Raffles Renounced: Towards a Merderka History 9789811420382, 9789811490231, 1224295805

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Raffles Renounced: Towards a Merderka History
 9789811420382, 9789811490231, 1224295805

Table of contents :
1. Introduction
2. “We refuse to recognise the trauma”: A Conversation between Alfian Sa’at and Neo Hai Bin
3. “Merdeka!”: From cacophony to the sound of silence
4. Stamford Raffles and the Founding of Singapore: The Politics of Commemoration and Dilemmas of History
5. The Bicentennial: Of Precedents, Prequels and the Discipline of History in Singapore
6. Why Raffles is Still Standing: Colonialism, Migration and Singapore’s Scripting of the Present
7. Finding Merdeka in a World of Statues: Singapore’s Colonial Pageant Remade and Unmade
8. Malay Literary Intelligentsia and Colonialism: A Stunted Discourse
9. Opening the Bicentennial: Historical Plurality in Sean Cham’s Art
10. “Giving up an attachment to power”: An interview with Jimmy Ong
11. “Theatre doesn’t change anything”: Merdeka / 獨立 / சுதந்திரம் and the Performance of the Singapore Bicentennial
12. Merdeka Texts
About the Editors
About the Contributors

Citation preview

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Raffles Renounced: Towards a Merdeka History Copyright © Ethos Books, 2021 Copyrights to individual essays and works featured in this book are reserved by their respective authors. ISBN 978-981-14-2038-2 (PAPEBACK) ISBN 978-981-14-9023-1 (EBOOK) Published under the imprint Ethos Books by Pageseers Services Pte Ltd #06-131 Midview City 28 Sin Ming Lane Singapore 573972 www.ethosbooks.com.sg e publisher reserves all rights to this title. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmied, in any form or by any means, electronic,

mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior wrien permission of the publisher. Permission to reproduce the Merdeka Texts from their respective sources, where necessary, have also been sought and given. Painting on front cover City Dwellers by Hilmi Johandi Cover design by Lamees Rahman Layout and design by Pageseers Services Pte Ltd First published under this imprint in 2021 Typefaces: Linux Libertine, Hiragino Kaku Gothic Std National Library Board, Singapore Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Names: Alfian Sa’at, editor. | Faris Joraimi, editor. | Sai, Siew-Min, editor. Title: Raffles Renounced: towards a Merdeka history / edited by Alfian Sa’at, Faris Joraimi, Sai Siew Min. Description: Singapore: Ethos Books, 2021. Identifiers: OCN 1224295805 | ISBN 978-981-14-2038-2 (paperback) Subjects: LCSH: Singapore--Historiography. | Singapore--History. Classification: DDC 959.57--dc23

Contents 1. Introduction 2. “We refuse to recognise the trauma”: A Conversation between Alfian Sa’at and Neo Hai Bin 3. “Merdeka!”: From cacophony to the sound of silence 4. Stamford Raffles and the Founding of Singapore: e Politics of Commemoration and Dilemmas of History 5. e Bicentennial: Of Precedents, Prequels and the Discipline of History in Singapore 6. Why Raffles is Still Standing: Colonialism, Migration and Singapore’s Scripting of the Present 7. Finding Merdeka in a World of Statues: Singapore’s Colonial Pageant Remade and Unmade 8. Malay Literary Intelligentsia and Colonialism: A Stunted Discourse 9. Opening the Bicentennial: Historical Plurality in Sean Cham’s Art 10. “Giving up an aachment to power”: An interview with Jimmy Ong

11. “eatre doesn’t change anything”: Merdeka / 獨⽴ / and the Performance of the Singapore Bicentennial 12. Merdeka Texts 1. Excerpts from Raffles and the British Invasion of Java by Tim Hannigan 2. Excerpt from the Hikayat Abdullah, Chapter 13: “e Treaty with Tengku Long.” (Translated by A H Hill) 3. Excerpts from Tuhfat al-Nafis (e Precious Gi) (Translated by Virginia Hooker and Barbara Watson Andaya) 4. Excerpt from the Hikayat Abdullah, Chapter 14: “Colonel Farquhar Stabbed.” (Translated by A H Hill) 5. Excerpts from “Syair Potong Gaji” (e Ballad of Cut Wages), composed by Tuan Simi in Singapore, 1841 6. Report on Singapore’s Centenary Day celebrations 7. Excerpts from a speech by Subhas Chandra Bose at a military review of the Indian National Army, 5 July 1943

8. Excerpts from Oral History Interview with Dr S Lakshmi and Colonel P K Sahgal (Group Interview) by the Oral History Department, National Archives of Singapore, 21 August 1990 9. “Subh Sukh Chain,” Anthem of the Provisional Government of Free India (Azad Hind) 10. Dr Paglar’s speech and resolution of 2 January 1945, Syonan Shimbun 11. I Love My Malaya (1954) 12. Petition to e Colonial Governor for National Service Exemption (1954) 13. Singapore Chinese Middle School Students’ Union Manifesto on “May 13 Incident” 14. Aggression in Asia by Poh Soo Kai and M K Rajakumar (1954) 15. Excerpts from the opening address of the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung by Sukarno, first President of the Republic of Indonesia (1955)

16. Excerpts from a speech by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at Malaysia Solidarity Day Mass Rally and March Past on the Padang, 31 August 1963 17. Excerpt from a speech by Mr S Rajaratnam, Second Deputy Prime Minister (Foreign Affairs), at a seminar on ‘Adaptive Reuse: Integrating Traditional Areas into the Modern Urban Fabric,’ 28 April 1984 About the Editors About the Contributors Index

/merdéka/ Free (from colonisation, confinement, custodianship, etc.); released (from bondage, claims); standing on one’s own feet; not dependent on others: Malaysia is a ~ and sovereign country. Memerdekakan: to grant freedom, to liberate from colonialism, confinement, etc.; to free: India was granted independence in August 1947, through which it can ~ itself of those pey capitalists. Kemerdekaan: the condition of being merdeka (free); freedom: we successfully achieved ~ on 31 August 1957. Pemerdekaan: relating to or the act of emancipation; liberation. Pemerdeka: someone who liberates others (from colonialism, bondage, etc.). —Translated from Kamus Dewan Edisi Keempat, 2005 Merdeka 1. Free (from slavery, colonialism, and others); standing alone: since that Proclamation of 17 August 1945, our people are ~. 2. Unaffected by or released from, any terms. 3. Unaffiliated, not dependent on any other person or group; without constraints.

—Translated from Kamus Bahasa Indonesia Lengkap, 2005 Mĕrdĕheka 1. [Sanskrit: maharddhika] Freedom, in contrast to servitude; free. Mĕrdĕhekakan, or mĕmĕrdĕhekakan: to liberate; to manumit. Pĕmĕrdĕheka: liberator; sahaya pĕmĕrdĕhekaan: freed slaves. Also mĕrdeka; ([Minangkabau Malay]) mardika. —R J Wilkinson, A Malay-English Dictionary (Romanised), 1932

Maharddika a. Very rich or mighty. —Carl Capeller, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1891

Introduction AT THE END OF 2018, Wild Rice decided to create a play called Merdeka / 獨⽴ /

