HOKKIEN ETHNOCULTURE OF THE JETTY PEOPLE
A revised version of a final report of fieldwork
given to the Pacific Cultural Foundation.
By Hugh M. Lewis
Table of Contents
Introduction: Chinese Ethnoculture
The Nanyang Chinese
The Jetty Chinese
An Ethnocultural Model of the Overseas
Chinese Family and Kinship
Malaysian Ethnocultures and the
Symbolic Framing and Ethnocultural Gestalt
Copyright © 2000 by Hugh M. Lewis
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Copyright © 2000 by Hugh M. Lewis
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A proletariat clan-based community of Hokkien Chinese who
live over the tide-water is described in relation to the larger ethnocultural
context of Malaysian society as this is articulated in the city of Georgetown
on Penang Island, Malaysia. A basic model of patrilineal kinship is central to
the cultural ethos and values of these people, and functionally serves their
interests in gaining a living, having a family, maintainence of health and
achievement of good fortune in life. This model, and its symbolic extensions
in the broader social context, were systematically analyzed by means of
primarily linguistic symbolic framing tasks. Cross-cultural comparison of
English, American and Chinese samples of these symbolic framing tasks shows
important similarities as well as clear cut and significant differences of
response patterning which are held in theory reflect fundamental symbolic
differences of cultural psychological organization.
Introduction: Chinese Ethnoculture
Ethnoculture is my designation for the distinctive, culturally-based
identity of a corporate community of people existing in a common time and
place, that is defined both socially in relation to other groupings, and
historically in terms of its origin, development and direction, in terms
which are emically salient for the people who are so defined.
I have sought to empirically study Hokkien ethnoculture through the
psycho-cultural patterning of the jetty Chinese in terms of the symbolic
articulation of reality their culture demonstrates within real world contexts.
I further examine related notions of symbolic framing and cultural gestalt as
principle mechanisms and expressions of ethnoculture.
Cultural gestalt is the distinctive pattern of characteristics,
including mental attitudes, affective dispositions, perceptions, language,
systems of belief, value, knowledge, technology, customs, arts, styles of
social interaction, sanctions, roles, behavior, habits of dress, tastes and
eating habits, material and symbolic artifacts and relations with an
environmental context, shared by an ethnoculture. It is defined both
internally by shared cognitive structures of mind and externally in social
relations and in reference with other people and groups.
Symbolic framing constitutes a general theory about human cultural
phenomena. Ethnoculture from this standpoint is the gestalt of symbolic
connections between external social-environmental relations and internalized
mental representations of these relations, and the consequent behavioral,
emotional and social patterning which represent ordered responses to these
Ethnoculture takes shape, has reference to and is always
"situated" within a larger nexus of historical, social and
environmental relations. Ethnoculture comes to define itself socially through
processes of interpersonal objectification (i.e., the social construction of
reality, more specifically, the reification of a common stock of knowledge and
implicitly embedded sanctions ordering behavior. [Berger & Luckmann,
1967]) at several levels (familial, locally, ethnically, regionally,
nationally) in terms of a shared corporate sense of community that is larger
than life. At the same time, ethnoculture comes to express itself
psychologically in terms of individual identity through processes of
subjectification involving internalization and identification with group
values and norms, encompassing a distinctive profile of shared traits, range
of behaviors and symbolic orientations, rationalizations, attitudes and
motivations. The collective sharing of a suite of traits, and its sanctioning,
reinforcement and reification as if natural and given, both socially and
psychologically, constitutes the cultural foundation of our reality.
The Nanyang Chinese
People in Southeast Asia have probably been living over the inter-tidal
zone for thousands of years. Such a mode of habitation may actually be one of
the earliest community adaptations in the region, and is now a widely shared
trait among different fishing communities throughout the region. Southeast
Asia is culturally very old, diverse and heterogeneous, yet has long been
regionally coherent. Regional integration probably proceeded long ago founded
upon a common cultural adaptation to waterways.
The presence of the petty, part-time trader and the full-time,
long-distance merchant middleman has played a pivotal role in the economic
integration of the region. The role of the early trader, pioneer and
entrepreneur, as the early forerunner of the modern capitalist, and the
relationship of the trader with the role of religion in the interregional
integration of Southeast Asia, needs to be given the credit due.
Within this regional context of maritime Southeast Asia, we must understand
the importance of the Chinese "Nanyang" or "Southern Sea"
in the common cultural framework of the overseas Chinese, who with their
distinctive communities can be found all over the world. Present in every
Southeast Asian nation, their heritage in Southeast Asia is very old, and they
have long been integral to the entire region's historical development and
integration (Salmon 1981: 260-275).
The principle characteristic and enduring feature of the Nanyang has been
predominant economic orientation--an orientation that has come to
ethno-culturally characterize (often negatively) the overseas Chinese. This
stereotypical economic preoccupation of the Nanyang Chinese can be best
understood in terms of their regional inter-positionality as an
entrepreneurial class of merchant-middlemen mediating the relations within the
"dual economies" of the local native context and the larger
regional/global market economy.
Their place in the regional development of the Southeast Asian context has
been pivotal, existing for purposes of social stability and for buffering of
conflict-laden tensions between core and periphery, elite and masses. They are
bought off from the top, and become the scapegoats for tension from the
bottom. They are therefore caught in a dilemma of "double-identity"
with their ethnicity defined by the very same structural processes and
positions that threaten that identity.
The Nanyang Chinese have been noteworthy for their characteristic failure
to achieve the "community closure" deemed prerequisite to their
ethnic political-economic mobilization. This is only in part due to their
intermediate status within a host society and their lack of
The larger the Chinese minority, the more divisive and complex its internal
organization became, and the more problematic its potential for unity of
action. Sub-ethnic distinctions between different Chinese communities
undermined such possibilities and prevented the formation of a genuinely
pan-ethnic "Chineseness"--a stereotype more apparent from the
outside than the inside. "Indeed, the more they try to express their
'Chineseness', the more divisive they become" (Siaw 1981:402).
Judith Strauch (1981:239) makes the point that the Overseas Chinese social
organization is based upon a form that incorporates ethnicity as a central
principle--"the principle for segmentary opposition of subethnic
categories." Identity becomes stratified at several oppositional levels,
national, ethnic and sub-ethnic. Distinctions also come to be made on the
basis of lineage or clan identity. Though identity with ancestral homeland may
have become quite attenuated, the Chinese never severed ties from the homeland
or their identification with their ancestors' native place, but rather added
more levels with each successive move (Strauch 1981:240).
Within the colonial framework of a plural society, immigrant Chinese
communities were divided along sub-ethnic lines in both cooperation and
competition--sub-ethnic identity delimited the field of opportunities and
actions open to the immigrant. Although internal class distinctions existed,
these were of far less significance in daily life than ethnic solidarity
The recently published study by Wang Tai Peng (1994) asserts the
independent development of the kong si system (Hokkien term usually denoting a
clan-based firm partnership or business organization) among sea merchants and
miners, as a distinctive form of Chinese democratic institution involved in
both business and public administration and founded upon the principles of
brotherhood and partnership. The kong si system, especially the form which
emerged in the Southeast Asian setting, constituted an important cultural
institution of the Overseas Chinese.
Such a system depended upon establishment of trade and exchange relations
and partnerships based upon an Chinese ethos of reciprocal trust and the
notion of "dependability" (Barton 1983:53). Crosscutting ties of
dialect, lineage, village association, tended to reinforce these bonds, but
even more importantly, kinship ties were the best available means of cementing
a dependable network.
The economic orientation of the overseas Chinese, which the non-Chinese
often interpret as a negative stereotype, is the cultural expression of the
positive primacy of the goal and achievement of socioeconomic success and
status in life. The aspects that drive the Chinese social structure are
several: the fierce competition from below, the face-to-face system of
interpersonal relations upon which class boundaries become defined and
negotiated, and the verticality of class asymmetries in which those who are
more fortunate treat with uncharitable disdain those without, while those
without are left pretty much unaided. But it is the very openness of this
system that virtually guarantees that while the hard working children of the
poor will become rich, improvident children of the rich can squander away
their parent's wealth.
It is inadequate to merely discuss models of Chinese society without also
discussing particular patterns associated with Chinese mobility within the
system--these include an ethnocultural emphasis upon early socio-economic
achievement, familial interdependence, entrepreneurship, risk-taking,
education and its practical payoffs, and the respect for authority. There are
unevenly available to most overseas Chinese certain mechanisms for achieving
mobility within Chinese society--these include geographic mobility, resource
diversification, familial organization and mobility, education, marriage, and
paralegal involvement in gambling, drugs, prostitution or other profitable
activities. The overall patterning of mobility is mixed, with individuals and
families commonly pursuing, or failing to pursue, several different strategies
at the same time. Geographic, familial, marital, individual entrepreneurship
and resource diversification may be occuring, with varying degrees of success,
at the same moment within a family.
But the stereotype of the pattern of upward and downward mobility within a
generation belies a more stable class system operating within overseas Chinese
Society which can be characterized by several facets: 1. the appropriation and
conspicuous consumption of status symbols and prestige by those who can afford
them; 2. the cultivation of a haute value culture among the wealthy Chinese;
3. attitudes of paternalism and condescension toward the poor by the wealthy;
4. the cultivation of connections in marriage and business between families of
wealth which provides unusual screens of opportunity and support networks for
offspring; 5. a system of giving or saving face which is socially asymmetrical
according to perceived class differences based upon obvious or conspicuous
markers of identity.
Not giving face to poor people by rich people can be interpreted as both a
statement of innate and social superiority of the rich over the poor. It is
also a way for the rich "saving face" in relation to the poor, in
which context "giving face" would represent a compromise and
symmetry of status.
What makes the middle class Chinese interesting is that the primary
mechanism of mobility which characterizes this class is that of familial
mobility--such that the family works together to promote their socio-economic
status and position within the social system. Familial mobility seems most
salient among the middle classes, and among the shop houses one can find
entire families self-enclosed within little shop-worlds, working six or seven
days a week, pooling energies and resources under the direction of a single
patriarch or matriarch.
For a lower working class household to achieve mobility into a middle class
position, the family must at some point organize itself into a successful
working unit, and pool resources together. Hawking is a major avenue for such
mobility, and sons acquiring skills which enable them to begin a business of
their own or education in order to achieve a better job in the wider market
becomes a means for that family to work its way up the social success ladder.
It stands to reason that working class poor families that fail to rise must be
for some combination of reasons unable to organize themselves as familial
production units, or, if they do, fail to extend themselves enough in order to
access the opportunities or resources of a wider market economy. On the other
end of the social spectrum, the subsequent downward mobility of families may
be the result of the family, once organized for productivity, falling apart.
Separation under one roof ends up in actual physical separation of the
households of the sons and their families.
Important in understanding the pattern of failure to achieve upward
mobility, or the occurrence of radical downward mobility, within a system in
which one's social identity and status is so completely tied to one's
socio-economic success, is the pattern of spoiling of children into adulthood
by parents who, it seems, may be using their own children as dependency
objects for their own psychological insecurities in life. Parents in a world
defined by filial piety can come to depend upon and live vicariously through
their children, but in a way that may become stifling and suffocating for the
children. It is not uncommon to find middle-aged adults failing to realize
socially or economically their own life because of the incessant demands of
their mothers and fathers.
Francis Hsu refers to an "oral" pattern of socialization which
distinguishes the indulgences and subsequent corruption of the children of the
wealthy and the privations and frequent rising of the children of the poor.
Wealthy parents unconsciously consider their children's leisure and
gratification as indicative of their own prestige and prosperity. Children may
be raised in very strict, paternalistic and authoritarian regimes, but be
"free from restraint with regard to food" (Hsu 1967:279-80). Hsu;
compares two alternative and clearly contraposed "status personality
configurations;" that are the result of these factors. Poor children grow
up hard working, while the children of the rich grow up "to firmly
believe that whatever they desire in life will be forthcoming to them simply
for the asking or the taking" (Hsu, 1967:270-80).
It may be a sociological blunder to tightly correlate these patterns of
oral socialization and personality with wealthy and poor classes per se, as
many poor exhibit the same negative patterns, and many wealthy do not. Rather,
they may be patterns which may more accurately be associated with tendencies
of mobility within the society, a society that is open and achievement
oriented. All Chinese are, by cultural definition, subject to the same types
of "oral dilemma"--the consequences of this are perhaps more
conspicuous when wealthy children become poor than when poor children remain
Children of poor parents who are locked into this pattern are allowed a
great deal of license and social freedom. They are allowed to spend petty cash
freely on a daily basis, to buy food, drinks, candy or little trinkets
whenever they wish. For lazy parents, it is the most effective means they have
of placating and controlling their children at least effort to themselves.
Thus, such children grow up incapable of building their own or adding to
the kinds of fortunes their fathers may already have amassed. In this regard,
we must highlight the basic psycho-social isomorphism between the patterns and
personality of the wealthy and of the poor, and distinguish this against the
patterns most apparent in the middle classes. The basic dilemmas and patterns
keeping the poor and resulting in downward generational mobility for the
wealthy may therefore be basically similar.
The patterns characteristic of the upwardly mobile are the strong familial
orientation that defines familial relations largely in terms of socio-economic
productivity. Frugality, thrift, stinginess, withdrawal of love, and
conditionality of the parent's love to the correct behavior of the child, an
early education in the work ethic of children, and a command of filial piety
and respect which is extended outward socially to encompass a wider range of
The key characteristics of the successful Chinese businessman are friendly,
face-to-face interpersonal business relations, extreme thrift and frugality,
willingness to work long hours at low returns, a flexibility and willingness
to meet all demands, and a basic dependability to get the job done both in the
correct way and on time. There appears to be a critical moment in the
biographical profile of the entrepreneur in which the he strikes out on his
own, so to speak, to achieve a kind of independence which is the precursor of
success (Chan and Chian 1994).
In short, the successful Chinese businessman is willing to exchange hard
work for small profits, and will exchange short-term costs for long term
gains. On the other hand, unsuccessful businesses are marked by the proclivity
to opt for short-term gains in taking unfair advantage of immediate
situations, but as often as not at the expense of long-term loss.
In this regard, it must be emphasized that not all Chinese businesses are
successful, and that for every success, there are multiple failures. At any
one time, most of the businesses and business interactions may be
characterized by the Chinese attempting to take immediate advantage for a
small profit, in the process trading off the promise for future, long term
Different studies link Overseas Chinese economic success as a "trading
minority," their confucian cultural ethos of filial piety, their family
orientation, religious orientation and identity (Berger, 1988; Jaman 1994),
and Overseas Chinese ethnocultural pattern can be best described by the
central importance placed upon the family and familial relations--the
cosmological universe of the Chinese pantheon of spirits and deities is the
direct symbolic extension of the core and extended possibilities of familial
relationship. The deities and their unique personalities represent
symbolically different aspects or facets of possibility of the Chinese
personality, and hence serve as role models, or rather as guides, in defining
appropriate or inappropriate behavior within the familial context. By
extension we may also say that the Chinese personality and sense of self is
also symbolically represented within a familial context, as a microcosm of
possible familial relations in the battle of yin and yang elements. The filial
ethnoculture of the Chinese is marked by an ethos of filial piety, or of
respect for parents which translates into a continuing sense of duty,
obligation and attachment to the parents well into adulthood. This filial
ethnoculture should in theory become extended to a respect for social
authority in the larger society.
Psychological status identity of the Chinese can thus be said to be
"filial-centric" in orientation. Inherent in this familial model of
the Chinese cultural universe is the relationship between the mother and the
father, which is itself cooperative-competitive, and the
cooperative-competitive relationship among siblings. Understanding the central
importance of family and being filial in Chinese culture leads to a basic
question about the cultural patterning of overseas Chinese religion which may
result in a distinctive "Chinese-spirit" of capitalism.
In relation to ones parents, and, by extension, to the Gods of heaven, ones
social context is always defined by two basic elements: the conditionality and
uncontrollability of love. In the family and in the universe, love and
security are never unconditional, but always relative to the quality of ones
own or ones family's behavior.
No one can be sure of the continued love and devotion of the spirits of
Heaven, who are fundamentally fickle and unpredictable within the
stereotypical molds set down for them, just as one can never be guaranteed
whether there will be continued love or support of the parents. The primary
indication of one's favor with one's parents (and ancestors and spirits of
heaven) will be found vis-a-vis ones status relation with other siblings (and
neighbors and compeers). At some point the sibling relationship becomes no
longer cooperative, but competitive--just as extended family households
fission after the third generation, and just as wider community groupings
organize themselves and split along the lines of surname, clan, etc.
Thus the Chinese may well face an inherent sense of existential ambiguity,
one that is not only structurally defined within an alien, and therefore
inherently conflicting context, but one that is also culturally instilled from
a very early age. Chinese can never be absolutely sure of the love and rewards
of their parent-gods, but can continuously manipulate their contexts in ways
that will result in good fortune. They can continue to work as if they had the
favor and good fortune of their ancestors, and success in this life vis-a-vis
their competitors becomes a sure sign of such success.
Chinese-style capitalism might be considered unique in history and
distinctive to the overseas Chinese who developed a merchant-middleman culture
It is characterized thus: by its familial-based organization; by the
development of a democratically oriented kong si system; by the rise of a
middle-class of merchant middlemen/sojourning entrepreneurs who, driven by
poverty, were keen to make the most of where ever they go; by the pattern of
credit, money-lending, investment and share-holding characteristic of Chinese
businessmen; by labor intensive handicraft and cottage industry, and by the
premiums paid to achievement and risk-taking in all areas of business, from
primary production or resource exploitation, the processing or manufacturing,
distribution and wholesaling, and to retailing and repair.
The Overseas Chinese are extremely practical and worldly in orientation.
Their religion shares in the extreme practicality of their basic cultural
orientation, as patterns of worship and ritual propitiation are incorporated
into daily patterns of living, and explained in such basic ways, as to seem
integral with everything else the Chinese does. When Chinese pray for
fortune--they are not praying for an abstract notion of fortune--but for
economic success ("money coming in"). It is a matter of action
rather than abstraction.
Chinese have coined an especially fitting appellation for themselves
because of their opportunistic, status-conscious and stingy qualities. They
refer to themselves as being "money-faced," an orientation to life
in which one defines ones principle relations with others in the world
primarily, or even almost exclusively, in terms of money to be made or lost.
As one Chinese businessman told me when talking about politics, for "the
Chinese there is only the money party."
A "money-faced" orientation does point up an important facet of
Chinese culture that is more visible from without than within. When Chinese
become so preoccupied with making money as a focal part of their culture and
when money becomes the principle medium and sign of their status and security
in life, it nearly precludes every other possible relationship they might have
with the world.
Thus the overseas Chinese pursue the making of money as they might a
religion, because, in a very practical and symbolic way, it is their religion.
Overseas Chinese culture therefore strongly reinforces an orientation that is
centered on the achievement of status, or what is called "action,"
principally by making of money.
"Action" is what Chinese call being "proud" or putting
on airs and is tied to status markers such as dress, cars, and associations.
It can be regarded as the symbolic expression of what Max Weber referred to as
the critical "market moment" which demonstrates class advantage.
It would be wrong to either consider that the "money-faced"
orientation is characteristic of all Chinese, or that it is necessarily a
completely negative orientation, or that there are not other equally important
facets of Chinese ethnoculture that deserve mention. Many Chinese are not only
poor money-handlers, but do not value money as the end-all of life. Being
"money-faced" in a less extreme form is actually quite an adaptive
and achievement oriented cultural expression which demands respect.
