Mahathir: Chinese custom of chopsticks makes non-Malay assimilation into M'sian society challenging

Mahathir's comments drew sharp criticism from Malaysia's former finance minister, Lim Guan Eng.

Matthias Ang | December 13, 2021, 07:45 PM

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Former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has cited the Chinese custom of eating with chopsticks as an example of why it is difficult to assimilate the non-Malay population in the country, Malaysiakini reported.

The comments were made by Mahathir at the launch of his new memoir "Capturing Hope: The Struggle Continues for a New Malaysia" on Dec. 12.

He said:

"They (the Chinese in Malaysia) preserve their own community, their own customs, their own ways.

For example, the Chinese eat with chopsticks, they don't eat with their hands. They have not adopted the Malaysian way of eating food. They retained the chopstick which is an identity with China, not with Malaysia, and many other things."

Mahathir: Tendency to identify with their country of origin despite being born in Malaysia

The former prime minister also said that despite generations being born and raised in Malaysia, there was still a tendency for communities in the country to identify with their country of origin, Malaysiakini further reported.

Here, Mahathir highlighted that there were many Indians and Arabs who had sacrificed their own ethnic identities to "become Malays."

"But others do not want to identify themselves as Malays. That is the problem," he added.

Mahathir then said that the younger Chinese maintained links to China, despite being born in Malaysia.

He said:

"So this divides the people. This is the Chinese Malaysian, this is Indian Malaysian, this is Malay. Because of that, they cannot be assimilated."

Mahathir is criticised by Malaysia's former finance minister

In response, the country's former finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, slammed Mahathir for his comments on Facebook.

Lim called Mahathir's comments offensive and simplistic to the Chinese and said that non-Malays should be integrated, instead of being assimilated.

He pointed out:

"Does that mean a Malay using chopsticks or fork and spoon to eat loses his Malayness?

In fact, many non-Chinese Malaysians and Westerners are proud of their ability to use both chopsticks as well as fork and spoon without any loss of their national identity."

Lim also highlighted that using chopsticks does not make anyone less of a Malaysian.

In adding that the contributions of the Malaysian Chinese community should not be questioned over different customs, he said:

"Malaysians of Chinese descent born here are proud of our loyalty to Malaysia and have no wish to return to a China growing with wealth and prosperity, even if given an opportunity to do so."

Malaysian netizens point out that Mahathir has used chopsticks before

Lim was not the only person to criticise Mahathir for his comments.

Malaysian netizens online also highlighted that Mahathir himself had used chopsticks before on various occasions.

Mahathir has also posted videos and photos of himself using chopsticks, such as during the Chinese New year period in January 2020.


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Top collage left photo via Mahathir Mohamad Facebook, right photo by Krista Stucchio via Unsplas