. It would premiere in 2019, at the company’s new

theatre at Funan Mall. Resident Playwright Alfian Sa’at roped in co-writer and researcher Neo Hai Bin, who would assist in reading through Chinese-language sources and writing Chinese dialogue. e year 2019 was to be commemorated as the 200th year since the founding of Singapore. e playwrights were provoked by a simple question: why was the nation-state commemorating the beginning, rather than the end, of colonialism? Maybe because there were many ends to consider—self-government in 1959, merger with Malaysia in 1963 or separation from Malaysia in 1965? Or maybe there wasn’t really an end, because the legacy of colonialism was still so present. Singapore had, aer all, ‘inherited’ the British parliamentary system, the legal system, the educational system and the civil service, as well as the English language. e two playwrights wondered why many Singaporeans seemed so reconciled with our colonial history. Was it true that episodes of colonial

violence and exploitation were few and unremarkable? Was our independence granted because our former colonial masters simply decided that it was the ethical and strategic thing to do? In the gallery of the anticolonial struggle, where are our heroines, heroes and martyrs? And thus began their deep dive into books, libraries and archives, following the trails of voices ranging from Javanese aristocrats and Malay princes to a Eurasian doctor, an Indian infantry woman, as well as Chinese-educated and English-educated student protestors. In the play, the six members of a reading group called “Raffles Must Fall” re-enact episodes from what they consider are suppressed or dissident histories. While conceiving of the play, the two playwrights had also thought about producing a companion volume, which would feature some of the texts used in the play. It could serve as a primer for those who might be interested in creating their own decolonial reading groups. But what would such a book look like? Should it only contain these ‘primary sources’ that document anti-colonial moments and vibrations? Why not also include essays that could provide critical commentary not just on the past, but the persistent coloniality of the present?

ite serendipitously, the editorial collective of s/pores: New Directions in Singapore Studies was in the midst of conceiving its latest issue. Started in 2007, s/pores is an online journal that disseminates essays investigating different domains of historical and contemporary Singapore. It was started largely by Singaporean academics, and has since published articles by historians, artists, cultural commentators, sociologists and scholars of literature, amongst others. e gestating issue was envisioned as a Bicentennial edition. However, its editors thought it more useful to wait until the Bicentennial was over before venturing to look back on the events as a whole. Since the articles would address the same themes and concerns tackled by the playwrights behind Merdeka / 獨 ⽴


, it seemed intuitive to collaborate in the creation of a shared volume. And so, Raffles Renounced was born. In a way, it marks a meaningful development bringing together artists and scholars, who participate in siloed but parallel conversations. What do we make of our aempt to provision a nation created in 1965 with a longue durée history dating from 1299 using a template still obsessed with Raffles and 1819? All of the chapters grapple with the

consequences and implications of this deeply contradictory gesture of celebrating our colonial past as an already independent nation. e chapters show how Singaporeans live with the contradictions of independent nationhood which haunt both the collective and personal stories about Merdeka that we tell ourselves. Merdeka. Independence. What does Merdeka mean for Singaporeans? Liyana, a character from the play, has this to say: Independence Day would be about freedom. But National Day is about vulnerability. It reminds us every year of how we got kicked out, how nobody thought we could survive on our own. We live in a society where people don’t do things because they’re inspired. ey do things because they’re scared.1 ese chapters are revealing of Singapore’s peculiar post-colonial condition, a consequence of the way we narrate our history. Singapore’s post-colonial condition is marked officially not by our merger with Malaysia in 1963, which was supposed to liberate us from the British empire—our proper colonisers—but by our separation from Malaysia in

1965. us signposted, Singapore’s independence is regarded as a dangerous predicament, and our post-colonial condition has been constantly spooked ever since by multiple threats of failed nationhood—of which colonialism was notably not one. Our lack of appetite for confronting and renouncing Raffles stems from this characteristically Singaporean ‘predicament of independence.’ For this reason, the book begins, emphatically, not with Raffles but with chapters two and three on “Merdeka.” e two chapters orient readers toward this once familiar word that now marks our under-explored predicament. With an eye cast toward a decolonial history and future, chapters four to eleven provide a deep and critical examination of Singapore’s commemoration of the Bicentennial. Readers may regard these chapters as polyphonic voices on a set of common themes and questions on Singapore’s colonial past, trapped as we are in our current predicament. In chapters four to eleven, we ask if our efforts in coming to grips with our colonial past have been adequate, and weigh in on the historiographical aempt at ‘revisionism’ by providing Singapore with a 700-year history that begins way before 1819. Raffles—the contestation surrounding his

status as ‘founder’ of modern Singapore and the politics of statuary commemoration in particular—features strongly in several chapters. ese chapters approach our colonial and now novel pre-colonial past from several angles: the contradiction between lip service paid to an expansive notion of history and continued suppression of histories that disagree with official history; the spectre of the 1965 separation from Malaysia; the twinning of British colonisation and migration; the Malay world; artistic interventions in historical production; coloniality; and the personal politics of desire. * In 2019, the Bicentennial Office sponsored a slew of ‘ground-up’ initiatives intended to generate greater public interest in Singapore’s pasts. But beyond such state-sponsored efforts, private citizens and enterprises have also undertaken aempts to interpret and represent ‘public history.’ e emergence of divergent frames and narratives are exemplified in the proliferation of not just plays like Merdeka / 獨 ⽴ /

, but

also multidisciplinary artworks such as those discussed in chapters nine

and ten. Post- Bicentennial, the state has continued to enlist the help of scholars, filmmakers, antiquarian collectors and heritage enthusiasts to transmit its authorised retelling of Singapore history for consumption by a wider, lay audience. In April 2020, CNA released a docudrama entitled A Frame in Time, directed by auteur Kelvin Tong. In the episode “National Language Class,” a dramatisation of Chua Mia Tee’s iconic painting of the same name was used to tell a broader story of Merdeka. e year it was painted—and in which the dramatisation was set—is 1959, when Singapore achieved full internal self-government from Britain. It is ironic, given how there was no event marking the 60th anniversary of this event in 2019. e docudrama presented that heady period of anti-colonial fervour and merger with Malaysia as a mere transitional phase that naturally had to dissolve to enable Singapore’s path to nationhood. Establishing Singapore’s political and social status quo as a teleological given, it positioned the failure of Merger and gradual neglect of the National Language as a maer of pragmatic expediency: English ‘simply’ became the more relevant language for socio-economic mobility, which was why

learning Malay became no longer viable. e ideological import of this pivot was elided, and the multifaceted struggle for Merdeka tapered down to the conflict between the English-educated and Chinese-educated. e dynamic contributions of the Malay nationalists and anti-colonial intelligentsia were not cited in the programme. And despite the centrality of Chua’s impression of a National Language lesson, not one Malay individual—much less a living cikgu who actually taught the National Language in those days—was counted amongst the episode’s many interviewees. is instance illustrates how there exists no conclusive interpretation or definitive consensus on Singapore history, which we wish to emphasise even as we present this volume. Raffles Renounced represents yet another effort, but certainly not the last word. Other rejoinders and responses will continue to enrich the discursive space seeking ways to beer represent Singapore’s pasts. But at the same time, there is no denying the asymmetries of power that characterise this arena of debate. For every play like Merdeka / 獨 ⽴ /

, there will be a show like

“National Language Class.” For every ‘magisterial’ reference like Seven

Hundred Years: A History of Singapore, there may be a modest volume like ours. If there is, however, anything Singaporeans should have a consensus on, it is the need for an open culture of historical reckoning—without fear of reprisal—and its inherent value to public life. Only then can we earnestly work towards a Merdeka history—one that not only untangles us from colonial narratives, but also as an approach to doing history that is emancipatory. A Merdeka history empowers the plural, the non-elite and the oblique. It eschews ivory-tower snobbery, and is skeptical of axioms held as gospel truth. It resists the dangerous simplicity of thinking in black and white, and narratives complicit in continued silencing and erasure. It legitimises the participation of the many in shaping how we understand our collective pasts and social memories. It is beer to ground ourselves in such a mode of historical thinking, rather than rely on a singular narrative that—as the Bicentennial demonstrated—wears itself out with use and needs cosmetic updating every few decades. Its features are shared with all endeavours that

genuinely seek to deepen understanding of Singapore’s past, and contribute to the making of its more pluralistic and just future. Merdeka, Alfian Sa’at Faris Joraimi Sai Siew Min

1 Chapter 6, Words on Fire, Merdeka / 獨⽴ /


“We refuse to recognise the trauma”: A Conversation between Alfian Saʼat and Neo Hai Bin Alfian Sa’at: Let’s talk a lile bit about the process of us working on Merdeka / 獨⽴ /

. Let’s start with the title. We wanted to

have the title in three languages, which created difficulties for the designers. ey had to download entirely new font libraries. I remember the designers would say, “How come I print it in a certain format and the font disappears?” I’d like to hear your thoughts about that—about multilingualism in Singapore and our commitment to it in the title. Neo Hai Bin: I think we were bringing something back from the past. It’s been a while since we’ve seen multiple languages on the same poster or on the same booklet. When my friends say, they want to watch Merdeka, I know they’re not just referring to Merdeka. At the back of their minds they’re also trying to pronounce the words in the other languages too. You can see it in their eyes. And I think that’s wonderful.

