Malaysia, which was then under the rule of the British colonial government, was unable to escape from the 1930 Great Depression.
Li Xiu Qing was 10 years old then. Because of the Depression, he had to terminate his study which had just started just six months ago to help in his old grandfather’s farm. Sluggish market and plummeting prices for agricultural products led to hardship. Rubber prices dropped from RM20 to RM4 a picul while prices for betel nuts dropped from 6 cents to 4 cents a kati.
During the economic downturn, many Chinese labourers were unemployed. The Taiping Guangdong Association was crowded by unemployed workers. Some of them had no money to buy cigarettes, so they looked for cigarette butts thrown out by others. They took out the tobacco and rolled them up with tobacco leaves. Meanwhile, some sold containers to gather rubber fluid made from condensed milk containers they picked. Some of them also begged food from others. The British government provided the labourers free return passage to China in order to contain the economic crisis.
Besides, the British government also restricted immigrants to our country. There were 190, 000 of adult Chinese labours entered the country in 1929, the final year for free entry to Malaya. There were 151, 693 in 1930 and 49,723 the next year. The Immigration Restriction Act was implemented for four years and it was replaced by the Aliens Ordinance on 1 April 1933, according to Victor Purcell in hi sbook, The Chinese in Malaya)
According to Huang Ding Xing, his great grandmother You Que Niang used to provide free meals for unemployed labourers. Many people queued in front of her shop everyday during that time, waiting for free rice or porridge.
Li said that eventually, the British government implemented the “coupon” system to preven t over supply of rubber in order to boost prices. If a rubber estate produced 20 piculs of rubber a month, the government would give the owner a coupon that allowed him to produce only 10 piculs monthly. This immediately helped to stabilised the price of rubber at around RM30 a picul. Those who produced exceeding the limited amount of the coupon would buy more coupons from other rubber estate owners while those who produced less would sell their coupons. The situations continued until the depression ended.
He said that people in the past were more honest. There were no crime even many were unemployed. Unlike today that those unemployed turned to become robbers or snatch thieves, causing anxiety everywhere. Besides, the “coupon” system was effective in stabilising the economy and improving the people’s life.
It is important for politicians to carefully devise strategies and plans during economic crisis to calm the people and gave them hope. Otherwise, a single mistake would plunge the people into an abyss of misery! (By LI YONG QIU(李永球)/ Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE/ Sin Chew Daily)