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Psychological Warfare Aspects of the Propaganda Campaign in the Federation of Malaya, June-December 1948

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This report produced by the Federation of Malaya's Department of Public Relations documents its efforts to combat the Chinese Communist insurgency through psychological warfare and information campaigns. It covers the first six months of the Emergency from June to the end of December 1948.






1. It is necessary to bear in mind that in the present war in the Federation of Malaya which is described by the title of "Emergency", not the least of the difficulties facing the Security Forces is the differentiation between friend and enemy, particularly in so far as the Chinese section of the civil population is concerned. A similar situation arises in considering problems of propaganda and psychological warfare and it is the Chinese also who present the major difficulty.

Accordingly it is not possible to draw a rigid line of demarcation between propaganda material directed to the public and that directed to the enemy, for the former includes the greater proportion of the latter.

2. Distribution of material specifically addressed to enemy forces and their supporters obviously also presents difficulties. A known concentration of bandit forces is necessarily bombarded with rockets rather than with propaganda leaflets, and propaganda prepared for enemy consumption can only be assumed to reach him if it is widely distributed to the public, particularly in squatter areas, not all the inhabitants of which are necessarily bandit supporters.

3. For these reasons it is necessary in the consideration of psychological warfare aspects of the propaganda campaign first to review briefly the whole propaganda picture.

Persons requiring a less detailed survey can obtain it by reading only from paragraph 12 onward.




The planning and execution of publicity and propaganda to the public and the enemy in local languages during the Emergency are directed by an Emergency Publicity Committee, the composition and directive of which are shown in Appendix 'A'.

5. The Committee regularly reviews progress made in all fields of Emergency publicity and makes recommendations to Government when necessary and also for the guidance of the Propaganda Sub-Committees which, under the same Chairman, work out the detailed planning and the presenta­tion and production of propaganda material in appropriate languages.


The general plan, to the themes of which all propaganda leaflets to the public and the enemy are to some degree related, is shown in Appendix 'B'.


Progress for the period June-December, 1948 is summarised in Appendix 'C' which will also serve to indicate the channels used. The most effective of these are considered to be simple propaganda leaflets, some 24 million of which have been distributed up to 15th January, 1949 and the work of Field Officers of the Mobile Public Address Units which continuously tour rural areas and whose activities have evoked hostile comment in bandit news-sheets particularly for their efforts in connection with National Registration publicity.



8. Although not included in the Appendices because of their bulk a large number of reactions have been received from all States and Settlements. These clearly indicate that the publicity and propaganda material issued is considered of value in so far as the general public is concerned. It is said to keep up public morale, to inform the rural population, to be effective in countering Communist propaganda, rumours etc.

9. In so far as propaganda designed for the psychology of the general population is concerned there are no insoluble difficulties. With a few exceptions the Malay situation is reasonably satisfactory although there is always the, perhaps not obvious, difficulty of attempting to keep Malay morale high without conveying the impression to the unsophisticated rural masses that the Chinese community as a whole are at fault and thus encouraging inter-racial strife.

10. The situation regarding propaganda to the English-speaking section of the community is also reasonably satisfactory. That of the Tamil population presents no major difficulty which cannot be solved by closer co-operation with the Labour and Trade Union Departments and particularly with Estate Managers whose co-operation is referred to in para.7 of Appendix 'A'.

11. The position regarding propaganda to the Chinese rural population is less satisfactory and must be considered in relation to the problem of propaganda to the enemy and his supporters, as well as from the aspect of the psychology peculiar to the Chinese worker, peasant or "squatter". The following section aims at presenting the more important considerations involved.




Without enlarging on the subject of the psychology of the Chinese in the Federation, it may be adequate to remark that in so far as the apathy of the Chinese upper and middle class is due to causes other than those inherent in the Chinese national character it has been particularly influenced by:

(a) Fear of the power of the Communists as a result of the large number of murders in the past year.

(b) The fact that the Communist armies are conquering in China.

(c) And, in a lesser measure perhaps, to lack of support for the Government of the Federation as a result of adverse Chinese public reaction to the Federation Agreement and misgivings as to the Chinese future under a Malay dominated legislature.

13. Without security from attack, without leadership from amongst their own people which might ensure it, (which has not been forthcoming except in the case of the murdered Dr. Ong Chong Keng) it is quite fallacious to assume that any amount of propaganda or any psychological method of approach to the Chinese would of itself be effective.

However, as an ancillary to strong action by the Government it may now be possible to assist by intelligently planned propaganda, and attempt to make cumulative, the present campaign to stop the payment of "protection money".

14. Should this movement be successful it will have very considerable value not only in weakening the bandits' organisation but also there is a hope that from the groups of Chinese formed initially as a defensive group there may grow a group of Chinese with Malayan interests which will be capable of action in support of, and loyalty to, the Federal Government. This represents the present main objective for propaganda and psychological influence amongst the Chinese upper and middle class.