Action is achieved primarily through patterns of childhood socialization
and secondly through interpersonal social relations and social manipulation of
status. It is apparent that culturally speaking, having money and those
status-symbols of "action" which only money can buy, fancy jewelry,
clothes, a nice car, a big, luxurious home, etc., more often than not serve as
principle indicators of ones social identity and sure signs of good fortune
The Jetty Chinese
This is a descriptive study of a clan (surname) organized Hokkien Chinese
community which is situated in the "clan jetty" area of downtown
Georgetown on Penang. These Chinese are proletariat and lower working class,
and are associated with the poor "foundry" side of town, compared to
the more prosperous shop house Chinese of downtown area. Stereotypes are that
they are rough, crude and involved with gangs.
Within the framework of the Hokkien world, ethnocultural patterns of
health, labor, diet, social relations and religion are inextricably bound up
with one another. A clan organized community consists of an arrangement of
persons that serves the attainment of legitimate social and personal
ends--"the gaining of a livelihood, the setting up of a family and the
preservation of health and well-being" (Fortes, 1953:170). Maintaining
harmony and balance by a continual round of propitiation of the tutelary Gods
which look over and protect their community ensures their continued survival,
fortune and identity as a people in a larger uncertain world. A number of
dimensions (migration and settlement, population and physical environment,
work and wealth, openness, health, diet, fishing, children, social patterning
and religious rituals and beliefs) emerged as empirically important to the
analytical description of this community.
The jetty area is situated along the edge of the inland part of the sea
where Penang Island faces the mainland about a mile across. In this calm,
wave-free side, poor immigrant Chinese settled three and four generations ago
and built their homes on stilts over the inter-tidal zone. Their ancestor's
came from small coastal communities in Fukien province, where they were mostly
fisherman and gatherers of oysters. A few of the men have returned to these
ancestral villages to find there the same Gods that are worshipped in their
own temple. The deity that sits in the temple now was brought from the same
village in the Chinese homeland. The homes in China were not built upon
stilts--that is a Southeast Asian adaptation. They were situated close to the
coast but not over it.
These communities are inter-linked to one another by ties of intermarriage,
as well as to several other small Chinese fishing communities on the mainland,
from which many of the wives come, but to which few if any husbands ever go.
These communities are described as situated on small islands or at the edge of
river mouths, are relatively closed, backward and full of mosquitoes.
The settlement pattern of the jetty community must be seen against a
broader background of patterns of Chinese emigration to Malaysia and within
Malaysia itself. There was steady immigration to Penang since the founding of
the Jetty community, which probably occurred just over one hundred years ago.
The community that we worked in most intensively is the largest of seven
such communities, comprising approximately 76 homes. We also worked in the
next-door neighbor jetty community which was one of the smallest, comprising
only about 11 homes. Among all the communities of the Jetty, there are basic
cultural affinities of religion, manner of living, values and community ethos,
especially between the first and the second largest Jetty, comprising about 34
households, and the three smaller jetties, comprising approximately 22, 20 and
4-7 homes respectively. Basic cultural affinities belie many important and
interesting variations between these communities. They are distinguishable in
terms of relative apparent affluence, organization, work, community practices
and social patterns.
Altogether the Jetty communities are comprised of between 173 and 190
homes, and well over two hundred when the houses situated on shore are
included. Of these, we managed to interview families in about 70 plus homes--
a third of the total number of households. There are actually many more
families than this within the community, because many houses actually have
multiple families living under one roof. It is impossible to estimate the
total number of families, except that it may approach over 300.
On the Jetty where we worked, the official head count from the clan
secretary was 876 persons. The results of our survey indicate an approximate
number of about 773 persons (plus or minus 25) distributed among some 70
families and in about 65-7 houses. The average household size was about 11
persons, with a median of eight and a mode of four. If we add to this number
the ten or so households which were not available for interviewing, of which
two were vacant and one had only two people, this would make an approximate
total population of 860 persons plus or minus 30, which agrees well with the
secretary's official count.
There are 80 homes on the Jetty. Most of these homes are irregularly
rectangular in shape with about a one to five width-to-length ratio. They are
separated by an unfloored alley space which allow sea breezes to pass between
the wooden walls and to cool the homes down, with an average space of about
four feet and three inches between houses, ranging between no space to over
eight feet apart.
Typically, there is a short porch on the front of the house extending about
five-and-a-half to six feet. Houses vary in width from about 12 feet to over
18 and a half feet wide, with an average width of about 15 feet. At least two
houses reaches a width of about 24 feet and at least two are only just over
nine feet in width. The average length of the main
structure and living area of the homes measured is about 54 feet, though
this varies considerably, with several homes only about 16 to 20 feet and a
few measuring over 88 feet in length. If we multiply the average width by the
average length of the living spaces of the houses, we have a rough estimate of
about 810 square feet per household on average, and a total of about 64,800
square feet for the whole jetty community.
If we divide this household average by the estimated 11 average persons, we
get an average of 73.64 square feet per person. For the total estimated 773
persons we have an average of about 83.83 square feet per person over the
entire Jetty, not including the gangways, alleys, porches, and back deck
extensions which are of considerable area.
The average number of bedrooms of those houses counted was 4.67, with five
being a better estimate for the whole average bedroom area is roughly
estimated to be between 27.7 and 37 square feet in area, or slightly more than
half of the revised area per person. This translates into a sleeping area in 5
X 1 proportions of about 27.8 square feet. Actually most bedrooms are square
in shape, and are probably a little larger than this estimate, being roughly
about 7 X 6 (42 square feet) in area. This means that the individual's area of
the household is shared pretty evenly between the bedrooms, and the rest of
the house, including the kitchen and the two halls, and the back deck area
with the toilet and shower. It is also probably the case that there are about
two people per bedroom. It seems that few people sleep in their own bedrooms,
but usually share sleeping arrangements. There is then a premium on bedroom
and sleeping space in these households, which may become critically short when
houses are crowded.
The rooms to be added on are bedrooms, and several homes have built upward
second floor spaces, usually small bedrooms, which extend the area a little
more. Sometimes small bedrooms are built as extensions of the house on the
back decks. This lack of private sleeping arrangements is indicative of the
overall lack of privacy by the individual--privacy is, after all, a western
luxury. Many people can be found sleeping on the floors or in hammocks during
all hours of the day. The lack of privacy does not necessarily translate into
a basic insecurity. There are apparently few thefts on the Jetty, besides
young children taking their mum's money to buy candy or gamble with. Most
doors are keep wide open during the day, and people known to the community
traverse in and out of houses constantly. Bedroom doors are more secure and
kept locked, as are cupboard and cabinet doors.
There are numerous immediate behavioral settings that occur simultaneously
in different spots across the Jetty, and individuals move casually and
relatively unrestricted between these different settings in the course of the
day. Children especially roam freely between these alternate settings. Space
is so partitioned that what is occurring in one such context may be completely
unknown to those occupying another, virtually adjacent space just a few feet
away. Networks and intra-communal schisms of neighbors no doubt determine who
affiliates with what network upon the Jetty, but the complexity of this
pattern defies description. In these settings, one can find the daily rhythms
of life on the Jetty which always proceeds at a relaxed pace in the heat. On
hot days people tend to remain indoors more, but come out in the evenings to
sit on their front porches to talk and cool off.
The homes on the Jetty are made of wood, as is the entire deck. Wood is
also at a premium, and drift wood is frequently found and recycled onto the
Jetty. There is always a demand for new lumber, which becomes a bargaining
chip for local politicians. Lumber has grown quite expensive, and not easy to
come by. Renovations and extensions of homes upon the Jetty can be quite
costly adventures. Recycling and repairing are continuous activities that
employ the services of many of the day-working men. The boards of the Jetty
grow old and worn with age, and over time they become so contoured at their
joints that they may form nice natural seams between the planks that follow
the overall twists and turns of the walkways.
People on the Jetty enjoy a relatively good quality of life, despite the
incessant heat alleviated only by the sea breezes that rarely penetrate the
center of the Jetty. They mostly do not live in fear of their neighbors, and
their doors are always open. People have lived in the same house for
generations now, and the rhythms of their daily lives are not unlike the
rhythms of the tides that wash beneath their feet.
These communities are largely proletarian Chinese who are day laborers,
stevedores factory workers, hawkers, unskilled or semi-skilled laborers,
sampan drivers, fishermen, and people who work on boats in one capacity or
another. A few have set up small businesses, and many of the grown up children
have found jobs outside of Penang.
The results of our survey indicate the following distribution of work with
the largest of the Jetty communities. About 318 people reportedly worked from
a total of 773 people. Of a sample of 68 households, the most frequent
category consists of "odd jobs" (33 households, 42.6%) which is
mostly reported by men and involve the off loading of the ships on an
irregular basis, construction, repair work around the Jetty and on boats. The
income from this manner of unskilled work is relatively low and irregular.
Workers will earn an average of RM $.40 per crates moved off the ships. They
work intermittently and may move up to 700-900 crates per container.
The second most frequent category cited was that "factory" worker
(30 households, 44%). The actual number of factory workers is higher, because
the number conflates the total per household thus employed. Since most people
employed in factories are women, it can be said that women may be the largest
single constituent of the labor force of the Jetty. The average factory worker
salary begins around RM. $ 8.00 (U.S. $3.20) per day and goes up to RM.
The third most frequent form of work cited is that of manual laborer, or
"wage earner" or "employed by others" (12 households,
17.6%) which implies a low, but more regular income than that of "odd
jobs." The fourth most frequent categories are those self-employed in
petty businesses and those who are employed more regularly as stevedores (11
households in each category, or 16%).
The fifth most frequent category consists of hawking (nine households, or
13%), including hawking of food proximal to the Jetty, at morning markets, and
clothes at the "pasar malams." The next category is a general
"clerical" one (seven households, 10%) and seamstresses who do
sewing (six households, 9%) and men who are lorry drivers (six households,
9%). We interviewed several of these seamstresses, all women, who worked at a
small sweat operation nearby the Jetty. They earn by the number of pieces they
can sew, on the order of RM $.04 per piece (U.S. 1.5 cents per piece) sewn and
work about 12 hour days (earning about RM $8.00 per day). The last major
category is that of fisherman (four households, 5.8%) which is a part-time
occupation of quite a few men of the Jetty and represents an important source
of protein for the entire community. A fisherman told me that on a good day he
can bring in as much as RM $50 to RM $100 ringgit of fish, but that was rare.
Two separate groups of women on the Jetty from several households combine
their efforts in the morning to peel and cut garlic for distribution to local
hawkers and restaurants. They earn about RM. $.50 (U.S. 20 cents) per kilo,
and finish about 20 kilos in a day. It takes a group of three or four women
about several hours to finish this much, and it is a setting for gossip and
The number of appliances in the household serves as a relative measure of
the real wealth and income of families and it demonstrates the relative level
of affluence of the Jetty, as well as some important changes in patterns and
the distribution of income within the community itself. The average number of
appliances per household on the Jetty was 7.8 with a median and mode of seven
and a range of 17. These seven or eight appliances are most likely to include
two fans, one television, one VCR., one motorcycle, one rice cooker, one
refrigerator and maybe one radio.
On the basis of the frequency distributions of the number and types of
appliances per household on the Jetty, the following sets of criteria were
judged to discriminate the socio-economic distribution of households upon the
1. dependence on only a bicycle, four or less appliances, and lack of fans
or television, indicating lowest poverty.
2. five or fewer appliances with just one motorcycle is also a indicator of
3. more than five appliances and a motorcycle indicates unskilled working
4. more than 10 appliances and a car represents a semi-skilled working
5. possession of more than one car or several motorcycles, along with
multiple appliances must be taken as a sign of accumulating wealth.
According to these categories, four of 71 households (5.6%) were at the
bottom poverty line. Ten of 71 (14%) were in the second category of unskilled,
semi-employed, 28 of 71 households (39.4%) fell into the unskilled working
class category, and 26 (36.6%) into the semi-skilled category, while three
(4.2%) fell into the category of accumulating wealth (and potential for upward
and outward mobility).
This profile of the distribution of real wealth on the Jetty represents a
solid unskilled/semi-skilled working class orientation. It also shows a
transition occurring in the Jetty in a rise from the unskilled to semi-skilled
categories, indicated primarily by the acquisition of cars, a transition which
I take to reflect the overall profile of development in Malaysia. The people
of the Jetty are therefore relatively poor compared to the other Chinese
communities of the downtown shop house area or of the outlying suburbs or
flats, and remain only partially incorporated into the larger economy and then
mostly only at the lowest rungs. But they might be seen as relatively affluent
compared to their more rural Malay or Chinese counterparts. Thus they are in a
transitional and "inter-positional status" in more than one way.
They retain the rural oriented communalism and habits and community ethos, and
yet they are tied into the larger economic system in crosscutting ways.
From the beginning there was a great deal of resistance to outside
intrusion, resistance which made fieldwork often trying and sometimes
impossible. I cannot presume to know the actual reasons for this marked
resistance, as the people who manifested this attitude were never available to
be questioned. Beyond the alleged stereotypical "closedness" and
clannishness for which Chinatowns all over the world are renowned, there are
several important factors in the background of the Jetty which in part explain
this strong resistance.
There is a strong local cultural orientation to illegal gambling and
betting on numbers. There is some amount of illegal traffic in uninspected,
duty-free cargo from off the ships in the harbor. There are several gangs,
and, judging from the number of heroin addicts and incidents of police arrests
and reports in the newspapers, there are possibly drugs and secret society
activities there as well. There is a small amount of evidence of prostitution,
perhaps associated with gang activities, but this is not widespread and the
Chinese of the Jetty are quite proud of the fact that they do not prostitute
their daughters, unlike the Thai people in the north. There are also other
skeletons in the closet about which the jetty Chinese are tight-lipped--
incidents of animosity and fighting between neighbors, cheating, theft, and
But this resistance points up another facet of the jetty Chinese--they are
quite satisfied with their way of life despite its economic hardships and
social frustrations. Many people who have moved off the Jetty regularly return
to visit there, and report that they like being there. Women who marry off the
Jetty are reported to return regularly too, at least once a week. There is an
unusually strong sense of community solidarity that is coupled with a
relatively high level of tolerance for deviant behavior on the part of
individuals within the community. The jetty Chinese like to take care of their
own, indirectly sanctioning behavior by means of ostracism, ridicule, and
gossip, and they probably resent the intrusions of outside authorities, whom
they do not trust.
In order to analyze the extent and implications of the cultural resistance
to my presence there, toward the end of the study I completed two head counts
on two separate days of all the people I met upon the Jetty. I sorted these
people by sex and by age and by how much they had done for me--nothing, one
thing, a couple of things, a few things, and those who would do anything I
asked of them.
On the first day, I counted about 221 people outside, over that 128 were
males and 93 were females. Of the males, 97 did nothing for me at all, and 31
did one or more tasks for me. Of those males who did nothing for me, 46 were
estimated to be over the age of 30 and 36 between the teens and twenties. Of
the women, 48 counted had done nothing for me, and 45 counted had done one or
more things for me.
On the second day, I had counted a total of 128 people, of which 87 were
men and 41 were women. Of the men 61 had done nothing for me and of the women
15 had done nothing while 26 had done at least one task for me. Of the men who
had done nothing for me that day, 47 were above 30 years of age.
On both counts, the most salient, highest frequency group was the men
between the ages of 30 and 60. The chi square test for significance in a 2 x 2
contingency table for 1 degree of freedom in the first case was over 13,
significant over the alpha level of .001, while the same test for the second
case was 12.989, also significant over the alpha level of .001. Hence there is
a significant correlation between males' unwillingness and females'
willingness to perform the tasks.
Of a total of 349 people counted, 222 (64%) had done nothing for me, though
most of them had regularly appeared to be available to be interviewed and many
of them had been asked repeatedly but always declined. Of those who did
perform at least one task for me, a total of 27 did only one task (7.7%), 57
did two or three (16.3%), 21 did a few for me (6%) and only 24 would do almost
anything I asked of them (6.6%).
Of this group, men as a whole, and especially those over 30, were
significantly more resistant to being interviewed than women of any age. Men
of the same age group were also the most available to being interviewed (133,
38.1%), with all males counted comprising 215 of the total (61.6%). The
numbers are telling and point up clearly one basic fact. Women were more than
twice as helpful as the men. This discrepancy between men and women is
corroborated on the basis of participant-observation as well as on the basis
of the number of tasks we completed in the community--across the board, more
women than men completed more tasks in almost every category.
A way of analyzing the relative openness of the community was through
several questions on our household survey pertaining to travel outside of
Penang and Malaysia, relatives living outside of Penang and Malaysia, number
of Malays and Indians known by the interviewees, languages known by the
interviewees, and the amount to which they watch news on television or read
the newspaper. Chi square tests for the significance of difference between men
and women who know no Malays, or Indians to those who know one or more,
indicate that significantly more men know Malays or Indians than women.
In terms of Malays known, the average was 6.7 with a median and mode of 0
and a range of 101. Thirty-nine of a sample of 70 (55.7%) did not know any
Malays; 20 indicated under ten (27%); six indicated between 10 and 20 (8.6%);
four indicated between 20 and 30 (5.7%); two indicated between 40 and 50
(2.8%); one indicated over 100 and one indicated "a lot" (1.4%
each). Two indicated having known Malays from childhood days on the kampong,
and one from work.
The average number of Indians known is 3.5, about half the number of Malays
reported, with a median and mode of one and a range of 75. Of 70 people, 45
(64%) knew no Indians; 20 knew under ten Indians (28.6%); 2 each knew between
10 and 20, and between 20 and 30 (2.8%) and one each (1.4%) between 30 and 40
and over 50. Three persons indicated knowing Indians from work.
We sought basic physical measurements of height, weight, blood pressure and
skin fold. These first interviews served to break the ice within the
community. The average height of a sample of 63 men between the ages of 17 and
77 was 166.9 cm., and their average weight was 69.4 kgs. (153 lbs.). The
average height of a sample of 61 women between the ages of 16 and 67 was 153.9
cm. and their average weight was 59.4 kgs. (131 lbs.). There is across the
board a significant sexual dimorphism between the men and the women.
A male sample of 71 had an average systolic blood pressure reading of 136.5
and an average diastolic reading of 86.3 (average heart rate 78.4). These
curves are also positively skewed. Women had a much lower, more normal,
average systolic of 128.3 and an average diastolic of 81 (average female heart
rate was 79.5). Thus it appears that men have slightly higher average high
blood pressure than the females.
The highest significant difference is in the rates of borderline or high
blood pressure of men and women above 39 years old, compared to men and women
39 or under, respectively. It appears that: 1. older men have the highest
blood pressure compared to younger men; 2. older women have higher blood
pressure compared to younger women; 3. older women have a significantly higher
rate of systolic blood pressure than older men. This is reinforced by the fact
that among the women especially, the lowest blood pressure reading of several
For men, there is a slight gain in body fat with age, from an average of
just above 19%, to about 21%. For women, there is evidence of a much greater
increase in body fat with age, until about 60- 65 years of age, after which
height, weight and body fat begins to decrease. Among women there is a steady
increase of body fat from an average of about 31%, up to about 36.5%. This is
almost certainly is correlated with the number of children a woman has had.
For women, it appears that birth control is well understood, even among
teenage girls. The two preferred means of contraception are the rhythm method
and the pill, with the IUD having been a means among an older age group but no
longer preferred for the risks and complications it entails.
One of the questions asked in our survey was whether the interviewee would
go first to a Chinese sinseh or to a Western medical doctor. Of 42 women and
28 men asked this (total of 70), the response pattern was overwhelmingly to
the western medical doctor first (18 men, 64%, 31 women, 74%, total 70%).
Other patterns were: to see the Western doctor first, and if treatment
proved not to be efficacious, then to the Chinese sinseh (two men, 7%, four
women, 9.5%, total 8.6%); to go to both equally (one man, 3.5%, six women,
14%, total 10%); to see the Chinese Sinseh first, and then the Western doctor
(one man, 3.5%, one woman, 2%, total 2.8%); to seek over the counter medicine
from the pharmacies as the first health choice (four men, 14.3%, one woman,
2%, total 8.6%); or to go to the "clinic" which is tantamount to
seeking western medicine first (two men, 7%, two women, 4.7%, total 5.7%). One
man mentioned the hospital as the second choice to over-the-counter remedies
(1.4% of total) and four men mentioned that it depended upon the situation,
according to the nature of the illness (14.3% of males, 5.7% of total).
