Malaysian Lion Dance and National Unity

University of Malaya’s ethnomusicologist Loo Fung Ying and Universiti Putra Malaysia’s musicologist Loo Fung Chiat discussed how national unity can be emphasized in multicultural Malaysia through local performing arts by delving into the International Champion Kun Seng Keng Lion Dance troupe.

Kun Seng Keng Lion Dance group photo in 2010.

Malaysia is a multiracial country, as such, its performing arts reveal different genres of music, dance and drama including the Malays, Chinese, Indians and indigenous origins. Since each ethnic group practices its own performing art genres, racial division can be seen clearly through performances. However, hybridity begins to take place lately with the younger generation of performing artists experimenting with a mixture of elements from traditional music, dance or drama from each race. This new phenomenon of hybridity becomes more noticeable when the country’s sixth Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak introduced the 1Malaysia concept in 2008. Local performing art group such as Regal Orchestra, originally a Chinese traditional music ensemble, came up with Muhibbah (or ‘tolerance’) Band and Drum group that consists of music instruments of the three major ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese and Indian. Another example is shown by Hands Percussion which experimented hybridity in their productions such as The Next with elements of traditional Chinese music, Malay’s traditional Mak Yong ritual, and Minangkabau’s folk theatre randai.

The research focuses on the important role played by Kun Seng Keng Lion Dance troupe, a winning champion in the world lion dance competition, in emphasizing national unity when the troupe came up with a new lion dance concept that reverberate the 1Malaysia slogan to the public. The group transformed the traditional Chinese lion dance into a larger ensemble of Malay, Chinese and Indian musicians playing the Malay rebana ubi and kompang, the larger and smaller frame traditional drums, respectively; Indian’s thavil (drum) and nadaswaram (flute) along with the conventional Chinese shigu or lion dance drums, gongs and cymbals. The troupe performed at various local shopping malls especially during the Chinese New Year season, have attracted an enormous pack of audience as well as tourists, and received positive receptions too. Local community gathered and watched the performance, cheering to their acrobatic stunts along with the loud and reverberating drumming ensemble of interesting rhythmic patterns and gesture, which is something new for the traditional lion dance performance.

The study showed how traditional and performing arts in Malaysia has adapted to changes in a multiracial country, along with the continuous rhetoric of the past Bangsa Malaysia and now 1Malaysia slogans that promote national unity. The Chinese lion dance that was once survived through hardship of identity conflict in Malaysia back in 1979 due to its country of origin was transformed by Kun Seng Keng Lion Dance troupe with a new concept that reverberate the 1Malaysia slogan. Performers of different ethnicity teamed up and presented to their audience a performance that reflects national unity and ‘unity in diversity’ as always mentioned by the Prime Minister.

For more information, please contact:

1. Dr. Loo Fung Ying
Cultural Centre,
University of Malaya
50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Email: [email protected]

2. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Loo Fung Chiat
Faculty of Human Ecology,
Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400 Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Email: [email protected]

Published: 28 Jul 2017


Contact details:

Centre for Research Services (PPP)

Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) 8th Floor, Chancellery University of Malaya 50603 Kuala Lumpur MALAYSIA

+603-7967 3202
News topics: 
Academic discipline: 
Content type: 

Loo, F.Y., & Loo, F.C. (2016). Dramatizing 1Malaysia in Contemporary Chinese Lion Dance. Asian Theatre Journal, 33(1), 130-150.