I also remember you asking me, for the Chinese characters, do we use the traditional or the simplified script? And that really stumped me. I took a while to think about it. ere are a lot of political connotations, even in today’s context. In the past, it’s also heavily laden with a lot of political sentiments as well. I had to consider what really fit this piece and secondly, what is this piece driving towards? And that probably helped me make a decision. But I just assumed in the beginning, let’s put simplified Chinese. So that was a wake-up call when you asked me, “What about traditional Chinese?” Why is it that I just referred to simplified Chinese immediately? I’m too used to this context: Singapore means simplified Chinese. But no, even before the PAP or independence or whatever, the Chinese in Singapore have been using traditional Chinese. Alfian: I think there’s this question about orthography and history. Maybe we think immediately, simplified Chinese, because we’re thinking of the present audience we’re communicating with. But I guess we’re also asking, are we pitching this poster and its wording to the audience or do

we want it to reflect the world of the play? Do we want to bring the play into the present? Or do we want to bring the audience into the past? is is interesting for me too because even though it’s not reflected in the word “merdeka,” Malay also underwent a spelling reform in 1972. If I had chosen a word like “ayer,” for example. If you look at the word in “Telok Ayer” it’s spelt “ayer” but aer the spelling reform, it’s spelled “air.” at would also have given the reader some pause. It is spelling that’s laden with history. Hai Bin: And politics as well. Singapore made the transition from traditional to simplified along with the rise of China.1 So we actually went through a period where the Chinese characters that we wrote—was half traditional and half simplified. And sometimes people made up their own words. ey invented characters. Before the full transition to simplified characters. Alfian: So on one hand we are recognising that there is this diversity—of cultures and communities and languages in Singapore. But on the other hand, there is this problematisation of the anti-colonial struggle.

Was there a unified anti-colonial struggle? Was there a unified nationalism or are we looking at separate ones that were tied to certain political agendas that were unique to each community? And in the structure of our play also, it tended to be segregated along those racial lines. It was rare to find a common multiracial cause. What are your thoughts on that? Would you say the anti-colonial struggle was fragmented and specific to the different communities? Hai Bin: When I first began my research into 13 May 1954, I thought it was purely a Chinese students’ struggle. It was only during the process of the research that I found out that the students from the English schools were part of this movement as well. e interesting thing was aer Merdeka ended, I had time to think about questions like… so when these students were building up their movement, what were the Malay communities doing at that point of time? It’s only aer that when I realised society was more diverse than I thought. I think there was a general consensus that you need to chase the British out and gain independence, but I think the communities tried it through different ways.

Alfian: Would it be fair to say that in terms of interracial solidarity, there wasn’t as much? And what could account for that? However, I don’t think it’s a simple answer like people were just driven by self-interest. I think if we talk about solidarity, we need to overcome certain linguistic barriers, and how certain communities organised and mobilised, a lot of that was through a common language. e common cause was to get rid of the British, but the contours or the shape of the nation to come… was really a work in progress. And there was friction and there was dissension also. I’m thinking about the Emergency in Malaya—that aempt to dislodge the British through violent means, through armed revolution. Led by mostly Chinese radicals and revolutionaries. On the other hand, you had the Malay reformists, who thought you could do this in an accommodationist way: “We don’t need to shed blood, but also, we are comfortable with giving the British concessions.” is is a gross simplification, as obviously there was a Malay regiment in the Malayan Communist Party, as well as Chinese reformists.

Hai Bin: ere were different paths, but they had a similar aim. With the different communities, there were different ways of working, different modes of achieving what needed to be achieved. Alfian: And also different visions and imaginations of the nation. Like Malay nationalism, the more right-wing version would say the Chinese shouldn’t be given citizenship. And the le-wing nationalism, in their People’s Constitutional Proposals, would say there should be access to citizenship. But then when we look at the Chinese-educated in Singapore, when you have stuff like Malayanisation, when you discover how easily they agreed and seled on the fact that Malay should be the National Language… those are the things that make me think, they were communicating with one another, and there was some form of solidarity. Hai Bin: It’s very complex, right? Alfian: It is! And I think it’s the historian’s task to make an argument as to whether there was solidarity or there wasn’t. If there wasn’t, then it would have been expected, as the British had created a system where they were by and large segregated, and one of their points of contact would be

the bazaar, the marketplace. But otherwise, in their social lives, they tended to be bracketed in their ethnic enclaves. It was part of the British town planning, to have different enclaves. And even away from town, there was a tendency, when people talked about kampungs, to ask if it was a Malay kampung or a Chinese kampung. But I’m always intrigued by that moment of Malayanisation. I remember seeing a photograph taken of Nantah students, and it was the school choir. And the choir members had a uniform, and it was made out of batik. And I think this is not something you will observe today, in Singapore and Malaysia. But that sense of mingling, of “I can take on certain features of another culture without it erasing or effacing my own.” Hai Bin: It was a great period of experimentation. ere was this fearless atmosphere where, by puing on other people’s culture I’m only adding on, but I’m not diminishing my own. I think that’s the wonderful spirit that spoke to me when I delved into the research. I had never experienced it to such an extent before, in my whole life. Every time there’s a sense of “this is their culture” and “this is your culture,” and “you should be doing

this,” and “they should be doing that.” What happened to all this crossover, this transcendence, reaching out to other cultures? Alfian: I feel that aer Separation, all these generous and hospitable experiments in nation-building, or identity formation, have been subsumed under a dominant CMIO framework in Singapore. Of course it doesn’t help that in Malaysia it’s becoming more ethno-nationalist, so then that means the culture becomes less available to other people. It’s no longer seen as something you can borrow freely from, but is seen as something that’s imposed on you. It becomes oppressive and coercive. So our openness to other cultures has to be based on the notion that the other culture is not going to be used politically against us. Once that culture becomes politicised and weaponised, and used to assert dominance, that’s when we turn away from it. So like the white Australians, the more liberal ones, they have this culture where before they start a ceremony, they will say, “I would like to acknowledge that we are standing on land belonging to whichever Aboriginal people.” And in New Zealand as well, they have taken on some

aspects of Maori culture, they will say a greeting in Maori, they will know some Maori words. So this process of Malayanisation, it reminds me of these kinds of gestures, an acknowledgement of indigeneity. And that moment has passed, I feel. Except in works like Tanah.Air ⽔ • ⼟ for example, which gestures towards that. And asks important questions, like who are the indigenous? How have we displaced them? Or disenfranchised them? Hai Bin: Or stolen. Alfian: Or stolen from them. Hai Bin: We see all these possibilities in the past. And I think a lot of us have to bring up this past more. So that we can take all these possibilities to imagine the future. I feel that we are moving towards a ‘mono’… whether it’s language or culture. We should look back more at the past for these possibilities, and how can they help shape the future. Alfian: I want to trace back to the beginning when we were researching for the play. And I must admit at one point I was a bit scared. at I would not be able to find instances of anti-colonial discourse in Singapore.