It seems that for both men and women the first health choice is
overwhelmingly to seek Western medicine first. But it seems also that the
actual course of action in most cases is more of a mixed pattern, in which
they typically try to keep all their bases covered at the same time. They may
go to the Western doctor first, but if the condition warrants it, they will
then also go to a Chinese sinseh, and then sometimes even seek supernatural or
magical help. For some conditions, such as sprains, feeling bad, indigestion,
aches, a Chinese sinseh is probably the first choice. As one man told me, the
Chinese sinseh massages you and touches you, and treats the whole body and
gives advice about diet, which Chinese like, while the Western doctor does not
touch you, and seems cold and impersonal, not caring about matters of diet.
These statistics may be biased as I suspected that many informants, out of
deference to me, were not telling me their actual patterns. Ethnographic
observation reveals numerous instances in which the individual actually sought
out remedies and cures from the Chinese sinseh before thinking about going to
seek a Western Medical doctor.
There appears to have been a relatively high frequency of infant and child
mortality on the Jetty (3%) due in part to accidents--drowning, falling off
chairs and beds. This rate is especially reported by older women over 40 years
of age (60% of those reporting infant deaths). Ten percent of a sample of 100
women reported infant deaths. The average age of 100 women interviewed who had
children was 49.5 years with the mode being 34 and the median 45. The average
number of children was 4.13, with a mode and median of three. Among a smaller
sub-sample of 57 women who had an average age of 45 and had an average of 3.9
children, the average age of marriage was 21.3 years, with a median and mode
of 21, and the average age at which they had their first child was 22.6 years.
The average difference between age of marriage and first child being 1.3
Among this sub-sample the average number of years of education was 3.3
years. Significantly, most of these women received a Mandarin education
compared to an English education (32:3), while 23 were illiterate with no
formal education at all (40.4%). Of this sub-sample, 4 smoked (7%) and 10
drank (17%), and 18 worked out of the home (31.6%).
Correlations between age, number of children, age of marriage, age of first
child, difference between age of marriage and child and years of education
reveal that there is a high positive correlation between age of marriage and
age of first child (.98) and between age and number of kids (.72) There are
significant negative correlations between level of education and age (-.63),
number of children (-.4) and difference between age of marriage and first
birth (-.24). There is also a negative correlation between number of children
and age of marriage (-3.9) and age of first birth (-.37).
These measures are corroborated with the correlations of the larger sample
of 100 in which there is high positive correlation between age and number of
children (.7), number of children and death of children (.53) and age and the
death of children (0.42).
Of a sample of 47 men, 40 smoked (85%) and seven were nonsmokers (14.8%)
and two of these had quit smoking. Of the same sample, 24 reported drinking
(51%), of which nine reported drinking only in moderate amounts (19%).
There is a significantly higher than average rate of dental caries among
children of the Jetty, who are always eating pure sweets. Skin disorders,
especially of the legs, from insect bites and from "scales" that
apparent get under the skin to cause permanent scars, burns, broken bones and
sprains, and motorcycle accidents seem to be common types of medical problems.
A total of 46 people were interviewed regarding their diet (34 women and 12
men). Everyone eats pork on a regular basis (100%), chicken (42 of 45, 93%),
and fish (36 of 46, 78%)-- meats which are mostly purchased at the morning
market (42 of 45, or 93%) or else bought ready cooked ( 3 of 45, or 6.7%). To
specify pork one must say "pig" or "too" ("too bak").
So when this question was qualified with what kinds of pork, the responses
indicate pork (100%), mutton (10 of 46, or 22%, and only in small amounts);
chicken (9 of 46, or 19.6%); beef (7 of 46, 15%, only with at least pork and
mutton indicated too); and duck (1 of 46, 2%). Two people indicated any kind
of meat ("except human", 4%). Thus pork, fish, and chicken are the
main protein sources of their diet, supplemented by shellfish, crabs, squid,
and token amounts of beef and mutton.
Most of the people do not eat beef, as there is a general cultural
prohibition to beef if one is to worship the Goddess of Mercy. When queried on
this point, approximately 55 of 78 (70.5%) people answered that they do not
eat beef, a couple saying that they used to but quit, while 8 said they ate
beef sometimes or rarely (10%) and about 15 indicated they do eat it (19.2%).
The normal diet is supplemented by a number of different protein sources,
including squid (35 of 44, 79.5%), crabs (42 of 44, 95.5%), and shellfish (36
of 44, 81.1%). These are mostly taken infrequently--a few times in a week, or
in a month. Eggs are also eaten by fewer people, but are more regularly eaten
by these people (24 of 44, or 54.5%).
All of these foods, plus the kind of ready cooked pork and that bought in
the market, would indicate a relatively high level of cholesterol intake for
those people who do not restrict their diet. People who restrict their diet in
one way are more likely to restrict dietary intake in other ways as well, as a
matter of habit, whereas those without dietary restrictions in some regards
are less likely to have such restrictions in any regard.
The other question of significance is the consumption of fast food that
comes in two forms. These are: 1. Local hawker food which is taken frequently,
almost daily, by most people of the Jetty; and 2. Western-style fast food,
which is an infrequent part of most diets (once or twice a month at most) and
yet which is nevertheless becoming an increasing part of the dietary pattern.
In regard to Western fast food, 43 of 46 questioned eat at Kentucky Fried
Chicken (93.5%, seven of which indicated rarely), 38 of 46 eat at MacDonalds
(82.6%, nine of which indicated rarely) and only 12 of 46 eat at Pizza Hut
(26%, seven of which indicated rarely). The reported frequency seems to be
about once every two or three weeks, and more often for children than for
Hawker food is taken more regularly, almost on a daily basis, and several
of the 46 informants indicated they do not cook at all but take all their food
outside. This is a very predominant pattern on the Jetty. Of 46 people asked,
26 eat out everyday (56.5%) and four of these eat every meal out, four people
eat out once a week, nine eat out two to four times a week, one eats out only
rare, one twice a month, and six do not ever eat out. Those who do not eat out
much usually shop at the morning market and do their own cooking.
There is an interesting pattern of cooking in homes and selling to the
other people of the Jetty. Several households engage in this activity on a
regular basis, one house cooking mostly "koay teow tung" (soup) and
"mee" (noodles) and another cooking "rumpah hu," (fried
fish stuffed with chili paddy), fried rice, "beehoon" (fine
noodles), "lor bak" (pork sausage), "chang" (rice
dumplings), and other things. Children of all ages are freely given money to
buy whatever they may like during the day, and there seem to be few
restrictions concerning consumption of candy or coffee by small children.
The pattern of going marketing outside for food is related to the relative
frequency and preferences for the morning market and for going to the
Western-styled supermarket at the downtown shopping center. Morning marketing
is important because it defines a central pattern of "buying back"
food and cooking meals on a daily basis. Food thus cooked may constitute the
main meal, or else is set out for people to eat during the day. Of a sample of
70, it appears that 37 of the total (53%) either go themselves, or have one
member of their household go daily to the market to buy food. Another 23 (33%)
indicate that they go weekly (Six once a week, 11 two to three times a week,
and six 3 or 4 times a week, about once every other day). Seven (10%) indicate
that they go irregularly to the market, frequently because of work, and six
(8.5%) indicate they never go to the market, mostly because they do not cook
but eat out on a regular basis.
Concerning food beliefs, ethnosemantic elicitations of food categories
reveal the following significant components: hot foods, cold foods,
intermediate or "temperate" foods which seem to overlap with both
"heaty" and "cooling" type foods, "tok" (toxic,
or "strong") foods, "cleansing" foods, foods with "hong"
Mothers do not breast feed their children (37 of 46, or 80% indicate
formula only, while 9 of 46, or 19.5% indicate some breast feeding (one for
one year, one only for the first child, one for six months, two for one month
each, one only the first child for two months). The form of milk infants and
children are given is either formula drink or powdered milk (39 of 46, or
85%), or sweetened condensed milk mixed with water, Milo, coffee or tea (5 of
46, or 10.8%).
Of a sample of 48 (36 women and 12 men), four (8.5%) do not take regular
meals, none just take one meal a day, eight (all women, 17.4%) take only two
meals, 22 take three meals a day (48%, 17 women, five men), seven take four
meals in a day, (15%, five women, two men) and four take five or more meals in
a day (8.5%, one woman and three men). Of these meals taken, 15 of 46 have no
"main" meal (32.6%, 14 women and one man), only two women eat
breakfast as a main meal (4%), eight indicate lunch as the main meal (17.4%,
four men and four women) and 23 indicate dinner or supper as the main meal
(50%, 16 women and seven men).
When asked about morning meals, ten of 47 ate no breakfast. The following
items in order of frequency were mentioned: milk (16); mee (noodles, 11);
bread (ten); milo (ten); eat out (eight); koay teow (three) eggs; porridge;
biscuits; rice (two each); kueh; coffee; sugar; chicken; oats; nasi lemak (one
The jetty community is democratically organized. They hold local annual
elections for the office bearers for the temple committee, as well as for
leadership of the whole clan. All men and women can vote, though only about 60
percent of the adults do vote and most voters are men, according to one
well-versed informant. Only clan members can be nominated. Whoever gives
donations to the temple can vote in the temple elections. There is a ballot
box and people give donations and names are submitted for nomination to
There are important differences in patterning between men and women. While
women were more than twice as cooperative and responsive to us than the men in
almost every aspect of our research, it is also clear that the women are more
inbound within the community and less open in attitude toward the outside
world. This difference of attitudinal orientation is clearly evident in all
the dichotomous tasks that attempted to elicit responses relating to attitudes
about authority, sexuality, gender, etc. Women are less worldly in experience
and less educated. Most young girls, with a few noteworthy exceptions, are
expected not to venture too far from the fold in the quest of a career and a
separate, more modern life.
While men are without a doubt the outside breadwinners (discounting the
largely invisible female factory workers) women are perhaps the more stable
and productive of the two groups. They are the primary caretakers of the
children, they are more seriously interested in feeding, clothing and caring
for their young and for their homes, and they are the least available for
productivity, being more outside of the system than the men and being
essentially controlled by the men within a paternalistic Confucian ethos. In
controlling the purse strings and avenues of outside income, men are perhaps
also the least responsible, siphoning off more of the income for other
purposes than the women.
An explanation of this socio-cultural patterning might involve socio-genic
stress which is felt differentially between the sexes and which may have
different consequences for men and women. The stresses and strains associated
with lower class status within the larger society, the low-class status
identity, the nature of the physical labor, and lack of opportunity (or
screens of opportunity), is probably felt by everyone in the community.
Psychological and ethnographic evidence from the tasks suggests that it is
felt even by small children at an early age, and is pretty much ingrained by
adolescence and the teens.
It is possible that cultural pre-dispositions render the men most
vulnerable to these stresses and perhaps least capable of dealing with them.
There may be a sense of secondary loss (Dowhrenden & Dowhrenden 1969)
suffered by men under such chronic circumstances that may in the long run
incapacitate their competencies and motivations to overcome the social
obstacles which stand between them and achievement of social success and
mobility-- values so prized an ethnic characteristic of Chinese communities
all over the world.
Women on the other hand, bound by an ethos which keeps them within the
home, may also suffer such stresses, or even more when they must suffer
indirectly the stresses of their husbands abuses as well, and yet appear less
susceptible to the "secondary loss"
entailed by such stress. Instead, ethnographic evidence of petty
entrepreneurship by women suggests that they may even experience positive
"secondary gain" which allows them to successfully manage and
overcome the stresses and strains of their environment to achieve, if not
personal success, but survival for their families. Indeed, numerous examples
exist on the Jetty of women as petty traders and hawkers catering mostly to
the Jetty community itself.
The men appear thus caught in a vicious cycle that is partially rooted in
their own cultural, community ethos and which is partly a consequence of their
inferior positioning vis-a-vis the dominant Chinese society. They therefore
are more prone to seek secondary outlets for the achievement of identity,
solidarity and success outside of the normal framework for such
achievement--in gambling, in strong oral patterns of eating, drinking and
smoking, in the abuse of children and women, or in other illicit activities.
Their behavior is marked by withdrawal from participation within the larger
social arenas, and a confinement of the locus of their activities to within
the Jetty community itself.
This hypothesis alone is not adequate for explaining the general
predicament, orientation or ethos of the jetty Chinese. Other patterns are
equally apparent and perhaps equally important. There is a sense of a
"diffuse" paternal role model which is either absent, inconspicuous
or adulterated by the presence of "uncles," grandfathers, middle
aged sons, of older brothers and of mother's brothers who may not even be from
the Jetty, who undercut the authority of fathers. Thus there is a noticeable
lack of a single, strong, positive male role-figure, but the doubtful presence
of many weak, often negative examples. There is also a pattern of the
mother/daughter-in-law relation in which the husband as mother's son is
situated between two sets of often competing and conflictual
interests--cultural ethos demands subservience of the daughter-in-law to the
son's (and mother's) demands, and the mother's preference for sons that is
also culturally defined.
Most men of the Jetty are hardworking, responsible bread winners for their
families. In fact, most men are probably gainfully employed and many women are
actually just housewives, and the number of men sitting forever in the coffee
shop or young men hanging out gambling is actually only a minority that does
not represent the dominant and more stable adult pattern. But this subordinate
pattern is nonetheless salient enough within the community not to escape
notice, and not to have bearing in the understanding of the community ethos
and organization. What the Jetty lacks in money, opportunity, education and
material possession, it more than makes up for in communal solidarity and
richness of a shared cultural heritage, and it is the description of these
rich cultural patterning which makes the Jetty so anthropologically
From our survey, a .7 correlation exists between the number in the
household and the number of workers per household, a .57 correlation between
number of children under 18 and the number in the household, a .54 correlation
between the number of smokers and the number in the household, a .39
correlation between the number of workers and the number of children under 18,
a .5 correlation between the number of workers and the number of smokers, and
a -.04 correlation between the number of senior adults over 60 and the number
of workers in the household.
From this simple profile an interesting picture emerges of a household
which gradually increases in size as sons grow up, go off to work and
beginning pooling their resources, gradually marrying and creating an extended
family household with grandparents and several brother's families under the
same roof. The number of children then begins to rise, at which some point the
size of the household peaks out. At this point the grandparents die and the
household begins its decomposition as families break apart. There is hidden in
this picture another pattern which was ethnographically apparent. This is one
of large nuclear family households bringing in young adult boarders who work
and contribute to the income, and this can be seen as an alternate strategy of
adaptation to the more conventional Chinese pattern.
The problem of household management of people, social relations, space,
time and resources also appears to be of central importance in household
organization and social patterning. Money for bills, taxes, repairs (anything
to do with the house as a whole) needs to be collected and pooled. A key
individual, whether a patriarch or matriarch, must be competent and dependable
enough to organize in a productive manner the members of the household. It
appears that this burden of management may as often fall on the shoulders of a
senior woman as upon the patriarch. One example of a large house composed by
more than seven households (total over 30 persons), in which both grandparents
were deceased. One junior aunt received possession and control of the house
because she was single, and who thus became the manageress in charge of the
house. She will also be in charge of organizing the daily and annual rituals
of ancestor worship such as the death anniversary.
In most of the households (60-70%) on the Jetty, it actually appears that
there is a central female figure (or small cliques of related women: i.e.,
sisters, aunts and nieces, mothers and daughters or daughters-in-law) who
manage the household and "make things work." These women appear more
active, are frequently involved in petty trade, cooking and selling food on or
about the Jetty. If they have husbands, the husband appears to be
"standing in the woman's shadow" in a more passive, semi-,
Of the 68 people surveyed in our sample (40 women and 28 men) all but one
of the men (96.5%) had the clan name as their surname. Of the forty women
interviewed, only five had the clan name as their maiden surname, implying
that these five (12.5% of 40) brought men into the Jetty from elsewhere. The
surnames represented by the women were, in order of their greatest frequency,
Ong (seven), Tan and Lim (five each), Koay and Yeoh (three each), Tow, Ooi and
Lee (two each), and one each of the following: Low, Seow, Koh, Ng, Loh, Ang,
Soon, Goh, Chiah, Chooi, Lau, Teoh, Chuah. It is significant that at least
some of the Ong, Tan, Lim, Yeoh and Lee women came from the other jetties.
Thus the picture this pattern represents is one of women marrying into
(87.5%) the husband's father's household, and of a patriarchal community
structure--the daughter's-in-law being at somewhat of a disadvantage in their
mother-in-law's sons households. This situation became apparent in interviews
and informal relations with some of these women on the Jetty, and there was
sometimes quite a bit of subsurface friction between the paternal families and
the wife's own family. There is one incident of the wife with her two sons
being physically ostracized from the husband's family household, to the point
of physical violence and abuse, and neglect of the children. Every morning she
would have to go to fetch hot water in a flask from the coffee shop to feed
her young infant son, even though the mother-in-law's house was right next
A lot of people are related to one another, however indirectly (cousins,
with some cross-cousin marriage possible, though this is frowned upon), and
many people have children in the same households in which they were born. It
appears that the most predominant pattern is one of patrilocal residence with
the daughter-in-law marrying into the husband's household. There are a few
cases of husbands marrying into the wife's household, and this can be
understood in terms of the poverty (or other reasons, such as convenience)
that contextualizes the relationships of the families as well as in a
patrilineal tradition which puts a premium upon sons. It seems that rules of
surname exogamy are mostly observed. In other words, most of the people marry
off the Jetty, though not always.
Elicitations of terms of address were made, as what to call whom is an
important matter in a place where everyone knows everyone else all their
lives. There are glosses for uncle and auntie that are extended to senior
adults that are not actually one's relatives. There is an indication of
"blanket" equality (and perhaps reciprocities) which pretty much
extends over the entire Jetty, that is indicated by the common use of
"Ah" for names of people ("Ah Heng," "Ah Hoe,"
"Ah Chong," "Ah Seng"). We have seen older adults scold
younger children for mischievous behavior, only to be dressed down properly by
the child in rather unambiguous and vulgar language, after which the child
runs off. I've never seen an adult punish a child for this stand off of
There is not a great deal of overt aggression between neighbors on the
Jetty. A couple of older boys tended to pick on younger boys without great
provocation. The history of bickering between families was never a topic open
to much discussion with us as outsiders, though some people complain of women
who do a lot of gossiping. It appears that labeling people as "siow"
or mad on the Jetty is a common, and sometimes useful way, of defining
aberrant behavior, and perhaps also of conveniently justifying the continuing
mistreatment of these people.
The children of the Jetty turned out in many ways to be our most rewarding
and helpful informants, and were often a real pleasure as well. Growth charts
constructed of boys and girls 16 years and below reveal a steady increase of
both height and weight by both groups until about the age of 12 to 14. During
this time the growth of the girls tapers off, especially in height, while
weight continues to increase, whereas for the boys after this age there is a
continuing growth in both height and weight until full physical maturity.
Of a total of about 168 children (drawn from a total census count of
approximately 250 plus or minus 30), the number of the children per household
was 3.96, with a mode of two and a median of three and a range of 11. The
average age of the total sample of children was 9.7, indicating slightly more
children above the age of nine than below. For each age set, between the ages
of "under 2" and 18, there was an average of 9.72 children with a
median of ten and a mode of seven and a range of 11.
What can be inferred from this is that the kids from the Jetty are growing
up with an average age set of 8.7 other kids, plus or minus 4, of which half
are likely to be of the same sex. Thus, for each age group of boys and girls,
there is a tight clique of four or five kids of similar ages (spanning three
years) who share many affinities and mostly likely play and fight together.
