The perils of the Eunuchs

Some time back, Mr Stanley Koh, a frequent writer in Malaysiakini wrote about the history and factional politics in MCA. I find the writings interesting and they  give outsider a rare look into what is happening in this party.

There is one type of politics which is practiced by UMNO, MCA and some of the other parties. This is called the politics of the Eunuchs, or in Mandarin “Huan Guan Zheng Zi”.

Going back to history, in the early 15th century, during the reign of Yong Le Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, China was at its zenith and was able to spend huge sums and resources to send 7 sea expeditions,  led by Admiral Zheng He and spanned over 3 decades,  down to Indian Ocean. Some historians even said that Zheng He was the one who “discovered” America, instead of Columbus.

zheng_he.jpgZheng He – He discovered America?

However, such a rich and strong country met its demise within a relatively short period of 200 years. Why?

Most historians attributed this to what is now known as the ” Eunuch Politics”.

In this type of politics, the emperor would send his men , the eunuchs, out into the courts and mixed with the government ministers and officials. Playing into human psychology of fear, suspicion, and jealousy, these eunuchs initially fanned these emotions and by doing so, created factions within the officials and ministers.

Once there were factions, what each faction would do is to try to out manoeuvre each other and place people from their own factions into positions of influences. Factionalism also meaning frequent realignment of forces, with everyone and every faction trying hard to get into the good books of the eunuchs, so that their factions could gain power and influence over other factions.

No one then cared anymore for the people. What they cared about was their own factional interest. It did not matter how good a person was, the most important criteria in promotion was how loyal that person was. The whole political game became that of placing their own people in positions of importance, even though some of these people might be  useless and corrupted.

Meritocracy died a slow death and in its place, a whole lot of useless ministers were appointed, people who would only praise the emperor and the eunuchs and none would bother to criticise and speak frankly from their hearts. To speak from their hearts would be asking for sure death and destruction, and who would want this type of ending when they could have luxurious and easy lives if they just played to the rules of the day and supported the eunuchs.

This way , of course, the emperor was able to consolidate his absolute power and control. But by doing so, the emperor was also sowing the seeds of destruction for the dynasty. No dynasty could last long without the practice of meritocracy and without good people daring to give frank advice to the emperor.

Slowly, the country became weaker and the ordinary citizens became poorer and poorer. So much so some of them became rebellious and took up arms against the dynasty.

To suppress these rebellions as well as to quell dissent, these eunuchs set up intelligence gathering organisations, the three most famous of which were the “East Factory”, “West Factory”, and the “Jin Yi Hui”. These organisations used unscrupulous ways to gather information and served as the torture chambers to extract forced confessions. Even prime ministers were sacked and removed if they expressed a little bit of independent thinking.

The whole government court was then in a “safe” mode. Everyone tried to play safe. Even walls had ears. So much fears were instilled into the officials that they were really incapacitated. They were interested only to make money, partly to pay to the eunuchs to get into their good books, partly because there was a need to build up their coffers to play faction politics. Corruption became rampant.

Sounds familiar? This was probably the beginning of the so called money politics.

Eunuchs would only put in a good word to the emperor on those who had bribed them, on those who were obedient, and those who had a leash on their necks for the eunuchs to control. Anyone with an independent minds would meet with early demise, some times through creating false incriminatory evidence. Some times , certain private indiscretions were made known to the public- sounds familiar again, the “Chua DVD sex scandals” was along this line.

With this type of control , the dynasty had no real hope but to get weaker and weaker over time. Ultimately, it was embroiled in fighting external threat from the Manchus and internal rebellions at the same time. The dynasty ended when one general opened the gate of the Great Wall and admitted the Manchus.

History serves a guide for posterity. The lesson here is that once the eunuch culture gets entrenched, it would be hard to get rid of it.