Because we grow up with this idea that the British, by and large, were quite benevolent, that their contributions far outweighed any kinds of harm they commied in Singapore. And I think that’s currently the dominant mode of thinking. So for example, because Singapore did not have natural resources, we didn’t have huge instances of widespread colonial extraction and environmental degradation. Our colonisers didn’t create a large-scale plantation economy in Singapore like they did in Java and Malaya. But I think what’s invisible is the entrepôt trade. How much of that revenue went to the metropole in England? I remember my first visit to London. It was pissing from the sky all the time, and it was very horrible to take photos because it was all just grey. And I remember just walking around and feeling so ambivalent. Just tracing the footsteps of Singaporeans and Malaysians who went to London and felt that, “Oh, this is the centre, this is the capital.” And I was looking at all the monuments and buildings and wondering, how much of this was the product of conquest and colonial pillage? And the deliberate

impoverishment of colonies like India, for example? And the slave trade, and all the other things that have led to these present north-south and east-west asymmetries. But growing up in Singapore, you hardly really see anything that’s negative or critical about colonialism. Did your history book cover have Raffles on it? Hai Bin: Yes, and he’s also everywhere. On buildings, Raffles City, Raffles Place… Alfian: Exactly. He’s a brand. So you put “Raffles” on anything and as we mentioned in the play, it becomes a high-class thing. So what could I find that could give me instances of… even if it did not coalesce into a massbased revolt… I think there might have been certain instances where people might have expressed unease or dissatisfaction with the colonial authorities. I knew the Chinese-educated had very strong grievances, because the British treated them very badly. Hai Bin: ey definitely felt that they were being oppressed.

Alfian: But I feel like from a Malay perspective, as much as they felt the British shouldn’t be here… I mean this is how they play divide and rule… there was also the sense that the British would recognise the indigeneity of the Malays, would recognise the status of the Sultans, and therefore would give them some preferential treatment as the socalled indigenous over the other immigrants. erefore, the Malays were willing, in many cases, to co-operate with the British. So I was concerned with the question: were there not Malays who stood up to the British? As I was looking for stuff , I found most of it in Malaya or Malaysia, not so much in Singapore. So I had to dig a lot deeper. And that’s why I looked at the 1819 treaty as something where… maybe the agreement and signing weren’t so easily achieved. Maybe there could have been coercion, some resistance, there could have been doubt and these were things that have not been part of the story we hear. Hai Bin: Or they were not recorded. When I was doing my research, the difficulty was in trying to find these small pockets of different voices. For example, I did get a sense that the Chinese community was seemingly

working as one to drive their agenda forward. But that’s because the records and materials that I found were wrien by people who were literate. Which means that they had a certain level of thinking, they were educated, they were good at writing. So these were the first-hand materials that I was able to get. At some point I was thinking, if only I could go back and interview the aunties and the ah peks—what did they feel when they saw their children fighting on the frontline? Did they support their children or did they have other thoughts? What did the illiterate think of these events? Alfian: I think that’s a problem in historiography, right? How do you write a history that isn’t shaped by what the elites thought and did? Because they were the ones who wrote diaries and le behind all these primary sources. Because you’re right, what to do with the silence of the subaltern? Of course there are some social historians who have found a way out. So, someone like James Francis Warren, who wrote books on the karayuki-san and rickshaw coolies, he relied on coroner’s reports, and then he was able to reconstruct what their lives were like. Of course they

come with gory details, like this person died of tuberculosis or this one of opium overdose. But from that you’re able to trace out the minutiae of these people’s daily lives. But you’re right. When people hide in the jungle to fight for the Malayan Communist Party, the question I always have is, is this purely ideological, like, “ank you for teaching me about Marx and Mao, and now I’m convinced in the cause of the revolution?” Or were there just certain things like fear, and survival, that operated? So you’re right, if only we all had time machines to ask these people, “What did these struggles mean to you?” Hai Bin: at was a period of intense imagination, if I may say. A lot of wild possibilities, nothing was set in stone, people learnt about different schools of thought. And they started believing in these ideas because they honestly loved this land, and they honestly felt that these ideologies and beliefs could liberate them, or lead them forward, or give them a new way of life. Which we seldom witness in Singapore. e closest we’ve seen is that a few months aer we met to exchange our notes in early 2019, the

Hong Kong protests erupted. And that gave us a glimpse of what could have happened in the past in the struggle against the colonial masters. Alfian: Maybe if we can move to the topic of the Bicentennial. One strand of the play is a response to the Bicentennial. We were one of a few performances and theatre responses to the Bicentennial. Let’s also acknowledge that theatre and performance have also been harnessed for the Bicentennial itself, especially in the form of the Bicentennial Experience. I went for it, and admiedly it was interesting. And I feel torn in some places because I had friends who worked on it, in all earnestness. And I cannot anyhow just say, “You’ve been co-opted.” But let’s talk about some of the performances that you remember that tried to address the Bicentennial and maybe provide a counter-narrative to it. Hai Bin: Of course one of the first was e Necessary Stage play, Civilised. at was an amazing take. Where they made a whole set into something like a boat. Partly because in response to the Bicentennial, which in its context is so Singapore, they zoomed out so we got a wide sense of the term ‘civilised’ or what colonialism means in the whole wide

world. Colonialism in the past and the future, where we would colonise other planets. So they really expanded into space and time as well. One thing I felt from that production was this whole sense of frustration. In responding to the Bicentennial and also in tackling this whole issue of colonialism. I started to question: is frustration the only thing we can get out of this Bicentennial? Is there no other way? And indeed the show didn’t offer any other way. So they tried. ey said, “Pull down the Raffles statue.” But in the end they didn’t, and they couldn’t. Well, theatre is not supposed to give any neat answers, but I also felt sad about this sense of frustration whenever we try to talk about this topic. ere’s this whole sense of helplessness. Alfian: Well, Civilised is pessimistic. One of its strategies that tries to deal with this pessimism is through satire, and humour and irony. But it’s the kind of satire where the laugh is very bier. at was my main takeaway also. at actually, it’s no use. Colonialism has just so permeated our structures of feeling, even to the point where it seems that you cannot decolonise without also losing an essential part of yourself. But

nevertheless, it was interesting in its ambition and its scope. What about Miss British? Hai Bin: I didn’t manage to watch it. But I’d like to hear you talk about it. Alfian: So they had three performers, minority race performers, who were Sharon Frese, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai as well as Grace Kalaiselvi. It was mostly examining the status of women, through intersections of gender, race and colonialism. Which was interesting because you’re questioning the ideology of colonialism and what kinds of effects it produces. Including, for example, a hierarchy of desirability. So darkskinned people, according to this hierarchy, are at the boom of this ladder. So they went back and forth from looking at certain historical episodes, or certain quotes from decolonial authors, and there were moments when they just shared something quite personal from their lives. Sangeetha shared how she’d go on a dating app where some people will say, “You’re prey for an Indian” for example, and Grace shared about how her mother, a working-class Indian woman, was struggling to raise her family.