Generally, children of opposite sexes do not play together very much,
though such behavior does not become sanctioned until after adolescence. This
represents a fairly tight
group of boys, especially when the boundaries of age sets overlap in
broader periods of several years. The importance of these age groups in
influencing the socio-cultural ethos of the Jetty should not be
underestimated, as it speaks of the closeness of the bonding which apparently
occurs throughout childhood between children of similar age groups, as well as
of a social pecking order of older children over younger ones.
Then there is a pattern of extremely strong peer pressure exhibited and
exercised in a number of ways. There is in this a sense of a basic social
vicariousness of lived and learned experience. The people of the Jetty are
commonly using one another as indirect, vicarious sources for their experience
of the world, and this pattern speaks of a strong sense of social
interdependency among the people of the Jetty. Their lives are often
inextricably bound up with one another. This intertwined orientation is
manifest in the physical touching and closeness of people of the Jetty, an
expression of feeling via physical closeness and body contact which is not
verbalized, a pattern which begins in childhood and possibly extends until old
age. This closeness of the Jetty people creates a sense of belonging and
community solidarity which can effectively exclude non-members on a very
basic, affective level.
This pattern is reinforced by group norms and sanctions on the overt
expression of intra-communal conflict, and of certain emotions of anger and
unhappiness, sanctions reinforced upon children, through gossip and through
ritualized expressions. Behavior of individuals, of practically everyone
coming within the purview of this community, is judged and sanctioned by these
sets of Chinese standards.
One day I asked a teenage girl for the different kinds of feelings she
felt. She told me "hua he" (happiness, a good feeling, like getting
good results on exams), "beh sio" (sad, bad, being scolded by
mother), "kee kong" (angry, losing something), "kin tiong"
(nervous, a bad feeling, like waiting for exam results) "chi kek"
(frustrated, excited, a good feeling because afterwards it makes you laugh,
like being chased by a dog), "siow" (crazy, a bad feeling like you
can't find something), and "lang mann" (Mandarin, being romantic,
"a good feeling like being in love"). She told me she never felt
lonely or homesickness and dared not ever daydream when I asked her these
In terms of education, our survey of 84 people indicate that 30 households
(35.7%) either had no children of school age or attending school or else
neglected to complete the sample. Of the remaining 54 people, 32 (59%)
households sent their children exclusively to Mandarin school, while 16
(29.6%) sent their children to English school, 12 (22%) sent kids to both
English and Chinese school, two had kids in Kindergarten, two (3.7%) in Malay
schools and two remained unidentified.
The predominant preference for traditional Mandarin style education is
corroborated by the high positive correlation with the education of a sample
of women of which of 91.4% were Mandarin educated. There is also in these
statistics a clear indication of significant change of attitude toward a
greater preference for English style education among children compared to
adults. The chi square test for significance shows that this pattern of change
is significant above the 0.01 level.
There is yet another pattern that is quite apparent on the Jetty, and this
involves the caning and physical punishment of children by parents and
scolding by non-parents. Children are caned as a matter of routine, and the
threat of the cane is the primary means of controlling a child's errant
behavior. An example of this taken from my notes involves a young boy with
some physical problems who was left momentarily outside the house while the
mother went back inside. The boy ran toward a group of women and then stopped
and picked up a crumb on the boards and put it in his mouth. We told him not
to eat it and an Auntie took it out of his mouth. Soon the mother came back
with a bamboo back scratcher and grabbed him by the hand and swatted him four
or five times until he started crying. She dragged him back into the house by
the arm as the old women all started laughing. But I have also seen a child
slapped across the face with an open hand, kicked with the foot, and even
beaten with the end of an electrical cord, ruler, feather duster, and clothes
On the other hand, the primary form of nurturance of children is through
the offering of candy and the feeding of the child, and thus nurturance and
love toward the child is expressed principally through touching and orality,
which is developed freely among children who are given their own money at an
early age of three-years-old with which to buy food, drinks and candy. The
strong pattern of orality is suggested by the continued use of the pacifier by
children five, six and even seven-years-old. This is interesting because
almost no women breast feed after one or two months, though they themselves
may well have been breast fed.
The pattern of the expression of affection through physical touching is
evident in the way that hitting grades off into "love slaps" and
pinches, and in the way that love towards children is verbally expressed as
they are the parent's "pain." Love
of a parent toward a child is expressed in Hokkien as "tiah" meaning
literally "painful love" or "love that is so strong it is
painful." This orientation is evidenced in the response pattern to
certain questions which indicate that the culturally predominant attitude is
that children must be taught as a form of love, and that punishment is a
primary form of teaching the child.
Thus, we might further speculate at this point that many of the
frustrations and stresses which are the lot of their parents become indirectly
visited upon the child at a fairly early age, leading to a pattern of
socialization that effectively undercuts the child's self esteem, their
motivation for achievement, and maybe precludes the acquisition of basic
social competencies or communicative skills which would facilitate their
mobility into the larger social world.
Children have several games that they commonly play together. They play
with the spinning top, "seven stones," and a form of gambling with
marbles, stones or coins. There is a noteworthy absence of girls playing
"house" or "dolls." Girls and boys take great pleasure in
playing with crabs, mud skippers and fish caught off the Jetty. The people of
the Jetty are inveterate gamblers and spend a great deal in a day on gambling.
One seven-year-old boy is held to normally carry as much as RM. $500 in his
pocket at any time to gamble with, and another boy is regarded as a
mathematical wizard in computing gains and losses numerically in his head.
People are continuously buying numbers through illegal bookies, of which there
are three on the Jetty. Rarely does anyone win anything through the numbers,
and most people know this, but "we must always have hope."
We were there long enough to take part in several weddings, to see several
newborns, and to see two women die of breast cancer, one of whom we had
interviewed on several occasions. Both times the death of someone born into
the community, who lived there all her life, and who had been known intimately
by everyone and related to many, opened up the door to a chasm of feeling that
the community usually kept tightly closed. This door remained open in a sullen
and sad social atmosphere for two or three days, until the community closed it
again and life got back to normal.
After the funeral of a middle-aged woman who had died of breast cancer, two
small red candles were laid at the doorstep of all the homes of the Jetty.
Death is darkness, and this darkness has come over the house of the deceased.
Since the houses of the Jetty are so close, darkness descends upon the whole
Jetty. If you go to a funeral, it is "dirty" or polluting. The red
candles are symbolic of "lightness and cleanliness" and are
distributed (like candy) as a "thank you gift," to give back the
lightness again. The candles are lit and burned that evening to purify the
houses, to bring back the "sweetness and lightness" and good
Regarding the religious beliefs of the people of the Jetty, a newspaper
article based on an interview with its headman reported "The residents
also strongly believe that they are blessed and protected from harm by the
gods or deities they worshipped and to date no serious misfortune has struck
the jetties." No homes have collapsed into the sea or been razed by fire.
Elaborate rituals and opera shows are staged three times a year on the Jetty
(the opera players reside upon the Jetty while in Penang), to "appease
the deities and to ensure their continued protection." It then reported a
baby found floating unharmed in the water, which the jetty residents
attributed to the power of the Gods.
Part of the survey included asking which Gods the people of the Jetty
worshipped. Out of 45 households surveyed, 36 worshipped the god Tua Pek Kong,
or "God of Prosperity" (80%). Another 13 mentioned the Goddess of
Mercy (28.9%). Two mentioned "Kuan Kong" and one each of the
following gods: Hai Ching, Buddha, Chor So Kong, Hung Chen, Yi Hon Wah, Kuek
Seng Ong, Seng Chai, Hua Kong, Huat Cho Kong, Loh Chay Kong, Tai Seng Eya,
Chek Kong, Christian Jesus, Choon Tah Por Say Teh, Teh Cho Kong. Most people
reported only worshipping one god, 34 of 45 (75.6%), yet it is safe to say
that most of the people will at times worship more than one god.
One day we come down to the Jetty the actors residing there are praying at
the temple with their costumes on before they play. One has a mask on. They
come outside. Four are praying at the altar under the tree. It is the birthday
of the tutelary God of the Jetty, Tai Teh Yia--(A Chinese physician who
prescribes herbal medicines). The Baby God, Loh Chia Kong, who is also
worshipped at the Jetty, is also being honored that day. At 12:45 p.m., they
pick the man who will carry the urn next year.
A man inside the temple begins trancing. He is on a red stool, yawning.
Dressed in yellow trousers. He yawns again. Slowly he goes into a trance. His
head is quivering. A boy picks up a cobra headed rope whip. Now he is in a
full trance state. Snot is coming out from his nose, he is spluttering and
foam is coming from his mouth. His whole body is tense. He hits the floor with
his hand, kicks up his legs back, pats a hand on the floor and suddenly jumps
back. A man catches him from behind. He remains frozen in a fixed posture and
the man sits him back down. He does this four or five times. They begin
dressing him with a red apron--a smock.
Another man outside the temple, directly behind the first, goes into a
trance more slowly and looks less practiced at it, following the man in front
of him. Then he too is foaming at the mouth as well. And suddenly he quickly
lapses into a trance. Someone gives him a baby bottle and they begin braiding
up his hair with little ribbons. He is foaming at the mouth as they put a
pacifier in his mouth. Two braids are tied with red string. He is giving some
By writing them down on a piece of big paper with a pen. It will be put
down on a wall for all people to see. The numbers are not straight, but all
squiggles which the people must interpret.
I count about 74 men and boys and about 67 women and girls present. I
recognize most of them. And not everyone is present. The old fishing uncle on
the end told us he doesn't bother with it. It is 4:08 p.m. and the baby God
with two locks in his hair is giving candy to the children, who are taking it
with glee. He then cracks his whip to scare the kids back. All the women are
around the back tables praying with joss sticks. The kids and everyone are
very excited. Joss sticks are now stuck in all the food. The women are putting
the joss sticks in the food. All the women are around praying. By 4:12 the
trancing in front has stopped, but the drum and gong beat on. The two men in
trance look tired in their performance as they struggle to keep up a good
By 4:27 the food is being kept back inside the homes. All the women are
taking their food containers. The food disappears fairly quickly. People are
asking the shaman-priests questions and for talismans inside the temple. They
talk in a strange voice, like hysterical little children. One of them goes
back inside the temple trancing. The Baby God remains outside, talking to the
children. The other shaman is inside now, writing talismans on the back of a
young boy's T-shirt. Then he gets up and cracks his whip.
The whip cracks, the drumming resumes. The baby god comes back outside and
people escort him to their homes inside the Jetty so that he can pray for
talismans for them. Later they were to come back out of the trance in the same
way they entered it. The one was back on his stool inside the temple, jumping
back and being caught by the man behind him. Soon they were back to their old
selves, no longer possessed by the Gods.
An Ethnocultural Model of the Overseas
Chinese Family and Kinship
Because the family is the central building block of overseas Chinese
society, it is worthwhile to look at its typical structure and dynamics in
closer detail. The segmentary lineage structure of the overseas Chinese family
is well documented (Crissman, 1967). We can refer to the clan based surname
organization of Chinese families which lack great lineage depth and land
holdings, as characteristic of the jetty Chinese, and as remarked upon as a
typical alternate pattern to the more predominant patrilineal society of
Chinese by Maurice Freedman (1958).
The kinship pattern on the Jetty appears to be strongly patrilineal with
patrilocal residence (approximately 87%). There are a few exceptions to this
rule, in which husbands marry into the families of the wife's father (12%) or
young families are establishing semi-autonomous residences in other houses.
Generally, the Jetty is characterized by surname exogamy, but this pattern
also has a few noteworthy exceptions in which individuals with a common
surname, clan descent or "hyphenated surname" are marrying within
the Jetty (approximately 4-5%).
We can refer to such structures as corporate in nature in the emphasis of
unilineal descent as the basic principle of their social organization. The
corporate identity of lineage descent groups is defined in context of other
similar groupings, either in relationship or conflict. Ancestor worship and
veneration of the earth through well developed systems such as Feng Shui
(geomancy) constitutes the institutionalized basis of pan-ethnic Chinese
religious identity on which a common sense of political community can be
based. These ritual institutions do not allow the individual to have friendly
and cooperative relations with other individuals outside of corporate groups
(Fortes 1951:165). When such lineage structure is well developed within the
overall social system, it is likely that the principle of kinship and kinship
relations are central to defining and "sanctioning a personal field of
social relations for each individual."
The extensive web of kinship, which may cut across lineages, serves as a
counterweight to the inherently divisive nature of unilineal descent
structures. The levels of local organization, kinship, corporate group
structure, government and ritual religious institutions which may be related
to different sets of collective interests, may be interconnected in a
hierarchical manner" (Fortes 1951:166).Secret societies can be seen as
the alternate adoption of this principle in those social domains where kinship
and lineage are not strong or well expressed, as well as the expression of
"complementary filiation" which is defined by identity to sibling
groups and which serve to reinforce the predominant lineage structure of the
The foundation of integration, from this theoretical standpoint, is that
all these levels should be expressed simultaneously in every social
relationship and activity. There occurs as a consequence of such social
integration a complex process of social stratification in which "members
of the society are distributed in different, non-identical schemes of
allegiance and mutual dependence in relation to administrative, juridical and
ritual institutions" (Fortes 1951:166). What emerges is a sense of
Maine's "corporate soul" in that individual allegiance within a
number of intersecting organizations serves to reinforce the overall
structure. Personal identity becomes conceived as "an assemblage of
status's" (Fortes 1951:171).
From this perspective, kinship as a jural concept emerges foremost as the
connecting link between external political and internal domestic aspects of
the society. In this context the structural role and importance of kinship is
expressed in interpersonal relations as interpersonal rights and obligations
and as constitutive of the basis of social relations between people. The moral
nature of this kinship model is extended out to embrace and subsume other
possible hierarchical relationships in society, to define one's principle
sense of obligation in other authority structures.
The religion represents a projection of this kinship model upon the Chinese
cosmography, and the perennial reenactment of religious-mythical themes on the
Chinese stage in front of the temples represents a continuous playing out of
the conflicts, tensions and delimmas latent within the kinship system.
Mandatory surname exogamy is the principle basis of lineage
differentiation. It appears that in such exogamous systems, the role of the
woman as "wife-mother" in one lineage is fundamentally at odds with
her role as "daughter-sister" in another lineage. Avoidance customs
become the expression of the common rule that these two sets of inherently
conflictual status's must never be confounded. In this regard, conflicts
become expressed principally between wives who share competing interests in a
husband's resources, and between sister's-in-law who have competing interests
over the father-in-law's resources. Hence, the death of the patriarch often
signals the demise of the lineage, the break up of an extended family
"under one roof," and where great money may be involved, the
beginning of long court battles to decide who are the first, second and
"secondary" inheritors of the estate.
Given this review of the study of patrilineal kinship organization and its
significance to understanding the central importance of Chinese family, it is
worthwhile to examine some of the ways in which this central ethnocultural
model of kinship may become expressed in overseas Chinese society. Analysis of
kin terms of reference elicited ethno-semantically from the Jetty reveals a
normal complex structure of kin terms with no less than thirty separate
Figure 1. Componential model of Chinese terms of reference
The previous componential model of kinship in figure 1 may hypothetically
exist for the jetty Chinese. In this model, diagonal lines represent sexual
stratification, and horizontal bisecting lines represent age stratification.
Dashed lines represent those categories and divisions that are inherently more
ambiguous and "weaker." A double line around male-ego's parents
represents the double strength of this particular set of relationships. Terms
of reference are reserved for older people of a similar category, for males
and for those of the descent line, and the pattern is clearly a patrilineal
one that gives way at the third generation--mother's grandparent's and
father's mother's parent's. Successively higher people (e.g. "father's
father's father's parents") can theoretically be taken into account in
such a system, but such accounting is rare, and according to one informant,
"it is not too good to live too old, great great grandparent's will eat
all the descendants."
The categories all give way to personal names and "affectionate
nicknames" at those points where these principles do not operate, for
instance, juniors, females, niblings and in-laws. It is also the case on the
Jetty that people "live so close they know each other by name, and
'familiarity breeds contempt,' if one moves out and comes back then call by
(term of reference)." It is also important to note that there is
considerable variability of this pattern on the Jetty. Probably more
"sinocentrically" and familially inbound and tradition-oriented
people use more terms of reference than those more available to Western ideas
and influences. Thus it is difficult to say exactly how many categories there
really are; the structure being shrinkable or expandable at the margins where
terms of reference become inherently more ambiguous.
It might also be the case that affinally defined relationships which are
alternate to and complementary to the patrilineal relationships are inherently
ambiguous and conflict-prone. It also signifies the inherent, structurally
subordinate position of the female within the system that in a sense is set up
with the central purpose of maintaining the superiority of the male vis-ß-vis
the structurally subordinate counterpart--an asymmetry best expressed in the
husband/wife and mother/daughter-in-law and mother/son triangle. It is only to
the mother, and by extension, senior aunties, that male ego is subordinate to
a female in any way, and then only in the most conditional of ways. It is
principally only through the son that the wife, as a mother, can exert any
real influence or power.
The extension of this model onto wider spheres of social relationship would
mean the imposition of a certain sense of order on the broader relationships
of the world, an order that can best be comprehended from within the framework
of the model itself. Implicit obligations of rights and responsibilities would
be entailments of such extensions. On the Jetty, this extension of the model
is had by the use of the blanket reference "Ah" as a prefix to
people's first name--it is a term of respect and deference marking social
distance, at the same time it is a term of privileged endearment, solidarity
and affinity. The second facet is as one old auntie told me, "Chan and
Chan is enough already. Everyone on the Jetty is related."
It is in this sense that we can speak of an alternate sino-centric identity
among the overseas Chinese that is not individualistic or
"ego-centric" in the manner that American identity can be
understood, but rather it is a "kin-centric" identity in which a
person's personae and personality are inextricably tied by a set of
cross-cutting and complementary status's as
"son/brother/cousin/father" or alternately as
"daughter/sister/cousin/mother," with the psycho dynamic and social
differential's and confusion's that such multiple roles may involve.
Furthermore, we can refer to the extension of this basic kin-centric
identity of the male/female ego as an inherent aspect of the secondary
socialization and identity of the individual in the larger world. The
individual can be expected to carry these identities forth into many different
kinds of relationships with people depending upon a complex calculus of rank,
seniority, consanguinity, collaterality and gender.
It is with the purpose of further illustrating and exploring these
relationships that several sets of thematic apperceptive tasks, grids,
dichotomous inventories and sentence completion frames given to the jetty
Chinese can be elaborated and understood. In all of these tasks the theme of
familial based relationships and identity, and of their symbolic extension
onto a largely social arena, emerged as the most common denominator. It is a
theme that expresses recurrent indications of basic insecurity vis-a-vis
parental love and authority, the vagaries of this authority, and the
competitive-cooperative nature of the relationships between compeers.
The first set of tasks were "grids" which involved subjects
rating, on a scale of zero to three, different basic categories of familial
members: father (n=10), mother (n=12), son (n=11), daughter (n=16), (also
grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, husband, wife)--in relation to one
another according to certain basic statements:
take care of
serve food to
give money to
be served food by
People were asked a set of "frames" such as "sons should
take care of daughters," "sons should take care of fathers",
"sons should take care of mothers", each of which they were asked to
evaluate on a scale of 1 to 3, with 0 being an uncertain response. These
frames covered the entire range of possible relationships between the
different categories of persons (sons, fathers, mothers, daughters, also
aunts, uncles, wives, husbands, grandparents, god-parents). Needless to say
the task is time consuming to administer. Many frames appeared to be ambiguous
and difficult to translate, such as "sons should question (or be served
Grids were also done on women's occupations (n =21); men's occupations (n
=12); professions (n =11); cars (n = 11); 31 national groupings (n =5), based
on varying sets of dimensions. From each of these grids, it is possible to
construct a rule paradigm based upon the elicited dimensions and similar to
the one proposed for the familial model. In regard to nationalities,
Malaysians and Americans are equally highly rated across the five elicited
dimensions, followed by Chinese and Australians.
