The bloody communal conflicts in May 1969 was often seen as a watershed in Malaysian history which saw the nation shifted towards further racialisation and “bumiputraism”. 50 years on, May 13 is kept alive as a “site of memory” and remains a highly controversial topic in Malaysian history, politics and literature. Demands from the public about the “truth” of what happened that day has grown since the historic change of government last year. Yet official documents on the riots have yet to be declassified, and the new government has also rejected the proposal for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission. The topic remains “sensitive” because it is seen to destabilise the vulnerable components of “racial harmony” in Malaysia.
Literature allows memories of May 13 to filter through the interstices of history, carving out critical space for the remembrance of May 13 and working towards a possible reconciliation. This talk will give an overview of the portrayal and narratives of May 13 in contemporary Malaysian literature. I focus on novels written by Malaysian women writers who were born after 1969, who grew up in the “postmemory” of May 13. Juxtaposing their works with the post-1969 situation, I show how women writers employ a gendered articulation to remember May 13 and offer critiques to the racialised accounts of nationalism in Malaysia which are glutted with masculine fervours. By exploring the gendered May 13 memory in fiction, I address the sites of memory that May 13 has metamorphosed into, and propose a way forward for reconciliation discussions in “new” Malaysia.
SHOW Ying Xin is a postdoctoral fellow at the Malaysia Institute, ANU and lecturer at the School of Culture, History & Language. She has a broad interest ranging from the 20th-century Asian history, movements and literature to contemporary politics and society. Her PhD thesis researches contemporary Malaysian literature in different linguistic spheres on how they respond to the politics of national identity, culture and language. Her current work focuses on the history and writings of Sinophone/Chinese community in the making of Malaya.