was undertaken. 500,000 people - ten percent of Malaya's population - were forced to leave their homes and moved to guarded camps called "New Villages". Generally, the villages were laid out on a simple grid. About 500 of these were built; some called them “concentration camps”.

But the British also waged a war for “hearts and minds”: water, electricity, education and health services were provided, as well as legal rights to their homes.

The struggle against the communists were eventually won by the British and their local allies who between them, negotiated independence for the country in 1958. The Chinese from the New Villages have prospered, even if these villages might now look like sleepy towns. Many of their young leave their homes, not to go back to the countryside, but to migrate to bigger towns and cities.

Some, like the ones in Ampang and Damansara, around Kuala Lumpur, have become quaint low-density semi-rural pockets in the city.

Reference: Wikepedia
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