The percentage of agreement of each set of relationships between mother,
daughter, son and father was calculated and correlation tables were
constructed on the basis of these relationships.
take care of
Figure 2. Percentage of agreement across 12 sets of
relationships and 10 dimensions.
The table above presents the percentage of agreement in each
of the 12 sets of relationships, in which a score close to one represents very
strong agreement (Father = Fa, Mother = Mo., Son = So, Daughter = Da).
Percentages were used because of variability of sample sizes. Agreement
scores were used because they expressed the greatest degree of cultural
sharing, and because sharing was strong, though uneven in most categories.
Consensus theory predicts the validity of small samples such as were used, if
we can presume a high level of competence in the knowledge of basic
relationships implied in the scoring dimensions.
It is evident from these patterns that there are fundamental differences of
understanding of relationship between father, son, mother and daughter at
least in terms of these dimensions which deal mostly with issues of authority
and obligation. This structure of relationships can be used to make inferences
about the basic model of the different roles involved in these relationships.
In terms of agreement, the responsibilities of the sons to the others show the
highest amount of agreement (.60) and then the daughters (.50) the mothers
(.42) and then the fathers (.32). It is important to note that there is
asymmetry between agreement and disagreement, as well as patterns of
ambivalence and of uncertainty or indifference.
From the patterning of these percentage distributions and correlations in
the different categories, it is possible to define a series of 600 rules (10
dimensions X 12 relationships X 5 scoring categories) with variable confidence
limits (alternative criteria of percentage scores) and by which a paradigm of
these relationships between fathers, mothers, sons and sisters constructed. Of
this set, certain rules can be selected which serve as key predictive
discriminators. In this manner a computer-based system can be used to define
the basic familial model in terms of the dimensions of the grid. Below is a
simple discrimination table relating to giving money and punishing.
Figure 3. Discrimination table across the five categories
for two dimensions.
In the table above certain rules can be derived given an
arbitrary cut off level. If we hypothesize a cut off value of .7, then the
following rules can be obtained:
Sons should give money to fathers (1) and it is indifferent (1).
Sons should give money to mothers (1) and it is indifferent (1).
Daughters should give money to mothers (1) and it is indifferent (1).
Daughters shouldn't punish fathers (1) and it is not indifferent. (-1)
It is highly ambivalent and not indifferent (-2) that sons should
punish mothers (.9)
It is highly ambivalent and not indifferent (-2) that daughters
should punish mothers (.9)
Mothers should punish sons (.9) and it is indifferent (.8)
Daughters should give money to fathers (.9) and it is indifferent (.8)
Fathers should punish daughters (.8) and it is indifferent (1)
Fathers should punish sons (.8) and it is indifferent (1)
Sons shouldn't punish fathers (.8) and it is not indifferent (-1)
Daughters should give money to sons (.8) and it is not indifferent (-1)
Mothers should punish daughters (.7)
It is ambivalent and not indifferent (-1) that mothers should give money to
It is ambivalent and not indifferent (-1) that fathers should punish
This model which coheres between mother, father, son and daughter can be
extended to embrace other relationships within the kinship model. In the
obligation of children to grandparents (n =9), children should take care of
and give money to them (100%), answer to, obey, serve food to and cannot
punish or scold and have no rights over grandparents (100%), and have few
privileges over them. The greatest indifference is in who should pray after
whom, or be served by whom or question whom, and who should be free from whom.
These same relationships and saliencies carry over almost completely to the
relationships between children and both categories of parents and godparents,
though there is slightly greater indifference about children obeying their
godparents than either their parents or grandparents.
A number of dichotomous True/False inventories were employed in this study
to assess the "reported" response pattern to basic values and
beliefs. These emerged as a fairly successful form of task as most subjects
did not seem too threatened by it, and many even seemed intrigued in doing
them. They developed one after the other , beginning with a basic 15 item
"Dogs-Children-Women" dichotomous inventory (N = 121), and leading
to a 25 item Sex-Authoritarianism dichotomous inventory (N =71), and a 20 item
"Products-Commercials-People" inventory (N = 64), then a 22 item
grid (N =61) rating basic categories of people along five basic dimensions of
cleanliness, generosity, and obedience, a 15 item set of miscellaneous
assorted questions filling in gaps in the other inventories (n = 58), and,
finally, a 25 item set of questions relating religion, fortune, and parental
authority (n = 30) that was administered toward the end of the study.
Because the questions emerged in the course of the fieldwork following
leads as to things that might be important to ask, they might be seen as less
inherently biased in the cultural sense than the adoption of questions
directly from such inventories designed in the U.S. and at least implicitly
for an American target population. Problems of translation to Hokkien were
considerable, and many initial questions had to be left out because of the
seeming irrelevance or else the difficulty of framing the question in a manner
that would make any sense in Hokkien.
In the first task, relationships between attitudes and opinions toward
animals, cleanliness, women, and children were explored through a set of
fifteen questions (n = 124). The following are the rank order percentages of
agreement (true answers) to the most agreed upon questions (True > 50%;
footnote references report actual associations with the particular questions).
Nearly unanimous positive responses to these questions in all sub-samples must
be interpreted as representing fairly uniform, and to some extent, core
overseas Chinese cultural values.
Older children should take care of their younger brother's and sisters.
If adults are talking, children should not interrupt. (97.6%)
Showing too much affection to a child will spoil the child. (94.4%)
A child should not answer back an adult. (88.7%)
If a woman dresses too daringly, she's asking for trouble. (81.5%)
A woman should not go out to drink by herself. (81.5%)
A daughter-in-law should respect a mother-in-law's wishes. (65.%)
Dogs are dirty. (57.3%)
A child should be punished for spilling its food. (52.42%)
Strong agreement across the sample shows that traditionally a
daughter-in-law is in little better position than a child in relation to the
mother-in-law, and that the mother-in-law's prerogative will be held to
outweigh that of the wife. More loosely, it can be interpreted that the chief
responsibility of the daughter-in-law would be to take care of the children of
the household. It is interesting that it is among the women themselves that
there is the least agreement to this last question (28 out of 51, or 54%).
Dogs do not feel pain like people do. (19.35%)
Women should not sit in coffee shops by themselves. (36.29%)
A dog should not come inside. (43.55%)
Women should always listen to their men folk. (45.96%)
It is best to whip a dog with a cane to make it obey. (48.38%)
Chaining a dog up makes it a good watchdog. (49.2%)
Responses to these tasks were as follows:
A woman who dresses too daringly is shameful. In olden days they closed
themselves up, but now it depends on situation. They want face. It depends on
the fashion. I don't like to see these things. If a woman is attractive she
does not have to dress too daringly, only unattractive women dress too
daringly. If a woman is asking for trouble, she can also wear decent clothes
and trouble still will come. Nowadays in the modern world it doesn't matter.
Depends if its East or West.
Women should not drink. A woman should not sit in a coffee shop by herself.
She can drink at home. It is only all right if just for coffee. So many women
and girls are working now it doesn't apply anymore. This rule is 40 years old.
If it is an older woman it is all right. But she must be accompanied by her
parents or other women. If not people will say she is a bar girl. It is
nothing just to eat. Some do for snacks and coffee. It depends on the Coffee
shop environment, who will know the kind of men there. The modern world is
If the mothers-in-law are right, daughters-in-law must listen to them.
Daughters-in-law must have filial piety. Chinese law--must always listen to
mother in law wishes even if she is wrong. The mother-in-law is like your
mother. Only young women should do it. Nowadays its different. They do not
listen. Daughters-in-law control their mother's-in-law, sometimes they fight
them and even beat them. But some mothers-in-law are mean. If she is right she
should be listened to. Now they talk facts. Nowadays it depends.
These responses can be interpreted as showing greater agreement in regard
to children than in regard to either dogs or women. In this task, the men's
sample (n = 28) had a high average score of 9.6 and the women's sub-sample (n
=51) average was 10.843. These were at odds with the child's sub-sample (n =8)
that was 8.75, with the Non-Jetty sample (n =17), which was 8.35 or the
reference group sample (n = 20) that was 8.95. It can be said that in relation
to these questions about dogs, women and children, women have a slightly more
conservative and traditional orientation than the men, and both men and women
have a more conservative orientation than the other samples. For the women,
there were 18 (35.29%) who had a score of 13 or above and 33 with a score of
10 or above (64.7%) between compared to 5 men (17.857%) with a score of 13 or
above and 16 with a score of 10 or above (57.14%).
This difference between the men and the women may reflect the nature of the
experiences and relative level of education between the men and the women. The
women on average appear to be more bound to the Jetty than the men. Another
inventory was designed with the aim of eliciting attitudes in relation to
women. Items showing the most agreement were the following:
A husband should help do housework. (91.5%)
It is O.K. for little boys to play with little girls. (90.14%)
It is O.K. for the daughter of a hawker to marry the son of a banker.
It is O.K. for an unmarried man over 40 to live with his parents. (88.73%)
It is O.K. for a child to wipe up an invalid parent's bodily excrement.
It is O.K. if a daughter of a doctor marries a construction worker.
It is important for a child to work for and support the parents. (84.5%)
It is right for a woman to leave her husband if he regularly mistreats
It is O.K. for a father to clean his infant daughter's bottom. (81.7%)
A child must not be allowed to see its parents naked. (78.87%)
A man can serve his wife a meal at the table. (63.38%)
It is important for a son to continue his parent's religion. (53.52%)
Questions that show the most consistent false answer across the total
sample include the following:
A son or daughter can scold his or her parents. (9.86%)
It is best if a child follows its parents choices in marriage. (16.9%)
It is all right for a woman to get drunk sometimes. (18.3%)
It is O.K. for an unmarried woman to sleep with a man. (19.72%)
It is all right if a woman touches a man in public. (21.13%)
Highly intelligent women are attractive. (26.76%)
It is good for husbands to go out to night clubs or bars on
weekends without their wives. (28.17%)
It is O.K. for a single man and woman to be alone together inside a
It is O.K. for a man to wash a woman's clothes. (38%)
Women can behave like Tomboys and men can behave like women. (38%)
It is O.K. for a single unmarried woman to pursue a professional
career even if it means indefinitely postponing marriage and having a
It is O.K. if a man gets drunk occasionally. (49.29%)
Some interesting responses to these questions were as follows:
Some fathers dare not clean their daughter's bottom. It is a woman's job.
Usually the mother does it. Men will do it, but only when the mother is busy.
The mother should wash the babies bottom. They ask the wife to do it. It is
not good. According to Chinese, men do not do it.
We wash our clothes by machine now, so men can wash women's clothes, but
not by hand, and never hang them out. Older people will scold. But if the wife
is sick we can wash only the wife's clothes. If my wife works it's up to me.
Only when the wife is busy. Ask wife, some can and cannot, some do and some
don't. For Chinese, no. It is women's work, men work outside. My brother
washes my clothes for me.
It is not a husband's duty to feed an infant in the middle of the night if
he is working. Some men share in this work. They have a share in the baby.
Some will help and some say they are going to work the next day. Chinese
fathers love their children and will do it. Some will do it, but Chinese
don't. Some ask their wives to do it.
It is not right for a woman to pursue a professional career even if it
means postponing marriage and a family. It is a big wrong--women must have a
family to be complete. She should marry and have a family. Every woman should
have a family. Parents cannot take care of her forever. If there is no family,
there is no reason for life. Better to marry, you have your husband to take
care of you. Must have a family, when you get older you will yearn for family
and children. If picky life will pass you buy. Some may be ugly or too choosy.
Some are scared they may find a bad husband. Some think getting married to the
wrong person is horrible. If you work and earn money but don't have anyone to
leave it to, then the government will take it all. Yes it happens, a lot of
single women nowadays.
The scores were adjusted such that a low score is equal to a high rating of
ethnocentrism. The average score of the female sample was 7.55, compared to a
male average of 8.33. The children's average score was 8.75, the non-jetty
sample's score was 10.56, and the reference group's average score was 8.1.
Again, the women show slightly more ethnocentric attitudes than the other
There is a since of a clear double standard as far as attitudes towards men
and women are concerned. For instance, while almost 50% agreed that men can
get drunk, only 18% said that a woman can get drunk. While 38% said women
should not sit in coffee shops by themselves, 28% said that men can go out to
bars on weekends without their wives.
This sample is comparable to another non-overlapping sample of an earlier
version of the same task (n = 15, 6 men and 9 women). In this sample, highest
agreement was for the question "A child must not be allowed to see its
parents naked" and "It is O.K. for an unmarried man over 40 to live
with his parents" (100% each), followed by "It is O.K. for a father
to clean his infant child's bottom," "It is important for a child to
work for and support the parents" and "It is right for a woman to
leave her husband if he regularly mistreats her." (93.33% each), followed
by "A man should share in the feeding of his baby," (8.6.67%)
"It is O.K. for a child to wipe an invalid parent's excrement" and
"Women can behave like tomboys and men can behave like women,"
(73.33% each) "It is best if a child follows its parents choices in
marriage" and "It is important for a son to continue his parent's
religion" and "It is O.K. if a single unmarried women pursues a
professional career even if it means indefinitely postponing marriage and
having a family" (66.67% each).
In this sample, the least agreement across the sample was "It is all
right for a woman to get drunk sometimes," (6.7%) followed by: "It
is best if a child follows its parent's choices in marriage." (13.3%);
"A son or daughter can scold his or her parents," and "It is
all right if a woman touches a man in public" (20% each) and "It is
O.K. for the daughter of a hawker to marry the son of a banker" (33.33%);
"It is O.K. for an unmarried woman to sleep with a man" (40%);
"It is good for husbands to go out to nightclubs on weekends without
their wives;" "A man should share in the feeding of the baby at
night", and "It is O.K. if a man gets drunk occasionally."
(46.67%). The average score for this sub-sample was 11.066.
On the next inventory, subjects were asked to evaluate comparative
relationships between men, women, boys, girls, adults, children and dogs on
the basis of five dimensions (cleaner than, more affectionate than, more
obedient than, more trustworthy than and more generous than). The greatest
amount of agreement was:
Adults are more generous than children. (81.96%)
Children are cleaner than dogs. (78.68%)
Men are more generous than women. (77%)
Women are cleaner than men. (73.77%),
Adults are cleaner than children. (70.49%)
Dogs are more obedient than children. (68.85%)
Children are more affectionate than dogs. (67.21%)
Boys are more generous than girls. (63.93%)
Adults are more obedient than children. (57.38%)
Children are more trustworthy than dogs. (55.74%)
Adults are more obedient than dogs. (49.18%)
The questions show the greatest false answers over the entire sample are:
Men are more affectionate than women. (6.5%)
Boys are more obedient than girls. (9.84% each)
Boys are more affectionate than girls. (9.84% each)
Boys are cleaner than girls. (11.48%)
Men are more obedient than women. (19.67%)
Boys are more trustworthy than girls. (27.87%)
Adults are more affectionate than children. (29.5%)
Men are more trustworthy than women. (32.78%)
Children are more trustworthy than adults. (37.7%)
Adults are more trustworthy than dogs. (47.5%)
Of all the dichotomous tasks, these questions have the highest average
inter-item correlation scores, showing strong inter-item associations. From
these responses, the following discrimination table was derived based on what
were inferred to be "strong" relationships versus "weak"
relationships from the complementary scores of agreement/disagreement.
Figure 4. Percentage scores of complementary strong and weak
There is a -.382 inter-correlation between strong and weak dimensions
(cleaner, affectionate, obedient, trustworthy and generous) .From this table,
the following rules were inferred:
Women are more affectionate than men.
Women are more obedient than men.
Women are cleaner than men.
Children are more affectionate than adults.
Girls are cleaner than boys.
Girls are more affectionate than boys.
Girls are more obedient than boys.
Men are more generous than women.
Adults are more generous than children.
Dogs are more obedient than children.
Children are cleaner than dogs.
From the foregoing rules it can also be inferred that women and girls are
viewed as cleaner, more affectionate, more trustworthy and obedient, and that
maleness is associated with adultness while femaleness takes on similar
patterns of being a child. Only with the characteristic of generosity did
males and adults appear stronger than women or children. Generosity can be
interpreted as a negatively valued trait (i.e., a sign of weakness) among
Chinese whose strongest spontaneous typifications of themselves is
The final dichotomous inventory was designed to elicit beliefs about the
supernatural and about fate. Because it was designed toward the end of the
study, it suffered a basic problem of translation. The sample size was
relatively small (n = 30), so the scores are collapsed into a single group.
The most agreed upon questions were:
People on earth cannot know their places in heaven. (92.5%)
Money is a cause of evil. (77.7%)
Money is good. (74%)
A person who does bad deeds is bound to suffer misfortune. (70.3%)
If a parent is wrong then heaven will punish the children. (70.3%)
Children are basically good and learn how to be bad. (59.2%)
One's fortune on earth is influenced by one's filial piety. (56.67%)
Success in money is a sign of good fortune. (51.8%)
Children are basically bad and must be taught to be good. (51.8%)
Your ancestor's will reward you if you work hard. (51.8%)
Questions upon which there was the least agreement by the answering of
false were the following:
Success in making money is a sign of one's fate in heaven. (11.1%)
One's place on earth is influenced by one's ancestors in heaven. (14.8%)
One's place in heaven is measured by one's fortune on earth. (14.8%)
The Gods can be influenced by the deeds of people. (14.8%)
A child should obey its parents even if its parents are wrong. (18.5%)
A person's fate in life determines that person's state after death. (18.5%)
Our parent's are influenced by our ancestor's fate in heaven. (22.2%)
Success in business is influenced by the worship of one's ancestors. (25%)
Our thoughts and actions can be influenced by the will of Gods. (25%)
Success in life depends upon the good will of the Gods. (25%)
A man's good fortune depends upon the happiness of his ancestors. (25%)
If a parent is wrong then heaven will punish the children. (26.67%)
Success in life depends upon the goodwill of the Gods. (30%)
Evil spirits cause human misfortune. (30%)
Fate is controlled by the Gods. (30%)
Good people are favored by the Gods more than bad people. (33.3%)
Success is a sign of respect for one's ancestors. (33.3%)
Happiness is measured by how much money one makes. (37%)
A person will suffer misfortune if spirits aren't placated. (37%)
One's ancestors in heaven are influenced by one's fortune on earth. (37%)
People are controlled by fate. (37%)
Overall agreement to the tasks as indicated by the number of true scores is
45.33%. This may signify that the task was not very well designed or
interpreted, but also that there may not be clearly uniform agreement of a
theoditical beliefs by these people of the Jetty. Many of the questions were
more inherently ambiguous, even with proper translation, thus being more
difficult for people to answer in a definite and clear way.
Qualifications to the answers, as in "People are controlled by
fate" indicate that either people were not sure or believed that our fate
was up to ourselves. Success in life depends not so much on the goodwill of
the Gods but upon "shear hard work". Human misfortune is caused as
much "by our carelessness" as it is by the Gods. Good fortune in
this life depends not so much on the happiness of the ancestors but upon
"luck" or Feng Shui. Happiness is not necessarily measured by money,
"the best is average person, do not need that much money." Many
people were reluctant to answer or unsure whether a person will suffer
misfortune if spirits aren't placated. For many, money is "number
one" and "without money things cannot be done." People
"dare not say" if one's fate in life determines a person's state
after death. Children are both good and bad so "we must teach them."
The "Gods bless everybody." Each person is for him or her self in
the world, so we must work hard. No one will know if one's place in heaven is
influenced by one's fortune on earth. One's ancestors in heaven are influenced
by the place of their burial. Money may not be the sign of one's fate in
heaven, we "cannot say whether we can go to heaven or not." If a
child does not obey its parent's even if they are wrong, then the child
"will get beaten." Success is not so much a sign of respect for
one's ancestors as it is a matter of fate.