e other piece I’m thinking of is Tanah.Air ⽔ • ⼟ . Let’s talk about how you see it positioned as a response to the Bicentennial. Hai Bin: It started off as Heng Leun’s idea. He came across two books which he’d never read before2 and he was interested in how the author Isa Kamari talks about and responds to colonialism. He wanted to put those stories up on stage. ere was a lot of discussion, and in the end there was a verbatim theatre work and also an adaptation. I was in charge of the adaptation, called Tanah, and the playwright Big (Zulfadli Rashid) was in charge of the verbatim theatre. e laer had nothing to do with Isa’s stories but were based on the issue he was tackling, which is the issue of the Orang Seletar. It took on a life of its own and became Air. And for Tanah, it was still very much about the book actually. e whole structure remains, the events which took place, which characters were involved. But the difference in the adaptation was that… in Tanah the main protagonist is this girl who witnessed what happens in the Sultan’s palace and what happens to her friends in the kampung and what happens around Singapore. But in Isa’s account, his story, ‘history,’ Isa’s version of

history, it was actually the kampung boys and Habib Noh. So that was the big difference. In terms of gender, in terms of who should narrate the story. e form itself also became the content. Our work described how this old piece of text was found. And how it was originally wrien as an old Chinese form of storytelling. It was probably an old storyteller who le it behind, talking about this Malay girl who witnessed what happened when the colonisers came to Singapore. So the whole context became different, and that’s why we see Wan Ching (the actress) reading this whole text aloud. Alfian: Earlier we talked about that Malayanisation moment, and its possibilities. I feel like what you did with Isa’s book is actually something that could have sprung from that moment itself. So that gives me hope that our connection to that past has not been completely severed. at there are certain strands that people are picking up and seeing where it leads to. I feel the very fact that you did not just adapt the novel, but also turned it into the form of Chinese storytelling, that was a way of staking a

claim or uncovering a latency. I want to ask about the poems in the script for Tanah. Were they from the novel itsel? Hai Bin: In the course of our research we found some of Tuan Simi’s poems. Or at least they were credited to him. Alfian: ose are the “Syair Dagang Jual Beli” (Poem on Buying and Selling) and “Syair Potong Gaji” (Poem on the Salary Cut), right? Hai Bin: Yes. We had a hard time trying to find out about his life story. I personally love that poem. It seems like a piece of text from a ‘commoner.’ And through it I could sense what was the consensus or sentiment towards the Sultan or royalty at that time. Alfian: Let’s go back to that book by Isa Kamari, Duka Tuan Bertakhta. In English it’s translated as 1819. You read the book in Chinese translation. What’s the Chinese title? Hai Bin: e Sad King Who Rules 〈〈 悲 君 统 治 〉〉. Which is closer to the Malay translation. Alfian: When you mentioned just now that you consider the book to be more ‘his story’ than ‘history,’ could you elaborate?

Hai Bin: I started to use this word because of the process of Merdeka as well. Because of doing all this researching and looking at all the different accounts. Studying all the different fragments of thoughts from people from the past. I started to realise that there are all sorts of different truths out there—with a small leer ‘t.’ And we can start to piece together all these lile truths, to reach the Truth with a big ‘T.’ But sometimes it’s hard. We cannot succeed every time. And that got me thinking. Historians and researchers are walking at a beach, and digging, and trying to find out what the ocean is like. But really we can only gather clues, and small fragments. So Isa Kamari’s book has his story, it’s his account, with his take on colonialism and his revelations and his thoughts and questions. So, as a reader, I try to take in his questions and try to see from his perspective. And that’s one of the things that we tried to deal with in the process for Tanah as well. How can we get more perspectives? How can we take his questions and question his piece back with those same questions? Where are the ‘her stories’? In our version, the protagonist is someone called Marmah. She

doesn’t have a lot of say in Isa’s story. But in our story she has the full say. And also when we talk about the royalty we try not to talk about Sultan Hussein so much. We talk about Tengku Prabu as well. In Isa’s version Tengku Prabu doesn’t have much to say. We wanted to imagine what characters like Marmah and Tengku Prabu would say. What if we really let them speak, what will they say, how will they deal with the colonial situation? We’ve only seen men deal with that situation. Alfian: Isa’s critique of the Sultan is very severe also. I haven’t really come across historical accounts in which the Sultan was so bloated and an opium addict actually, so I was wondering what he relied on for this account. It could also be hearsay. Because someone like Wak Cantuk, another character in the novel, is also based on hearsay. ere was a rumour about him going amok. And before you know it, it became a story that Harun Aminurrashid wrote as a novel, and aer that Abdul Ghani Hamid turned it into a play. But historically speaking, I don’t think we’ve

come to any conclusive proof whether this person existed. But that’s the nature of oral literature, right? Hai Bin: But that’s the thing. For the community, sometimes fiction seems much more real than fact. In the classical Chinese novel, the Monkey God is entirely fictional, but in the heart of the community he is as real as any king. It’s really different. Like the Tuan Simi poems that we discovered, there was also hearsay about Tengku Prabu. But we don’t know whether it’s true, or is it hearsay? How many people really believed in it? Was it just a poem read by only a few, and then by us readers in the future? Alfian: You’ve done a few works now on colonialism and anti-colonial discourse. Do you think it still has a place today? Or do you think that moment has passed? at actually aer formal decolonisation, aer we have gained control or sovereignty, anti-colonialism is kind of an antique interest? at we live in a globalised, neoliberal world and those kinds of things are in the past. at anti-colonial ideas are no longer relevant.

Hai Bin: No, I think we should keep talking about it. What’s interesting about colonialism in Singapore is that on the surface it looks wonderful. But everyone knows that there is a trauma. And we don’t address it. Or we forget about the trauma. And the act of forgeing is an add-on to the trauma and an act of trauma itself. Whereas in other countries when they talk about it, they always recognise and deal with and look at the trauma directly. And in doing so they are able to move forward. If we don’t look at it, there is the danger that we will inflict it on others. Maybe internationally, we can argue that we are a small country and we will never inflict it on any other country. But even in our country we have been inflicting it on ourselves, on our brothers and sisters, our migrant workers. And that’s because we refuse to recognise the trauma. Alfian: I agree completely. About coming to terms with our colonial legacy. Unless we are aentive to the scars that colonialism has le behind, we really run the risk of becoming an imperial entity ourselves. And I already see this happening. In terms of say, extraction of sand from other countries. In terms of how we are degrading their coastlines,

disrupting fishing grounds and polluting waters. I think that, for me, is a very clear example of this imperial form of extraction and exploitation. Just to benefit our own construction industries, to expand our own coastlines, we are destroying these particular coastal ecosystems in other countries. I think this is already happening right now in Cambodia. Previously it was happening in Malaysia and Indonesia, until they instituted sand export bans, in 1997 and 2007 respectively. Which just shows you how serious the problem is. And I think in Singapore, because we’re one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia, and because we’re such a centre for capital, and capital accumulation, I really worry that because of this disparity between us and our neighbours, we start doing certain things which are very colonial. And more than doing, we start to think in very colonial ways. And I think this is one of the greatest dangers, which is that being the product of socalled ‘colonial enlightenment,’ we then believe in certain colonial ideas such as racial hierarchies of difference. Hai Bin: And we take it to be the norm.

Alfian: So we think that oh, our Southeast Asian neighbours around us, they’re not doing so well economically, because biologically, brown people are not hardworking, blah, blah, blah. Or there’s environmental determinism at work, which is if you’re born in the tropics, you haven’t suffered hardship like cold winters in temperate climes. So you’re not hardy, you’re complacent, you’re so. I mean, Lee Kuan Yew thinks like this. A lot of his racial ideas are actually very, very colonial. But then mapped onto an Anglo-Chinese superiority. A neo-colonial figure. Sometimes we feel that it’s very distant, but actually it still haunts us, it’s very present. e spectres of colonialism are still with us. And the migrant worker issue for me is a classic example of how we treat labour. Because there are echoes, and I think we can trace this to the British use of convict labour from India to come and build basically the entire downtown area. North and South Bridge Road, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Commercial Square3—all convict labour. is was labour that you could really exploit, almost practically slave labour. But the excuse is that, these people have a

debt to pay to the state because of their criminality. You put it in that framework and you extract as much forced or slave labour as possible. It’s similar with migrant workers when you put them in a framework of, “Oh, they are beer off here than in their own countries where they wouldn’t have found work anyway.” And therefore this justifies us either giving them the minimum welfare treatment, or underpaying them, or giving them substandard housing and food. So I think the minute you frame it in certain ways… so for the British they framed convict labour as, “Oh these are prisoners, so there are certain rights they don’t deserve.” And for migrant workers we frame it as, “Oh these migrants have come to a beer place and they can’t have everything so there are certain rights that we must deny them.” But this delusion that we are doing migrant workers a favour by ‘rescuing’ them from unemployment, and that they should be grateful and not ask for anything else, it’s a colonial way of thinking. It’s how so much exploitation and the occurred under the self-deception that colonisers were bringing the light of civilisation to benighted natives.

