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On March 18, 1942, the Japanese army rounded up 1,474 men, women and children in Titi on the pretext of conducting identity checks. The residents were later stabbed to death with bayonets.
Chu Hew Yin, an 82-year-old local historian who has published books about Titi, said he and his immediate family went to stay with relatives elsewhere as he had a fever, and hence only narrowly escaped the massacre. However, upon returning, they were greeted by the gruesome sight and stench of rotting bodies – several members of his mother’s family had been killed. “The nearby river had turned a dark red while most of the village had been razed to the ground,” said Chu, who added the massacre was aimed at punishing ethnic Chinese for their broad overseas opposition to imperial Japanese rule in China. Similar tragedies had occurred in Chinese communities across Malaya, he said.
The late Siow Meow Yan, who spoke to this writer in January 2020, said the jungle around Titi was also a strategic meeting point of the borders of three Malaysian states: Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. “This made the region ideal as a hideout for pro-Communist forces,” the former president of the Association of Historical Artifacts Research in Titi said, adding that those suspected of being anti-Japanese were either killed or tortured as prisoners. The Jelebu area in which Titi is located was said to be the main supply centre for the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army. “History should not be forgotten, especially the devastation of war,” Chu said.
Thousands of Malayan Chinese were killed by the Japanese – particularly through the use of sook ching (purification through suffering) screening operations – while the community was also forced to pay US$50 million to the Japanese as penance for supporting China’s war of resistance against the Land of the Rising Sun. Information about the number of Malayan Chinese killed during the Japanese Occupation is often scanty. In A History of Malaysia, Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya wrote “the numbers of those who died varied, but estimates range from 6,000 to 40,000” – the latter figure is also given by T. N. Harper in his book, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya. More hair-raising, though possibly biased, figures are provided by Elaine Tan in the China Daily Asia. “In just five short months, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Chinese people were killed” in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, she wrote, adding 1,474 men, women and children were also decimated in the Yu Lang Lang massacre – only 35 individuals survived. Yu Lang Lang is an area that adjoins Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan. Unlike China, where seminal events like the Rape of Nanking are seared into the memories of its denizens today through historical accounts, films as well as a dedicated museum, the misery suffered by many during the Japanese Occupation in this country is infrequently detailed, let alone discussed.
During the Japanese Occupation, Japanese soldiers arrived at the district on 7 January 1942, exactly one month from the date that they arrived in the Peninsular. It was early in the morning when about forty soldiers cycled into Kuala Klawang from Seremban. The troop was led by two guides who had stayed in Titi before the war and known by their Chinese names of Yah Te and Yah Ming, and had worked as a barber and photographer respectively. Within two weeks, the Japanese had formed a police force consisting of about one hundred men. The presence of the Japanese soldiers sent most of the Chinese in the area into hiding in the surrounding jungle. On the fateful day of 18 March 1942, about one hundred Japanese soldiers, who had cycled from Seremban the previous evening and joined by the soldiers stationed at the district police station, made their way to Jelulung village (余朗朗村) located next to Titi town. Due to its strategic location near the borders of Selangor and Pahang, Jelulung became a favourite hideout for resistance fighters. Japanese soldiers gathered the villagers at the marketplace on the pretext of meeting the people and conducting identity checks. Later, they went on a house-to-house search and when it was done, the villagers were herded into small groups and led away to isolated spots and nearby houses where they were stabbed to death by bayonets. Those who resisted were shot point blank. By dusk, the whole settlement was set on fire. A total of 1474 men, women and children were killed and the massacre was the highest single-day casualties recorded during the Japanese Occupation. In 1979, a memorial was built at the Titi Chinese cemetery and the exhumed remains were finally laid to rest there.