Briggs Plan

The Briggs Plan (Malay: Rancangan Briggs) was a military plan devised by British General Sir Harold Briggs shortly after his appointment in 1950 as Director of Operations during the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960). The plan aimed to defeat the Malayan National Liberation Army by cutting them off from their sources of support amongst the rural population.[1] To achieve this a large programme of forced resettlement of Malayan peasantry was undertaken, under which about 500,000 people (roughly 10% of Malaya's population) were forcibly transferred from their land and moved to concentration camps euphemistically referred to as "new villages".[2]

Photograph of a model new village, designed as part of the Briggs Plan to separate the largely Chinese Malaysian rural populace from communist guerrillas.

During the Emergency, there were over 400 of these settlements. Furthermore, 10,000 Malaysian Chinese suspected of being communist sympathisers were deported to the People's Republic of China in 1949.[3] The Orang Asli were also targeted for forced relocation by the Briggs Plan because the British believing that they were supporting the communists.[4] Many of the practices necessary for the Briggs Plan were prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and customary international law which stated that the destruction of property must not happen unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.[5]


British authority in Malaya's rural areas had been only tenuously re-established after the surrender of the Empire of Japan at the end of the Second World War. The British regarded a group of about 500,000 "squatters", largely of Chinese descent, who practised small-scale agriculture, generally lacked legal title to their land, and were largely outside the reach of the colonial administration, as particularly problematic. Many of the Chinese people had been forced to live in isolated communities to avoid being slaughtered by the occupying Japanese.[6]

Several Malaysian communities formed the backbone of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP); its armed wing, the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA); and its civilian supplies and intelligence network, the Min Yuen.[2][7] Many rural workers were sympathetic to communism for the role of the MCP in leading the anti-Japanese resistance movement during World War II. Other factors which led to support for the communists included the desire for Malayan independence from Britain, the communist victory in China, the communist role in leading the Malayan trade union movement and postwar economic inequality and poverty.

Civilians forcefully relocated by the British military as part of the Briggs Plan

By isolating the population into the "new villages", the British stemmed the critical flow of food, information and recruits from the peasants to the guerillas.[8] The new settlements were guarded around the clock by police, and many were partially fortified with barbed wire and sentry towers. That prevented those who were so inclined from sneaking out and voluntarily aiding the guerrillas, and it also prevented the guerrillas from sneaking in and extracting help by persuasion or intimidation. The process created 450 new settlements, and an estimated 470,509 people, 400,000 of them ethnically Chinese, were involved in the program. The Malaysian Chinese Association, then known as the Malayan Chinese Association, played a crucial role in implementing the programme.[9][10]

The British also tried to win the support of some of the settled civilians by providing them with education and health services. Some New Villages were equipped with amenities, such as electricity and piped water, and had a perimeter surrounded with fencing and armed guards to keep the civilians from escaping, many of whom had been in the MCP or had been forced to provide assistance. It was hoped that by providing the communities, which were mainly ethnic Chinese, with such facilities, they would be converted from "reservoirs of resentment into bastions of loyal Malayan citizenry". However, critics argue that the homogenous nature of New Villages, with the few multiracial ones eventually failing or turning into ghettoes, worked against that goal, but accentuated communalist fervour and causing ethnic polarisation, especially in politics, as electoral constituencies would now be delineated more along racial lines.

Previously, the Chinese rural workers and peasants had been spread out geographically, but the Briggs Plan would now bring together rural Chinese from all over the country and concentrate them in the New Villages. There was significant resentment towards the programme both among the Chinese and Malays. The Malaysian Chinese were sometimes targeted for collective punishment, preventive detention and summary deportation, which were aimed at weeding out communist supporters, and the Malays were incensed at the infrastructure provided for the New Villages since their own settlements had remained undeveloped.[11][12] One example collective punishment came from Tanjung Malim, where the British put the civilian population on rice rations to stop them from supporting the communist guerrillas. When that did not work, Gerald Templer halved the rice rations for civilians within the area and imposed a 22-hour curfew.[13]

Similar examples

A similar “Four Cuts” strategy was used against villages and insurgents of the Burmese Communist Party in the Pegu Range.[14]


  1. Hale, Christopher (2013). Massacre in Malaya: Exposing Britain's My Lai. Brimscombe Port: The History Press. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-7524-8701-4.
  2. Newsinger, John (2015). British Counterinsurgency. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-230-29824-8.
  3. Newsinger, John (2013). The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire. London: Bookmarks Publications. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-909026-29-2.
  4. D. Leary, John (1995). Violence and the Dream People: The Orang Asli in the Emergency 1948–1960. Athens: Ohio University Press. pp. 42–43. ISBN 0-89680-186-1.
  5. Siver, Christi (2009). "The Other Forgotten War: Understanding Atrocities during the Malayan Emergency Malayan Emergency". Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  6. Newsinger, John (2015). British Counterinsurgency. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-230-29824-8.
  7. Newsinger, John (2015). British Counterinsurgency. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-230-29824-8.
  8. Peng, Chin (2003). Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History. Singapore: Media Masters. p. 268. ISBN 981-04-8693-6.
  9. Ooi Keat Gin (11 May 2009). Historical Dictionary of Malaysia. Scarecrow Press. pp. lvii, 185. ISBN 978-0-8108-6305-7. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  10. Newsinger, John (2015). British Counterinsurgency. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-230-29824-8.
  11. Newsinger, John (2015). British Counterinsurgency. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-230-29824-8.
  12. Ongkili, pp. 85–88.
  13. Burleigh, Michael (2013). Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World 1945–1965. New York: Viking – Penguin Group. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-670-02545-9.
  14. Generals Go Marching Down Memory Lane By AUNG ZAW in Irrawaddy Magazine
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