Obit of the Day: “The World’s Most Senior Guerrilla”
Chin Peng was part of a wave of Asian leaders* who led the fight against colonialism hoping to secure independence for their country after the end of World War II. Mr. Peng, whose birth name was Ong Boon Hua, went from honored war hero to leader of a decades-long guerrilla war in Malaysia.
Only 17 years old when the Japanese invaded his homeland, Mr. Peng was named a liaison between the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and the British armed forces. The two groups would work together to fight against the invaders, which is actually composed of two similar-sized regions separated by the South China Sea. Mr. Peng’s service was considered vital to the effort and the British awarded him the Burma Star and made him a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Things turned quickly. Following the war the CPM saw an opportunity to remove all foreign governments from Malaysia. However it was not feasible immediately and Mr. Peng and the CPM went underground. The British rescinded his OBE.
Mr. Peng and the CPM returned with a vengeance in 1948. After the leader of the CPM fled the country once it was revealed that he spied for both the Japanese and the British, Mr. Peng became the official leader of the CPM. He was 24, and he was going to be aggressive in his push for independence.
Beginning with attacks on British-owned rubber plantations, Mr. Peng began an insurgency that the British government officially called “The Malaya Emergency.” It would last for 12 years and resulted in the deths of an estimated 10,000 people - British and Malay.
In 1955 Mr. Peng and the CPM were invited to peace negotiations along with the British and other Malay leaders. But when CPM was refused a place in the proposed new government they walked away from the table. Two years later, without CPM, Malaysia declared independence.
Mr. Peng went into exile in Thailand where he would remain for the rest of his life. In 1989 he signed a peace treaty - 41 years after the “Emergency” began - and was called the “World’s Most Senior Guerrilla.” Even after signing the treaty, Mr. Peng was not allowed to return to his homeland.
Chin Peng died on September 16, 2013 at the age of 88. Coincidentally September 16 is also “Malaysia Day” which celebrates the creation of the Malaysian Federation in 1963. The Federation is comprised of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. Malaysian Independence Day is August 31. (h/t to nalaking)
(Image of Mr. Peng, center, along with Rashid Maidin, left, and Chen Tien, other leaders of the CPM, at the 1955 peace negotiations is courtesy of ms.wikipedia.org)
* From the NY Times: “a cohort that included Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Sukarno in Indonesia, Aung San in Burma (now Myanmar) and Norodom Sihanouk in Cambodia”