Cultural gaff sparks fury among Chinese in Malaysia

By Zhang Ming'ai
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 7, 2012
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Furious Chinese residents in Malaysia have demanded an apology from Malaysian rights group Perkasa after the group handed out white packets instead of the traditional red at a Spring Festival gathering in the country. The cultural mishap sparked protests and widespread indignation among Malaysia's Chinese population.

A Perkasa member hands white packets to Chinese at a Spring Festival gathering in Malaysia.

A Perkasa member hands white packets to Chinese at a Spring Festival gathering in Malaysia.

The colour red is loved in Chinese culture because it symbolizes good fortune. Chinese people across the globe usually prepare red packets to celebrate the arrival of the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival. White packets, by contrast, are only given at funerals.

In initial response to calls for an apology, Ibrahim Ali, President of Perkasa and a member of the Malaysian parliament, explained that he was unaware that distributing white packets is considered unlucky in Chinese culture. He stated that he was willing to apologize to Malaysia's Chinese community for any offense caused.

However, on January 31, Perkasa's general secretary claimed that the group would not make any further response to the incident and said there would be no apology from Ibrahim.

Perkasa's U-turn on this issue is interesting and perplexing.

According to Ibrahim's explanation, he knew little about traditional Chinese culture.

By contrast, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak commented: "We all know that ‘ang pow' means a predominantly red envelope."

It seems strange that everyone except Ibrahim is aware of the custom.

Despite the efforts of the Malaysian government to promote and build a multicultural society, the incident shows that conflicts between Malaysia's different cultures still exist. It is to be hoped that efforts to promote peace between the country's different ethnic groups will continue undaunted.

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