This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 596).


Film showing the resettlement of Chinese squatters from the edge of the Malayan jungle, away from the Communist Terrorists (CTs) who hide there.

Opening with aerial shots over the Malayan Jungle, the film immediately outlines the problems facing the half a million Chinese squatters, who are ‘close neighbours to the terrorists’ on the edge of the jungle. The film notes the squatters’ ‘hard struggle for food’ and outlines the problems faced by Emergency powers in defending ‘these defenceless people’ and in cutting off the food supply to the terrorists. The commentator now introduces the solution, in the form of the Government’s resettlement scheme. Using the example of a new village in Johore, the film first shows the construction of a Police post. It next outlines the assistance provided by the Government for those that move, in terms of education, agricultural advice, money, housing materials and medical aid, and shows a daily bus transporting the settlers to a local town where they buy provisions ‘at controlled prices’. The film highlights the work of the Home Guard, showing Chinese members volunteering, receiving weapons, training (in using a portable wireless set), and then out on patrol. The welfare work of the British is again emphasised, as a group of children attend the local school, before the film shows the locals with pigs imported from England. Over footage of a family sitting down for a meal, the commentator concludes that ‘this is a plan that deserves its success and to go on succeeding long after Communist Terrorism is a forgotten nightmare’.


Synopsis by Dr Tom Rice - AHRC Colonial Film Catalogue, Feb 2010



The arrival of Hugh Carleton Greene (brother of the novelist Graham) in Malaya in September 1950 to head the newly established Emergency Information Services marked the intensification of the Government’s emergency propaganda campaign. Greene argued that until now film propaganda in Malaya had been ‘comparatively neglected’ and secured approval for the large scale expansion of the Malayan Film Unit (Ramakrishna, 2002, 110). As well as staff increases, $380,000 was assigned for new film equipment, prompting an increase in the total number of films produced by the MFU. The unit produced 111 films in 1951, compared with 52 in 1950 and 19 for the whole of the previous three years. Of these 111 films, 24 were on subjects dealing with the Emergency (Annual Report, 1951, 184).

The Emergency Information Services also brought thirty more public address vans and travelling cinemas into service in 1951 ‘to tell the story of the Emergency to people who live even in the remotest parts of the country’ (Straits Times, 16 January 1951, 4). Many of these vans carried SEPs (Surrendered Enemy Personnel) who addressed local audiences, often within Chinese Resettlement Areas.  During a six-week tour of Johore, Negri Sembilan and Malacca during June and July 1951, they addressed 55,000 people and according to the Annual Report, ‘met with considerable success’ (Ramakrishna, 2002, 110).

Alex Josey, the Controller of Emergency Broadcasting, outlined the ways in which these units would now operate. ‘Several of these units, which are staffed entirely by Asians, will travel permanently on the bigger Malayan rivers addressing and showing films to the Malay villagers. Others with Indian field officers work from rubber estate

to estate, others in the new Chinese resettlement villages’ (Josey, 1952, 115). A New Life was available in English and Hakka (films were more often in English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil), suggesting that the film was aimed directly at the rural Chinese, many of who would be facing resettlement (Catalogue of Films Made by the Malayan Film Unit, 1953, 44). The film was subsequently dubbed in Burmese in 1954, one of 43 countries that the MFU sent films to during the year (Annual Report, 1954, 381).

On 24 May 1950, Lieutenant-General Harold Rawdon Briggs, the newly-appointed Director of Operations in Malaya, presented what is now widely known as the ‘Briggs Plan’. The document promoted the resettlement of Chinese inhabitants away from the fringes of the jungle, in an effort primarily to remove the terrorists from their supporters (and suppliers) but also, as historian Kumar Ramakrishna argues, to create a ‘feeling of complete security’ amongst the exposed Chinese. As part of this, Briggs emphasised the importance of providing social services and welfare for the resettled population (Ramakrishna, 2002, 89).

The Briggs Plan was implemented on 1 June 1950 and over the next four months approximately 26,000 people were resettled. By January 1951, there were 117,000 people in 82 resettlement areas, which rose to 385,000 people (79,000 families) in 429 areas by the time of Briggs’ departure in November 1951. A New Life illustrates a resettlement programme in Johore. The annual report outlined that resettlement in Johore ‘except in a few isolated cases’ was completed by May 1951 (Annual Report, 1951, 12, 2).

