I FIRST met Chin Peng as a little boy in Beijing. It was in the courtyard of the house where my family and I lived. He was beaming and in good spirits.
Even at a tender age, I knew he was the number one man in the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and believed that he was closely tied to the fate of Malaysia.
He struck me as a wise yet inscrutable leader.
In 1970, my family and I left Beijing to move to Hunan province in southern China. Chin Peng came to bid us farewell at the railway station.
I remember him standing outside our coach, talking to my parents.
My parents, Shamsiah Fakeh and Ibrahim Mohammed, were Chin Peng’s comrades who left Malaya to live in exile in China in 1956.
They were CPM members before 1968. I was born in Beijing, the youngest of three siblings.
Chin Peng arrived in Beijing in early June 1961 and began his 30 years of exile in China.
He adopted the name Hong Tao, a metaphor for “huge revolutionary surge”, and became known to the ordinary people as Mr Hong or simply Lao Hong.
His life and work in China was rarely reported by the Malaysian media.
Many Malaysians think he spent most of his life in the jungle but, as a high ranking CPM leader in China, Chin Peng was well received and treated by the Chinese government.
He lived comfortably and remotely commanded and controlled the CPM guerillas in southern Thai-land.
Over the years, the CPM split into three factions: the Marxist-Leninist faction, the revolutionist faction and the central or Chin Peng faction.
Many of the revolutionist guerillas were killed by their own comrades. All that came to an end when the Peace Treaty between the Malaysian Government and the CPM was signed in 1989.
CPM members finally moved out of the jungle.
In reality, the Malaysian Government had no issues about the contribution of the CPM in our nation’s history.
However, the CPM was later demonised for political reasons.
The paradox now is that both Russia and China have long abandoned the ideology of socialism and Malaysia has become closer with China.
Regretfully, our Government missed an opportunity for national reconciliation.
If it had graciously allowed Chin Peng’s return to Malaysia, if it had respected and acknowledged the CPM’s contribution to the nation’s independence, it would probably be applauded by the Chinese community who has complicated emotional ties with the CPM.
As for the rightists in our society, retired police and armed forces officers, their hatred towards the CPM is not as intense as depicted.
The demise of Chin Peng marks the end of an era – the CPM era.
History should teach us to grasp the value of life and to respect our predecessors, to love and cherish our lives and the land we live in.
Jamaluddin Ibrahim spent 32 years in China before returning to Malaysia in 1994. The views expressed are entirely his own. The STAR Online Home News Nation 18/09/2013