The Malayan Emergency in Film and Literature: Virtual Workshop

deadline for submissions: 
May 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Monash University Malaysia


This workshop examines how the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) has been depicted in film and literature since the time of the Emergency up to the present day. To understand the multiple perspectives and stories that have been told about these events, this workshop will encompass representations from different national contexts and historical periods, as well as from a range of literary and cinematic forms and genres. This will be a timely investigation, with the 75th anniversary of the start of the conflict approaching (in 2023), and with there being renewed interest in the period, following the controversial repatriation of Chin Peng’s ashes in 2019. In addition, although the Emergency is one of the most significant periods in the region’s history, and one that has been the subject of several studies (popular and academic), there is currently little work offering a cultural history of the period. An important exception is the relationship between the Emergency and the cinema, with a number of valuable studies having recently been written looking at the films of the Malayan Film Unit (Chan 2015; Hee 2017; Muthalib 2011). We hope to explore such issues further, while also looking at other aspects of film and literature’s relationship with this historical moment. 

Such a project offers the chance to re-examine the Emergency and to ask a host of new questions, including: What ideological bias (if any) is intimated in works of both fiction and non-fiction about the Malayan Emergency? To what extent do the race and gender of the filmmaker/author influence the representation of the Emergency, whether in fiction or non-fiction? How do fictional works about the Emergency supplement historical records of the event (do they help deepen our knowledge, or effect a mythologizing of it?)? How do fictional works published in the 20th and 21st centuries differ in terms of tone, concerns and representations of the Malayan Emergency? What archival desire underpins works of fiction and non-fiction about the Emergency? Topics potentially include, but are not limited to:


  • Case studies of individual films/works of literature about the Emergency;

  • Identity politics in films/literature about the Emergency;

  • Nuanced interpretations of the period in film/literature (or lack thereof);

  • Changes over time in the depiction of events (from the period in question to the present);

  • Depictions of Chin Peng and the MCP over time (“Communist terrorists” or “nationalists”?);

  • Spaces and locations (city vs countryside/jungle);

  • Communist propaganda versus British propaganda;

  • The legacy of the Emergency in Singapore and Malaysia – unfinished stories and exclusion (e.g. The Last Communist/To Singapore with Love).


There will be a publication outcome with either a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal or as an edited book.

If you would like to present a paper, please submit an abstract of 300 words plus a short bio to Jonathan Driskell ( The deadline for abstracts is 15 May 2021. You will be notified of the outcome by 1 June 2021. The virtual workshop will be held during the first week of November 2021.