There was an assortment of other tasks that entailed completion of sentence
frames. It appears that linguistically structured symbolic framing tasks do
elicit patterns of response comparable in many respects to the other kinds of
tasks such as the inkblots and drawing tasks. These tasks were difficult to
administer, in part because of the translation problem, but also because of a
great deal of resistance to their completion.
The problem with these type of tasks was the very low response rate and
very strong resistance in their completion. There appeared to be a number of
difficulties in their design and administering--foremost perhaps was the
difficulty of translation from English into Hokkien, which perhaps brings up a
need to reassess the argument for linguistic relativity functioning at
different syntactic and semantic levels.
Some of these tasks also clearly explored the boundaries of their world
view in a manner which they frequently found threatening. There was also a
sense that statements they could make may be linked to their own names and
identities with perhaps unknown consequences. This made the use of a tape
recorder for several of the tasks designed to elicit spontaneous, tip of the
tongue type oral responses, virtually impossible to use with anyone but less
than a handful of people. On several occasions attempting to encourage
completion of these relatively simple tasks (from an American's point of view)
led to the characteristic "ingenuine" response which was hiding the
truth and which was wasting everyone's time, and even at a point to a closure
of a small group of people of the Jetty who had previously been quite open to
The following is a set of sentence completion tasks (n = 24) that dealt
with feelings and attitudes toward family.
1. My family is.... happy (50%); cheerful; big (33.3%); small;
cooperative; "stable when my brother doesn't gamble."
2. I love... my family (41.67%); parents (25%); nature or mother
(16.67%); teacher; relatives; friends; earth; and father. "
3. People... "are good" (25%); "must be
together;" "must be realistic;" "are lovely;"
"live on the earth;" "are different;" "are created by
4. Men... "are strong" (16.6%) "must be
gentle;" "must not be selfish;" "made from soil;"
"are more responsible;" "must work to live;" "must
have a good job;" "are our protectors;" "are very
rough;" "are very lusty."
5. Women are... intelligent and the bearers of children (16.6%
each); "made from water;" make life more interesting;" caring;
"must love the family;" "refined; hardworking.
6. Sister's are... good and solve our problems (16.6%); helpful;
"family too;" friendly; clever.
7. Brother's are... good (25%); "must love each other;"
"help each other when bullied by someone;" "are helping
hands;" "are okay;" males.
8. Fathers... good (41.67%); dead (16.67%); gentle; loving;
generous, hardworking, kind.
9. Mothers... good (33.3%); housewife (16.67%); kind; gentle; dead;
lovely, friendly; hardworking; "loves my brother more but is a great
10. Children... cute (50%); naughty (25%); wise; "gift from
the Gods;" future; playful; innocent; "can like what they
11. A spouse... "must love each other;" good;
"partner of life;" "future depender;" "must take care
12. Marriage is... happiness (16.67%); "a funny and stupid
thing;" "the way of men and women;" "the way to build a
happy life;" "beginning of a new family;' "our valuable
choice;" "help each other;" "traditional
The apperceptive tasks employed upon the Jetty explored the themes of
subjective identity cast in alternate and different role relationships with
other persons. Several tasks were used. The two main tasks were constructed
using cultural themata and images derived directly or indirectly from the
local universe of the study. The other tasks included versions of the CAT and
of the SAT, all of which were mostly administered to children and young
adults. All the apperceptive tasks combined proved valuable in exploring
attitudes and identities that are clearly tied to familial roles and a kinship
model of the world. The CAT's (Children's apperception tasks) explored
primarily the parent-child relationship. The SAT (Senior apperception task)
was effective in elucidating attitudes towards the elderly and Grandparents.
The FAT (Family apperception task) was effective in exploring the range and
organization of the familial order, and the PAT (Picture apperception task)
proved of value in exploring the possible extensions of this order into a
wider universe of social relations and settings, especially in cross-cultural
The CAT -S (n= 8) was adapted from those cards of the Indian, Japanese and
English versions that were deemed most appropriate to the multicultural
context of Malaysian society, and revealed the following set of themes from a
group of children who were a little older. In these pictures there was no
great thematic elaboration or any deep, obvious Freudian content. They were
treated in a matter of fact way, even when responses were sometimes unhappy or
even disturbing. In all the pictures, the parent-child relationship is clearly
marked and demonstrates recurring themes of love, sympathy, hunger and
feeding, shopping, playing, separation, scolding, punishing, teaching and
The SAT (Senior Apperception Task designed for senior adults, n = 8) was a
little longer task of 16 cards depicting senior men and women in different
situations. There is in these responses a sense of understanding of the
feelings and predicament of the older people who are usually identified as
grandparents/parents, but also there is a general lack of sentiment for their
situation, sympathy perhaps precluded by the sense of filial obligation and
The family apperception task ("FAT", n = 14) is also of sixteen
cards and is the most revealing as far as familial relationships are
concerned. There is more sharing of alternate response types that reveals an
interesting pattern of identification with different social roles:
1. The first picture shows alternately a father biding farewell to his son
going abroad to study or to perform some feat, (58%) and a boss advising,
instructing, reprimanding a young employee (41.67%) The affinity of the boss
and the father and the son and the employee is clear.
2. The second picture shows a good, happy family with husband/father,
mother/wife, and son/child (100%) going out to play or shopping and having fun
together. The positive valuation of the nuclear family and parent/child
bonding in this picture is most salient. "The mother only has just one
child so she loves him more, if she had another, she would not love him so
3. The third picture shows a young couple sitting together, either a
husband(25%) /boyfriend (33%) and girlfriend (75%), being caught by an angry
boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/father/mother who wants to scold and kill them.
"Maybe that one is the ex-girlfriend of the boy. Because she is fat and
has short hair the boy doesn't want her. Jealous."
4. In the fourth picture the mother is lifting a child (83.3%) because they
are playing or their is a snake or the baby pissed. Alternately, a grandmother
is lifting her niece or "Teacher (male) teaching student to dance.
Holding the girl up like in gymnastics."
5. The fifth card shows a brother and a sister (91.3%) or a mother and a
child being chased or frightened by a dog (91.3%) or playing with the dog
6. The sixth card shows a boy (83.3%) who is naughty, waiting for a friend,
is very tall, or a man who is waiting or is a laborer. "He is a boy. The
boy's name is John. He goes out and fights. When he gets home, his mother
beats him. His mother sends him to stand outside."
7. The seventh card shows a doctor (41.67%), a father (33.3%) and a teacher
(25%) with a boy who is sick and needs to take medicine (91.3%).
8. Eighth picture shows a mother taking the child to or from school (75%).
In one it is a sister taking the child to school, or the mother is also the
teacher, and in another scenario it is a bad woman who has kidnapped the child
for one year. "Aunt, should I be dismissed early?" "No, you
shouldn't. You must wait until the lesson is finished." "Why?"
No, why not just follow my order. If not I will, I will..." "Will
what?" Eat you!"
9. The ninth picture shows the daughter taking the mother (41.67%) or the
granddaughter with the grandmother (25%) or an auntie (8.9%) or a bad woman
who has stolen something and has been caught or a girl introducing an older
friend to her mother. "The girl is showing filial piety toward her
mother. I think they want to go to see the doctor because their faces showing
10. The tenth picture shows a girl who is a prostitute (83.3%) between two
men who are bad men and forcing her into prostitution, or are police.
"Two boys force the woman to sign the paper. The girl is a
"chicken." She sleeps with these two men." "The girl is a
girl friend. Wear low-cut so can see the cleavage. The younger brother holds
the woman on the shoulder. The older brother looks like one holding the girl's
buttocks and her hand."
11. The eleventh picture shows a young girl (75%) playing with a rabbit on
the bed. Alternately it is a man (16.67%) with a rabbit or a bad girl with two
men. "The man is showing sympathy because he plays with the rabbit during
his free time, and he doesn't mind the rabbit smell." "She messed up
the bed so the bed is now dirty. When the mother knocked at the door she
quickly hid the rabbit under the covers. Mother asked why it is so dirty.
Rabbit ran out under covers so mother beat the girl up. The mother beat her
until she has cane marks all on her leg. So the girl decided to give up the
rabbit and put it back where she found it and walked home."
12. The twelfth picture shows three women talking (66.6%) or three girls or
three people playing (33.3%) or "a mother, grandmother and
granddaughter." (8.9%) It could be a wedding, or they are in the kitchen.
"Three snoopy women sitting in a five foot way and gossip about some
people who they don't know and none of their business."
13. The thirteenth picture shows "James and Joan were at the sports
room. They were training about the 'kung fu.' Look how Joanna was practicing
and also James. How strong their legs and hands. The muscle is big like a
chicken leg." or alternately a man and woman going to investigate
something that happened or a girl welcoming a boy to her house.
14. The fourteenth picture shows a woman with pots "See how fair she
is?" "Thinner than you!" "What?" "Thinner than
you." "Enough, look how more beautiful than the containers."
"Me once more pretty" "Stupid!"
15. The fifteenth picture shows one man sitting between two other men who
are trying to force him to do something he doesn't want.
16. The final picture shows three friends spinning a top in front of their
The final apperception task to be considered (PAT, n = 16) had 21 pictures
that were taken directly from local newspapers depicting social situations and
events that were both relatively ambiguous and also sometimes graphic,
depicting a variety themes of authority, familial relations, conflict,
disaster and accidents, violence, sexuality, school, and cross cultural
(Malay) customs etc. It appears in these tasks that the same basic familial
patterns of identification are largely carried over into most of these
pictures. It shows a strong ambivalence towards authority (i.e., the police),
with a strong recognition of the correctness of authority, as with police arm
locking a young "protester" who is a "bad person" (75%),
and at the same time a distrust of authority as being deceitful or vicarious.
It reveals themes of "mother-love" and "father-love" as
both a sense of obligation and responsibility to care for, feed and play with
the child, and these themes are largely carried over to contexts of the Malay
household. Authority and responsibility appear to be positively valued, and
women and men in uniform or in business suits are handsome and pretty.
These apperception tasks suggest that kinship is indeed central in
importance in defining personal identity and interpersonal relationships. This
model is basically a moral one of filial obligation and reciprocal duties and
interactions between parents and child. The model of parents as
care-takers/guardians/nurturers/givers of food and their inherent ambivalence
as punishers is easily extended onto other authority role models in
society--teachers, bosses, police, doctors and grandparents and uncles. Though
there is a sense of duty, there is a not necessarily a connected sense of
great romantic sentimentality.
Malaysian Ethnocultures and the Chinese-Malay
Malaysia has an unfinished history of "racial" strife. The
predicament of the Chinese in Malaysia cannot be adequately grasped outside
the framework of this history.
The key text that promulgates and functionally serves to legitimate these
policies is Prime Minister's Mahathir Bin Mohammed's, The Malay Dilemma
(1970). This book can be considered to represent in a very explicit manner the
official and unofficial policies of a Malaysian Government controlled by a
single dominant party that is itself controlled by a single dominant leader,
the author of the text.
The use of a folk notion of race underlying cultural differences between
people is to be found on almost every page of the book. In discussing
"other characteristics" of race than ethnic origin, for instance,
Mahathir notes (1970: 84) that "The Jews for example are not merely
hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively. The Europeans are not only
fair-skinned, but have an insatiable curiosity" (Mahathir 1970: 84).
Other examples abound in the text, for instance (Mahathir 1970: 96),
"Inherent racial character explains the rapid recovery of Germany and
Japan after their defeat in World War II." Closer to home, "The
Malays are not merely brown, but are also easy-going and tolerant. And the
Chinese are not just almond-eyed people, but are also inherently good
businessmen" (Mahathir 1970: 84).
The main racial argument of the book is used to explain the social
inequalities between the Chinese and the Malays, and to justify "so
called discriminatory laws" which are designed to eventually bring about
(by unstated means) a measure of social (if not political) equality between
Furthermore, it is used to define the racial basis of national unity, a
"Malaysia for the Malays"--"the basis of national unity, simply
stated, is a single ethnic group possessing a common language, culture and
religion confined in an area of definite geographical boundaries"
Promotion of Malay interests by means of an uneven quota system over
non-Malay interests can be found in all sectors of the economy--in education,
in housing, in finance, in the military and policy, in government hiring and
administration, and in rural development policies. The policies of structural
discrimination continue virtually unaltered until today. In Malaysia, since
1969, it can be said that the Malays form the dominant group, and compose a
simple majority of the total population of Malaysia. They are also the most
united under the twin umbrellas of Islam and UMNO.
Malays have adopted social practices and policies which have served to
effectively separate Malays and Chinese and which have rigidly drawn the
boundary of Malayness around themselves--the model of what it is to be
genuine, correct Malaysian as "Muslim" to the exclusion of any other
With the radical polarization of Malaysian society between the dominant
Malays and the minority Chinese, we can see the foundation and principle
motivations for the elaboration of racial politics and policies, and the rise
of what is effectively a two-tiered social system in which there are
essentially two separate levels of social status and identity which are
separate but parallel to one another in almost every way.
This structural tiering of the Malaysian system has effectively stratified
Malaysian society across the board into two separate and unequal levels. It
has simultaneously led to the embodiment in social practices and attitudes of
the very politics of race on which such a system was built in the first place.
The net consequence of this tiering has actually been to perpetuate
indefinitely, and without any hope of reconciliation or interethnic
integration, the polarization between Malays and Chinese on which it was based
in the first place.
This tiering of the system has been effected through a systematic process
of "bureaucratic encapsulation" (Strauch 1981:12) that has become
the main structural instrument of racial politics and the primary form of
manifestation of communal Muslim Malay interests. Such bureaucratic
encapsulation has effectively extended itself and brought both Malay and
non-Malay tiers under bureaucratic restriction and control at the same time,
thus killing two birds with one stone, and assuring that all relevant
positions of authority within the organs of government administration are
occupied by members and supporters of the dominant political party or one or
another of its subsidiary parties.
Through such a system, racial politics in Malaysia has become largely
embedded in the background of everyday life as a given, and largely taken for
granted "business as usual" fact of life. For the dominant majority
who are in a position of blanket advantage within such a system, there is
every reason to support it and everything is great. For the minority groups
who are in a position of blanket disadvantage within such a system, there is
little about the arrangement that is attractive or favorable, and there is a
great deal of silent resentment. At the same time there is little that can be
done by them, short of exiting the system or trying to work outside of it or
Malaysia has been not merely a radically plural society, but it has also
become a radically polarized society--dichotomously split down the middle by
the basic cleavages and conflicts of interest and values of the dominant
Malays and the Chinese who represent a large and economically strong minority
It is even more important to recognize that the pluralism of the Malaysian
mosaic has largely, from a political point of view, become the
"bi-polarization" of the society between the Malays on the one hand
and the Chinese on the other. It is this polarization between Chinese and
Malay which has largely fueled the ethnic differences and the development of
contrasting ethnicities, and the drawing of the rigid boundary between the two
groups. It has resulted in the clear ethnization of the social and political
environment, a process of emphasizing and redefining internal ethnic
solidarity and markers of ethnic identity vis-a-vis the counter reference
group, and of constructing stereotypes of the out group, which become to some
extent self-sustaining and perpetuating of the same "politics of
race" in which they are rooted in the first place.
It can be said that for the most part, Chinese and Malays live in separate
worlds within the same society, worlds between which there is relatively
little passage. Malays and Chinese eat at separate hawkers complexes, and go
to different meetings and assemblies. To live within one of these worlds is
almost automatically to preclude living within the other.
While this is true for the separate communities as a whole, in which the
community orientation tends to maintain the boundary between the groups and
reinforce in-group solidarity, it can also be said that individuals can and
often frequently pass between the two boundaries into the worlds of the other,
but only as individuals, and only under circumstances in which there is
individual and interpersonal recognition and friendship.
Communalistic expressions of ethnic solidarity are clearly strongest and
most pronounced among the dominant Malays who occupy, at almost every level,
every key position of administrative and executive authority, and who are
almost exclusively in the military and police force. Such common place and
omnipresent expressions can be considered to be part of a system of overt,
symbolic marking which highlights the significant racial differences between
the main groups. Thus, donning the veil and traditional Muslim garb, adorned
with floral patterns and metallic frills, becomes as much a social and
political statement of one's ethnic identity, advantage and political
superiority as a good Bumi Malay as it is an ethnic fashion statement or a
pronouncement to the world that one is also, by the way, a virtuous Muslim.
Communalism can be interpreted as a built-in set of reciprocal or
non-reciprocal but mutual expectations regarding different sets of
circumstances or typical behavioral settings. One can expect more special,
personal treatment from a fellow Muslim behind the window if one is a brother
(or sister) of the cloth. One can also come to expect front of the line
privileges over the non-Malay.
Such expectations constrain and influence the politics of race in critical
ways, frequently compromising authority with the application of sets of double
standards to different types of situations, along with accompanying
rationalizations and reparations, and allowing the arbitrary relaxation of
rules or restrictions in favor of promoting the communal interests and
solidarity of one's own ethnic group.
Thus, those in line and those behind the government window share a
built-in, implicit set of common expectations of mutual reciprocity and
exceptional, interpersonal versus impersonal, treatment that results in the
application of a sliding scale of authority that makes the fair and even
execution of blanket authority, however limited, difficult if not impossible
Such markers and mutual expectations of ethnic solidarity serve to
objectively reinforce within those critical social arenas those subjective
perceived relations of order in the world, and thus, provide not only a sense
of security about the normal, expected order of such relations, but
simultaneously reinforce the internalized sense of ethnic identity and
belonging to the group.
Such markers and behaviors of ethnic solidarity also provide symbolic
reinforcement for the normalcy of the order and thus are a kind of ritual
ethnocultural enactment of the sacredness, solidarity, and reaffirmation of
one's place within the system as it is symbolically projected out into the
larger world view.
Communalistic expressions of ethnic solidarity reinforce the boundaries
which on one hand define the normal relations of authority, status and
hierarchy of advantage within a designated in-group, while simultaneously
serving to exclude from normal participation any member of the out-group.
The Chinese have come to express their ethnic solidarity by the
exclusiveness and single-mindedness of their economic orientation, an
orientation which frequently precludes political or other social involvements.
Few Chinese enter government service of one form or another, and most Chinese,
at some point, enter the private sector of Chinese business to find their
fortune or fate.
Thus their symbols of such ethnic solidarity involve those symbols of
social mobility and socio-economic status--hand phones, business cards, fancy
cars, nice homes, servants.
With polarization and a two-tiered system, communalistic differences and
loyalties and ethnic solidarity are being emphasized by both the Chinese and
the Malays to the point of ethnic schismogenesis--the mutual reinforcement of
a separate and distinctive orientation vis-a-vis the other by means of the
maintenance of a social boundary.
The Malays, who have always been the dominant majority, and who have always
asserted their own Islamic cultural hegemony over Malaysia, have also
conferred upon themselves the special legitimation of being an
"underprivileged" group vis-a-vis the Chinese. This policy and
status-identity of the Malays has two consequences--again killing two birds
with one stone--first, it legitimates racial policies of discrimination which
give special advantages to the Malays, secondly, it justifies the same
policies which systematically disadvantage the Chinese. The ultimate
consequence is the perpetuation of the impassable boundaries between the two
Shared, mutual expectations of ethnic, communalistic solidarity, defined
within a top-down, repressive authority structure, affects the identity,
judgment and motivations of the members involved within such a system in
significant ways. We may then speak of appropriate contexts and situations for
the presentation of self, and for the alternation of self between fore-ground
and background, based upon the ethnic and racial identity of the significant
other with whom one is dealing.
The psychology of race and racism emerges full-blown as indirect
expressions of psycho-social identity and communalistic ethnic solidarity and
serves to further reinforce the boundaries which separate groups. This
psychology of race is reinforced by the politics of race and vice versa, such
that the structure of the system tends to reify and validate in everyday
experience, as givens, attitudes and stereotypical beliefs about
counter-reference others associated with racist beliefs and ideologies.