MCP dubbed the new villages ‘concentration camps’ and throughout 1951 the Government was accused of ‘gross negligence’ in its administration of the Resettlement areas (Harper, 1998, 177, Ramakrishna, 96). The Government’s desire to resettle communities at great speed (in order to break the link between the settler and terrorists) meant that sites were often ill chosen, under-prepared and badly protected. A highly publicised example was Mawai in Johore, into which 1,200 squatters had moved in 1948. Ramakrishna notes that Mawai was ‘unsuitable for growing crops and too close to the jungle fringe’. In October 1951, terrorists attacked Mawai, killing four informers and abducting 36 young men. The government response was to close the area, which fuelled further bad feeling amongst the rural Chinese, who were expected once more to leave their homes and their crops (Ramakrishna, 2002, 95, 96). The impact of resettlement in breaking up long-established communities, and indeed families, has also now been widely recognised. T.N. Harper cited the example of the Hakka population of Pulai, which had settled in Ulu Kelantan for more than three centuries, but was now broken up, with one group resettled three times (Harper, 1998, 177). 



A New Life, in its Hakka language version, directly addressed those rural Chinese facing resettlement. The film thus illustrates the Government’s increasing use of film as a part of the Emergency propaganda delivered through its mobile vans. As an example of the propaganda delivered directly to the rural Chinese, A New Life also reveals the terms in which the Government sought to promote and present its resettlement schemes.

First, A New Life emphasises the security and protection offered for those resettling. It shows the establishment of the Police Post (‘Communist Terrorists don’t like to fight in the open’) and then emphasises the active role that the new settlers can take in the ‘protection of their village’ through the formation of a home guard. Briggs set up the unpaid, volunteer Chinese Home Guard in part to relieve the police of ‘static commitments’ like food checking, but it was also intended to ‘allay Chinese fears that they were in concentration camps guarded by Malay Police’ (Ramakrishna, 2002, 94). As such, the film avoids showing any barbed wire fencing, instead presenting a self-sufficient, mobile community (the film shows the locals taking the daily bus), with an emphasis on safety, rather than imprisonment. Furthermore, the film suggests a clear division between the squatters and the ‘terrorists’, presenting neither squatter dissatisfaction nor involvement with the ‘Communist Terrorists’ (CTs). Instead the squatters appear as defenceless figures pressurised by the ‘bandits’, as the commentator poses two questions; ‘How to defend these defenceless people and how to ensure their food is not feeding the terrorists?’ In stating that ‘an answer has been found’, the film presents the resettlement scheme as a definite solution to the problem. However, the commentator’s claim that the settlements were ‘now safe from their [CTs] clutches’ was undermined by reports of murders within under-prepared and understaffed areas, such as Mawai.

Secondly, the film places a huge emphasis on the welfare and development provided by the British within the Resettlement Areas. Briggs emphasised the importance of establishing social services for the resettled population in order to gain their confidence. A New Life shows the formation of schools as part of the country’s self-development, and as a means of incorporating disparate groups within a national identity; the squatters ‘will grow up to read and understand what it means to be part of a growing and prosperous country, a country in which they have their own stake, their own village’.

Thirdly, and in keeping with many of the MFU propaganda films, A New Life focuses on the food available for the settlers (both visually and through the voiceover). The commentator states that the move will allow the settlers to produce ‘more and better food’, despite evidence that the sites were often unsuitable, and shows British initiatives (pigs ‘arrived from England’), before concluding with footage of a family meal. This message appeals directly to both those facing resettlement and to the CTs, as the implementation of Food Control measures in June 1951 greatly reduced the supply of food reaching CTs. These initiatives ensured that the borders of the Resettlement Areas and the sale of all food were now even more closely monitored. Indeed while the commentator emphasises the money provided by the government for settlers, this could only be used at specific government shops. Finally, the commentator positions these initiatives as part of a long-term plan, despite the fact that settlers were often forced to move again, concluding that the benefits will be evident ‘long after communist terrorism is a forgotten nightmare’.  

Tom Rice (February 2010)


Works Cited

Catalogue of Films Made by the Malayan Film Unit (Kuala Lumpur: Department of Information, 1953).

Federation of Malaya, Annual Report, 1951 (London; Kuala Lumpur, 1951).

Federation of Malaya, Annual Report, 1954 (London; Kuala Lumpur, 1954).

Josey, Alex, ‘The Malayan Film Unit at Work’, in Visual Aids in Fundamental Education: Some Personal Experiences (Paris: U.N.E.S.C.O., 1952), 109-116.

Harper, T.N. The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Ramakrishna, Kumar, Emergency Propaganda: The Winning of Malayan Hearts and Minds 1948-1958 (Richmond: Curzon Press. 2002).

‘Propaganda War on Reds will be Intensified’, The Straits Times, 16 January 1951, 4.




Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
734 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
commentary spoken
Wood, Tom
Arnavasi, A Peter
film editor
Tan, Ronnie
Arnavasi, A Peter
Hipkins, B H
Production company
Malayan Film Unit
sound recordist
Bhaskaran, V G







Production Organisations