Maybe one last question. Do you feel that—or maybe it’s just my social circle—the Bicentennial will be remembered more in terms of the resistance to it than its uncritical celebration? I just feel that instead of glorifying Raffles and colonialism or whatever, it has actually given space for a lot of counter-discourses to emerge. And for me, the counterdiscourses are what will be my main memory of the Bicentennial. Hai Bin: I would really love for a lot of people to think the way you just did. Personally, really, I hope that this kind of reflection and questioning doesn’t take another 100 years to happen again.

1 Hai Bin was referring to the 1970s and 1980s. From 1969 to 1976, the Ministry of Education promulgated the Table of Simplified Characters, and it was aer 1976 that they fully adopted the Simplified Chinese characters of the People’s Republic of China. 2 1819 (Silverfish Books, 2013) and Rawa (Silverfish Books, 2013) by Isa Kamari 3 Now known as Raffles Place.

“Merdeka!”: From cacophony to the sound of silence Hong Lysa e sound ONCE UPON A TIME in Singapore’s post-war history, “Merdeka!” was the one word that regardless of their race, language, religion or political affiliation, the majority of people of Singapore would have at the very least heard in the course of their daily lives, if not, taken part in shouting it. “Merdeka!” was reverberations of sound energy channeled through mass performances—against the continuation of colonial rule. It was a declaration that one was not a colonial stooge. “Merdeka!” demanded a response—an amplified echo of the thousands as demonstration of their commitment to the speaker and the cause. ey were interpellated as subjects of the nation-to-be. More than anything

else, “Merdeka!” was the urgent claim to the right to determine the future of one’s own country. e most electrifying “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” would have been proclaimed in June 1959, when the People’s Action Party (PAP) won the general election and formed the first fully elected cabinet. A cry of victory, though it was only “tiga suku” (three quarters) Merdeka. “Merdeka!” thus continued to be a bale cry for it had not been fully aained. In Singapore, “Merdeka!” was for the beer part not a word that was in the native language of orators who gave it its life force; indeed the speeches were likely made in a different language, with the bale cry “Merdeka!” coming at the end, and saying it all. In adopting and popularising “Merdeka!” the political leaders of Singapore acknowledged that the country was part of the process of decolonisation in the Malay world where its people belonged, and their future lay. “Merdeka!” was thus not for translation. In another tongue, it would lose its potency. David Marshall had occasion to call it “the sacred word.”

Today it is almost unimaginable to most Singaporeans that all this did actually take place “once upon a time.” Capturing the sound of “Merdeka!” during the decade before it disappeared completely in Singapore is one way of recovering a sense of the dynamics of the period of mass political involvement. e daily news reports and commentaries in the pro-establishment e Straits Times were auned to the polemics of the word which the island’s competing political leaders were invested in, and which the newspaper was not in sympathy with. It took pains to record who cried “Merdeka!”, when and how it was uered, and the responses or lack thereof from listeners. When Singapore became a sovereign state on 9 August 1965, “Merdeka!” did not feature at all, though it has been recognised that it was on that day that the island became independent. Henceforth the word has been deleted from the national narrative, and that era of politics when it held sway, disavowed. us in 2019—the 60th anniversary of the aainment of selfgovernment when “Merdeka!” resounded most lustily—the event and the word were forgoen while the bicentennial of Raffles’ landing on

Singapore was cause for a year-long national celebration. How could it be possible to remember and celebrate the silver jubilee of the highest point of Singapore’s mass anti-colonial movement, and at the same time mark 200 years of the arrival of the coloniser? Multifarious “Merdeka!” Yet so powerful was “Merdeka!” in the 1950s and the early 1960s that in the end even the most pro-colonial political party of the day had to resort to the Word, though it came too late to make a difference to their electoral misfortunes. e Progressive Party had been groomed to succeed the colonial rulers at a time to be decided by the British themselves and was primed to win the 1955 election. e party was led by English-educated professionals who had served as members in the largely nominated legislative council. e Emergency regulations in place since June 1948 had already provided for the detention without trial for some, and banishment of other radical le-wing activists. No surprises were to be expected.

However, colonial repression against the Chinese middle school students for their refusal to register for national service under the colonial regime—on grounds that it would affect their studies—and the charge of sedition levelled against leaders of the University of Malaya’s Student Socialist Club in May 1954 for an anti-colonial article in their paper Fajar, brought forth a groundswell of disaffection against the status quo. e tide turned irrevocably in favour of the newly formed le-wing anti-colonial parties. e 1955 election resulted in David Marshall of the Labour Front becoming Singapore’s first chief minister, while the PAP further to the le of the political spectrum won the four seats it had intended to capture (which included one where the Party was behind an independent candidate). e Straits Times held that it was the cry of “stooge” levelled against it that had seriously damaged the Progressive Party’s chances.1 e party itself reached the same conclusion. About four months aer its electoral defeat, the Progressive Party’s Trade Union Commiee unveiled its Shop and Clerical Workers’ Charter calling for fixed hours of

work and paid sick, annual and holiday leave. ey did this with clenched fists and shouts of “Merdeka!”, in the style of the PAP.2 e Progressive Party’s stalwarts decided that this was going too far. ey decreed that members were forbidden to give the clenched fist salute when shouting “Merdeka!”. ey were concerned about the widespread association in Singapore of the clenched fist with communism, and counselled that anything which may be misinterpreted as being associated with communism should be avoided.3 Accompanied by raised clenched fist or not and with whatever implications about what the gesture meant, the cry “Merdeka!” was anathema to e Straits Times. Singapore witnessed its biggest rally then since the June 1948 imposition of the Emergency regulations, when more than a thousand people aended the inauguration of the PAP at the Victoria Memorial Hall on 28 November 1954. e theme was immediate independence, and speeches were interrupted by cheers of “Merdeka!”. e PAP pledged that it would remove the Emergency regulations without delay.

e Straits Times columnist covering the event took issue with the “Merdeka!” roar which he averred had lost much of its heady appeal in the land of its origin, Indonesia—which had fought and won its revolution against the Dutch in December 1949. Indonesia may have gained independence, but its government had yet to hold an election, and its economy was doing worse than Singapore’s. In contrast, the people at the PAP inauguration who were living under colonial rule were beneficiaries of the finest health system in Asia.4 Columnist Billy Budd was way off the mark in claiming that the cry of “Merdeka!” had faded away, or that it emanated only from Indonesia. e newspaper was to report six months later that during the campaigning for votes in the 1955 election, a crowd of some 2,000 villagers chanted the word at the United Malays National Organisation-Malayan Chinese Association (UMNO-MCA) alliance meeting held at Radin Mas in the presence of the visiting UMNO president, Tunku Abdul Rahman.5 Following his practically clean sweep of the 1955 federation election, the Tunku became prime minister of the Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957 when the British granted Malaya independence. At the

ceremony held at the Merdeka Stadium, the Tunku formally read the instrument of independence, aer which he burst into “Merdeka!” seven times with the packed crowd joining in. In the following month the Singapore division of UMNO, like its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, was embroiled in a dispute with the AllMalaya Muslim Missionary Association which banned the shouting of “Merdeka!” on the birthday of Prophet Mohammad. UMNO leaders refused to take part in the procession arranged by the Association unless the ban was called off. e Chief Kathi of Singapore held the same view as UMNO. He declared that personally, he could see no harm in Muslims shouting “Merdeka” for all of 24 hours if they wanted to.6 Nor had the Indonesian revolution’s “Merdeka!” lost resonance in Singapore. In July 1955 President Sukarno stopped over in Singapore to catch the flight to Mecca to perform the haj. He was greeted by some 6,000 people at the residence of the Indonesian consulate-general. In his address the Indonesian president said with reference to Singapore being a colony that everybody had the right to independence, and called on the crowd to

shout “Merdeka!” seventeen times—one for each prayer a Muslim performed every day. Sukarno counted with his fingers as the people shouted in unison and not satisfied with the result, he had them repeat the cry.7 A nominated member of the legislative assembly and banker G A P Sutherland wrote to the press to express his view that as a visitor to the British colony, it was extremely ill-mannered and outrageous of the Indonesian president to suggest publicly that a society be created to fight for independence of those who still lived under colonial rule. On top of that, Sukarno had led “a crowd of Singaporeans in hysterical choruses of ‘merdekas’.”8 Chief Minister Marshall lambasted Sutherland for insulting President Sukarno who was taking “a sympathetic interest in our struggles for independence.” Marshall reported as an eyewitness that aer hearing the cry of the “Merdeka!” given by the gathering with fists clenched, Sukarno rebuked them and made the people repeat their performance with palms opened.9

