By Joachim Ng
Do you greet friends with Xin Nian Kuaile or Gong Xi Fa Cai for the 15 days of Chinese New Year? Xin Nian Kuaile is a simple Happy New Year or Selamat Tahun Baru greeting. However, Gong Xi Fa Cai or Wishing You Prosperity expresses the vision of shared prosperity.
When you give an ang pow, accompanied by Gong Xi Fa Cai or Kung Hee Fatt Choy (in Cantonese, which is the dominant language among Ipoh’s Chinese), you remind yourself of the reasons for this tradition of giving cash. The ang pow began 2200 years ago in China and its perennial message stays relevant in Malaysia.
The ang pow was intended for three main categories of recipients — the young, the unmarried, the old — for these reasons:
- the young, because they needed money for education;
- the unmarried, because they were too poor to afford a wedding;
- the old, because they had lost their ability to earn income.
You can find all three categories in a modern form today, throughout Malaysia. They are:
- students with poor thinking skills and lacking in social ethics;
- low-income graduates who can’t afford to repay their student loans;
- retired employees with falling savings and rising blood pressure.
More than 2000 years after the first ang pows were handed out, the vision of shared prosperity is still a distant unfulfilled dream. Malaysia needs three choy sun yeh (heavenly princes of prosperity) to inspire our jaded economists, puzzled educationists, and battle-fatigued politicians.
The first heavenly prince is needed to revamp our public school system and orientate it towards science learning, social ethics and practical skills training. We should engage a Japanese consultant, as Japan revamped its educational system in the 1950s and 60s by introducing quality circle methodology to weed out all inferior practices in school.
The second prince should investigate why the purchasing power of our wages and currency keeps on falling, to the point that some countries that were behind us in the past have now overtaken us. We should engage a Nobel economics laureate to tell us where we are tumbling as a nation and as individual consumers, and how to set a disciplined course.
The last choy sun yeh is needed to stroke his flowing beard and innovate a post-retirement income plus medical insurance scheme for private sector oldies to keep them working.
Their EPF savings won’t take them far. Pushing out the aged is like cramming old stuff into a small cupboard with flimsy doors. The problem will spill out one day.