(redirected from West Malaysia)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.


Malaysia (məlāˈzhə), independent federation (2015 est. pop. 30,723,000), 128,430 sq mi (332,633 sq km), Southeast Asia. The official capital and by far the largest city is Kuala Lumpur; Putrajaya is the adminstrative capital.

Land and People

Malaysia consists of two parts: West Malaysia, also called Peninsular Malaysia or Malaya (1990 est. pop. 14,400,000), 50,700 sq mi (131,313 sq km), on the Malay Peninsula and coextensive with the former Federation of Malaya, comprising the states of Perlis, Kedah, Pinang, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka (Malacca), and Johor, and two federal territories (the cities of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya); and East Malaysia (1990 est. pop. 3,410,000), 77,730 sq mi (201,320 sq km), comprising the states of Sabah and Sarawak (the former British colonies of North Borneo and Northwest Borneo) on the island of Borneo and one federal territory, the island of Labuan. The two parts are separated by c.400 mi (640 km) of the South China Sea.

West Malaysia is bordered on the north by Thailand, on the east by the South China Sea, on the south by Singapore (separated by the narrow Johore Strait), and on the west by the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. East Malaysia is bordered on the north by the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea, on the east by the Celebes Sea, and on the south and west by Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Along the coast within Sarawak is the independent nation of Brunei. Both East and West Malaysia have mountainous interiors and coastal plains. The highest point is Mt. Kinabalu (13,455 ft/4,101 m) in Sabah. The longest of the country's many rivers are the Rajang (c.350 mi/560 km) in Sarawak, the Kinabatangan (c.350 mi/560 km) in Sabah, and the Pahang (c.200 mi/320 km) in West Malaysia. Lying close to the equator, Malaysia has a tropical rainy climate. Over two thirds of the land area is forested.

Although it makes up only 31% of the country's area, West Malaysia has more than 80% of its people. Of the total population, most of which is concentrated on the west coast, some 50% are ethnically Malay, almost 25% are Chinese, over 10% are of indigenous descent, and about 7% are South Asian (mainly Tamil). In West Malaysia, Malays comprise about one half of the population, Chinese one third, and South Asians one tenth. In East Malaysia, the two largest groups are the Chinese and the Ibans (Sea Dyaks), an indigenous people, who together make up about three fifths of the total. Conflict between the ethnic groups, particularly between Malays and Chinese, has played a large role in Malaysian history, and recent years have seen increased tension between ethnic Malays and people of South Asian descent.

Nearly all of the Malays are Sunni Muslims (they are considered to be Muslim under the constitution), and Islam is the national religion. The majority of Chinese are Buddhists (Confucianism and Taoism are also practiced), and most of the South Asians are Hindu; 9% of the population is Christian. The official language is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay), although English is used in the legal system. Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, and other dialects), Tamil, and regional ethnic languages and dialects are also widely spoken.


Malaysia has one of the highest standards of living in SE Asia, largely because of its expanding industrial sector, which propelled the country to an 8%–9% yearly growth rate from 1987 to 1997. Growth contracted during the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis, and the government was forced to cut spending and defer several large infrastructure projects. Unemployment and interest rates rose, and thousands of foreign workers, many of them from Indonesia, were forced to leave the country. The economy began recovering in 1999, and growth continued into the early 21st cent. Despite long-term efforts of the government to improve the economic status of Malays through preferences, the Chinese have generally continued their long-standing dominance of the economy. The economic status of Malays, however, has significantly improved, leading to resentment among South Asians who, though largely poor, are not eligible for the opportunities open to Malays.

Malaysia is a large producer of rubber and tin; palm oil, crude petroleum and petroleum products, electronics, textiles, and timber are also important. Since the late 1980s, the government has moved to privatize large industries that had been under state control, and foreign investment in manufacturing has increased significantly. Pinang city is the chief port. Subsistence agriculture remains the basis of livelihood for about 13% of Malaysians and agriculture provides about 8% of GDP. Rice is the staple food, while fish supply most of the protein. Cocoa, coconuts, and pepper are also important agricultural products. Industry is largely concentrated in West Malaysia. The major cities on the Malay Peninsula are connected by railroads with Singapore, and an extensive road network covers the west coast. Malaysia's exports include electronic equipment, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, wood and wood products, palm oil, rubber, chemicals, and textiles. The main imports are electronics, machinery, petroleum products, plastics, vehicles, iron and steel, and chemicals. The major trading partners are the United States, Singapore, Japan, and China.


Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and is governed under the constitution of 1957 as amended. The sovereign (the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is a largely ceremonial head of state, and is elected every five years by and from the nine hereditary rulers of Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Perlis, Terengganu, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Johor, and Perak in rotation. The current sovereign is Sultan Abdullah of Pahang.

The prime minister is head of government and must be a member and have the confidence of the House of Representatives (Dewan Ra'ayat). The cabinet is chosen by the prime minister with the consent of the sovereign. There is a bicameral Parliament. The House of Representatives consists of 219 members, all elected by popular vote in single-member districts. The House sits for a maximum of five years but may be dissolved by the sovereign. The Senate (Dewan Negara) consists of 70 members chosen for three-year terms; each state legislature elects two and the sovereign appoints the remaining 44. There is a high court for each half of Malaysia and a supreme court. Administratively, the country is divided into 13 states and three federal territories.


Foreign Influence and Settlement

(For early history of West Malaysia, see Malay Peninsula; for history of East Malaysia, see Sabah and Sarawak.) When the Portuguese captured Malacca (1511), its sultan fled first to Pahang and then to Johor and the Riau Archipelago. One of his sons became the first sultan of Perak. From both Johor and Aceh in Sumatra unsuccessful attacks were made on Malacca. Aceh and Johor also fought each other. The main issue in these struggles was control of trade through the Strait of Malacca. Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu, north of Malacca, became nominal subjects of Siam.

In the early 17th cent. the Dutch established trading bases in Southeast Asia. By 1619 they had established themselves in Batavia (Jakarta), and in 1641, allied with Johor, they captured Malacca after a six-month siege. Another power entered the complicated Malayan picture in the late 17th cent. when the Bugis from Sulawesi, a Malay people economically pressured by the Dutch, began settling in the area of Selangor on the west coast of the peninsula, where they traded in tin. The Bugis captured Johor and Riau in 1721 and, with a few interruptions, maintained control there for about a century, although the Johor sultanate was permitted to remain. The Bugis were also active in Perak and Kedah. Earlier, in the 15th and 16th cent., another Malay people, the Minangkabaus from Sumatra, had peacefully settled inland from Malacca. Their settlements eventually became the state of Negeri Sembilan.

The British role on the peninsula began in 1786, when Francis Light of the British East India Company, searching for a site for trade and a naval base, obtained the cession of the island of Pinang from the sultan of Kedah. In 1791 the British agreed to make annual payments to the sultan, and in 1800 the latter ceded Province Wellesley on the mainland. In 1819 the British founded Singapore, and in 1824 they formally (actual control had been exercised since 1795) acquired Malacca from the Dutch. A joint administration was formed for Pinang, Malacca, and Singapore, which became known as the Straits Settlements.

During this period Siam was asserting its influence southward on the peninsula. In 1816, Siam forced Kedah to invade Perak and made Perak acknowledge Siamese suzerainty. In 1821, Siam invaded Kedah and exiled the sultan. The Anglo-Siamese treaty of 1821 recognized Siamese control of Kedah but left the status of Perak, Kelantan, and Terengganu ambiguous. In 1841 the sultan of Kedah was restored, but Perlis was carved out of the territory of Kedah and put under Siamese protection.

British Involvement

Later in the 19th cent. a number of events led Great Britain to play a more direct part in the affairs of the peninsula. There was conflict between Chinese settlers, who worked in the tin mines, and Malays; there were civil wars among the Malays; and there was an increase in piracy in the western part of the peninsula. Merchants asked the British to restore order. The British were also concerned that Dutch, French, and German interest in the area was increasing. As a result, treaties were made with Perak, Selangor, Pahang, and the components of what became (1895) Negeri Sembilan. In each state a British “resident” was installed to advise the sultan (who received a stipend) and to supervise administration. The Pangkor Treaty of 1874 with Perak served as a model for subsequent treaties.

In 1896 the four states were grouped together as the Federated Malay States with a British resident general. Johor, which had signed a treaty of alliance with Britain in 1885, accepted a British adviser in 1914. British control of the four remaining Malayan states was acquired in 1909, when, by treaty, Siam relinquished its claims to sovereignty over Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu. These four, along with Johor, became known as the Unfederated Malay States.

In the latter half of the 19th cent. Malaya's economy assumed many of the major aspects of its present character. The output of tin, which had been mined for centuries, increased greatly with the utilization of modern methods. Rubber trees were introduced (Indian laborers were imported to work the rubber plantations), and Malaya became a leading rubber producer. Malaya's economic character, as well as its geographic position, gave it great strategic importance, and the peninsula was quickly overrun by the Japanese at the start of World War II and held by them for the duration of the war. The British, assuming that the attack would come from sea, had built their fortifications accordingly, but a land attack quickly drove them from the island. Malaya's Chinese population received particularly harsh treatment during the Japanese occupation.