In modern context and Malaysian politics, some of personal assistants of leaders have been acting like these eunuchs, even though  they have not been castrated. Their role is to make sure that their boss can consolidate powers, and by playing this type of politics, top leader was able to exercise divide and rule in practically all levels of the political party. Some would use the euphemism that this is “check” and “balance”. But anyone studying politics would agree that this is a classic case of divide and rule, and by playing one faction against another, the top leader’s position became unassailable . Some would be able to sit on the throne for over 20 years. Eunuch politics made a leader strong  and strong leader can further extend the play for the eunuchs, leading to  a vicious cycle. Potential threats from potentially capable leaders were dealt with in the buds and so no one would be strong enough to challenge them.

Some became so strong that they even started a dynasty, grooming kin like sons and brothers, to positions of influences so that these  would be ready to take over , not immediately perhaps, but in the years to come.

Many MCA members have told me about their worry of a dynasty forming. In some years back, they were talking about the father and son dynasty, but now they are talking about the Brotherhood dynasty. The fear among the members are real, because if this culture becomes entrenched , it would deal the a party a even greater blow than an election loss. It would have affected the roots and aims of the party.

Some other parties are practicing this politics to a lesser extent.

Now, many BN component parties are talking about soul searching and going back to the roots. It would be good for the leaders and the grassroots to remember the perils of the politics of the eunuchs, and try to shun this type of practice.

There is no substitute to a clean politics, based on democratic principles, based on ideology and based on the respective party constitution.

There is no substitute for meritocracy, for going back to the people and speaking out on behalf of the people.

After-all, politics is about people. Politicians first and last duty is to serve the interest of the people , not anything else.

Please also read this article of mine published in May 2007 in Malaysiakini : “This is how politics is played”.  It is also one of the all time favourites of this blog.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. trashed
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 16:03:31

    An enlightening read, Dr Hsu.


  2. A true Malaysian
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 21:16:11

    When Mr. Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that Malaysia does not practise ‘meritocracy’, BN leaders, especially those in Umno responded with ‘huh-hah’ over such remark. Even Mahathir said that meritocracy was being practised, but only applicable among Malays. So, just see what is happening in Malaysia now.

    The just concluded 12th GE in fact was a blessing in disguise for us. Hopefully we can still look for greener pasture in Malaysia.


  3. monsterball
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 07:40:57

    You reap what you sow…by the farmers.
    And what UMNO…the farmers.. have sowed…year in tear out…got the landlords to tell them ..a thing or two…one month ago.
    Landlords wanted to sack them ….but they have been renting for 50 years….so landlords are reasonable and compassionate….give chance to change.
    Now landlords found out..these farmers will never change.The have become a group a band of gangsters….treating the landlords….nobody…even beating them..saying they now own the lands.
    Landlords cannot get justices from these farmers….bribed the judges with their money they got …selling their produces.
    Landlords have 5 brave fellas…..fought and willing to die. Farmers balls shrunk….and put all into jail.
    Landlords are ready for any and everything…inspired by the 5 brave ones.
    Now farmers…said give them 5 more years…to chance…talking nice to landlords….saying they know they are wrong.
    Patiently…Landlords will again see….what they are sowing and what will be the fruits of toils…quality or just low class quantity..waiting and waiting for the release of the 5 heroes.
    End of story.


  4. monsterball
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 07:41:24

    I mean end of chapter one.


  5. romerz
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 03:13:57

    I think the most important leadership quality is not to know everything, clairvoyance, or even purpose of direction. But the ability to recognize honesty and truthfulness from those around.

    If a leader can do this then the party will go the direction of those whom they represent and whilst the majority can be wrong sometimes but not all the time, unless its a party of miscreants who are doomed to failure anyway.

    For me, a true leader is one who can motivate those he leads to achieve above and beyond themselves and at the same time keeping them together as a cohesive unit as smart people tend to carry with them the baggage of ego.

    In short, surround yourself with people of proven integrity, motivate them to think outside the box, keep them from spilling over each other.

    What is the general consensus that is arrived at should be the course of where the party should go and a good leader should then adopt it as his/her mission to be fulfilled.


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