1. I’d like to express my profound appreciation to Peter Drake and Ha-Joon Chang for coming to Malaysia, and for their inspiring and generous words.
2. Excellencies and friends, my warmest thanks go to all of you for taking time off from your no-doubt overloaded schedules to be here this morning for the launch of my book: Striving for Inclusive Development: From Pangkor to a Modern Malaysian State.
3. But first, let us please take a moment to remember two eminent and distinguished scholars, Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim and Dato Shaharil Talib, whose passing during the last year has been a monumental loss to the nation.
4. As you all know, Kay Kim and Shaharil were highly respected Malaysian historians-legends of the University of Malaya, and well respected by their peers and students alike. Their teaching and writing have contributed enormously to our appreciation of the country’s history. Both believed strongly in the value of inclusiveness. They greatly influenced my thinking over many years.
5. The task of a historian – it is often said – is not to judge but to explain. History is complex. It is long, winding, and ever changing, filled with countless perspectives and opinions. Indeed, young historians could spend their whole life ‘looking down’ when they do research, and by the time they look up they would be as old as Malaysia itself. Already, my family has listed me as ‘missing in action’!
6. In writing my book, I, too, have done my best to be objective and impartial. But as the influential Cambridge historian, E. H. Carr, wrote more than half a century ago: ‘It is possible to maintain that objective truth exists, but that no historian by himself can hope to achieve more than a faint and partial approximation of it.’ And this is why my book is over 500 pages long, and has taken me almost two decades to write!
7. Robert Laurence Binyon, a famous English poet, who spent much of his working life at the British Museum, also wrote about history. I quote:
‘Time has stored all,
but keeps his chronicle
In secret, beyond all our probe or gauge.
There flows the human story, vast and full’
8. To try to unlock the ‘secrets’ of history, I have done an immense amount of ‘looking down’ – researching; spending time in dusty archives and dimly lit libraries; and trying to instil some order into complex data sets. I’ve talked to numerous scholars and economic historians, and consulted with experts across many disciplines. There have been a hundred visions and as many revisions. I’ve spent many nights squinting at large books, but with words in such small print that I needed to start wearing glasses before I completed the book! On a healthier note, though, I believe I have found new perspectives on Malaysia’s history.
9. From my childhood to the present, I have experienced how our country has evolved. Just as I have grown older – and I hope wiser – so too the country has modernised and globalised. I have seen how our people’s fortunes have vacillated during economic cycles – though still, following an upward arc – and how they have, in general, shifted from agricultural-based rural lifestyles to prosperous, city-based lifestyles. Some challenges remain, however, and new ones have emerged.
10. My book charts our country’s fascinating economic history over the past 150 years. It is a journey that demonstrates national perseverance, institutional changes, and indeed, a long-term ‘Striving for Inclusive Development’. Malaysia is what it is today because of the collective contributions of all communities.
11. I hope that you will all find as much satisfaction in reading the book as I did in writing it.
Thank you all.
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