When the British returned after World War II they arranged (1946) a centralized colony, called the Malayan Union, comprising all their peninsula possessions. Influential Malays vehemently opposed the new organization; they feared that the admission of the large Chinese and Indian populations of Pinang and Malacca to Malayan citizenship would end the special position Malays had always enjoyed, and they were unwilling to surrender the political power they enjoyed within the individual sultanates. The British backed down and established in place of the Union the Federation of Malaya (1948) headed by a British high commissioner. The Federation was an expansion of the former Federated Malay States. Pinang and Malacca became members in addition to the nine Malay states, but there was no common citizenship.

In that same year a Communist insurrection began that was to last more than a decade. The Communist guerrillas, largely recruited from among the Chinese population, employed terrorist tactics. In combating the uprising the British resettled nearly 500,000 Chinese. “The Emergency,” as it was called, was declared ended in 1960, although outbreaks of terrorism have continued sporadically.

Independence and the Birth of Modern Malaysia

The Communist insurrection had the positive effect of spurring the movement for Malayan independence, and in 1957 the federation became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations and was admitted to the United Nations. The first prime minister was Tunku (Prince) Abdul Rahman, the leader of the Alliance Party, a loose coalition of Malay, Chinese, and Indian parties. The constitution guaranteed special privileges for Malays. In 1963 Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak were added to the federation, creating the Federation of Malaysia. Since Singapore has a large Chinese population, the latter two states were included to maintain a non-Chinese majority. Brunei was also included in the plan but declined to join. Malaysia retained Malaya's place in the United Nations and the Commonwealth, and in 1967 it became one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The new state was immediately confronted with the hostility of Indonesia, which described the federation as a British imperialist subterfuge and waged an undeclared war against it. In the struggle Malaysia received military aid from Great Britain and other Commonwealth nations. Hostilities continued until President Sukarno's fall from power in Indonesia (1965). Nonviolent opposition came from the Philippines, which claimed ownership of Sabah until early in 1978.

The merger with Singapore did not work out satisfactorily. Friction developed between Malay leaders and Singapore's prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who had worked to improve the position of the Chinese minority within the Malaysian Federation. In 1965, Singapore peacefully seceded from Malaysia.

Intercommunal tension continued, however, between Chinese and Malays, and led in 1969 to serious violence and a 22-month suspension of parliament. Since then, political balance has been maintained by a multiethnic National Front coalition. Tun Abdul Razak succeeded Abdul Rahman as prime minster in 1970, and the following year Abdul Razak adopted the New Economic Policy, intended to improve the economic status of Malays through a system of preferences. When Abdul Razak died in 1976, Hussein Onn succeeded him as prime minister.

In 1981, Mahathir bin Mohamad, of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), became prime minister. Mahathir led the National Front parties to reelection victories in 1982, 1986, and 1990. Mahathir's government was criticized for repression of Chinese and Indian minorities. A formal peace treaty between the Malay Communist party (MCP) and the Kuala Lumpur government was signed in 1989.

In 1995 the National Front again triumphed at the polls, winning in a landslide. Like several of its neighbors, Malaysia suffered a recession in 1997–98; however, unlike those that accepted financial aid from the International Monetary Fund, Malaysia took matters into its own hands. In Sept., 1998, it discontinued trading in its currency and imposed sweeping controls on its capital markets, particularly on investment from overseas; by mid-1999, the economy had begun to recover, though economic growth was slower compared to previous years.

Also in Sept., 1998, Mahathir dismissed his heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim, who held the posts of deputy prime minister and finance minister. Anwar was found guilty of corruption charges in Apr., 1999, and sentenced to six years in prison, setting off unusual public protests; in Aug., 2000, he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to nine years. Both convictions were condemned by international rights groups. In the Nov., 1999, elections the National Front again won a resounding victory, but big gains were made by the Islamic party of Malaysia (PAS), which increased its seats in parliament to 27 from 8, largely as a result of support from Malays who had previously voted for the UMNO. A party formed by Anwar's supporters and led by his wife did poorly.

A tough new law against illegal foreign workers, which took effect in 2002, forced many Indonesians and Filipinos to leave Malaysia. This strained relations particularly with Indonesia, where as many as 400,000 returned home. In Oct., 2003, Prime Minister Mahathir stepped down and was succeeded by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, deputy prime minister since 1999. At the time of his resignation, Mahathir was the longest serving government leader in Asia. Five months later Badawi won a mandate of his own in parliamentary and state elections when the National Front coalition increased its sizable parliamentary majority by a third, winning 90% of the seats and 64% of the vote. PAS suffered significant losses at the national and state levels. In Sept., 2004, Anwar Ibrahim's conviction on sodomy charges was overturned, and he was released, his corruption sentence having been already reduced.

A second wave of some half million illegal immigrants left Malaysia in late 2004 and early 2005 under a government amnesty before the government began arresting and expelling illegal immigrants in Mar., 2005. By May, however, when the slow influx of Indonesians with work permits resulted in a worker shortage, Malaysia agreed to allow Indonesians seeking work to enter on tourists visas. In 2006 there was sharp public verbal jousting between Prime Minister Abdullah and his predecessor, and Mahathir found his influence in UMNO greatly diminished.

In late 2007 and early 2008 there was increased public unhappiness on the part of Malaysians of South Asian descent with their lagging standard of living (relative to Malays and Chinese). These concerns carried over into the parliamentary elections in Mar., 2008, and the National Front, though retaining a majority, failed to win two thirds of the seats for the first time since 1969, and lost control of five states as well (one state returned to National Front control in 2009). PAS, Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice party (PKR), and the largely Chinese Democratic Action party all gained seats. The election results led to calls for Abdullah to resign, and he eventually announced that he would step down in Mar., 2009.

Anwar, meanwhile, sought to organize the opposition to defeat the government through parliamentary defections and a no-confidence vote. In June, 2008, however, he was again accused of sodomy, this time by a former aide. He denied the charges and accused the government of conspiring against him to remain in power. Anwar nonetheless was elected to parliament by a landslide in a by-election in August, but he was not successful in securing the parliamentary defections necessary to bringing down the government. Anwar later was acquitted (Jan., 2012) for questionable evidence, but a government appeal resulted in his conviction in Mar., 2014. (His 2014 conviction occurred shortly before he was to run for the Selangor state assembly, which was expected to lead to his become Selangor's chief minister; he was imprisoned in Feb., 2015, after his conviction was upheld.)

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak succeeded Abdullah as UMNO leader in Mar., 2009, as planned, and the following month Najib became prime minister. A court ruling in Dec., 2009, that Christians could use the word Allah to refer to God (a usage that is not unusual in other Muslim countries) sparked an outbreak of anti-Christian violence and resulted in increased religious tensions; an appeals court overturned that decision in 2013 and was upheld by the supreme court in 2014.

In July, 2011, frustration with the slow pace of economic and political reforms led thousands to protest Kuala Lumpur against the government despite the rally having been banned by the government and police efforts to prevent it and to disperse and arrest demonstrators. Filipino supporters of one of the claimants to the title of sultan of Sulu, a former territory that included parts of N Borneo and the S Philippines, occupied locations in E Sabah beginning in Feb., 2013; the invasion led to fighting with Malaysian security forces.

In the May, 2013, general elections, the National Front retained a majority in parliament but lost the popular vote to the three-party opposition coalition led by Ibrahim. The win was the result of gerrymandering and unequal electoral districts; the opposition also accused the National Front of fraud. The elections marked a clear shift in the country's politics, with the opposition in general supported by richer, urban, and Chinese voters and the National Front by poorer, rural, and Malay voters. Subsequently, Najib's government reemphasized policies that favored Malays and suppressed dissent, abandoning earlier tentative moves toward liberal reform and adopting more openly pro-Islamic positions.

A corruption scandal involving 1MDB, a Malaysian development fund founded by Najib's government, threatened the prime minister in 2015 when media reports said an investigation had found that nearly $700 million appeared to have been transferred from 1MDB to Najib's accounts. Najib denied the reports and dismissed his deputy prime minister, who had criticized him, the attorney general, and other government members; Najib's efforts to shore up UMNO support led to resignations and dismissals from party leadership positions in 2016. In Jan., 2016, the new attorney general cleared Najib, saying that the money was a donation from the Saudis and was not made corruptly, and that $620 million had been returned; he also said that there was no evidence that Najib was aware of other deposits made to his accounts from a 1MDB subsidiary.

