Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Rachel Sturman


In the literature on student activism in Malaysia, the years from 1967 to 1974 are emphasized as vibrant years—students organized large-scale demonstrations, regularly asserted their opinions in the political arena, and even participated in electoral politics. This period was followed, however, with the imposition of strict laws in 1975 limiting freedom of speech and expression. Such laws were part of the broader containment policy pursued by the state after the May 13, 1969, racial riots, which allowed the state to stifle any form of political dissidence to ensure peace between different ethnic groups. One particularly active organization in this period was the Malay Language Society (PBMUM) of the University of Malaya. While PBMUM began with a dream of using language as a mode to foster national unity, after the riots it would be remembered as a race-based organization oriented toward Malays. This thesis offers a historical analysis and reinterpretation of the PBMUM, characterizing it as a platform for students at the University of Malaya to meet, discuss, and mobilize around the most important issues concerning Malaysian society. Importantly, members exhibited a continued devotion towards changing the fate of the rakyat (the people). In revising the history of PBMUM, this thesis also offers a deeper understanding of the Malaysian political landscape in the ‘60s and ‘70s, focusing on political discussions around nation-building in the lead up to the May 13 riots and its aftermath.