NOTHING like this has ever happened in the history of the Chinese education movement.
There have been fist fights, frozen bank accounts, heart attacks, lawsuits and, most embarrassing of all, a terrible loss of face for the Chinese community.
That is the situation in Dong Zong, the Chinese education body that was once the most influential opinion-shaper among the Chinese-educated.
It used to be so powerful that it could bring down Chinese politicians and even ministers. Today it is the laughing stock as the feud between two factions grows more acrimonious.
Yap Sin Tian (left) at a press conference. - Filepic
The Chinese vernacular press devote up to a full page of news daily to the never-ending hostilities. But the power struggle has become so complicated and dragged on for so long that many people have lost hope that there will ever be a solution.
To put it simply, the dispute is between the group aligned to Dong Zong’s most controversial president Yap Sin Tian and the reformist group aligned to the secretary-general Poh Chin Chuan. They are fighting for control of Dong Zong with both sides claiming to have the Chinese interest at heart.
There was supposed to have been light at the end of the tunnel last week when the reformists managed to convene a meeting to elect a new central executive committee (CEC) as ordered by the High Court.
Yap claimed he had a heart attack and did not attend the meeting which was preceded by a free-for-all between supporters of the two camps. Despite the fracas, a new president Tan Kai Kim was elected to replace Yap.
Goh Kean Seng, an influential Chinese educationist backing the reformists, had heaved a sigh of relief when the new committee was formed.
“Our priority is that the UEC (United Examination Certificate) exams in October proceed smoothly,” said Goh.
Dong Zong is the managing authority for the UEC exam that some 10,000 students from Chinese independent secondary school sit for every year and which enables them to enrol at affiliated universities and colleges here and abroad.
But Goh was over-optimistic because Yap’s group reacted by freezing all of Dong Zong’s bank accounts and issued a set of demands.
A Sin Chew Daily columnist likened Yap’s act to the recent hijacking of the Malaysian oil tanker and said it was akin to holding ransom.
Yap’s action almost paralysed the daily functions of the Dong Zong headquarters. For a while, it looked like Dong Zong would be unable to pay the salaries of its staff or even utility bills. But several organisations have stepped in with financial backing and there are moves by Chinese groups to raise RM5mil for the reformists to manage Dong Zong.
Dong Zong is now like Pakatan Rakyat, badly split down the middle. It is also like MIC, with two men laying claim to the presidency. In short, the once honourable education movement has become little better than the average political party.
Yap used to be the hero of the community. He had also been the darling of DAP and PKR politicians in the run-up to the general election because he was playing politics with the MCA leaders and giving them hell.
Recently, Chong Siew Chiang, the elderly father of Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen, came all the way from Sarawak to speak in defence of Yap. They belong to that generation of leftists whose mistrust of the establishment and Government colours the way they think and act.
The crisis started because Yap had opposed the setting up of SM Chong Hwa, a new Chinese secondary school in Kuantan, and refused to allow the school to hold the UEC exam.
He claimed the school was not independent because the Government had given it “private school” status. He then used the issue to campaign against MCA in the general election.
Given that about 95% of Chinese parents send their children to Chinese schools, the issue quickly escalated into what some have called the “mother of all Chinese calamities”.
Yap still has supporters but he is also greatly vilified as the man who caused Dong Zong to fall from its high pedestal.
Ten of the 13 state-level Dong Zong committees have turned against him. They have concluded that Yap seems prepared to pull down Dong Zong if he cannot remain on top.
Yap has tried to paint the reformist group as pro-MCA but very few believe anything that he says these days.
The Chinese media is assiduously trying to give equal space to both camps but none of the Chinese reporters have anything good to say about him.
It is likely that Yap knows his days in Dong Zong are numbered because he is trying to set up a rival body to Dong Zong and is trying to take control of as many secondary Chinese schools as he can. He is not going to go quietly into the night.
A retired Chinese politician said losing face was a big thing in Chinese culture and both sides had lost face and suffered public humiliation.
“The whole fight is so fierce and the words they used — running dog, dead ghost. It’s so crazy, it will not be easy to forgive and forget,” said the retired politician.
Dong Zong will never recover its old glory and Yap will forever be known as the man who brought it down because he so badly wanted to stay on top.