Subsequently, former prime minister Mahathir and other political leaders not aligned with Najib called for him to resign, and a parliamentary investigation was critical of 1MDB's leadership and board. 1MDB also was the subject of several foreign investigations involving money-laundering rule violations. A U.S. investigation led to a civil case that sought to recover more than $1 billion in assets that had been purchased with money stolen from 1MDB; some of the assets were held by persons close to Najib. U.S. officials alleged that in all more than $3 billion had been stolen, and implied that large sums had been transferred from 1MDB to Najib's accounts.

Despite electoral changes designed to further solidify the National Front's control of parliament, Najib and his coalition lost control of parliament in the May, 2018, elections to the Coalition of Hope, which was led by Mahathir, and Mahathir again became prime minister. The new government soon launched an investigation into the 1MDB scandal, and beginning in July Najib was indicted on corruption and other charges relating to 1MDB. Tensions in the governing coalition led to its collapse in Feb., 2020, and Muhyiddin Yassin, a Malay nationalist who had been a member of the governing coalition, became prime minister with the support of UMNO and PAS. In Jan., 2021, amid increasing dissatisfaction in UMNO over its role in the coalition and renewed concerns over COVID-19's spread, Muhyiddin secured the declaration of a six-month state of emergency from the king, which suspended parliament and the state legislatures and blocked any challenge to Muhyiddin's government. It was the first state of emergency in 50 years.


See N. J. Ryan, The Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (4th ed. 1969); R. O. Winstedt, Malaya and Its History (7th ed. 1966, repr. 1969); J. Gullick, Malaysia: Economic Expansion and National Unity (1981); B. and L. Andaya, A History of Malaysia (1984); J. A. Lent and K. Mulliner, ed., Malaysian Studies (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Federation of Malaysia.

Malaysia is a state in Southeast Asia, consisting of two parts separated by the South China Sea: West Malaysia (Malaya), occupying the lower Malay Peninsula, and East Malaysia, composed of Sarawak and Sabah and situated in northern and northwestern Kalimantan (Borneo). The country is a member of the British Commonwealth. West Malaysia is bounded by Thailand on the north; on the west and southwest it is separated from Sumatra by the Strait of Malacca; and on the south it is separated from the island of Singapore by the narrow Strait of Johor, which is spanned by a causeway. East Malaysia is bounded by Indonesia

Table 1. Territorial division of Malaysia
StatesArea (sq km)PopulationAdministrative centers
West Malaysia
Johor (Johore)...............19,0001,274,000Johor Baharu (Johore Baharu)
Kedah ...............9,500955,400Alor Setar
Kelantan ...............14,900680,600Kota Baharu
Melaka (Malacca) ...............1,600403,700Melaka (Malacca)
Negeri-Sembilan ...............6,600479,300Seremban
Pahang ...............35,900503,100Kuantan
Perak ...............20,7001,562,600Ipoh
Perils ...............800121,100Kangar
Pinang ...............1,000776,800Pinang
Selangor ...............8,2001,629,000Kuala Lumpur
Terengganu ...............13,000405,800Kuala Terengganu
East Malaysia
Sabah ...............76,100655,300Kota Kinabalu
Sarawak ...............124,900975,000Kuching

on the south and southeast and by Brunei on the northeast. The area is 332,800 sq km, with 131,800 sq km in West Malaysia and 201,000 sq km in East Malaysia. The population is about 11 million (1972, estimate), of which 9.2 million were in West Malaysia and 1.73 million in East Malaysia. The capital is Kuala Lumpur. (See Table 1 for the area and population of different parts of Malaysia.)

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy consisting of 13 states—nine sultanates and four governorships. The present constitution was adopted in 1957 and amended by the Malaysia Act of 1963. The head of state is the supreme ruler (yang di-pertuan agong) who is elected for a five-year term by the Council of Rulers. Only the heads of the sultanates participate in the election, and only the ruler of a sultanate who has attained majority may be elected. Under the constitution the supreme ruler has broad powers: he appoints the high officials of the federation, serves as the supreme commander of the armed forces, and has the right to convene and dissolve parliament, approve legislation, and grant pardons. In actuality he exercises his powers only on the recommendation of the government.

The highest legislative body is the parliament, composed of the supreme ruler and two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate, or Dewan Negara, has 58 members, of whom 26 are elected by the legislative assemblies of the states (two from each state) and 32 are appointed by the supreme ruler on the prime minister’s recommendation. Senators serve for a term of six years. The House of Representatives, or Dewan Ra’ayat, has 144 members elected for a five-year term by universal and direct suffrage; 104 deputies are elected from West Malaysia and 40 from East Malaysia. All citizens who have attained the age of 21 may vote, and voters must have resided in the election district for at least six months prior to the election.

The highest executive body is the government (cabinet) headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the supreme ruler.

Each sultanate has its own constitution, granted by the sultan and guaranteed by the constitution of Malaysia, and its own agencies of authority and administration. The constitutions of the governorships are incorporated within the constitution of Malaysia. Each monarchical state is headed by a hereditary or elected sultan, and the remaining states are headed by governors appointed for four-year terms by the supreme ruler after consulting the state’s chief minister. The head of each state appoints the government (executive council), which is headed by a chief minister. Legislative authority rests with the ruler or governor and a legislative assembly indirectly elected for a five-year term.

The districts are administered by officials appointed by the central authorities. There are also municipal and local councils, most of whose members are popularly elected, but whose activities are strictly controlled by the government.

The court system of Malaysia includes a federal court, two high courts (one for West and one for East Malaysia), district courts, magistrate courts of the first and second class, and courts of local chiefs. Each state has a court system based on Muslim law.


Malaysia lies in the equatorial zone. Its coastline is little indented, and its shores are low-lying, often swampy, and rimmed by coral reefs in northeastern Kalimantan.

Terrain. A large part of the Malay Peninsula is occupied by hills and low and medium mountains ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 m in elevation (the highest peak is Mount Tahan, 2,190 m) and stretching from northwest to southeast. The mountains are composed of granite, quartz, limestone, and clay shale, and the longitudinal valleys separating them are filled with loose deposits. Along the southwestern and northeastern coasts and in the southern part of the peninsula stretch alluvial plains, up to 90 km wide and swampy over large areas.

Lowlands are also found along the shores of Kalimantan. Inland the lowlands give way to hills and mountains rising to 2,000-2,400 m, composed mainly of granite, crystalline schist, and sandstone. The highest peak in Malaysia is the isolated massif Mount Kinabalu (4,101 m) in northern Kalimantan, in the coastal Crocker Range.

Climate. The southern Malay Peninsula and Kalimantan have an equatorial climate and the more northerly regions a subequatorial monsoon climate. Although the average monthly temperature fluctuates little in the course of the year, ranging from 25°C to 28°C in the plains, daily temperature variations reach 15°C. The annual precipitation is 2,000-2,500 mm in the coastal regions, up to 4,000 mm in some mountain areas, and more than 5,000 mm on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu. Most of the precipitation is in the form of torrential rains. There is abundant rainfall throughout the year in the central and northern regions, with the maximum occurring between November and January and the minimum in the summer. The low-lying regions are extremely humid.

Rivers. Malaysia has a dense river network. The rivers are relatively short but have considerable volume, and their discharge and water level rise sharply in the season of torrential rains. The longest rivers are on Kalimantan, attaining a length of 500 km, such as the Rajang, Baram, and Kinabatangan. The rivers are shorter on the Malay Peninsula; its longest river, the Pahang, flows for 320 km. The lower reaches of the more important rivers are navigable, but their deltas are often swampy.

Soils and flora. Podzolized laterites predominate, with alluvial soils occurring in the lowlands. Evergreen tropical rain forests cover about three-fourths of Malaysia, growing mainly in the lowlands and on mountain slopes to elevations of 1,500 m. These forests contain a great variety of plant species, with palms, tree ferns, pandanuses, and bamboo predominating. At higher elevations the forests become mixed with trees typical of the subtropical zone, such as evergreen oaks, laurels, and rhododendrons, and in the relatively dry intermontane basins grow thickets of xerophytic shrubs. Mangrove forests flourish along the coasts, giving way to low nipa palms furthur inland. In the upper regions of the highest mountains, such as Kinabalu, forests are replaced by meadows.

Fauna. Malaysia’s fauna belongs to the Indo-Malay zoogeo-graphic zone. It is extremely diversified, with forest species predominating. Among the large animals are elephants, rhinoceroses, honey bears, tigers, panthers, wild oxen, and anthropoid apes, such as orangutans and gibbons. Tapirs, crocodiles, and pythons 8 to 10 m long are native to Malaysia. The most common arboreal mammals are tree shrews and lemurs.

The fauna and flora of the tropical forests are protected in the Taman Negara National Park, situated on a mountain plateau in the eastern part of the Malay Peninsula, and the Bako National Park on Kalimantan.

Natural regions. The Malay Peninsula is covered with hills and low mountains overgrown with tropical forests. Kalimantan has swampy lowlands and medium and high mountains, a lush tropical vegetation, and altitudinal landscape zonality.


Dobby, E. Iugo-Vostochnaia Aziia. Moscow, 1952. (Translation from English.)
Geologiia Iugo- Vostochnoi Azii: Indokitai. Leningrad, 1969.