Marshall’s version of events was contrary to the earlier report in e Straits Times. Sukarno was a firebrand anti-colonial champion and unlikely to have disapproved of “Merdeka!” with fists clenched. Marshall’s account brings to mind the Progressive Party’s concern about the raised fist being associated with communism. Evidently, he wanted to distance himself from endorsing the hallmark of PAP public events. e newspaper also noted that Marshall was keen to “ameliorate the existing atmosphere of suspicion and antagonism” between Indonesia and Singapore, which was then still a colony. President Sukarno, a champion of solidarity among the newly independent states in the two continents, had hosted the AfroAsian Conference in Bandung four months earlier, in April 1955. Marshall’s “Merdeka!” frenzy Marshall headed an unstable minority government. With the exception of the Progressive Party, the others had aacked the limitations of the Rendel Constitution and demanded the repeal or revision of the Emergency regulations and the establishment of a multilingual and fully elected legislature. e PAP as the opposition gave immediate notice that it would

“expose” the Labour Front as being no different from the Progressive Party if the government retracted any one of its election promises.10 Marshall was hence under pressure to win mass support to strengthen his position. is he did by mobilising “Merdeka!”. When Marshall returned to Singapore from London in December 1955 where he secured an agreement from the Colonial Office for constitutional talks to be conducted, he was given a tumultuous reception by 2,500 supporters who went wild when he bellowed “Merdeka!” as he walked across the airport tarmac. e Straits Times noted that he ended his speech with “an open-handed salute” and another cry of “Merdeka!” which the crowd took up and shouted back.11 “Merdeka” became a vital adjective which Marshall henceforth aached to his initiatives. e constitutional negotiations with London that he secured were billed as the “Merdeka talks.” In conjunction with that he formed an all-party Merdeka commiee to organise activities for Merdeka week commencing 13 March 1956 to impress on the visiting British parliamentary delegation that the people of Singapore were ready for independence. Its first decision was to hold a Merdeka referendum—

collecting 300,000 signatures for or against Merdeka—to be presented to the delegation. Each page had the heading “We Demand Merdeka Now.” Five thousand Merdeka movement supporters, mostly Chinese middle school students fanned out across the island to canvass names and addresses. e island was plastered with thousands of “End colonialism now” posters. More than 500,000 Merdeka flags, handbills and car stickers were distributed. e chief minister and other party leaders toured the island to hold Merdeka meetings. e climax was to be a mass rally held at Kallang Airport, with the resolution “We the people of Singapore demand an immediate end to colonialism—and Merdeka.”12 However, the chief minister did not have everything his way though he tried to give that impression. At a Merdeka meeting that he held at Empress Place which aracted a 400-strong lunchtime crowd, Marshall asserted that the progress his government had made in improving the lives of the people was phenomenal, and that they should support his demand for Merdeka. e Straits Times reported that Marshall was pressed to call for a show of hands. Apparently, half of those present raised their hands in favour of

Merdeka; there was no response when it was the turn of those who were against Merdeka to raise their hands. is outcome would have been to no one’s surprise and Marshall’s embarrassment.13 ere were other more open forms of resistance to Marshall’s “Merdeka!”. Motorists on their way to office were reported to have jammed on their brakes when they read huge anti- Merdeka posters in bold red leers “TO HELL WITH MERDEKA… Singapore should have British rule—proven till y Kingdom Come.” ey were found in spaces of the English-speaking elites—the Government House and Empress Place traffic roundabouts, and outside Presbyterian Church in Orchard Road. A man seen nailing the poster at Government House refused to give his name.14 A leer to the press signed by “95 voters of the River Valley road area” was upfront about the scorn they had for the “Merdeka referendum.” ey called for a proper referendum—a secret vote with three options: We want Merdeka now; we want Merdeka, but not yet; or we don’t want Merdeka. e leer claimed that 90 per cent of the literate citizens of Singapore wanted a secret referendum. To have people sign on pages with their

names and addresses on the column that declared support or rejection of Merdeka was but coercion to succumb to the government’s wishes. e leer also alleged that gangsters and communists were being deployed to hawk the pages among the illiterate.15 Marshall replied that it was agreed by all quarters that there was a real and passionate desire on the part of the people of Singapore to have their own form of government and to have an end put to colonial rule. His detractors were from small sections of the population who feared Merdeka, namely, owners of capital “and to some extent, minority races.” To Marshall, the minority races and in particular the Malays, but most vocally the Eurasians, were concerned that following the departure of the colonial power, the majority Chinese population would hand the country over to the control of China. e chief minister voiced his confidence that the Chinese in Singapore were Malayan, not “Peking Chinese” and that in any case the Merdeka talks would be on the basis that control of Singapore’s external defence and external affairs would remain with the British.16

e Merdeka frenzy did not escape the subalterns whose concerns were more immediate, and understood the situation on their own terms, seeing Merdeka as potentially bringing benefit to their lives. An instance of this was documented in the newspapers. A Malay glass factory labourer was charged in court for behaving in a disorderly manner. Ibrahim was booked by a constable for passing vulgar remarks to women on the road on his way home from work in a City Council lorry. He pleaded not guilty, claiming that all he did was to shout “Merdeka!” when he passed two policemen. e constable who laid the charge clarified that he had nonetheless noticed Ibrahim passing vulgar remarks to the women, and as soon as the lorry had passed the policemen, Ibrahim had added, “Jekalu depat merdeka, awak balek kampong.” (“When we get independence, you will be sacked.”)17 e lowly labourer had a sense that the mata-mata who pushed him around would lose their jobs when the colonial officials whom they served departed. On the other hand, the people at the boom, such as labourers like him, would at least still have their jobs. In fact, with the new

government claiming to be for the people, their lot could well be improved. Ibrahim’s shouting “Merdeka!” to the constables who were going to arrest him was an expression of his reading of the politics of the day. e mata-mata would soon get their comeuppance. e world would be set right. “Merdeka!” had so saturated the ears of the people that even young school children were not spared. Apparently, they too absorbed the word in their own way, and in one recorded instance, perhaps unwiingly caused a patriotic British resident in the colony to be horrified, if not to panic. One Mrs Patricia Raymond complained in a leer to the press that children had been blatantly disrespectful towards the queen. At a film show they had jeered, making a racket each time her image was on screen. e children were in school uniform and accompanied by teachers. As soon as the film began, they started chanting “merdeka, merdeka” in unison, and continued to do so, alternating it with rhythmic handclapping and piercing catcalls.18

e Education Department immediately launched an investigation, which concluded that there was no organised disrespect for the queen. e primary level students from the aernoon session of two Englishmedium schools, Stamford Girls’ School and Monk’s Hill Boys’ School, had aended the 4pm screening of the show. ere was a certain amount of misbehaviour on the part of some small boys—hand-clapping, running up and down the aisle and making a great amount of noise. ere was jeering when they saw Africans in what they thought were ‘funny’ clothes and somehow they linked this in their minds with “Merdeka!” It transpired that the children had been taken to watch an hour-long film of the queen’s tour of Nigeria, made by the colony’s Federal Information Service. ree of Britain’s biggest cinema chains had refused to screen it for lack of public interest.19 e Education Department did not try to give a reason for its statement that the children yelled “Merdeka!” at images of Africans dressed likely in their indigenous ceremonial aire for the occasion. Stony silence

