This large and highly attractive bilingual (Chinese-English) map depicts the Federation of Malaya, a country which gained its independence from Britain in 1957, only the year before the present map was made. The Federation was formed by the merger of the nine Malay states and Penang and Malacca (two of the constituents of the former Straits Settlements); its territory being the same as today’s peninsular Malaysia. In 1963, Malaysia would be formed upon the Federation’s union with Sarawak and Sabah (both on Borneo) and Singapore (which would split from the country in 1965). The map was made to serve Malaya’s large ethnic Chinese population, as well as the many Chinese communities throughout the greater region that had connections to Malaya as part of the ‘Bamboo Network’.
The brightly colured and well-designed map depicts the entire country to a large scale of 14 miles to 1 inch. In the bottom centre, the chart of ‘Conventional Signs’ (in three languages – Chinese, Malay and English) explains the symbols used to identify boundaries (international, state); capitals (national, state); cities; towns; ports; major railways; light railways; main highways; secondary roads; other motor roads; lighthouses; sea lanes; mountains (with five levels, from 500 feet to over 5,000 feet); rivers; and lakes.
The composition features five cartographic insets, including, in the lower left corner, a map of the popular resort island of Langkawi, and large map showing the air connections between Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia. In the upper right are thematic maps, on the top is an elevation map of the country; below is a mining map (noting deposits of tin – Malaya was one of the world’s leading tin producers, gold, bauxite, wolfram, iron, manganese and coal); and below that is an agricultural map (noting areas for growing rice, cocoanuts, rubber – Malaya was one of the world’s great rubber producers, jungles – featuring valuable hardwood timber, was well as swamps).
The map had two main intended audiences. First, it was made to serve Malaya’s large and well established ethnic Chinese population. In 1957, 40% of Malaya’s population was Chinese, accounting for 2.4 million people. While there had always been a strong Chinese presence on the Malay Peninsula, great waves of Southern Chinese immigration arrived there during the British colonial regime, in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. The Chinese community came to assume a dominant role in the country’s commercial affairs and contributed greatly to Malaya’s cultural richness. While the Chinese communities in today’s Malaysia are is still important and influential, they account for only 23% of the country’s population. Chinese emigration and the fact that ethnic Malays had a higher birthrate have accounted for this demographic shift.
Second, the map was also intended to serve ethnic Chinese readers throughout the ‘Bamboo Network’. This term describes the deep and continuous connections between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the various Chinese communities across Southeast Asia. This informal system, which remains a major force today, had for generations been one of the lifelines of commerce and culture in the greater region. It was no surprise that such a map was published in Hong Kong, which was the epicentre of the Bamboo Network.
The author of the present map, Li Menphy (or Minpei Li), was a prolific Hong Kong cartographer active in the ‘50s and ‘60s who specialized in large format, bright and decorative bilingual (Chinese-English) works. These include a New Map of Hong Kong (1951); atlases, Southeast Asia in Maps (1956) and The Maps of Malaya (1959); The New Wall Map of Southeast Asia (1960); New Map of United States of America (1961); and North Borneo (1962).
The present map is very rare. We can trace only a single institutional example, held by the National Library of Singapore. Moreover, we cannot trace any sales records.
References: National Library of Singapore: 12882168, OCLC: 29844607