The ethnic composition of Malaysia’s population is complex. Peoples speaking languages of the Malayo-Polynesian family, such as the Malays and Dayak, constituted more than 54 percent of the population in 1970; Chinese, about 36.7 percent; and Indians, about 8.6 percent. In West Malaysia the Malays, together with related peoples of Indonesian origin, numbered about 4.6 million in 1970; Chinese, 3.3 million; and descendants of immigrants from India, mainly Tamils, about 1 million. The oldest inhabitants of the region speak languages of the Mon-Khmer family (Senoi and Semang, totaling about 30,000 persons) and of the Malayo-Polynesian family (Jakun, 8,000). The Malays live throughout West Malaysia, chiefly in its northwestern and eastern parts, and the Chinese and Indians are concentrated along the western coast and in the large cities. In East Malaysia the indigenous peoples, including the Dayak, Iban, and Klemantan, numbered about 930,000 persons in 1970, and related Indonesian peoples (Malays and Javanese) totaled about 240,000 persons; there were also 470,000 Chinese.

The official language is Malay, and the state religion is Islam, professed by the overwhelming majority of the population speaking Indonesian languages. There are about 300,000 Christians, mainly Catholics. Most of the Dayak adhere to their ancient animist beliefs, although those living in the coastal regions have been converted to Christianity. The Chinese are Buddhists and Confucians, and the Indians are Buddhists, although some are Muslims. The official calendar is the Gregorian, but the Muslim and Buddhist lunar calendars are widely used in everyday life.

Malaysia’s high rate of population growth, averaging 3 per-cent per year, results from natural increase. Before World War II the population also increased through immigration from India, Indonesia, and other countries of Southeast Asia. The population of West Malaysia grew by about 40 percent between 1957 (census) and 1970, and of East Malaysia by 36 percent between 1960 and 1970. According to the 1957 census, 57.6 percent of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, as compared with 55 percent in 1965, and manufacturing employed only 6.3 percent. Many of those employed in agriculture are plantation workers. In 1970 there were 169,300 unemployed.

The population distribution is extremely uneven. Although the average density is about 30 persons per sq km, the density reaches 200-300 persons per sq km in some areas, mainly along the western coast and in the southern part of West Malaysia. Urban dwellers constitute about 45.3 percent of the population in West Malaysia and 18.4 percent in East Malaysia. The major cities are Kuala Lumpur, with about 1 million inhabitants in 1972, Pinang, Ipoh, Johor Baharu, Kelang, and Melaka (Malacca).

The period of primitive communal relations and of the early states (to the 15th century). Malaysia has been settled since the early Paleolithic. The earliest inhabitants were Negro-Australoid tribes. Between the third and first millennia B.C., Austronesian tribes from southwestern China moved into the Malay Peninsula, and by the end of the first millennium B.C. the primitive communal system of these tribes had begun to disintegrate. The ancestors of the modern Malays began arriving in the area of present-day Malaysia from central Sumatra at the beginning of the first millennium A.D. The formation of classes and states on the Malay Peninsula owed much to trade and cultural relations with India, the appearance of Indian colonists, and the introduction of Buddism and Hinduism. The first states, such as Langkasuka, Tambralinga, and Kedah, arose in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula at the crossroads of trade routes between India and China.

The social and economic structure of the early Malay states has been little studied. They were probably early-feudal states with some slaveholding. The center of such a state was usually a port city at the mouth of a river, which extended its power over the nearby valley. The ruling class derived its major revenues from trade. Usually these city-states were either actual or nominal vassals of powerful neighboring empires. From the third to the sixth century they were dependent on Funan, and in the eighth century on the Srivijaya empire on Sumatra. The northern principalities, of which Tambralinga was the most important, came under the domination of the Thais in the late 13th century, and the principalities in the southern part of the peninsula recognized the authority of Majapahit in the second half of the 14th century.

The development and strengthening of feudal relations and the beginning of European colonial expansion (15th to late 18th centuries). In the 15th century and the early 16th the Malay Peninsula, the Riau Islands, and eastern Sumatra were united under the rule of the Malacca Sultanate. The rise of Malacca coincided with the rise of Brunei in the northern part of Kalimantan. Islam spread to Brunei in the late 15th century, and the Brunei sultans subjugated almost the entire northern part of Kalimantan, present-day East Malaysia.

After Portuguese colonialists captured the Malacca Sultanate in 1511, several sultanates arose in the western part of Malaysia (Malaya), of which Johore in the south was the most important. The 16th through the 18th centuries saw the further development of feudal relations, the emergence of feudal property ownership, and the intensification of feudal fragmentation. The development of money relations increased the number of persons in debt bondage, and slavery persisted.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries Johore sought to extend its rule over all of Malaya. Its main enemies were first the Portuguese and later the Dutch, and its chief rival was the Acheh Sultanate in northern Sumatra. The struggle between Johore, Acheh, and Malacca, where the European colonialists had established themselves, determined the political life of the states in Malaya in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dutch, allied with Johore, captured Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, and Johore extended its rule over large parts of Malaya and the eastern coast of Sumatra in the second half of the 17th century. Attempting to gain control over the export of tin and the trade through the Malacca Strait, the Dutch clashed with Johore, weakened in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by serious internal disorders (the popular uprising of 1712) and by a war with Jambi from 1666 to 1683. In 1722 control of Johore passed to Bugis feudal lords, who fought the Dutch colonialists. During wars with Johore in 1756-58 and again in 1783-87 the Dutch broke its resistance and imposed an unequal treaty. In the late 18th century Johore disintegrated into several small states and West Malaysia was completely fragmented. East Malaysia was less affected by colonial expansion. The efforts of Spanish colonialists to establish themselves in Brunei in the late 16th century failed.

British colonial rule (from the late 18th century to 1957). From the late 18th century British colonial expansion decisively influenced the history of the Malay states. In its first phase (from 1786 to 1824) the British seized Penang Island in 1786, Wellesley Province in 1800, and the island of Singapore in 1819; in 1824 the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of London declared Malaya to be within the British sphere of influence. In 1826 Great Britain’s possessions in Malaya were united to form the Straits Settlements Presidency. In the course of the second phase of British colonial expansion (from 1824 to 1867), British influence in Malaya was consolidated. The transformation of the Straits Settlements into a crown colony in 1867 initiated the third phase of British expansion in Malaya, which lasted until 1914. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, Great Britain seized the Malay states of Perak, Selangor, Negeri-Sembilan, and Pahang. Under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 Siam was compelled to cede to Great Britain the sultanates of Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Perlis in the northern part of the peninsula; in the south, Johore was the last state to be subjugated. Great Britain’s Malayan possessions were reorganized into the colony of British Malaya.

In the 19th century the British colonialists also seized East Malaysia, which was part of the Brunei Sultanate. In 1841 the British adventurer J. Brooke received from the sultan of Brunei the right to govern Sarawak, where he founded the dynasty of the White Rajahs. The British North Borneo Company, founded in 1881-82, extended its control over Sabah by the late 19th century, and Sarawak and Sabah became British protectorates in 1888. The local population resisted British expansion, and major revolts against the colonialists in the 19th century included the Kedah war in 1791, the Naning war in 1831-32, the uprising in Perak in 1875-76, the Pahang uprising in 1891-94, and the Mat Salleh uprising in Sabah in 1894-1900.

Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak were gradually reduced to serving as a source of raw materials and a place for British capital investment. A colonial economy developed. Malaya became a one-crop rubber-producing country (output rose from 200 tons in 1905 to 71,000 tons in 1914) and a supplier of tin (50,000 tons in 1903), and Sabah and Sarawak supplied lumber, petroleum, rubber, and pepper.

As British Malaya was drawn into the world capitalist economy, capitalist relations developed within the country. Plantations for the cultivation of export crops, large tin mines, banks, trading posts, and insurance and transport companies were established. A consumer goods industry arose during World War I (1914-18). Until World War II the bourgeoisie and working class were composed mainly of Chinese and Indian immigrants. In 1911, Malays accounted for 51 percent of the population of British Malaya, Chinese for 33 percent, and Indians for 11 percent, as compared with 49.2 percent, 35 percent, and 14 percent, respectively, in 1921.

In the epoch of Asia’s “awakening” the formation of national and class consciousness and the development of the national liberation movement was accelerated. Under the influence of the Revolution of 1905-07 in Russia and the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in China and India, the first bourgeois-democratic organizations were founded in British Malaya. In 1915, Indian army units mutinied in Singapore, the country’s administrative center, and that same year peasants in Kelantan rebelled against the colonialists’ taxation policy.

Transformed by British monopolies into suppliers of rubber, tin, and lumber, the economies of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak became dependent on capitalist market conditions. The economies of these British possessions did not fully recover from the worldwide economic crisis of 1929-33 until the outbreak of World War II. Output declined and unemployment rose. After the 1929-33 crisis 11,000 plantation workers in present-day East Malaysia were left unemployed, and in 1938-39, 40,000 of the 100,000 tin miners in British Malaya lost their jobs. Social and economic growth produced an ethnically Malay working class and the nucleus of a Malay bourgeoisie by the beginning of World War II.

