Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Kim
Historian Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Kim is widely regarded as the formative figure in the field of Malaysian history. Professor Khoo’s illustrious career spans both academic and public life. He is the author of countless works in the English and Malay language and his writings have been a primary source of reference for the history curriculum in Malaysia. He was one of the instrumental figures in the formulation of the Rukun Negara (National Principles) to foster national cohesion following the aftermath of the 1969 riots.
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Kim was born to Peranakan Chinese parents on 28th March 1937 in Kampar, Perak when the Sino-Japanese War broke out. He was raised in Teluk Intan and had his early education at the Methodist Anglo-Chinese School until primary six. For him, sports was one of the best memories that he had growing up. “Sports gave me so many opportunities to learn about other towns and to learn about Hong Kong. It was my first overseas trip to play football in Hong Kong,” claimed Professor Khoo.
Sports provided him with an avenue to explore other ideas and knowledge. From inspiring him to adopt the values of sportsmanship to creating opportunities to learn about other towns and cultures, it was a lifetime experience where he appreciated and understood the meaning of education taught outside of the school’s four walls. Professor Khoo was initially not a keen university student, however when he pursued his undergraduate degree in University of Malaya, Singapore, in 1959, he was inspired by his History lecturers who encouraged him to do research and discover more about the country.
In 1967, he obtained M.A (History) from the Faculty of Arts, University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, and in 1974, he became the first Malaysian to obtain a PhD for his thesis entitled The Beginnings of Political Extremism in Malaya 1915-1935. In 1967, Professor Khoo was appointed as a lecturer in University of Malaya after two years of tutorship. Subsequently, he gained his professorship and appointment as the Chair of Malaysian History from 1974 up to his retirement in 1992. During his tenure, he was appointed as Head of the History Department, and later Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences from 1984-1986. He was the first lecturer outside of Malay Studies to conduct lectures in the national language. Professor Khoo served over 50 years in University of Malaya’s history department, and throughout his career, he has taught many prominent leaders of the country.
Some of Professor Khoo’s best memories throughout his career included the opportunity to exchange ideas with many national committees alongside Tun Ghazali and other top civil servants, who had graduated from the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. Over the years, Professor Khoo has also been appointed on various national committees: the Pardons Board of Wilayah Persekutuan, chaired by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (till today), Member of the National Advisory Council on Culture (1974-1976), Board Member of the Institute of Strategic International Studies (from 1984), Member of the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) (2004-2010), Member of the Malaysia-Indonesia Eminent Persons Group (2008), Member of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) (2009-2012), Board Member of the Integrity Institute of Malaysia (2004-2013), and the Board of Trustees for Merdeka Award (2007-2013).
As a respected scholar of international repute, he was often invited as an External Examiner for Doctoral and Master’s candidates, as well as a promotions evaluator for many well-known universities locally and internationally.
Professor Khoo was among the initiators in the formulation of the Rukun Negara (National Principles) to foster national cohesion following the aftermath of the 1969 riots. “The idea to form Rukun Negara was suggested by Tun Ghazali Shafie, as inspired by Indonesia’s national philosophy, Pancasila,” explained Professor Khoo. “When a panel comprising civil servants, corporate sector professionals and academicians were formed, Ghazali suggested a draft and recommended to the Majlis Gerakan Negara”.
He was also for many years, the President of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and served as the Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, published by the society. As a well-respected proponent of national sports, he had been actively involved in international sporting events. He was the founder of the University of Malaya Sports Centre and he was responsible for introducing the first sports science degree programme in the country. At the national level, he served on the National Education Advisory Board and the Cluster School of Excellence Advisory Panel. From 1970-1997, he also served as the Head Examiner for the History Paper II, Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM), appointed by the Malaysian Examinations Council. Under his leadership, he assisted the Government of Malaysia in creating a quality examination system for the subject. He has also written numerous books on history referenced by school pupils to this day.
As a highly prolific scholar, Professor Khoo has authored 87 academic writings to date, and initiated various research on history focusing on Malaysia. His writings have been widely published by reputable academic journals locally and internationally, including: Malaysia in History, Jurnal Sejarah, Sejarah, JEBAT, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal of Southeast Asian History, The Southeast Asia Review, and Journal of the New Zealand Asia Studies Association. His writings addressed various aspects of Malaysian history, from a Malaysian-centric approach, emphasising local viewpoints as the basis of historical interpretation and understanding.
Among his numerous published books are Transformasi & Demokrasi (1971); The Western Malay States: The Effects of Commercial Development on Malay Politics (1972); Pensejarahan Malaysia (1975); A History of Southeast Asia, South and East Asia: Essays and Documents (1977); Panji-panji Gemerlapan: Satu Pembicaraan Pensejarahan Melayu (1979); Taiping: Ibu Negeri Perak (1981); Teluk Anson (Teluk Intan): 100 Tahun (1982); Kenegaraan 25 Tahun: Satu Perspektif Sejarah (1983); Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu Sebagai Sumber Sejarah (1984); 100 Years of Kuala Lumpur as Local Authority (1990); His Majesty Sultan Azlan Shah (1991); Malay Society: Transformation and Democratization (1991); Pacific Bank: 75 Years of Service to the Community (1996); Thoughts on Malaysian Historiography (1996); Kuala Lumpur: The Formative Years (1996); The Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Federal Hotel, 1957-1997 (1997); and most recently; I, KKK - The Autobiography of a Historian (2017).
In recognition of his outstanding service and contribution in scholarship, Professor Khoo was honoured as the “Emeritus Professor” by the University of Malaya in 2001. He has received a number of National accolades including the exclusive Fellowship of the Malaysian Historical Society (2012), The Brand Laureate Most Eminent Brand ICON Leadership Award 2013 by The Asia Pacific Brand Foundation (APBF) for his outstanding lifetime achievements. In 2017, he was given the distinction of Tokoh Akademik Negara ke-10 in recognition of his immense achievements in the academic world. At the age of 81, Professor Khoo does not consider himself as retired, as he continues to actively contribute to academic and public life in reorienting the study of history from a Eurocentric focus towards a greater appreciation for local histories. Since retiring, he is regularly invited as a guest lecturer, head of panels for academic forums and evaluation panel for history-related publications. “Education is not based on theories, it must be learnt by going out of the classroom. It is not about passing the exam, but it goes beyond that,” explained Professor Khoo as he desires to instil this thought in his students.
“Never be satisfied with what you are. Always try to improve and change for the better, not change for the sake of changing.”
Message to young Malaysians
“The child is the Father of the Man. Educate and groom the young person and he will grow up to be the right kind of adult. If you wait until he becomes an adult, it is too late.”