15. The Chinese working class, and in particular those members of it who are in the bandit organisation, present a difficult problem to the propagandist who seeks to influence their psychology, largely on account of their extreme ignorance and illiteracy.

16. As with the other classes of Chinese, there is the dominant feeling of fear of the Communists. This is not only a result of many brutal murders but to no small degree a legacy of the years 1942-45.
Now that the Security Forces are beginning to turn the tide there should be increasing opportunity to encourage the view that the bandits are doomed and that those who support them face imprisonment or deportation. The first basic theme then is that Defeat is certain. This has been continuously stressed for some six months.


In open warfare an obvious line for psychological warfare at this stage would be the standard surrender themes e.g. the situation can only result in death why not surrender?; surrendering personnel will be well treated; how to surrender; survival and nostalgic themes etc. and leaflets guaranteeing reasonable terms would be produced and widely distributed. It is to be expected from experience in the recent world war that the enemy would carry such safe conduct leaflets as might be prepared. Once an individual pockets such a leaflet the idea that he may need it gains support in his mind and affects his fighting morale.

18. It will be seen that there is a complete blank in the leaflet plan to the enemy, under heading No. 4 "Surrender", Appendix 'B'.
Until it is possible to state terms, or to indicate that surrendering bandits are not necessarily hanged, this is inevitably so and from the viewpoint of psychological warfare to the enemy this is a considerable handicap.


Another major deficiency in the sphere of psychological warfare material directed to the Chinese squatter population is the impossibility at present of offering an inducement in the form of a permanent small holding or permanent tenure of his present plot of land.

20. Without such bait our propaganda to the squatters is largely based on fear of the consequences of co-operation with bandits (Emergency Regulation 17D for example). This is not of itself a defect, particularly in so far as collaborators are concerned. It is nevertheless felt that, as not all squatters are in the bandit camp, a more constructive line of propaganda might aid in inducing co-operation. Possibly, with the completion of the report of the Special Committee on Squatters, Government will embark on a policy more capable of adaptation for psychological warfare use to the squatters under which some inducement in the matter of land holdings can be put forward.


Even making due allowance for these difficulties it is doubtful if the fullest use is being made of propaganda and psychological warfare as an effective adjunct to the local operations of Security Forces.
This is an error not made by the Communists who, if they are for example slashing rubber trees, prepare leaflets related to the operation and local circumstances. This is a most effective method.

22. To obtain a similar co-ordination on the part of the Security Forces propaganda and psychological warfare material would require to be prepared specifically for individual operations. Security printing would be required in a similar method to that used by Psychological Warfare teams during the war.

23. The Emergency Publicity Committee have recorded their views in the matter. These have been accepted by Government, and circulated to the Security Forces to assist them in any requests they may wish to make for material for operational purposes. Without security printing the assistance which the Emergency Publicity Committee and the Propaganda Sub-Committees can render in the matter of operational propaganda is limited.


In the absence of facilities for security printing and in view of the fact that distribution of such material presents peculiar difficulty, the Emergency Publicity Committee have recommended that if "black" propaganda is to be undertaken the Special Branch of the Police should undertake it.


Owing to the illiteracy of the Chinese masses the spreading of information, which may be false or true, for propaganda purposes is a valuable weapon. Trained agents are required and the Emergency Publicity Committee commended the matter to the attention of the Special Branch.
It is understood that the Police have not as yet been able to assist.


Enemy propaganda made available to the Committee by the Police is reviewed from time to time and counter-propaganda prepared and distributed.

27. The effectiveness of such counter-propaganda could undoubtedly be improved if enemy propaganda were more rapidly made available.

28. It is apparent too that in Kedah and Johore in particular it might make for efficiency were local State Committees to arrange to produce locally counter-propaganda specifically designed to meet local needs as they arise, calling on the K.L. Committee for assistance when necessary. This possibility is now being explored.


To summarise:-

(1) Propaganda to the public, with the exception of the Chinese, presents no major difficulty.

(2) There are the following major deficiencies in the execution of propaganda or psychological warfare to the enemy and his supporters, who are almost entirely Chinese:-

(a) The absence of a policy regarding surrendering bandits which could provide material for the normal psycholo­gical warfare propaganda lines designed to induce surrender (para.17).

(b) The absence of a policy under which squatters and Chinese peasants could be offered land or security of tenure which could provide useful propaganda lines to induce co-operation with Government (para.19).

(c) The fact that propaganda is not used by the Security Forces as an effective part of actual operations (para.21 et seq).

(d) Adequate intelligence as to whether propaganda is reaching bandits, and opinions of captured or surrendered bandits on it, is not available. This indicates that, as in the war, interrogation specifically for psycholo­gical warfare and propaganda purposes is necessary.

(e) Rumour spreading by agents has not yet been organised.


Ag. Director, Department of Public Relations,
Federation of Malaya.
(J.N. McHugh)

Kuala Lumpur,
January 1949.

[Source: TNA CO 536/5136, transcribed by]



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