Marxist-Leninist ideas reached the country after the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, and the first Marxist groups and democratic trade unions were organized in Malaya in the 1920’s. The national liberation movement in China and India, particularly the Chinese revolution of 1925-27, stimulated the rise of such organizations in Malaya as the Revolutionary Kuomintang Committee of Malaya and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Movement. Strike and anti-imperialist movements intensified in 1929. The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was founded in 1930, and the first general strike occurred in 1934. The bourgeois nationalist movement also gained ground at this time with the formation of the Kuomintang of Malaya, which drew its support from the Chinese bourgeoisie; the Central Indian Association, ideologically close to the Indian National Congress Party; and the Young Malay Union, a nationalist Malay youth organization.

During World War II the territory of present-day Malaysia was occupied from December 1941 to 1945 by the Japanese, who established a colonial military regime. The country suffered mass unemployment and famine. In Malaya the urban population and plantation and mine workers settled in the jungle and cleared forest tracts for planting food crops; by 1945 there were about 500,000 such squatters. The anti-Japanese movement was especially strong in Malaya, where the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army, formed in 1943, was assisted by the civilian Anti-Japanese Union. The movement was led by the CPM, which rallied Malaya’s three basic nationalities around the anti-Japanese movement, called the Three Star Movement. After Japan’s surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, the Anti-Japanese Army disarmed the Japanese troops, and democratic governing bodies, the people’s committees, were established. In Sarawak, Communists formed the nucleus of the Antifascist League, which fought the Japanese invaders. An anti-Japanese uprising took place in Sabah in late 1943.

Returning in 1945, the British colonialists sought to reimpose the former regime, harshly repressing the democratic parties and organizations in Malaya and simultaneously attempting to undermine the national liberation movement by political manipulation. Under the constitutional reforms of 1946 and 1948, Singapore was separated from Malaya, which became a British colony called the Malayan Union in 1946; in 1948 the union was renamed the Federation of Malaya. Sarawak and Sabah came under the jurisdiction of the British Colonial Office in 1946.

In June 1948 the British authorities adopted an open policy of suppressing the national liberation movement in the Federation of Malaya by force of arms. They declared a state of emergency and outlawed the CPM and other democratic organizations, such as the Democratic Alliance, the National Party, and trade unions, all of which had banded together to form the All-Malaya Council of Joint Action. The CPM went underground and launched a partisan war against the British, and the Malayan People’s Liberation Army was created in February 1949. Although the British colonialists sent large military forces against the partisans, they found it necessary to make concessions. They permitted the formation of parties representing the interests of the feudal aristocracy and the bourgeoisie— the United Malays National Organization, the Malayan Chinese Association, and the Malayan Indian Congress, which formed the Three Party Alliance in 1953 and united in a political coalition known as the Alliance Party in 1957. Such petit bourgeois parties as the All-Malaya Labor Party, the People’s Party, and the People’s Progressive Party were also allowed to function. The 1955 elections to the Legislative Council of the Federation of Malaya were won by the Three Party Alliance, which advocated independence within the Commonwealth. Abdul Rahman, who headed the coalition, formed a government, and the independence of the federation was proclaimed on Aug. 31, 1957. However, British imperialists continued to dominate rubber production, tin mining, banking, and foreign trade and wielded considerable political influence. This trend was strengthened by a defense treaty concluded in 1957, under which British, Australian, and New Zealand troops were stationed in the Federation of Malaya and Singapore.

Independence. In 1957 power in Malaya passed to the coalition, represented by the Alliance Party, which in the 1959 parliamentary elections won 73 out of 104 seats. Abdul Rahman, the leader of the United Malays National Organization, which dominated the coalition, formed a new government. In Sabah and Sarawak political parties and trade unions emerged in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. On June 9, 1963, an agreement was signed in London between Great Britain, the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak providing for the formation of the Federation of Malaysia within the British Commonwealth. The Federation of Malaysia was proclaimed on Sept. 16, 1963.

The creation of the federation caused a break in Malaysia’s trade and diplomatic relations with Indonesia and the Philippines, which protested the inclusion of North Kalimantan in the federation. The Indonesian government proclaimed a “confrontation” with Malaysia, which lasted until 1966. The parliamentary election of April 1964, held at a difficult period in the country’s domestic and foreign affairs, was won by the Alliance Party, which gained 125 out of 159 seats in the House of Representatives.

By the summer of 1965 economic, political, and national problems caused relations to deteriorate between the Malaysian government and Singapore, which withdrew from the federation on Aug. 9, 1965.

Since the mid-1960’s political life has become more active in West Malaysia, where the Malaysian People’s Movement and the petit bourgeois Marhaen Party were founded in 1968. These two parties joined several existing groups in opposing the ruling Alliance Party. In the elections of 1969 in West Malaysia the Alliance Party’s parliamentary representation fell from 89 to 76 seats, and the opposition parties elected 25 deputies. The elections were followed by the most serious clashes in Malaysia’s history between the Malay and Chinese communities, and a state of emergency was declared that lasted until 1971. The 1970 elections in East Malaysia were won by a coalition of the Sarawak United People’s Party and the Alliance Party, which supported the government of Malaysia.

Upon the expiration of the 1957 defense treaty with Great Britain in 1971, a five-power defense pact was concluded between Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore, providing for political consultation in the event of “external threat” to Malaysia and Singapore and for the continued stationing of British, Australian, and New Zealand troops in the area, although the total strength of these forces was reduced.

In the second half of the 1960’s Malaysia’s foreign policy took a new direction, reflected in a proclamation of nonalignment and peaceful coexistence as the basis of the country’s foreign policy. In 1970, Abdul Razak, who was prime minister from September 1970 to January 1976, proposed a plan for neutralizing Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s new foreign policy was most clearly revealed in the establishment of contacts with the USSR and other socialist countries and in its government’s anticolonialist actions, such as its protest to the British government against the sale of arms to the Republic of South Africa in June 1970. Diplomatic relations between the USSR and Malaysia were established on Apr. 3, 1967, a trade agreement was signed, and the first Soviet trade and industrial exhibition was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. Malaysia has also established diplomatic and trade relations with Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the German Democratic Republic, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic, and several other socialist countries. In 1972, when Malaysia’s prime minister Abdul Razak visited the USSR, Malaysia and the USSR signed agreements on economic, technical, cultural, and scientific cooperation.


Rudnev, V. S. Ocherki noveishei istorii Malaii (1918-1957). Moscow, 1959.
Rudnev, V. S. Malaiia, 1945-1963. Moscow, 1963.
Rudnev, V. S. Malaiziia (1963-1968). Moscow, 1969.
Tiurin, V. A. Zavoevnanie Malaii Angliei. Moscow, 1962.
Zherebilov, V. A. Rabochii klass Malaii. Moscow, 1962.
Khrenov, Iu. F. Severnyi Kalimantan, 1839-1963. Moscow, 1966.
Emerson, R. Malaysia: A Study in Direct and Indirect Rule. New York, 1937.
Gullick, J. Malaysia and Its Neighbours. London, 1967.
Purcell, V. Malaysia. London, 1965.
Runciman, S. The White Rajahs. London, 1960.
Winstedt, R. O. The Malaya: A Cultural History, 4th ed. London, 1956.

The parties of the governing coalition have united to form the National Front. The leading parties of the coalition are the United Malays National Organization (founded in 1946), the Malaysian Chinese Association (founded in 1949), and the Malaysian Indian Congress (founded in 1946). These parties represent the interests of the Malay feudal-bourgeois elite and the Chinese and Indian big and middle bourgeoisie.

The National Front also includes (1976) the Islamic Party, the Malaysian People’s Movement (Gerakan), the People’s Progressive Party of Malaysia, the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, the Sarawak United People’s Party, and the Sabah Alliance Party. The opposition parties are the Democratic Action Party, the Party of Social Justice, the Parti Sosialis Rakyet Malaysia, the Sarawak National Party, the Kesatuan Insaf Tanah Ayer (KITA), and the Independent People’s Progressive Party. The Communist Party of Malaya, founded in 1930, has functioned illegally since 1948.

The trade union movement is fragmented: 260 trade unions were registered in 1969. The most important national trade union center is the Malaysian Trade Union Congress founded in 1949, which unites some 100 trade unions with a total membership of about 400,000.

General state of the economy. The long period of colonial domination determined the nature of Malaysia’s economy, based on the production of raw materials and dependent on foreign capital, mainly British. Although structural changes have occurred since independence, the production for export of rubber, tin, lumber, oil-palm and coconut products, and other agricultural and mineral raw materials remains the foundation of the economy.