To the Chinese, the Malay is devoted to Islam, to the point that religion
comes to preclude successful interest in business. The Malay leads a simple
life, eating simply and dressing in nice clothes. The Chinese view the Malay
as basically easy-going and lazy people, who can be easily induced by
immediate gratification and short-term gains. The Malays, who are not as
stingy as are the Chinese, are frequently seen giving alms to beggars and
charity to other poor Malays.
To the Malay, the Chinese are unscrupulously business-minded and basically
sacrilegious (paganistic idol-worshippers and "non-Muslim").
Dressing simply, they spare no expense in eating. Defiled by a love of pork,
Chinese are dirty and stingy and uncharitable. Their exclusive preoccupation
in making money precludes a holy way of life. The Chinese is smart and crafty
and will do almost anything in order to make money.
A small but important study (Rabushka 1973) demonstrated in a clear manner
that inter-group attitudes of consociation and positive/negative ascription
are positively correlated with the amount of interethnic interaction
experienced in daily life, with different cultural predispositions toward
interaction, and with residence along the rural-urban continuum--those located
in more cosmopolitan centers were more likely to evince attitudes of positive
affect toward counter-reference out groups.
Rabushka;'s work Race and Politics in Urban Malaya (1973) reveals some of
the fundamental differences between Chinese and Malay. Chinese tend to be more
culturally ethnocentric than the Malay. More cosmopolitan contexts, inducing
social extroversion, hence greater interracial social interaction, reduces
such ethnocentrism, while social introverts tend to be much more ethnocentric
in orientation. In terms of relative social distance, and the degree of
tolerance between these groups, ".i.Penang; Malays are more tolerant of
the Chinese than their Kuala Lumpur counterparts, but they are less tolerant
on the question of interracial marriage. But omitting eating and marriage, the
two associations affected by religion, we find (with one exception) that
two-thirds of all Malay respondents are not opposed to crossing racial
boundaries in employment, social activity or neighborhood of residence"
In regard to Chinese attitudes, no religious obstacles interfere with
Chinese eating with Malays in the same eating houses. "Chinese in both
Kuala Lumpur and Penang are more tolerant of Malays than Malays are tolerant
of them. In greater degree, they are willing to eat, work, join and live with
members of the Malay race." The study holds that racial stereotypes have
little or not role in promoting social or political harmony, and that positive
or negative attitudes are relatively independent of such stereotypes.
Chinese tend to see Malay behavior in the local context as childlike, with
a lack of ambition--"traits that can be smiled on with some
condescension" (Rabushka 1973:254) These attitudes are somewhat separate
from feelings of structural discrimination as second class citizens.
"Government officials, by contrast, may be viewed as heavy-handed tyrants
spoon-feeding the Malay peasant on the one hand and constricting natural
Chinese rights on the other"(Rabushka 1973: 254).
Malay stereotypes of the Chinese; are that they are intelligent, ambitious,
active, honest, thrifty, industrious and hardworking, yet ritually unclean and
impure. The Chinese tend to see the Malays as clean, and yet lacking ambition,
while "Intelligence, thrift, activity, and honesty are given
approximately equal point values... and fall significantly below the scores
registered for cleanliness and (lack of) ambition"(Rabushka 1973:67).
Most Chinese believe that Malay racial policies are unfair. Most Malays
believe that such policies are necessary to reverse the disadvantages that
Malays suffer, ostensibly at the hands of the Chinese. Chinese do not feel a
need to adopt a subordinate or inferior status vis-a-vis the Malays, and
fundamentally resist the formation of any such complex. Malays feel a need to
compensate for and overcome those attitudes of inferiority related to their
identity that was the carry-over of the British colonial era. Symbolically,
the Chinese have come to occupy the place that the British created, and have
become the objects of Malay racial projection.
Many of the social issues which are couched in terms of race in Malaysia
can be more realistically defined in terms of ethnicity. Often "racial
politics" or the "politics of race" is used in the literature
synonymously and as connotatively interchangeable with multi-ethnic or ethnic
politics, and understanding of the position of the Chinese of Malaysia versus
the Malays is necessarily a study in ethnicity and ethnic politics.
Ethnicity has become an increasingly important consideration in the modern
integration of the world (Ratcliffe 1994). In general it can be said that
ethnization of issues, the promotion of ethnic consciousness, identity and
solidarity, and ethnic-based social organization is rarely without its current
political-economic motivations, which are frequently the exclusive prerogative
of an ethnic elite who pose themselves as the leadership, models and
trend-setters of such ethnic movements. It can also be said that no such
ethnic movements are without their symbolic ideologies and systems of
rationalization, which are often rooted in and derived from deeper religious
and ethnocultural traditions.
In the elaboration of ethnic principles of corporate organization, Brown
(1976) hypothesizes that ethnic diversity varies with closed hierarchies,
which beget community closure in the intergroup competition for resources.
Hierarchy begets cultural differentiation. Closed hierarchies can base such
cultural differentiation upon ethnic distinctions between biologically
"closed groups." Open hierarchies cannot be based upon such a
presumption of ethnocultural difference. Such societies, like traditional
Chinese society, have tremendous powers of universal incorporation (Brown,;
According to Strauch (1981:235), .i.ethnic groups;, .i.ethnic identity; and
ethnic categories are separate but interdependent phenomena in Malaysia.
Ethnic identity and categories may operate independently, but ethnic groups,
with the connotation of some form of consensus or corporate, functional
organization, must be built upon internalized identities and categories, and
in turn reinforce these. .i.Ethnic categories; promote order and expectability
in complex, heterogeneous social situations--ethnic identities result from a
labeling process relating to categorical expectations of social behavior.
Differences which arise from and primarily exist upon the structural level
may not be apparent upon the social, interpersonal level. Individuals may
readily cross ethnic-group boundaries, and individual ethnic classifications
and identity may not completely coincide with these boundaries. Tension may
exist as a "subsurface" phenomena--as a latent potentiality of
structural rift and schism. Structural discrimination may exist where social
discrimination does not. There is a general need to maintain some form of
alignment between the structural and social levels of interaction--social
conflict may lead to structural breakdown and change, while structural
contradictions may result in social conflict.
The predominant racial categories and racial policies provide the
foundation, structurally and socially, for the construction of alternate,
counter-reference ethnic identities and groups, and for the maintenance of
boundaries between these groups which preserve asymmetrical relations. Thus
race-based construction, maintenance, manipulation and negotiation of ethnic
identity constitutes a central methodology in the formation of ethnic groups
and boundaries. These identities are often stereotypical in their
appropriation of symbols and markers of identity, and we are left to consider
the role of ethnic stereotypes in the management of differences between the
Malays and Chinese and in the organization of diversity that these kinds of
differences imply in a plural society.
Promotion of ethnic identity (ethnicity) and solidarity often involves
markers of in-group identity--language, dress, behavior, styles of life,
values, attitudes, etc., which serve to both identify membership and rank
within the in-group, as well as to mark off the boundary of difference between
in-group members and non-members who are associated with other out groups.
Ethnicity and race are terms often used interchangeably, in part because
obvious markers of "racial identity" are often used in the
definition of ethnic identity. Though related, the notions of ethnicity and
ethnoculture must be critically distinguished. Ethnoculture consists of that
orientation that is more-or-less culturally embedded and traditionally
defined, whereas ethnicity tends to be defined in the social context, in terms
that are economic, religious, and political, and which tend to be more
superficial, hence transient, than more deeply embedded ethnocultural traits.
Ethnic communities in a plural setting like Malaysia, in competition in the
(now global) market place with one another, are emergent from such processes,
defining ethnic based values as reward structures, "reinforcement
priorities" or "resource systems", and come to compose networks
of "opportunity structures" (Siaw 1981:395-6).
The intrinsic nature of the Chinese community in Malaysia and its responses
to "outsiders" can best be interpreted by Max Weber's ideas about
the nature of a community in relation to ethnicity (Weber 1946). Weber
contends that ethnic or racial .i.stereotypes; are developed as a result of
competition for, and successful monopolization by groups of, economic and
social power at various levels of the society's opportunity structure.
Such stereotypes can be accumulated through what Weber calls "direct
understanding" of social action. Weber contends that meaningful social
interactions must be based on a common system of linguistic and nonlinguistic
symbols. When such a common system of symbols is absent or inadequately
developed (as, for instance, with the heterogeneity of a typical pioneering
Overseas Chinese community in the early days and the plural nature of
Malaysia's present-day multi-racial society), meaningful interaction is
hindered, hence limiting interpersonal and intergroup understanding. Such a
situation tends to strengthen in-group solidarity and heighten the ethnic and
racial stereotype conceptions of other groups, thus causing the sanctioning of
actions taken by the dominant groups, depriving the weaker ones of access to
economic and political opportunities (Siaw 1983: 395).
Rabushka considers such stereotypes as economical means for storing large
amounts of information, which might otherwise be costly to elaborate or
validate. .i.Stereotypes; do not vary in relation with social
.i.introversion/extroversion; and are not correlated with expressed attitudes
of willingness to interact. "....the holding of narrow stereotyped views
in Malaya has no visible impact on either social interchange or political
unity" (Rabushka 1973: 67).
From these findings, a conclusion is drawn, among others, that
"multi-racial living experiences do not necessarily promote racial
tolerance or political unity" (Rabushka 1973:101). The data tended to
support a "transaction hypothesis" that higher levels of daily
social interaction tends to promote higher levels of positive effect. On the
other hand, evidence points out that social integration does not necessarily
correlate with "democratic political stability"--"the
transaction model does not clearly distinguish the political and nonpolitical
aspects of "integration." Living in multiracial neighborhoods
increases affect, whereas ethnic enclaves reduces it. Education enhances
interethnic interaction, while age, religious and sexual differences have
little impact "on the extent of racial integration" (Rabushka
Stereotypes provide "cognitive models" defining expectations and
appropriate behaviors in situations of interethnic contact and interaction,
models of reciprocal expectations of behavior that can be managed and
manipulated under different circumstances to achieve status vis-a-vis the
Thus, stereotypes can be expected to be employed in contexts in which
alternative symbolic or behavioral realities as represented across ethnic
boundaries serve to threaten and "relativize" the collective
function and orientation of one's own primary reference orientation. Ackerman
and Lee (1981) refer to the use of ethnic or sub-ethnic stereotypes in mutual
ascription as a means of managing social identities in complex interethnic
interactions and as a convenient means of rationalizing differences or
handling unexpected events which occur across such boundaries.
Wallace's theory of the organization of diversity holds that a society must
have developed a set of mutually shared equivalence structures that facilitate
communication and interaction across ethnic boundaries, mechanisms which allow
for the translation of common value across such boundaries.
It is to be expected that a complex multi-ethnic society like Malaysia will
have worked out a simple set of equivalence structures for the translation of
value between groups, that the expression of these equivalence structures will
follow the idioms of the dominant group, or will be of Malay in expression or
substance, and that they will be focus to deal with interactions across the
main set of boundaries between the Malays and the Chinese.
Ethnic symbolizations are preeminently symbolisms of collective group
awareness--that are a part of the collective representations of our culture by
which we define all our experience, values, beliefs and relations with others
in the world. The collectivizing function of such symbolizations serves to
unify our experience, to render as if real the subjectivity of our awareness,
and to unite this experience inter-subjectively with other people.
The Malays and Chinese can be seen to be pursuing fundamentally different
strategies in the management of their ethnic identity and position vis-a-vis
the other group. These strategies must to some extent be characterized by a
certain amount of mutualism and asymmetrical accommodation to the other group,
through reinforcement of mutual expectations and stereotypes.
What are recognizable are a dominant, semi-explicit strategy by the Bumi
Malays as they are organized by and under the UMNO umbrella, and another
predominantly entrepreneurial business strategy that is adopted in one form or
another, and with different amounts of success, by most Chinese. Few Chinese
regard a career in government or politics as rewarding or worthwhile or even
very promising, while most Malays are probably too intimidated and insecure to
consider an entrepreneurial business strategy with the degree of seriousness
required to make such a course in life very profitable.
The very same type of attitudes which drive the Chinese to sub-ethnic and
individualistic competition and achievement within a strongly, but basically
open, sino-centric world, drive the Malays toward greater communalistic
cooperation and co-optation over non-Malays in a relatively closed
ethnocentric Malay worldview.
The Chinese community can be expected to be more divided than the Malay
community by the hyphenation of its Malay-Chinese identity and by its
interpositional relation between a tradition bound Chinese orientation and a
modern Malaysian Chinese orientation. Leadership within the Chinese community
will reflect this distribution of orientation, as well as different
expectations and ideologies of involvement in the dominant national culture.
It can be expected that few if any Malays will adopt a strongly pro-Chinese
orientation, but more Chinese may adopt a more pro-Malay orientation, while
still maintaining a sense of distinctive Chinese identity by virtue of their
Leadership orientations and socialization for leadership appear to be also
significantly different. Religious involvement and UMNO party politics
describe the leadership training for the almost exclusively male Malay world
of politics, while economic involvement, education and social activities
provide the forum of leadership socialization among the Chinese. Chinese
leadership is taking its model from the business world, Malay leadership is
finding its model in the political and religious world.
Majority-minority differences can also be seen sociologically and
asymmetries of relations between these two communities, and in the processes
which characterize these relations. There is next to no cultural amalgamation,
assimilation ,or acculturation between the two communities as these processes
are sociologically defined by intermarriage, and the adoption of dominant
majority culture or cultural values by the minority group. There is thus next
to no national integration between Malays and Chinese, or of Malaysian society
overall, occurring in critical areas. The situation in such a racially
polarized society can be described as one of minimal interethnic acculturation
between the Chinese and the Malays, and usually in the direction favoring
Malay cultural values.
Thus, while many Chinese will dress with the sarong, frequently visit Malay
hawkers and eat Malay food, and watch Malay programs and movies on television,
worship local Malay spirits or deities, and while the language of almost all
interethnic, government, or school interaction is now in the national Bahasa
Malaysia, or in the pidgin Pasar Malay, except in the world of Chinese
business which remains either dialectically Chinese or English, most Malays
will never eat in Chinese places which are considered basically contaminated
by the presence of pork, will not learn Chinese or watch Chinese movies, even
though the Malays are probably frequently using products of Chinese
manufacture or frequenting or working within businesses organized, run or
owned by Chinese on a Chinese model.
The dominant model of acculturation for both communities appears neither
the Chinese nor the Malay, but rather the values and facets of Western
cultural orientations. Western cultural values and facets are of course
adopted or effect the Chinese and Malay worlds in different ways and to
This aspect of Western acculturation demonstrates that both Malay and
Chinese groups occupy a structurally subordinate position vis-a-vis dominant
Western cultures. Thus the nature of the interrelationships between the
Chinese and the Malays is also constrained by the nature of the relationships
of either of these groups to the Western World.
To some extent it is the nature of the
interethnic competition between the Malays and the Chinese for markets,
opportunities, advantages, etc., in relation to the West, that we can see some
of the reason for the continued polarization of the two communities for
reasons other than those of a history of internal strife or irreconcilable
interethnic or ethnocultural differences or racial policies.
Many of the racially motivated policies are designed to make the Malay
community more competitive and more prosperous within a global market economy,
and often at the expense of the Chinese, while many of the Chinese business
practices in relation to foreign companies are often to the effective
exclusion of Malay participation.
By policies of systematic exclusion, the Chinese have no other option but
to go out and succeed in business. They begin in their business because they
have no other existential option to earning their income to support their
families, and then they finally figure out ways which will maximize their
income and reduce their costs, ways which will never come to pass on a meager
government salary or by working for someone else.
Both Malay and Chinese share a deeply rooted sense of the importance of
their own cultural orientations--the vitality of culture that is intimately
bound up with a sense of security, identity, feeling and reality of the self.
To threaten or to question the culture is to automatically threaten and
question the sense of reality of the self that is shared with the significant
others of his/her world. It can also be expected that the limits of tolerance
for the two cultures vary as well, such that one or the other culture may be
strained to its limits of forbearance and tolerance sooner than the other
The politically subordinate position of the Chinese minority entails that
they are inherently more vulnerable and susceptible to victimization--to
conflict and confiscation, and are less capable or willing to react violently
unless pushed to an endpoint. On the other hand, the political super-ordinate
position of the Malay majority, their "disadvantaged" orientation
vis-a-vis the Chinese minority, and the virtually unlimited arbitrariness of
their supreme authority, entails that they are more likely to respond to an
uncertain situation with violence and that it would not require a great deal
of friction to light their fuses.
Racial politics and multicultural rhetoric has been the principle platform
of UMNO from the beginning, and remains effectively the basic strategy of its
political management of Malaysia. "Economic interests are viewed in
an ethnic framework come to be seen as structured by that ethnic
framework. The shift is so subtle as to be easily overlooked or ignored
"(Judith Strauch 1980:11).
Contemporary Malaysian society is an ideal context for the development of
ethnocultural studies of human social complexity. It has long been known as a
laboratory for ethnicity. Besides providing the multicultural context for
studying interethnic relations, ethnic identity, etc., contemporary Malaysian
society conveniently juxtaposes the modern and the traditional, the developed
and the underdeveloped, the rich and the poor, native and western. Malaysian
identity is also stratified on more than one level. This multi-leveled tiering
is also cross-sected at many points by basic cleavages of sex, ethnicity, age,
language, religion, sense of tradition, history and world-view, class, rural
versus urban settings and backgrounds and the many modes of labor and
production found in any modern society.
An understanding of modern Malaysian ethnoculture stems from a general
analysis of the broader national patterns. The following set of basic problems
are important in considering this Malaysian social patterning: 1. tropical
poverty; 2. the organization of labor; 3. the dilemmas of development and
dependency; 5. asymmetrical accommodation and acculturation; 6. national
integration, solidarity and legitimation.
These six problems are themselves intertwined in complex ways, suggesting
that there can be no simple or straightforward solutions.
The patterning and complex stratification in contemporary Malaysian society
encompass a number of social differences besides race. These differences
include: 1. gender; 2. age; 3. class; 4. occupation; 5. religion; 6. lineage
and clan (especially for the Chinese); 7. rural-urban; 8. modern-traditional,
and, 9. caste. Though these differences may not be as well marked as the more
prominent ethnic 'racial' categories, they may nonetheless be basic to
Malaysian society and important in understanding its social organization.
There is a relative distribution of these different factors, as well as of
knowledge, values, sentiments, habits, stresses, etc., across a variegated and
uneven social landscape, in many ways which may cross-cut the conventional
racial or ethnic boundaries.
I introduce the Malaysian ethno-class spectrum as an ethnocultural model
which consists of a social scale in which Malaysian social patterning can be
defined by certain empirically overt patterns of behavior, dress, possession,
class and income. This scale of being and status can be used in analyzing the
overall class system of the Malaysian society, and in possibly divining some
of the basic models of identity, class and social difference upon which the
patterning of Malaysian society may be based.
We may use these distinctions and their implied statuses to examine
alternate "profiles" or shapes of the curve defined by various
dimensions of difference across the different ethnic categories. Thus Chinese
men may be distinguished from Chinese, Malay or Indian women according to the
differences in the profiles of each of these groups within the spectrum.
Familial patterns vary markedly among ethnic groups, and yet in all three
groups a familial orientation remains strong, even central, in understanding
the ethos and dynamics of the social patterning. Mobility is largely achieved
not just individually, but as an individual attached to some family unit which
is also relatively mobile. Familial immobility or factors of dependency may
hinder or effectively block individual mobility, and individual patterns of
dependency may affect adversely or positively familial patterns leading to
mobility. Families may effectively work together or pool resources to achieve
common, shared goals--including more than just the income of a husband and
wife, but of siblings and siblings-in-law as well. The small family owned and
operated businesses can be a source of much profit and eventual mobility for
many hardworking families who are able to overcome petty personal differences
in pursuit of a shared goal of fortune or success.
