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In 'Chinese deity' costume saga, emperor booby-trapped?

K Temoc  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT Please tell me, prior to the beginning of the Chinese New Year how many of you know Cao Guojiu?

Wait, let me rephrase that more appropriately - how many of you "Chinese" know Cao Guojiu?

As a Chinese Malaysian myself, I have to admit I don’t, well at least not prior to the start of this Monkey year.

And I dare bet you that 999 out of 1,000 Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and especially mainland China don't as well. Perhaps in Taiwan there may be more Chinese who knows who Cao Guojiu was.

Today we come to be informed of who Cao Guojiu was/is, but only because poor Mohd Khairuddin Othman of PAS, the state assemblyperson for Paya Jaras, Selangor, was seen dressed in a period costume allegedly that of Cao Guojiu.

Our dear Yang Berhormat had sportingly worn the costume in a Chinese New Year celebration, apparently on the encouragement of his constituents of Paya Jaras near Kepong, having been informed that the costume was that of a Chinese emperor.

Chinese members of his state constituency who told him so was probably acting in good faith (excuse the unintended pun), because ... well, for answer/explanation ... please refer to my queries above (at beginning of this article). His Chinese constituents were probably as clueless as me [grin].

But let us explore other possible reasons for his constituents unwittingly dunking the luckless though innocent YB into the hot Islamic soup like a Chinese kuih kapit.

The period costume Khairuddin wore would be typically those of the nobility during the Song Dynasty, so the allegedly incorrect information about the period costume he was asked to don was in the end not so incorrect after all.

Historically, Cao Guojiu was a member of the royal family, being a younger brother of an empress, specifically the wife of Emperor Renzong of the Song dynasty. He was the royal brother-in-law.

While he wasn't the emperor himself, he certainly was a member of royalty. We can’t blame people for believing his clothing (that is, assuming they even remember or know who he was) was those of an emperor.

Besides, people are also known for name-dropping so those who had once knew him, and those rare few Chinese Malaysians who still do, might possibly insinuate he was somewhat and somehow an emperor.

Yes, we Malaysians are notorious for our name-dropping habits. I recall as a schoolboy, when I was involved in a schoolyard scrap with another student, the brat having lost the bout threatened me with his father’s might, saying: “I’ll tell my dad you all gang up on me just because I spoke out against the class monitor!” [maniacal laughter – you know how that would go!]

One of the Eight Immortals

Before we come to the third possible reason for Khairuddin ending up as an about-to-be-executed though innocent Chinese emperor (and Chinese history has plenty of that), let us review what we know about Chinese New Year celebrations.

For umpteen Chinese New Year celebrations, we had never experienced the presence of the deity Cao Guojiu in any form, whether in votive rituals, mere mention nor story recount. Indeed nor did any in the entire pantheon of Taoist deities called the Eight Immortals (Baxian).

While Chinese Malaysians - including me - are aware of the Taoist Eight Immortals, the only two in that pantheon that I believe most are familiar with, if at all, would be Lu Dongbin and Li Tieguai. Personally I could never remember the other six.

Thus I reiterate here that 99.9 percent of Chinese don't know who Cao Guojiu was, so why would a Malay, whether from PAS, PKR or Umno.

As a Chinese I can personally testify to the non-involvement of the Eight Immortals, including Cao Guojiu, in Chinese New Year celebrations, and so I believe would other Chinese too.

I do wonder why there has been such an alleged costume (specific to Cao Guojiu) for Khairuddin Othman to wear?

I'm compelled to conclude that either:

a) it was just a generic period costume and has nothing to do with a Chinese deity, and that someone had been maliciously-gleefully fibbing, or

b) just as Singapore intelligence informed the Australian Office of National Assessment (ONA) in 2008, and revealed by Wikileaks in 2010, that Anwar Ibrahim to have walked willingly into a Saiful-ish ‘honey trap’, Khairuddin had walked willingly into an emperor 'syirik-trap’ set by his political foes.

The root of this possibility would be solved if we can identify who first raised this Cao Guojiu rubbish.

As I mentioned, not many Chinese know or at least knew who that deity was, so who has been that clever boy who raised the observation of poor innocent Khairuddin in the dress of allegedly Cao Guojiu, a near-unknown unfamiliar Chinese deity?

Anyway, to Khairuddin, I would say, don't fret matey, you may be a PAS man (smile) but I've great respect for your 'innocent' muhibbah sporting gesture in donning a Chinese period costume, and that you've been absolutely correct in stating "Chinese New Year is a cultural celebration which has nothing to do with religion".

Indeed, some 10 years ago, journalist Baradan Kuppusamy in an article , wrote the following: “Curiously, the (Merdeka Centre) survey also showed that many Malaysians have a vague idea, not only of one another's cultures and traditions, but also of their own.

“Hari Raya Puasa was wrongly perceived as the Malay New Year by 32 percent of Malays, 84 percent of Chinese and 45 percent of Indians - the festival actually marks the culmination of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Similarly, the Chinese New Year was thought to be a religious festival by 57 percent of Malays, 53 percent of Indians and a whopping 62 percent of Chinese respondents.”

Well, that may be 10 years ago but at least Khairuddin of PAS today is far more knowledgeable than 62 percent of Chinese then, in that the Chinese New Year celebrations have nothing to do with religion.

Not the first time

Indeed, Chinese New Year has nothing to do with religion, any religion, and that Chinese of any religion - Islam, Christianity, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianism, etc, or even those without one (smirk here), would celebrate the start of the Chinese lunar-solar calendar, to wit, the beginning of the Spring season (in China), a socio-seasonal festival which after thousands of years has become a socio-cultural-administrative festival, even for godless communist China.

I say kudos to Khairuddin for his truly Malaysian muhibbah attitude as I would also say kudos to Khairy Jamaluddin for doing a similar muhibbah gesture in giving a Chinese New Year greeting in Mandarin.

Now, many may not realise that the brouhaha about Khairuddin in Chinese period costume has not been the first, because years, years back, Sudirman Arshad (when still alive) had together with his regular performing sidekick Noorkumalasari put together a Gong Xi Fa Cai special programme for RTM . Both planned to dress up in Chinese period costumes for their performances.

It was reported that poor Noorkumalasari was harassed brutally, called all sorts of names and bullied continuously by ultras into not donning the Chinese period costume until she broke down and burst into tears.

It's a shame that today, more than a decade after the shameful brutal bullying of Noorkumalasari, people still look for the trivial to create controversy.


K TEMOC is a Penangite who enjoys being an independent blogger and loves to share his opinion on Malaysian and world affairs without fear or favour.

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