The government’s economic policy is designed to make Malaysia’s economy less dependent on the foreign market, to reorganize the backward structure of the economy, to create new manufacturing industries, and to overcome narrow specialization in agriculture. The state has initiated long-range planning, such as the five-year development plans for 1966-70 and 1971-75. Between 1966 and 1970 the gross national product increased at an annual rate of 6.5 percent. The development plans encourage the growth of the state sector, which is gradually expanding, although the private sector remains dominant, and foreign capital is actively sought. State participation is found chiefly in the development of agriculture and the infrastructure. Large foreign capital holds key positions in the major branches of the economy. In 1969 foreign firms, mainly British but also American and Japanese, controlled 62 percent of the stock of companies operating in Malaysia. Foreign capital is for the most part invested in plantations, the mining and smelting of tin, oil refining, and the chemical, food and condiments, textile, leather, and rubber industries. The role of local capital, primarily Chinese, is increasing.

Economic development has been uneven in the different parts of the country. Agricultural and industrial production is confined to the western and southern regions of West Malaysia, and the northern and eastern parts of West Malaysia and northern Kalimantan are still poorly developed.

Agriculture. The chief branch of the economy is agriculture, accounting for almost a third of the gross national product in 1971. There are diverse modes of production. The most important mode of commodity output is capitalist production, represented by large plantations, mostly foreign-owned. Small-scale production includes small Chinese farms that raise chiefly export crops and Malay peasant farms that cultivate rice and other food crops. In East Malaysia there are strong survivals of the patriarchal and communal system, and the slash-and-burn method is still practiced in some areas. Large numbers of peasants own no land and are either tenant farmers or hired laborers on large plantations. To increase the output of export and food crops, new agricultural regions are being developed under a special government program.

Rubber production is the most important branch of agriculture and of the economy as a whole. In 1972, 2 million hectares (ha) were planted to rubber trees, yielding 1,345,000 tons of natural rubber, or 44 percent of the world output. The introduction of hevea, which almost displaced tea and coffee cultivation in the early 20th century, grew into a “rubber fever” caused by an enormous demand on the world market. To serve the interests of British capital, rubber trees were planted not only on estates but also on small farms. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, because of fragmentation and sale to small farms, the area occupied by large estates declined to a third of the total area planted to hevea. More than half of the rubber output is produced on large plantations.

The second most important crop is the oil palm, grown mainly on large plantations. The area planted to oil palm is rapidly expanding and reached 370,000 ha in 1971, as compared with 55,000 ha in 1960; in 1972 the output of palm oil was 658,000 tons and of palm kernels 138,000 tons. Other important export crops, grown chiefly on small farms, are coconut products (copra and oil), pineapples (255,000 tons in 1972), and pepper (29,000 tons, mainly in Sarawak). The output of rice, the chief food crop, increased owing to the introduction of high-yielding varieties and irrigation; the yield of the 552,000 ha planted to rice rose from 450,000 tons in 1959 to 1,005,000 tons in 1970-71. About one-fifth of the rice consumed is imported. Vegetables, fruit, tobacco, and tea are also raised. Animal husbandry is poorly developed. In 1970-71 there were some 600,000 head of cattle, about half of them buffalo, and about 1 million pigs. Another important industry is fishing. The annual catch, mostly in the coastal waters, is about 400,000 tons. Timber production, chiefly for export, is steadily increasing, reaching 10.7 million tons in 1970; the output of sawn timber is about 2 million tons.

Industry. Despite the development of manufacturing, Malaysian industry is dominated by mining, particularly the extraction of tin ore, which accounts for four-fifths of the value of the mineral output. The major ore-bearing region stretches from north to south in the western part of the peninsula. The principal mining area is the Kinta Valley in the state of Perak, and processing enterprises are centered in Taiping and Ipoh. There are more than 1,100 mines, of which the largest, yielding one-third of the output, are chiefly owned by British companies; most of the small mines are owned by local entrepreneurs. In 1972 the output of tin concentrates totaled 76,800 tons (metal content), or 40 percent of the capitalist world’s output.

The exhaustion of two major deposits in West Malaysia caused iron ore production to drop from 5-7 million tons in the 1960’s to 500,000 tons in 1972; the bauxite output was 1.1 million tons. Other important minerals include gold and ilmenite, and 3.4 million tons of petroleum were produced in Sarawak in 1971. In 1972 the electric power output in West Malaysia totaled 4.1 billion kilowatt-hours, generated mainly by steam power plants.

The principal manufacturing industries continue to be tin smelting, sawmilling, and the processing of agricultural raw materials, such as the production of sheet rubber, coconut oil (429,000 tons in 1972), and canned pineapples. Industrial enterprises established in the 1970’s, largely with the participation of foreign capital, include plants for the assembly of automobiles, motorcycles, and farm machinery, electrical engineering plants (instruments and radios), and a metallurgical plant. By the end of 1971 there were 210 enterprises of new industries in West Malaysia. Using Malaysian and imported raw materials, the two British smelting plants at Pinang and Bagan Jaya produced 91,000 tons of tin, or more than 47 percent of the capitalist world’s output. Malaysia has also textile, cement, and chemical industries. Handicrafts are well developed, especially pottery, jewelry-making, and lace-making.

Transportation. West Malaysia’s major railroads and highways connect the ports with the interior and are used mainly in foreign trade. West Malaysia has 2,300 km of railroads (1972) and 17,600 km of highways (1971); in 1972 there were 287,000 automobiles, 65,000 trucks, and 6,800 buses. In East Malaysia transportation is poorly developed: Sarawak has no railroads and 492 km of highways (1969), and Sabah has 185 km of railroads and 500 km of highways (1970). Maritime shipping, including cabotage, is important, but the country’s commercial fleet is small. In 1972 the freight turnover of the major ports was 5.4 million tons at Port Swettenham in Kelang, 3.3 million tons at Pinang, and 1 million tons at Sandakan. A national airline was founded in 1972, and there are international airports in Kuala Lumpur, Pinang, and Kota Kinabalu.

Foreign trade. The major exports are rubber, accounting for 30-40 percent of export earnings; tin, 18-20 percent; lumber, 16 percent; petroleum and petroleum products, 4-7 percent, chiefly reexports from Brunei; and palm oil, 7.5 percent. The major import commodities are machinery and equipment (30 percent), food and condiments (18-20 percent), fuel (12-14 percent), and ferrous metals (6 percent). Rubber, tin ore, and other raw materials are imported for processing and reexport. The major trading partners are Japan, Singapore, the USA, Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Chinese People’s Republic. Trade relations with the USSR are expanding. The monetary unit is the Malaysian dollar.


Latysheva, I. Malaiziia. Moscow, 1972.

Malaysia’s armed forces consist of ground troops, an air force, and a navy. The commander in chief is the supreme ruler, and the minister of defense directs the army through the armed forces staff. The army is maintained by voluntary enlistment. Commanders are trained at Malaysian military schools, as well as in the USA and Great Britain. The overall strength of the armed forces was about 50,000 men in 1972. In addition Malaysia has territorial and police units numbering about 50,000 men. The ground troops of about 43,000 men consist of infantry brigades, separate regiments, and special forces. The air force of about 4,000 men is equipped with about 30 combat and 60 auxiliary aircraft and helicopters, and the 3,000-man navy has about 35 patrol and other vessels.

Medicine and public health. In 1970 the birth rate in West Malaysia was 33.8 per 1,000 inhabitants and the death rate 7.3 per 1,000; infant mortality was 40.8 per 1,000 live births. In Sabah the 1970 birth rate was 48 per 1,000 inhabitants, the mortality rate was 12.4 per 1,000, and the birth rate was 29.1 per 1,000 live births. In Sarawak the figures are 48, 12.5, and 30.6, respectively. Infectious and parasitic diseases predominate. The chief causes of death are cerebrovascular diseases, pneumonia, tuberculosis, malignant neoplasms, and gastrointestinal disorders. Tuberculosis, malaria, and leprosy are major health problems; 87 percent of the population inhabits areas where malaria is endemic. There is a high incidence of the tsutsugamushi, amebiasis, Brug’s filariasis (in the lowlands), wuchereriasis, ascariasis, and necatoriasis. Smallpox and cholera occur regularly. Anemias and ailments resulting from protein and vitamin deficiencies are common; 22 percent of the children suffer from kwashiorkor.

In 1970, Malaysia had 85 urban state hospitals and 1,167 rural health centers with 32,400 beds, or 3.1 per 1,000 inhabitants. In that year West Malaysia had 213 hospitals with 33,400 beds, or 3.8 per 1,000 persons. Outpatient services are provided by 59 state hospitals, 83 polyclinic divisions of hospitals, and 275 government and 61 private dispensaries and clinics. In addition, there are 194 mobile dispensaries. In 1970, West Malaysia had 2,500 doctors (one per 4,120 persons), of whom about 700 were employed by the state, more than 270 dentists, 162 pharmacists, and about 10,000 intermediate medical personnel.

