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Sub-ethnic groups

There are, in general, three sub-ethnic groups of Chinese Malaysian with three metropolitan centers. The Penang group is predominantly Hokkien and the Kuala Lumpur group is predominantly Cantonese and Hakka-speaking. To the south of Peninsular Malaysia in Johor, Mandarin is predominantly spoken among the Chinese communities there, as a result of the Mandarin media influence from Singapore. Whereas in East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo), Hakka and Mandarin is widely spoken. Modern movements to unify and organize Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian Chinese communities introduced standard Mandarin as the language of diaspora ethnic nationalism.


Traditionally, Chinese Malaysian placed great importance and value on education because of their view of education being a means to improve their standard of living and due in part to the traditional Confucian esteem of education and the educated. Today, Chinese Malaysian are one of the most academically competitive groups in the country and in the region (including Australia, a popular destination for many Chinese Malaysian students pursuing their tertiary education).

A large segment of the Chinese Malaysian population are predominantly Chinese-speaking. They are commonly known as the "Chinese-educated". Malaysia is also the only country outside China (the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), to have a completely Chinese-medium education system. There are roughly 1,300 Chinese public primary schools (national-type schools) in Malaysia that are all partialy government funded (the salary of the teachers are paid by the government while the upkeep of the schoolbuilding are paid by the communities through donation). The Chinese national-type school received less than 3% of total funding for all primary schools. Mandarin is the language of instruction in all subjects except Bahasa Melayu and English. However, all Chinese national-type secondary schools use Bahasa Melayu as the language of instruction since the 1970s. However there are 61 Chinese private secondary schools that are supported financially by the public and tuition fees. Mandarin is the main language of instruction in these private schools, but some schools use either Malay or English in selected subjects. In 2004, according to statistical data, 90% of all Chinese Malaysian attend Chinese primary schools(The figure was around 70% in 1970). Among the 600,000 Chinese primary school students, roughly 10% are of non-Chinese descent. On the other hand, 90% of Chinese primary school graduates continue their secondary studies in public secondary schools(both national and national-type), while the remaining 10% go to Chinese private secondary schools. There are also three private-owned post-secondary institutes in Malaysia where the language of instruction is Mandarin.

Similar to Chinese Singaporeans (although many Chinese in Singapore converse in Mandarin and a smattering of dialects), a group of Malaysian counterpart speaks English as their first language (something carried over from the British colonial days). They speak English at home, and make it a point to immerse and educate their children in the English language. Like their counterparts in Singapore, they are known as the "English-educated" although the term is something of an anachronism. Unlike in Singapore, English has not been used as a language of instruction (other than in certain private institutions and urban schools that still employ its use informally) since it was gradually phased out the 1970s and 1980s in favour of Malay during an Education plan. Although there are English medium schools in Malaysia, with a British or US-based curriculum, these cater for expatriate children, as government policy is to discourage Malaysians from attending.

However, as of 2002, the Malaysian government has reintroduced English as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics in national secondary schools and universities.

An aside: while "proper" English is generally spoken and understood among the Chinese Malaysia, the main form used is a patois called Manglish (Malaysian English). Manglish is very similar to Singlish (Singaporean English). Manglish speakers typically understand 80-90% of Singlish and vice versa. Unless specifically Manglish or Singlish terms are used in a conversation, it can be difficult even for native speakers to differentiate the two as the intonation and most terms (especially the infamous lah) are common. Singaporean television sitcoms such as Phua Chu Kang and Under One Roof that make use of Singlish are popular in Malaysia. (Note: The Singapore government has tried to reduce the use of Singlish in these serials, with visible success.)

Regional community

The Chinese Malaysian community is intricately linked to the Chinese Singaporean community because of a shared history and culture; Singapore was a part of the Federation of Malaysia before it became independent in 1965. Many Chinese Singaporeans have relatives in Malaysia and vice-versa. There are also a significant number of Chinese Malaysians residing and working in Singapore. Some families in nearby Johor send their children (around 5000 of them) to school in Singapore, commuting back and forth between the two countries every day.

On that same note, the Chinese Malaysians are culturally much more distant from the Indonesian Chinese, Filipino Chinese and Thai Chinese. This is attributable to the fact that these countries did not have a shared history with Malaysia like Singapore did.

The entire Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora is characterized by their considerable economic fortunes and their susceptibility to discrimination or political exploitation by politicians. This diaspora is commonly referred to as the Nanyang Chinese, 'Nanyang' (nv) being the Mandarin term for Southeast Asia.


A majority of the Chinese Malaysia claim to be Buddhist or Taoist though the lines between them are often blurred and, typically, a syncretic Chinese religion incorporating elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and traditional ancestor-worship is practised, with the fact that each individual follows it in varying degrees. About 19% are Christian (Mainstream Protestants, Catholics and other Protestant denominations) and an extremely small number profess Islam as their faith. There is quite a significant number of Christians among the Chinese population in East Malaysia.


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