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A Malfunction of Sport Nationalism? Lee Chong Wei, Badminton, and the National Identities of Malaysian Chinese
Lee Chong Wei
This study explored the national identity of Malaysian Chinese community when they watched the badminton tournament of Malaysian badminton player, Lee Chong Wei, and how the Malaysian Chinese community responded to the ruling party's appropriation of Lee as a tool for political election. In an in-depth interview with 16 respondents, this study delved into the process of Malaysian Chinese community's identity flow towards Lee. The results showed Malaysia's unique public space – mamak stall, whereby through cheap food consumption that integrated the three ethnics unique tastes, as well as the broadcasting of sports channel, has eliminated the fuzzy limitation of single race that was often found in traditional restaurant. This has also promoted the Malaysian Chinese community’s recognition towards mamak stall as a place to unite all races with Lee representing the national image of unity. However, Lee quickly became a tool used by the ruling party after he became the world champion. The ruling party tried to influence the national identity of the Malaysian Chinese community by this means, which ended up causing a racial crisis. Also, this study found that most of the Malaysian Chinese do not agree with the privilege granted to the Malay by the National Constituency. They believed all that was born in Malaysia should be treated equally and regarded as Malaysian, not as unequal racial groups. Therefore, only through sports that the Malaysian Chinese are able to find their sense of belonging, their national status and identity as a Malaysian. In other words, a kind of Malaysian Chinese nationalistic affect is often built during Lee’s competition, but the disharmony and unfair treatment between ethnics happened daily, such as the oppression in education which causes many to choose to study abroad and etc. Faced with such double identities, the Malaysian Chinese are constantly caught between their national and ethnic affinities. They believed that even if the country was founded on Malay culture, Malaysia is no longer suitable to be ruled under racial or ethnic segregation. Nonetheless, the national concept is needed in order to resolve the contradictions between domestic races and to achieve a multicultural democratic Malaysia.
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