In 1970, Sabah had 13 hospitals with 2,000 beds (3.2 per 1,000 inhabitants), 98 doctors (one per 50,000 persons), 15 dentists, and about 750 intermediate medical personnel. In 1971, Sarawak had 17 hospitals with 2,100 beds (2.1 per 1,000), 90 doctors (one per 11,100), 130 dentists, and about 1,000 intermediate medical personnel. Doctors are trained at the medical school of the Malay National University; there are also schools for training nurses, mid wives, and other intermediate medical personnel.


The public education system consists of a six-year primary school (from age six to 12), a three-year lower secondary school, and a two-year upper secondary school. The upper secondary school comprises an academic division, with specialization in the humanities, natural sciences, or technical training, and a vocational division. Students wishing to enter the university must complete the sixth form of the secondary school, a two-year academic program with specialization either in the humanities or natural sciences. Vocational training in trade schools is available to those who have completed the primary school, and graduates of secondary schools are eligible to attend either secondary or advanced technical colleges.

Primary school teachers are trained at three-year training centers, open to graduates of primary schools. Secondary school teachers are trained at two-year training centers, at two-year advanced teachers colleges, open to graduates of secondary schools, and at universities. Higher education is provided by the University of Malaya (founded in 1959), the National University in Kuala Lumpur (founded in 1970), and the university in Pinang (founded in 1969), with a total enrollment of 10,000 students in 1972.

In 1970 school enrollment in West Malaysia included about 1.4 million primary school pupils, about 379,000 students in lower secondary schools, 89,400 students in upper secondary schools, and more than 11,000 students in the sixth form. In that year there were 11 teacher-training centers (six for primary school teachers with 1,300 students and five for secondary school teachers with 1,400 students), three secondary technical colleges with 1,900 students, and three advanced technical colleges with 4,300 students.

In Sabah in 1970, 128,500 pupils attended primary schools, 32,300 students were enrolled in secondary schools, and there were three teachers colleges. Sarawak had 153,600 students in primary schools, 32,300 students in secondary schools, and three teachers colleges.

Kuala Lumpur is the site of the National Library of Malaysia, founded in 1971 and containing about 110,000 volumes, and the National Museum, founded in 1963 and housing collections of archaeology, ethnography, and zoology.


The leading scientific institution is the Rubber Research Institute, founded in 1925 in Kuala Lumpur, which maintains laboratories and experimental plantations. The institute conducts research into agrotechnology and the processing and use of natural rubber. The Research Institute of Agriculture, founded in 1969 in Kuala Lumpur, studies the production of palm oil, cotton, tobacco, and other export crops. The Geological Survey is engaged in geological mapping and mineral exploration. A forest research center was founded in 1929 in Kepong, and a fisheries research station was established in 1957 in Batu Berendam. The Medical Research Institute in Kuala Lumpur, founded in 1900, is among the most important in Southeast Asia. It studies problems of bacteriology, virology, entomology, cytology, hematology, biochemistry, and vaccine production. The National Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, founded in 1970, seeks to promote industrial development and the fuller and more efficient use of the country’s natural resources. Research in the humanities is conducted by the Malaysian Historical Society, the Malay Language and Literary Agency, founded in 1959, and the Tamil Language Society, founded in 1957.

Of the 45 newspapers published in Malaysia in 1972, six were issued in Malay (circulation 270,000), 12 in English (circulation 416,000), 22 in Chinese (circulation 600,000), three in Tamil, and two in Punjabi (combined circulation 33,000). The most influential Malay-language newspapers are Utusan Melayu, Utusan Malaysia, and Berita Harian. The major English-language newspapers are the New Straits Times, with a circulation of more than 120,000, and the Malay Mail. The leading Chinese-language newspapers are Nanyang Siang Pao, Sin Chew Jih Pao, Chung Kuo Pao, and Malayan Thung Pao. The Tamil Nesan is the most important Tamil-language newspaper. Local newspapers are also published in Sabah and Sarawak and in some of the large cities. The National News Agency, Bernama, was organized in 1967.

Radio programs are broadcast in Malay, English, Chinese, and Tamil. A television center, established in 1963, is linked with several cities by relay stations.

The literature of Malaysia is written in Malay, Chinese, and Tamil, reflecting the country’s ethnic composition—the indigenous Malays and the Chinese and Indian immigrants—and in English. Literature written in Malay occupies the central position. The founder of modern Malay literature was Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munshi (1796-1854), who is noted for his travel notes and his autobiographical chronicle Tale About Abdullah (1849), in which he criticized social inequality and the ignorance of the feudal rulers. The dissemination of enlightened ideas was facilitated by the emergence of Malay-language newspapers in the last quarter of the 19th century and by the Islamic reform movement that arose in the early 20th century under the influence of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and M. Abduh. In 1925-26 Syed Sheikh al-Hady (1867-1934), a leader of the reform movement, published the novel Faridah Hanum, portraying life in modern Egypt. Later, Syed Sheikh, Ahmad Nawawi bin Muhammad Ali (born 1904), Ahmad bin Ismail (1899-1969), and other writers published numerous adaptations of the novels of J. Zaydan and other Egyptian writers of the early 20th century. Ahmad bin Haji Muhammad Rashid Talu (1899-1939) wrote the first didactic novels with Malay characters, True Friend (1927) and Is This Salma.? (1928).

With the rise of nationalism in the 1930’s, there was a growing interest in modern Indonesian literature, whose influence may be seen in the novels of A. Samad bin Ahmad (born 1913), A. Bakhtiar (1902-61), Raja Mansor (died 1946), and Shamsuddin Salleh (born 1905). Patriotic and anticolonialist themes are treated in the novels of Abdullah Sidek (born 1913), author of Stolen Inspiration (1940) and Let’s Fight (1941), and particularly in those of Ishak bin Haji Muhammad (born 1910), a leader of the radical nationalist movement and author of The Spirit of Mount Tahan (1937) and The Son of the Mad Mat Lela (1941). The publicistic and didactic short stories of Abdul Rahim Kajai (1894-1943) appeared in newspapers. Such writers as M. Yasin Maamor sought to modernize the poetic language.

Anticolonialist sentiment grew stronger among Malay writers after the Japanese occupation. Poems and short stories dealing with pressing social problems dominated literature between 1945 and 1957. When the Malay Peninsula came under martial law in 1948, the center of literary development shifted to Singapore. Here in 1950 a group of young short-story writers and poets, including Keris Mas (born 1923), Usman Awang (born 1928), S. N. Masuri (born 1927), M. Asraf (born 1927), and A. Samad Ismail (born 1924), founded the literary association The Generation of Writers of the Fifties, advocating “art for society.” Didactic novels about contemporary life and on historical subjects were written mainly by writers of the older generation, notably Harun Aminurrashid (born 1907), A. Murad, A. Lutf, and A. Bakhtiar. Several writers who were released from British political prisons in the mid-1950’s also wrote novels dealing with social and moral issues, including the leaders of socialist organizations Ruhi Hayat (Ahmad Boestaman, born 1920) and Ishak bin Haji Muhammad, who published most of their works after independence had been proclaimed and Kuala Lumpur had become the literary center of Malaysia. The government-subsidized Language and Literature Council was founded in Kuala Lumpur in 1956 and the National Union of Writers in 1958.

The rise of critical realism in the novel owes much to Hasan bin Muhammad Ali (born 1928), author of the novel The Wanderer (1959), and even more to A. Samad Said (born 1935), whose novel Salina (1961) condemns war for the suffering and degradation it causes. Corruption among bureaucrats and politicians is exposed in the satirical novella The Blessed Rat (1963) by Hassan Ibrahim (born 1938) and in the novels The Circle (1965) by Arena Wati (born 1925), The Crisis (1966) by Alias Ali (born 1937), and The Prime Minister (1969) by Shahnon Ahmad (born 1933). Ethnic and social problems are treated in A. Samad Ismail’s novel Inch-Long Fishing Line (1967) and Shahnon Ahmad’s novel The Minister (1967). Many works depict the transformations in the life of the peasantry, notably the novels The Abandoned Little Village (1964) by Ibrahim Omar (born 1936), Keep Left (1968) by Yahaya Ismail (born 1940), Happy Wandering (1966) by Abdullah Hussain (born 1921), and Over the Foam (1971) by Alias Harun (born 1939). S. Othman Kelantan (born 1938) portrays the hard life of fishermen in his novel Northeast Wind (1969).

After a brief infatuation with experimental forms, Malay poets are again striving for clarity of language and image. Several anthologies of poems in defense of landless peasants appeared in 1967, for example, The Gulf of Gong. Important collections of poems have been published by S. N. Masuri, Usman Awang, Kasim Ahmad (born 1933), and Ruhi Hayat. Writers from other ethnic groups are also beginning to use Malay.

Literature in Tamil, which is spoken by the majority of Malaysia’s Indian community, arose in the late 1930’s, closely linked to the development of journalism radio, and television. Representative authors include K. Perumal, T. S. Shanmugam, B. S. Narayanan (born 1929), and M. Sethuraman, who write poetry on traditional Indian themes and plays and short stories about the life of Malaysia’s Indian community.

