‘A Malayan Girlhood on Parade’: Colonial Femininities, Transnational Mobilities, and the Girl Guide Movement in British Malaya

  • Jialin Christina Wu
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)


In 1938, news of a group of Malayan-Chinese Scouts venturing to China to aid the wounded during the Sino-Japanese War made the headlines in the English and the Chinese press in British Malaya.1 The Singapore Free Press described the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of these ‘doomed youths’ in the following manner:

The highest traditions of the Scout movement have been heroically fulfilled by 16 overseas Chinese Scouts from the Straits Settlements, ten of whom have been killed, two wounded and the remaining four reported missing while engaged in front-line service with the Chinese armies … Most of them came from families of high standing in the Peninsula. Led by capable and beautiful Miss Mack Swee Cheng, the only daughter of a wealthy Chinese sugar merchant in Singapore, the group reached Canton on Oct. 1, where they were sent for further first-aid and army training by the Overseas Affairs Commission Officials there … four remaining girls actually took part in guerrilla warfare while the Scouts were again occupied in dispatch-running and rescuing the wounded.2


Guide Movement Chinese Girl Strait Time Indigenous Leader Guide Training 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    ‘Supreme Sacrifice of Singapore Boy Scouts’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 7 July 1941, 12; ‘Xingzhou huatong zhandi fuwutuan: shiliu ren zhong — shisi ren yixunguo 星州华童战地服务团: 十六人中-十四人己掏国’, Sin Chew Jit Poll [星洲日报]’, 9 June 1937, unnumbered. One journalist, Edna Lee Booker, who was based in China during the war, was so inspired by the actions of these ‘ardent young patriots’ that she ‘left the hospital [where she had interviewed one ‘Boy Scout hero’] sick at heart, bitter against war, but thrilled over the heroism of Young China’. E. L. Booker (1940) News Is My fob: A Correspondent in War-Torn China (New York: The Macmillan Company), p. 331. Local newspapers in the neighboring British colony of Hong Kong also featured this story.Google Scholar
  2. P. Kua (2011) Scouting in Hong Kong1910–2010 (Hong Kong: Scout Association of Hong Kong), pp. 200–1.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    J. Brownfoot (1990) ‘Sisters under the Skin: Imperialism and the Emancipation of Women in Malaya, c. 1891–1941’ in J. A. Mangan (ed.) Making Imperial Mentalities: Socialization and British Imperialism (Manchester: Manchester University Press), p. 55.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    The Straits Times informs us that Guiding was inaugurated in October 1914. See ‘General Notices’, The Straits Times, 14 March 1925, 8. However, most sources indicate that Guiding was established in Malaya in 1917. See A. Abd. Malek and A. H. Hamsah (2007) Persatuan Pandu Puteri Malaysia (Selangor: PTS Publications & Distributors Sdn Bhd), p. 13;Google Scholar
  5. S. F. Chan, C. Alvis and M. R. Segeram (2001) Guiding in Singapore: A Chronology of Guide Events1917–1990 (Singapore: Landmark Books), p. 11.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    F. A. Noor (2002) ‘Commémorer les femmes, oblitérer l’Empire’ L. Chamlou (trans.) in M-E. Palmier-Chatelain and P. Lavagne d’Ortigue (eds) L’Orient des femmes (Lyon: ENS Editions), p. 252.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Brownfoot, ‘Sisters under the skin’, p. 53; T. Proctor (2005) ‘“Something for the Girls”: Organised Leisure in Europe, 1890–1939’ in M. J. Maynes, B. Soland and C. Benninghaus (eds) Secret Gardens, Satanic Mills: Placing Girls in European History, 1750–1960 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 245.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    C. Devereux (2005) Growing a Race: Nellie L. McClung and the Fiction of Eugenic Feminism (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press), p. 39.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    The growing popularity of the Boy Scouts in the early 1910s also helped cut a path ol entry for Guiding since both movements shared similar aims. See K. Y. L. Tan and M. H. Wan (2002) Scouting in Singapore: 1910–2000 (Singapore: Singapore Scout Association & National Archives ol Singapore), pp. 13–15.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    ‘Girl Scouts: Miss Baden-Powell’s Delence ol the Movement’, The Straits Times, 12 January 1910, 2. For further information on Agnes Baden-Powell and the movement in Britain, see H. D. Gardner (2011) The First Girl Guide: The Story of Agnes Baden-Powell (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing);Google Scholar
  11. T. Proctor (2002) On My Honour: Guides and Scouts in Interwar Britain (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society), p. 26.Google Scholar
  12. 25.
    For reasons of brevity, this article will not go into details. See S. Pedersen (2001) ‘The Maternalist Moment in British Colonial Policy: The Controversy over “Child Slavery” in Hong Kong 1917–1941’, Past & Present, 171, 161–202; K. Yuen (2004) ‘Theorizing the Chinese: The Mui Tsai Controversy and Constructions of Transnational Chineseness in Hong Kong and British Malaya’, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 6 (2), 95–110;Google Scholar
  13. J. Brownfoot (1992) ‘Emancipation, Exercise and Imperialism: Girls and the Games Ethic in Colonial Malaya’ in J. A. Mangan (ed.) The Cultural Bond: Sport, Empire, Society (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd), p. 87.Google Scholar
  14. 42.
    British Guiders such as Agnes Baden-Powell also shared similar fears about exercise as appropriate activities for girls. In particular, she warned that ‘violent jerks and jars’ could ‘fatally damage a woman’s interior economy’ and that ‘too much exercise led to girls growing moustaches’. J. Hampton (2010) How the Girl Guides Won the War (London: HarperPress), p. 4.Google Scholar
  15. 65.
    See T. Harper (1997) ‘Globalisin and the Pursuit of Authenticity: The Making of a Diasporic Public Sphere in Singapore’, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 22 (2), 261–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 66.
    See T. Harper (1999) The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (New York: Cambridge University Press), 33;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. C. F. Yong and R. B. McKenna (1990) The Kuomintang Movement in British Malaya, 1912–1949 (Singapore: Singapore University Press).Google Scholar
  18. 70.
    J. Wasserstrom (1991) Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: The View from Shanghai (Stanford: Stanford University Press), p. 160.Google Scholar
  19. 80.
    Singapore Girl Guides Association (1968) Golden Jubilee Souvenir Magazine, 1917–1967 (Singapore: Singapore Girl Guides Association), p. 29.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jialin Christina Wu 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jialin Christina Wu

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations