The Chinese education group was once so powerful that it could bring down Chinese politicians and political parties, but a string of controversies the last few months has made it the laughing stock of the community.The Chinese education group, Dong Zong, was once so powerful that it could bring down Chinese politicians and political parties but a string of controversies the last few months has made it the laughing stock of the community.
THE “cold shoulder” episode between two leading figures in the Chinese education movement is still the subject of coffee shop chatter.
It is a glaring indication of just how deep the split in the movement had grown in the last one year.
Dong Zong president Yap Sin Tian and Jiao Zong chairman Ong Chiow Chuen are no longer on talking terms going by the body language between them during a grand dinner in Johor.They talked and joked with everyone around the table except with each other. They did not even want to look at each other.
The Chinese education movement is in the grip of a crisis described as the worst in the history of the movement.
Dong Zong is the Chinese Schools Association while Jiao Zong is the Chinese School Teachers’ Association and, together, these two “brother organisations” were a powerful opinion shaper among the Chinese. They were once so powerful they could determine the fate of Chinese political parties.
But the movement is now split down the middle. The Chinese vernacular media has gone to town reporting on the sparring match between the protagonists.
“It is very complicated. For many people, it is no longer about Chinese education but which side you are on,” said Tang Ah Chai, CEO of the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall.
How on earth did this once tightly knit group come apart?
The crisis had its roots in Dong Zong refusing to allow students from the newly set-up Chong Hwa Secondary School in Kuantan to sit for the crucial UEC or Unified Examination Certificate which is controlled by the movement.
Schools have to meet strict criteria before they can conduct the examinations and Yap claimed that the Kuantan school did not qualify.
Not everyone agreed with him. They thought he was trying to manipulate the situation and that was the start of the rift.
But even before that, Yap’s imperious and confrontational leadership style had alienated people, including top leaders in Jiao Zong. Yap is one of the most controversial persons to have ever led Dong Zong.
His credibility had also been dented after the way he exploited the Chinese education cause to get re-elected as Dong Zong president.
All these factors finally came to a head last month. Fed-up with the situation, several Dong Zong state branches known as Dong Lian Hui requisitioned for an EGM to remove Yap’s trusted deputy Chow Siew Hon.
The disgruntled branches had decided that while Yap was impossible to work with, the real problem was Chow. They claimed Chow was the stumbling block, the mastermind behind Yap and he should go.
“I’m not sure who is controlling who but the Chinese have this saying – they are wearing the same underwear,” said a Chinese politician.
Yap refused to entertain the EGM requisition, claiming that it did not meet the required conditions.
Things got so tense that during a recent Dong Zong committee meeting, eight members walked out after Yap refused to discuss the EGM to remove Chow.
The temperature was rising.
Then, out of the blue, Yap announced on Sunday that he was calling an EGM of his own. His EGM would discuss whether the Kuantan school should be allowed to conduct the UEC examination.
After opposing the move for years, he was now putting it to the floor to decide.
It was quite a bizarre development and everyone was shocked. Once again, Yap was running Dong Zong as though it was his own private company.
Chinese school advocates said that Yap knows he is up against the wall and his EGM proposal was to get his opponents to back off.
He is assuming that the EGM, scheduled for Dec 7, will pacify those who support the Kuantan school issue and bring them to his side.
But Yap’s proposed EGM ran into problems from the word go.
A working committee comprising Dong Jong and Jiao Zong experts had spent months looking into whether the Kuantan school qualifies for the UEC examination. Its findings are supposed to be presented next month.
The committee members were furious that Yap was moving an EGM that would pre-empt their months of work and without consulting them. The irony was that Yap is the chairman of the working committee.
The entire committee, minus Yap, held a big press conference to voice its concern and urge that the experts be allowed to finish their work and come out with a decision.
“It is very messy. I have never seen anything like this in all my years of NGO work,” said Tang.
Even retired headmaster Goh Kean Seng, the man who had brought Yap into Dong Zong, has called for him to resign.
Goh, who is now chairman of the Lim Lian Geok Foundation, said the Chinese education movement needs to recover its honour and win back respect from the community.
DAP and PKR politicians who had openly supported Yap during the general election have gone all quiet.
MCA politicians say they do not want to have anything to do with Yap.
“It is his problem. We don’t want our names associated with him,” said one MCA politician.
The split in the movement is a big issue for the Chinese. They feel let down by what has happened.
Several Chinese associations, included Hua Zong and the Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, met recently to express concern that Dong Zong could be suspended by the Registrar of Societies. They do not want something so shameful to happen to this historic movement.
They are wasting their breath. Yap is not going to listen to any of them. He will just do what he likes.
The Chinese educationists created him, thinking that his serious and uncompromising style would be good for the movement. Instead, he has become a creature that has gone out of control.
Some say that Yap’s antics have made Dong Zong a laughing stock. But many people just feel like crying when they see what has become of the movement.