Literature in Chinese is also important. Most of Malaysia’s Chinese writers of the 1920’s and 1930’s were emigres, and the literary organizations, including the Singapore League of Left Writers, were offshoots of literary associations founded in China. The development of Chinese-language literature in Malaysia was influenced by prominent Chinese writers who at various times lived in Malaysia and Singapore, including Hsü Tishan, Hsü Chieh, Ma Ying, Yü Ta-fu, and Pa Jen. Among the best-known writers of the 1920’s and 1930’s were Ch’en Kuei-fang, Kuo Le-hsien, Lin Ts’an-t’ien (born 1904), T’ieh K’ang (1913-41), Fang Pei-fang (born 1919), and Ch’iu Hsü-hsu (1907-67). A major theme in their work was the struggle against the British colonial regime.

Since World War II works written in Chinese have tended to incorporate more local color and to be oriented toward readers in Malaysia. Together with such writers of the older generation as Wei Yun (born 1911), Lien Shih-shen (born 1904), and Li Ju-lin (born 1914), an important contribution to the development of prose, including the novel, has been made by several writers born in Malaya, such as Miao Hsiu (born 1920), Chao Jung, and Hsieh K’o (born 1931). Many collections of poems have been published by Wei P’ei-ya, Ch’ung Ch’ih, Yüan T’ing, Liu Pei-an (born 1903), Chou Ts’an (born 1934), and Miao Mang (born 1935).

Since World War II English-language literature has also been developing, represented by the prose writers S. Radjaratman (born 1909), Lee Kok Liang (born 1927), T. Wignesan (born 1933), Ooi Boon Seng (born 1940), Kasim Ahmad, Lloyd Fernando, and Balan Sundram and by the poets Wong Phui Nam (born 1935), Goh Poh Seng (born 1936), and Lie Geok Lan (born 1939).


Parnikel’, B. B. “Ot khikaiata k rasskazu.” In U obochiny shosse: Rasskazy malaiskikh pisatelei. Moscow, 1963.
Demianova, I. I. “Genezis zhanra romana v novoi malaiskoi literature.” Narody Azii i Afriki, 1972, no. 3.
Bunga emas: An Anthology of Contemporary Malaysian Literature. Edited by T. Wignesan. [London, 1963.]
Li Chuan Siu. Ikhtisar sejarah pergerakan dan kesusasteraan Melayu modern, 1945-1965. Kuala Lumpur, 1967.
Li Chuan Siu. A Bird’s Eye View of the Development of Modern Malay Literature, 1921-41. Kuala Lumpur, 1970.
Yahaya Ismail. Kesusasteraan modern Melayu dalam esei dan kritik, vols. 1-2. Singapore, 1967-68.
V. V. SIKORSKII and D. N. VOSKRESENSKII (Chinese-language literature)

The oldest relics of Malaysian art include Neolithic pottery, menhirs dating from the second half of the first millennium B.C. (at Alor Gajah in Malacca), and bell-shaped bronze ritual drums akin to the Vietnamese ngoc Iu (at Klang in Selangor). The culture of the states that arose in the northern Malay Peninsula in the first centuries of the Common Era was similar to that of Indonesia. It was influenced by the culture of India, from whence came Hinduism and Buddhism.

Under Indian influence an indigenous culture developed between the eighth and 13th centuries. In the Buddhist sculpture of this period elements of Indian iconography are blended with local ethnic traits, and decorative art objects such as pottery, fabrics, weapons, and jewelry combine indigenous ornamentation (triangles and sawtooth patterns) with Indian motifs (lotus, naga serpent). The architecture of the eighth to 13th centuries survives in the ruins of Buddhist temples at Kedah, resembling the biaro of Sumatra. Chinese artistic influence intensified in the 12th and 13th centuries, chiefly in the decoration of metal and ceramic vessels.

Under Islamic domination in the 17th and 18th centuries, mosques and tombs were built in Perak and Kedah. With the coming of the colonialists in the early 16th century, Malay culture declined and European art forms were introduced. The cities that were founded after the mid-19th century, such as Pinang and Kuala Lumpur, were divided into European, Chinese, Malay, and Indian quarters, and their architecture mingles European, Chinese, and Indian Muslim styles. In rural areas the Malays have constructed wooden or bamboo frame houses on piles from earliest times. The Chinese and Indians build wooden frame houses with packed earth floors.

Today, Malaysian pictorial art is represented by traditional Chinese painting in india ink, by traditional Indian watercolors and pastels, and by oil paintings in the European style. There are many examples of native Malay, Indian, and Chinese sculpture, as well as works by European artists. Popular artistic crafts include ceramics, weaving, and wickerwork.


Tiurin, V. A. “K voprosu ob istokakh malaiskoi kul’tury.” Vestnik istorii mirovoi kul’tury, 1959, no. 3.
Beamish, T. The Arts of Malaya. Singapore [1954].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Malaysia

Capital city: Kuala Lumpur

 Internet country code: .my

 Flag description: Fourteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top) alternating with white (bottom); there is a blue rec­tangle in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a yellow crescent and a yellow 14-pointed star; the crescent and the star are traditional symbols of Islam; the design was based on the flag of the United States

National anthem: “Negaraku” (My Homeland)

National flower: Hibiscus

Geographical description: Southeastern Asia, peninsula bordering Thailand and northern one-third of the island of Borneo, bordering Indonesia, Brunei, and the South China Sea, south of Vietnam

Total area: 127,316 sq. mi. (329,749 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; annual southwest (April to October) and

northeast (October to February) monsoons

Nationality: noun: Malaysian(s); adjective: Malaysian

Population: 24,821,286 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%, other 7.8%

Languages spoken: Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai; in East Malaysia there are several indigenous languages, the most widely spoken of which are Iban and Kadazan

Religions: Muslim 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chi­nese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8%

Legal Holidays:

Christmas DayDec 25
Labour DayMay 1
National DayAug 31
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a federation in SE Asia (within the Commonwealth), consisting of Peninsular Malaysia on the Malay Peninsula, and East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), occupying the N part of the island of Borneo: formed in 1963 as a federation of Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah, and Singapore (the latter seceded in 1965); densely forested and mostly mountainous. Official language: Malay; English and various Chinese and Indian minority languages are also spoken. Official religion: Muslim. Currency: ringgit. Capital: Putrajaya (the transfer of government from Kuala Lumpur is taking place in stages over several years starting 1999). Pop.: 24 876 000 (2004 est.). Area: 333 403 sq. km (128 727 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Much to official consternation, the spokespersons of Kadazandusun groups at various times have upheld the idea of their being the 'definitive' people of Sabah, thereby reappropriating the term used by the Mahathir Mohamad who years ago claimed that the Malays were the 'definitive' people of West Malaysia. (47) The pribumi category introduced in the 1980s was strongly opposed by leaders of non-Malay natives because of the potential of making all natives the same, with the possibility of non-Malay natives losing out on being the 'definitive people'.
He also concludes that the Sarawak Chinese literature is not only different from the Chinese literature in China, Taiwan, North America, but also utterly different from that in West Malaysia (Tian, "The Essence of Sarawak Chinese Literature" 31).
Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia; The Indian Case.
A survey was conducted at 32 different rice fields in coastal zone of Sebarang Perak in West Malaysia to identify most common and prevalent weeds associated with rice.
After modification the vessel will be renamed the FPSO Cendor and deployed offshore Terengganu in West Malaysia. Cathelco will be supplying the anti-fouling electrolysis tank system to protect seawater inlets and pipework against blockages caused by barnacles and mussels.
Vasil R L "Politics in a plural society - A study of a non-communal political party in West Malaysia" Oxford University Press 1971 Kuala Lumpur p-3
Mark's Training Center of Anglican Diocese of West Malaysia. First located in Zion Cathedral, then Sentul Methodist High School (1983-1990) and then in the Roman Catholic Church's Xavier's Hall in Petaling Jaya (1990-1998), after this ecumenical journey it finally settled in 1998 on land courtesy of a Catholic agency in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan.
OCBC Bank has helped to raise capital to support home building efforts in West Malaysia.
In chapter 4, the relationship between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak is considered, and how the first indigenous Chief Minister of Sarawak, an Iban, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, was unseated to make way for an Iban puppet to please West Malaysia. It also details what are referred to as the turbulent years, although this turbulence largely arose from family discord between Taib Mahmud and his uncle, Abdul Rahman Yakub, and conflicts over the distribution and control of timber licenses, rather than some tension arising from deep-seated political differences.
Dental epidemiological survey of school children in West Malaysia 1970-71.
Having stamped their mark in West Malaysia, Sarawak is the last frontier for the opposition to work their influence to achieve their aim of wresting control of the federal government.
P1 WiMAX now covers over 40% of the West Malaysia population.

Full browser ?