Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Malaysia's Development Success Story: Critical Responses in Contemporary Malaysian Novels in English

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Malaysia's Development Success Story: Critical Responses in Contemporary Malaysian Novels in English

Article excerpt


Malaysia is often hailed as a development success story. However, one criticism of this success story is the over-emphasis on the ideology of economic and capitalist growth by the state in its setting, determining and directing of development. This paper looks into some of the most interesting and critical reflections on development. Representing prominent voices in Malaysian literature in English, K. S. Maniam, Chuah Guat Eng and Yang-May Ooi delve into Malaysia's development success story through Between Lives (2003), Days of Change (2010) and The Flame Tree (1998), respectively. Through textual analysis, I examine how these writers treat the state's prevailing ideology of development. Through their creative responses to the rapid development that has occurred in Malaysia, Maniam, Chuah and Ooi offer individual expression and powerful critiques of development, not merely reflecting on the ideology of economic and capitalist growth but also illustrating different perspectives on development based on notions of social justice, democracy and cultural sustainability. That is not to say that they reject development. On the contrary, they acknowledge that development is part and parcel of social, economic and political processes. However, through their treatment of development, they bring to light other equally important issues, thus emphasizing the flaws in adopting a development model that is essentially based on economic and capitalist growth.

Keywords: Malaysia, development, Malaysian literature, critique

1. Introduction

Development in Malaysia has its roots in the fonner British colonial administration. Under British colonial rule (1824-1957), development concerns were largely economic and revolved around capitalist accumulation meant to serve British business interests in Malaya, as well as the need to industrialize Europe. As Jomo and Wee (2013) explain, "colonial bias for these interests was reflected in public development expenditure that prioritized economic infrastructure to service the primary commodity export economy" (p. 50). When Malaya gained independence in 1957, it inherited this colonial economic system. Back then, poverty prevailed and the identification of race with economic function was rampant. The Malays, who were the majority, were identified with rural peasantry. The Chinese were associated with urban and capitalist businesses. The Indians were identified with rural rubber estates. To end these social and economic disparities, economic development took precedence over other tilings as it was believed that this would increase the people's quality of life, which in turn would lead to political stability, racial equality and national unity. Development therefore, implemented mainly through economic and political measures taken by the government, became the nation's overriding priority and ideology. Like most Third World countries, the state plays the dual role of developer and protector of the natural enviromnent (Bryant & Bailey, 1997, p. 48). In the same context, development in Malaysia is largely state-led and state-facilitated (Smeltzer, 2009, p. 97). And over the years, development efforts in Malaysia have seen "greater state intervention" (Jomo & Wee, 2013, p. 4).

Indeed, the ideological underpinnings of development in Malaysia seem to revolve around the nation's economic goals and achievements, which are not that different from the colonialist goals of development. In the wake of decolonization, the state concentrated on economic methods and schemes to catch up with the already advanced and industrialized West. Many policies were devised and implemented. The period between 1970 and 1990, when the New Economic Policy (NEP) was fully enforced, became a most important period in the country's development. This was further reinforced by the Vision 2020 mission, introduced in 1991, which aimed, and aims, to elevate Malaysia to a fully developed country by 2020. …

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