The close similarity between this model and the differences of class
stratification that is fundamental in any state organization, suggests a
critical connection between ethnocultural factors and class differences and
what can be referred to as "class-based" consciousness. Several
hypothetical considerations follow from this possible connection between class
and the ethnocultural spectrum:
1. Status role identity defined by one's class position, occupation and
prestige within a larger social framework is the primary determinant of the
psycho-social integration and conflicts which serve to characterize the
various categories of the spectrum.
2. Though class considerations underlie and affect all the different
dimensions, the different profiles of alternate groups suggests that class and
class-based consciousness varies significantly between the different
3. Class considerations and class-based consciousness largely underlie
ethnocultural values, attitudes, behaviors and factors of familial relation in
the construction of complex, stratified realities.
4. We can hypothesize the patterning of alternate ethnocultural
"models" which are central to and critically influence the
patterning of belief, behavior, attitudes and relations within different
ethnocultural groupings and between different categories within the different
groupings. The common identities, values, attitudes, styles of life, etc., are
most shared within the grouping and category and serve to define the social
boundaries for that grouping. We can refer to an ethnoculturally typical and
corporate "class based" consciousness and stylization of patterns of
living which stereotypically characterize different groupings and categories.
5. Ethnoculturally predominant patterns rooted in class stratification tend
to reinforce and reproduce in a conservative manner the typical class-based
consciousness and constructions of reality which preserve the overall
integrity of the class system.
6. Exogenous acculturative pressures (from totally outside the social
system) and endogenous acculturative pressures (between different groups and
categories of people who are asymmetrical), tend to have a divisive, skewing
effect upon the patterning of ethnocultural integration upon the subordinate
categories and groupings, resulting in an overall shifting of the profiles of
such categories and groupings, as well as of the entire class system.
7. Secondary institutions such as the news media, education and formal
religious organizations will serve to reinforce the received normal order of
class relations in the society, and in a characteristically Southeast Asian
pattern, will define this normal order in terms of an isomorphism between the
person, the ethnic group, the state and the supernatural.
8. Ethnocultural identities and relations rooted in class stratification
within the state will be symbolically expressed in a number of different ways.
Conflict, contradiction and "marginalizing" experiences of alternate
conflictual realities that serve to delegitimate and relativize the
collectivizing function of such symbolisms will be expressed symbolically in
terms of an "anti-structural" order rooted in rites (i.e. religion,
trancing, spirit possession, devotional worship).
Different ethnocultural models may be based upon similar factors across the
social spectrum and the different ethnocultural groupings of Malaysian
society. These factors are: 1. the family; 2. the primary ethnic community,
including religious symbolisms, dress, shared values, food, etc.; 3. the
secondary interethnic community.
Altogether, these basic factors provide a sense of obligation, emotional
attachment, social screens of support and personal identity. These factors are
expressed differently across the many groupings and categories and may work
together to reinforce one another, or may be locked in a fundamental
Furthermore, underlying all of these principles is the overarching
principle of psycho-social integration which is critically tied to status-role
identification at each of the three levels. Thus, there is a source of
constant conflict between personal desires and goals and familial relations
and obligations, communal interests and expectations, and super-communal
commitments and loyalties.
For each ethnic category, the pressures of change and conformity to
tradition will differently effect alternate ethnocultural and
sub-ethnocultural groupings and identities, and thus will have an effect of
rending in different directions the entire ethnic category that is constructed
mainly upon the basis of a shared traditional cultural orientation.
Despite great ethnic differences that characterize Malaysia, and despite
the racial politics which continue on course, evidence from participant
observation and from a variety of indirect sources suggest strongly that
Malaysians may actually share a great deal in common with one another on a
very basic level that can be considered to be a part of a rich and elaborate
national cultural heritage.
Already, there are a number of genuine "shared" values that can
be said to characterize most Malaysians no matter what age, sex, or ethnic
category. Most Malaysians value stability and security, family, work,
discipline, obedience, propriety, communal solidarity, national achievements
in development, food, religion, ethnic diversity, health, upward mobility,
social status, and peaceful, polite and friendly interrelationship with a
wider world--what might be referred to as social harmony.
Although there are obvious cultural differences among the different ethnic
groups within Malaysia, the real boundaries of basic cultural differences,
especially those of a primary orientation, are less clear-cut, and many
patterns which definitely apply to the Chinese may also apply in altered form
to other communities as well.
The poorer people of the Jetty seem largely caught in a self-perpetuating
web of social relations that is a community adaptation to poverty and which is
rooted in the common and widely shared interrelation between a number of
salient factors in "primary" and "secondary" orientations
of basic culture.
Primary orientation of children's basic culture is operationally defined as
those patterns of child behavior and response directly tied to domestic family
relations, child socialization and enculturation, parent-child relations, and
which affect mostly the child's identity and ego-development. A secondary
orientation consists of those adult-oriented institutions--religion,
education, labor, social organization, social networks and extra-familial
relations, and patterns of secondary socialization and identification, which
reinforce and affect mostly adult behavior. Intermediate, pre-adult
institutions specifically affecting adolescent and teenage culture must also
be taken into account.
At the primary level of basic culture, there are salient patterns of strong
authoritarian identification between both the parent and child, frequent and
common verbal and physical punishment of children, lack of enrichment and
deprivation of children tied to the lack of self-esteem, inconsistent
reinforcement of behavior, and orality as a primary form of compensation.
These patterns of primary socialization are reinforced by strong
nurturance, large, crowded extended family households, physical proximity and
personal closeness, early socialization and enculturation in a number of
community-wide habits which are incongruent with the dominant ethos of
national society, including gambling, profane language, early introduction to
sexually explicit knowledge, participatory involvement in certain religious
rituals, a strong sino-centrism including preference for Chinese-style
education, reliance upon Chinese medical practices and beliefs, a basic
distrust in government and police, and a lack of trust in the efficacy of
nontraditional or western medicine, lack of privacy, and widespread
involvement in local patterns of gossip and external social pressures to
communal solidarity and conformity, reinforced by threats and abuse.
These pattern of socialization are reinforced by high rates of early school
leaving, the relative lack of opportunity, experience, training or
participation within wider society, or part-time, impermanent or irregular
employment only on the most menial levels of the social structure and a
tendency to remain within the security of the local community versus more
uncertain and stressful participation within the larger world. This pattern
appears to be stronger and more prevalent among males than females, though
gender inequality and the subordination of women effectively hinders their
capacity to improve their own and their children's condition.
Thus, there may be a fundamental sense of a "personal lack of
control" over the effective environment, a basic insecurity which may be
tied to early parent-child relations and which may become extended in
adulthood onto other social relations in the wider world. Furthermore, this
sense of "lack of control" that may normally be rooted in the local
community itself may become displaced during nearly exclusive participatory
involvement in local community life onto social relations in the wider world
or onto other people or groups which are considered not to be a part of the
Many of the hypothesized patterns described above should not be regarded as
the predominant or exclusive predicament of poor Chinese, but possibly also of
poor Malays and Indians as well. It cannot now be effectively determined the
extent to which patterns characteristic of the Chinese may be shared by Malays
or Indians, nor the extent to which such patterns may be foundational to the
formation of Malaysian national culture.
I would risk making the tentative hypothesis that incomplete secondary
socialization and inadequate "undifferentiated" adult
ego-development results in greater compensatory reliance and dependency upon
external, symbolic and behaviorally defined, communally defined secondary
orientations of ethnoculture, and a basic lack of internalization of social
control mechanisms or nationally oriented values or world-view.
There may thus already exist in place the potential for a more common
foundation for national cultural unity and interethnic integration than is
currently realized or realizable within predominantly communal and
"race" oriented political policies.
A great deal of the tension present in Malaysian society can be attributed
to the loss of traditional culture, especially among the younger generation,
and especially impacting young teenage females. It can also be related to the
alienation attendant upon the adoption of new, foreign and unfamiliar values
and habits and the acculturative displacement and loss of more traditional
These constitute hierarchical and historical relations that cross-cut
racial and ethnic boundaries, that are reified by radical ethnization and the
structural reinforcement of Barthian ethnic boundaries, and that are
critically tied to the inherent dilemmas of national development within a
larger World System.
Symbolic Framing and Ethnocultural Gestalt
You can take the girl off the Jetty, but you can't take the
Jetty out of the girl.
Ethnocultural models presume that cultural reality is to some extent
"situated" within a specific social and historical context. If we
traverse cultural boundaries, we suffer culture shock. This response is
inevitable and unavoidable, even with the best of us. Not only are
ethnocultural groupings contextualized by a particular period and place, as an
historically rooted and socially entangled reality, but the symbolisms of
ethnoculture become "planted" inside of our heads. Cultural reality
occurs mostly on an implicit level--it is contextually defined and bound to
rules of practice. It is therefore also an unconscious process that moves us
in mysterious ways.
A number of different tasks were designed and administered upon the Jetty
with the aim of describing significant patterns of response by these people.
The design and inter-correlation of these tasks rests upon several related
theoretical presuppositions. In some largely unknown way and to some largely
unknown degree: 1. "Culture" is planted "inside our
heads;" 2. shared patterns of response across a common community are
significant indications of "culture"; 3. both this
"sharing" of culture and its psychological correlates are
"situated" and rooted in the common setting and group context of the
culture bearers' daily lives.
These tasks have been constructed and grouped under an alternative
theoretical framework that is only interested in these tasks as largely
perceptual gestalt-like frames in analyzing the differentiation of the
perceptual field. These symbolic frame tasks are capable of elucidating not
just any random response, but non-random patterns of response that meet
certain requirements of statistical significance in at least two ways. First,
they are capable of eliciting a limited range of similar response sets between
any number of people, and, second, they are capable of eliciting a relatively
wide, but not unlimited range of variability both within and between these
response sets. These types of response patterns I define as symbolic.
To paraphrase Gregory Bateson (1972), "structure,"
"order," "pattern," is anything with meaningful
information, a culture, a frog, a painting, such that when we draw our slash
marks through it we can guess at what is hidden on the other side by what is
apparent to us on this side.
The symbolic frame battery (or SFB) was designed during the course of the
field work with the intention of standardizing the elicitation of a series of
different symbolic frame tasks. It was designed the aim of implementing basic
controls over the administration and elicitation of response of these tasks,
and in order to simplify and ensure greater reliability of analysis between
individuals and of different tasks by the same individual. It was designed for
the purpose of cross-cultural research based upon etically measured
differences of response patterns between different cultural (or sub-cultural)
samples. At the same time it may provide an objective means of measuring the
relative "distance" between samples in terms of the profile of
scores (and hence of the cultures they represent). Correlational patterning
and differences between the samples may represent structural differences
between cultural samples. This "search" for underlying structure in
the response patterns of the symbolic frame protocol can be usefully extended
through more sophisticated techniques such as factor analysis.
What follows is an analysis of three samples of the second revised form of
the SFB as it was given to Chinese people, mostly from the Jetty (n = 35), a
small sample of British students (n =14) and of Americans (n =14).
The first task were the six MPDT figure-frame images given in reverse
order, following "form B" or the "parallel" version of the
original task (Fuller, 1982: 101-113). In terms of scoring of
reduction/enlargement of figures and of minor distortions, there were clear
differences between the samples. The chi square test for significance of total
left/right rotations between Chinese men and English/American men is 11.9,
which is significant past the .001 level. Women of all the sub-samples show
similar numbers of left and right rotations. Chi square tests between British
and American totals, English and Chinese and Chinese and American all reveal
significant differences between the .001 level.
Unadjusted average raw MPDT scores for the different sub-samples are:
Chinese as a total sample, 22.8; English as a total sample, 14.4; Americans as
a total sample, 17. These differences can largely be accounted for on the
basis of educational achievement, as the American male sample is clearly the
most strongly represented in the total number of years in school.
The third task was a revised version of the rotating frame task, which
shows a clear bipolar pattern of response, especially for the British, and to
a lesser extent, the American samples, but much more of a continuum for the
There is -.7 correlation between men's and women's scores. There is a
perfect negative correlation between Chinese and English, and Chinese and
American scores, and a perfect positive correlation between American and
English scores. Chi square comparing raw scores of American and Chinese males
and females reveals a significant difference past the .001 level.
It was apparent that the adult Chinese females had the greatest consensus,
followed by the Americans and the other Chinese sub-samples, while the English
had the least amount of agreement. There is .9 correlation of these frequency
scores between English and Chinese color patterns, a .68 correlation between
American and Chinese and a .65 correlation between American and English.
The symbolic profile (Fry, 1976) consists of six small squares on the
paper, each containing a different little symbol. In some of the squares the
"underlying" geometric form of the symbol of the square thematically
"unites" the different pictures drawn within the square, and also
provides a basic form which may take many alternate shapes. A round dot can
become grapes, marbles, suns, concentric circles, dots on the ends of pencils,
holes in walls or tables, while small squares can become elaborated into
larger rectangles--computer screens, hallways, boxes, books, puzzles or
houses. From these lists basic "symbol chains" for each sub-sample
can be constructed based on the most frequently occurring things across the
six task items.
Chinese females face 13; house 12; fish and flower 6; pencil, 5; triangle
4; flag, 3.
Chinese males triangle 6; face 5; pencil 4; flag 3; concentric circles, 2
English face 13; house, boats, and suns, 5 each; eyes, 4 flower 3; kite, 3.
Americans face 13; animals (dogs, cats, snails, snakes, fish, reindeer) 12;
ocean 4; flowers and house, 3.
The sixth set of tasks involves 5 different sets of basic items (geometric
shapes, basic symbolic shapes, animals, household things, flora and fauna).
The subjects were asked to select and rank from 1 to 10, and then to draw
lines connecting as many items together on the page by any criteria of
relationship of the subject.
There are clear, consistent individual differences in patterning of the
linkages, individual consistencies that are carried over from one task to the
next, as well as different overall tendencies for the different samples to
link things together in fundamentally different ways. Differences in
frequencies of linkages, things linked, and ratios of linkages to things
linked have been calculated for the different groups. British have more
average linkages than the American or the Chinese, and a higher average ratio
of linkages to things linked, than either the Chinese of the Americans. Also
the pattern of what kinds of things are linked to others varies considerably
between different samples, and shows some significant consistencies within
Across all of the tasks, the British had the highest average number of
linkages per task (12.8) compared to an American total average of 8.81, a
Chinese Male total average of 8.11 and a Chinese female total average of 5.97
(Chinese total average was 7.04). These averages reflect well the simple fact
of different styles of linkages, ranging from the style typical of Chinese
females of 1 linkage to every two separate things, to the American tendencies
to form longer "chains" of linkages, and to the British pattern of
forming "star clusters" and larger groupings in which everything is
implicitly connected to everything else. Relatively high correlations were
obtained with the scores of the different subsamples were interrelated across
the five tasks, with .98 correlation or above within the three cultural
groupings, and with the lowest correlations between these groupings occurring
between all of subsamples and the adult Chinese males and adult American males
respectively. These differences may be the result of the skewing of the
Chinese and American male samples and their small size.
A similar pattern exists for the average number of things connected between
the different samples, except that the Americans (12.4) are higher on average
than the British (11.6) and both are higher than the Chinese total average
(8.425). English males have the highest average (13.2), followed by American
The ratio of linkages (N) to things linked is a better indicator of the
differences of patterning between the samples, the English ratio of .97
approximates the N to N average of total connectedness. The English female
ratio of 1.14 actually exceeds this ratio, indicating a tendency to form
closed groupings. The Chinese sit at the opposite end of the continuum, with
young Chinese females (.65) and Chinese Females in total (.69) tending toward
the N to N X 2 pattern of single connections between two otherwise unconnected
objects, whereas the American pattern is clearly similar to the Chinese,
except that American males (.68) are more like Chinese Females and American
Females (.72) are more like Chinese males (.71). Americans in general tend to
form short chains of linkages, while these chains become a little longer with
Chinese Males--these chains constituting an intermediate pattern between the
English and Chinese female pattern with expected frequencies of N to (N +
The seventh task involves a 12 color rank order. Though similar in form to
the 8 color task, it should not be considered the same--it is more complex and
leads to a wider variation of choice. There is a .7 correlation between
American and English scores and between English and Chinese scores, and a .5
correlation between American and Chinese scores.
The seventh task involves the three symbolic images on which the subject is
asked to draw in each. Response patterns are very similar to the symbolic
profile with some of the same basic qualitative differences between the
samples, except that there is a greater frequency of sharing of basic shapes,
and of greater thematic unity within and between the drawings.
The final task consists of six inkblots which subjects are asked to outline
and detail anything that they may see in them. Form scores are the best
overall indicator of performance and clear perception of "gestalt"
in the inkblots. Average form score of the English sample was 26.2, compared
to an American average of 23.5 and a Chinese average of 15.7.
It is evident by these scores that in terms of overall form American males
do the best, followed by British females, British Males, American females,
Chinese males and then Chinese females. Other total averages of relative
scores of the inkblots are presented in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Average relative psychogram scores of the three
Other scores include average number of whole responses (W); number of part
whole responses (Wd); number of major detail responses (D); average number of
minor detail responses (dd); average number of K-type responses (K);, average
number of "c"-type responses (c); average number of movement
responses (M); and average number of space responses (S). Comparison of the
other scores is shown in the following table
Finally gross content scores include average number of the following
response types: whole human (H), human part (Hd) and human object (Ho), whole
animal (A); animal part (Ad); animal object (Ao); whole plant (P); plant part
(Pd); plant object (Po); Object (O); Abstract-type (Abs); Shape (Sh.) and
Figure 6. Average content scores across the three samples.
The small sizes of the cross-cultural samples compromises the statistical
significance of their differences. But consistent differences appear to occur
not only on a cultural level, but also in terms of age and sex. Basic
differences between males and females emerge as important in almost every
aspect of the study, and these differences suggest that many patterns of
culture to be found upon the Jetty are indirectly tied to a predominant
"androcentric" orientation of the culture. Differences that tend to
preclude the possibilities of an alternate orientation that might be linked to
the human development of women in society, not just on the Jetty, but in
Malaysia and in the entire world.
There is a great deal of cultural consonance and consistency of shared
values in the Jetty community. The Chinese there have elaborated a locally
situated version of a wider familial model of order which has been extended
symbolically, principally through their religion, to incorporate larger
relations with the social, natural and supernatural worlds. There is a sense
in which the mother with a cane in one hand and a candy in the other is
performing a similar role as the community shaman-turned-baby God who in a
state of semi-trance gives candy to the children while cracking his whip with
the other hand. The Gods which protect from harm and bless the jetty people
with good fortune in the lotteries or in gambling, can also punish and
chastise them for going against the established way and values of the
The traditional Chinese order of the universe is itself not without
important contradictions. Jetty society provides an entangling social web that
individuals can find very comfortable, a web that may reinforce their basic
insecurities in relation to the larger world. It also provides very basic
mechanisms and values of familial solidarity of hard work and independence
that the individual or the nuclear family can utilize to "step out"
from the Jetty into the larger social world. These serve to define the basis
of Overseas Chinese style "familial Capitalism" in the Nanyang.
In this we can refer to basic field dependency theory and the differences
between articulated and "global" personality structures, in which
the articulated personality is relatively differentiated (individually) from
the surrounding nexus of perceptual relations. "To characterize a system
as more differentiated implies, first of all, segregation of self from
nonself" (Witkin and Goodenough, 1981: 19-20). Developmental
differentiation depends upon the effective environment. It involves separate
identification and sense of autonomy, an articulated concept of the body as
having definite limits and of integrated but different parts, and the
availability of structures for controlling impulse. It includes use of
specific defenses such as intellectualization, projection and isolation,
"rather than relatively nonspecific defenses such as repression and
denial." Such differentiation is associated with neuro-physiological
specialization of brain function.
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of
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is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 08/22/06