Apek Cina, the Chinese commentator using BM for unity

Tan Yih Pey

Tai Zee How says he is willing willing to do whatever it takes to resolve racial and religious issues in the country. – Facebook pic, January 14, 2020.

ON social media, where only the savviest influencers and commentators stand out, Tai Zee How has managed to make a name for himself as a political commentator speaking about concerns close to Chinese Malaysians, in Bahasa Melayu.

Known by his online moniker, “Apek Cina” (Chinese uncle), Tai feels he has found a niche helping Malays understand how their fellow citizens from the Chinese community think and feel.

And given the racialised state of Malaysian politics and everyday issues, there is no shortage of topics.

“I am a Chinese Malaysian, but I believe there are enough big fish in the Chinese market online. So, I chose to think outside the box and became a Chinese personality who attracts a Malay audience,” said Tai, who is in his early 30s.

“I want the other races to know what the Chinese newspapers are saying, how they are saying it, and this will give them a basic understanding of the community,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Tai, who worked as an aide to a former minister, began making political commentaries in 2018. He now has a platform on Facebook at Ulasan Apek Cina and a YouTube channel.

His Facebook page has more than 200,000 fans, with 90% of them Malays.

Some of his earliest works were just news from local Chinese news media translated into Bahasa Melayu, in which he injected satire and commentary.

Tai has commented on a range of hot topics on the Malaysian landscape, covering politics, especially issues that touch on multiracial sensitivities. The boycott of non-Muslim goods and the recent controversy of introducing Jawi writing in vernacular schools are some examples.

He has also had former prime minister Najib Razak and MCA president Wee Ka Siong on his show.

Tai said his online work has led many to assume that he is with the opposition, which he denies.

“I am an independent commentator. Satire only really works when your target is the government, it may backfire when you use it on the opposition,” he said, stressing that he has never joined any political party.

“If there’s a change in government, I’ll just target the new government.”

Tai said he has invited leaders and members of the present government under Pakatan Harapan to his show, but as yet, none has taken up his offer.

Bridging gaps, forging unity

Beyond political commentary and satire, Tai hopes his platforms can help Malaysians understand one another better.

As an ethnic Chinese person engaging controversial topics, such as the boycott of non-Muslim goods campaign and the Jawi/khat issue by speaking in Bahasa Melayu, he hopes that more Malays will tune in and gain an understanding on how Chinese Malaysians see these issues, and also discover a middle ground.

“As a Chinese person, I don’t think the Chinese need me to be a bridge for communications but there are those from other races who wish to understand us, so I hope I can be a point of introduction to them.”

He recently fused two controversies – the Jawi/khat issue and complaints by a Muslim man about Chinese New Year lanterns in a school – in one Facebook post:

“The Chinese think that reading three pages of Jawi can lead to Islamisation, while the Malays think they can be converted by looking at lanterns. Let’s just write Jawi on lanterns.”

Tai said he supports the existence of vernacular schools but also supports learning different languages and scripts.

He also said there is an increasing number of Malays who enrol in Chinese schools and that this is a good development.

He is also planning to invite Malay friends to make videos in Chinese and by doing so, to show sceptical Malays the good that can come out of Chinese schools.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to resolve racial and religious issues in the country but the country still needs politicians on both sides of the divide to lead the people to unity.

“Everyone is afraid that they’ll lose if they cede even an inch of ground. It’s the country’s leaders who must take a step back and sacrifice political expediency for Malaysia’s sake.

“Unity is built on mutual respect, not tolerance.” – January 14, 2020.

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