e Marshall-led Merdeka talks failed. e British would not transfer power over internal security, and Marshall did not have the delegation’s support to continue the negotiations. He resigned as chief minister as promised, hoping that his cabinet members would do the same, thereby triggering a general election, which the British were keen to avoid. However, his Labour Front deputy Lim Yew Hock took over the office on 8 June 1956. e British demanded tough action against subversive groups, in particular the labour unions and middle school students before constitutional talks would resume. Lim worked with Lee Kuan Yew, secretly backing Lee by arresting the PAP le-wing members and cracking down on their organisations in September and October. Top union leaders who were also PAP founder-members including Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, C V Devan Nair, James Puthucheary and S Woodhull were imprisoned without trial. Lim Yew Hock led a small delegation, which included Lee Kuan Yew, to London for the second constitutional talks. ey returned with what they claimed was a new constitution providing for a fully elected legislature, with the British controlling external defence and external

relations. ere would be an Internal Security Council (ISC) comprising three representatives each from the Singapore government and the British, and one from the Federation. In addition, the “anti-subversion clause” was introduced: political prisoners were not allowed to run as candidates in the 1959 election. is clause was unprecedented in the British colonies. e government declared the talks to be a great success, and plans were made to fete the returning delegates. Tens of thousands were to line the streets to cheer the motorcade travelling in procession carrying Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock to City Hall where the delegation would address the country. Flags and buntings decorated the city streets. An all-party reception commiee of a hundred men was formed to welcome the delegation. e reception at City Hall and the speeches were to be broadcast over Radio Malaya in four languages, reaching the whole of Malaya.20 e next day’s headlines however gave a different picture. It was a “iet Welcome for Lim.” e crowd that greeted the delegation at the airport was “unexpectedly silent. ere was a marked absence of the usual spontaneous shout of ‘Merdeka!’.”

e people lining the streets were similarly silent. ere was no waving of hands or shouts of “Merdeka!”. As the delegation mounted the decorated platform at City Hall, students shouted “Oompah merdeka!” in unison for about five minutes, but there were no welcoming shouts from the 6,000 people at the Padang. Shouts from Chinese students for the release of the October 1956 political detainees and aacks on the antisubversion clause in the agreement came at the end of the hour of speeches.21 During the legislative assembly debate on the constitutional talks, Marshall likened the terms of the dra constitution the delegation returned with to asking the people to hammer the nails into their chains of colonialism for an indefinite period. He referred to the Japanese Occupation where Japanese troops in parades were greeted with “stony silence,” signifying the cold contempt and antagonism of the temporarily helpless. To Marshall, the second constitutional talks delegation received a similar reception. Marshall also accused Radio Malaya of dubbing shouts of “Merdeka!” on the newsreel soundtrack of the delegation’s return.22

e PAP “Merdeka!”: a question of authenticity e PAP was distinguished by its strong grassroots base among blue-collar workers and Chinese middle school students. Its rallies were the most rousing and forceful, accompanied by “Merdeka!” with the raised clenched fist. To the le-wing leaders of the unions representing largely low-waged factory workers, construction labourers, bus drivers and conductors as well as those working for similarly local-owned enterprises but of a smaller size such as tailoring shops, coffee shops and motor workshops, its members had no bargaining power. Only with a government led by a commied socialist party would the rights of workers to a decent wage and working conditions be guaranteed. e Straits Times equated such unions with rabble-rousing. Its report on the 18th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Singapore Traction Company Employees’ Union and the ‘victory’ won by trade unionism in general by the Hock Lee Bus Company strike a year ago was headlined “PAP whips rally for merdeka.” e rally at the Singapore Badminton Hall aended by 3,000 bus workers, trade unionists and middle

school students was characterised as three hours of “merdeka-shouting and fiery speeches.”23 Signatures for the Merdeka “referendum books” were also collected on that occasion.24 e newspaper summarised the speeches in general as urging workers to “crush … kill … destroy … that dog, Colonialism.” PAP assemblyman Lee Kuan Yew “shouted in Malay: ‘Colonialism is dirty. Merdeka for this country is essential.’” Despite the aggressive choice words that were excerpted, the substance as reported did not read particularly like invective or diatribe. Lim Chin Siong, who was heading to London with Lee Kuan Yew for Marshall’s Merdeka talks, said in Malay and then Chinese, “We want to be friendly with the British—only if they are friendly. Otherwise we shall fight.… In the fight against colonialism we must think up good methods, for colonialism is cunning and clever.… We must keep a cool head and think of methods of retaliation.” is was in tandem with Lee’s “We aren’t afraid (of the ‘whites’). We can work hard and are firm in asking for beer conditions. We want our country to be rich. We have clever people and merdeka is possible.”

e Straits Times reported on another union event some five months later. is time it was the opening of the new building of the Postal and Telecommunications Workers’ Union. Lee’s memoir was to mention that this was his union base, independent of the Chinese-speaking unions. In his account, a group of three Malays and one Indian in postman’s uniform turned up at the legal firm where he was working to seek help for their negotiations on salary revision with their employer, the government.25 Lee represented them pro bono and arrived at an equitable deal, and the union members became his life-long supporters. From then on, he gained fame as legal advisor to the labour unions. In spite of this, Lee’s 1998 statement on the high regard that the Postal and Telecommunications Workers’ Union had for him did not tally with e Straits Times report in March 1956 that the union members were “in no mood for lusty ‘merdeka’ shouting.” When guest speaker Jamit Singh, leader of the powerful Singapore Harbour Board Workers’ Union shouted “Merdeka!” at the end of his speech, there was “only a lone response.” Lee Kuan Yew announced that he was going to give the bale cry again and hoped for a beer response.

About half the audience answered half-heartedly. Lee then criticised the union’s “English-educated workers” for being unwilling to embarrass their colonial rulers, and voiced his fear that their union would get so in its fight for beer wages in their new luxurious quarters equipped with a bar, jukebox and recreational facilities. He ended his speech with another “Merdeka!”. e response was no different.26 e PAP at the time certainly presented itself as being fiercely anticolonial, a party for the downtrodden and marginalised under colonialism. e Chinese-speaking population formed the majority of those on the le of politics, but their Malay and Indian counterparts were not le out. e press noted that among the trade unionists who spoke at the Singapore Badminton Hall rally on 26 March 1956 mentioned above, were two who spoke in “Indian dialects.” Nevertheless, the PAP recognised that it was the support of the “Merdeka!”- shouting but otherwise Chinese-speaking electorate who delivered the votes for the party’s overwhelming success in the 1959 general election. However, the Lee Kuan Yew-led faction of the party leadership was made up of the English-speaking tertiary-educated elite, and shared with

the British the view that the le-wing Chinese-speaking PAP members were a threat to their interests and needed to be curbed. PAP chairman Toh Chin Chye was instrumental in executing the move that concentrated power in the Central Executive Commiee (CEC) and denied ordinary members from having leaders of their choice represent them in the party’s decision-making council. “Merdeka!” played a key role in the tale of how this was achieved. On 23 November 1958, the PAP tabled the amendment to its constitution to provide for the cadre system where the CEC would appoint the cadre members, who in turn would elect the CEC members at the party’s biennial conference. is would put a closed-circuit system in place. e question was how to get the rank and file party members to give up their right to elect the CEC members. Amidst the raucous din of the usual ferocious speeches against the sins of British colonialism and the failings of Lim Yew Hock’s Labour Front government, party chairman Toh Chin Chye explained in detail what the proposed constitutional changes meant, and moving the motion, called for those in favour to stand up and shout “Merdeka!” three times.

Hearing the magic words, those present all rose to their feet, and responded accordingly, including those who would have been against the motion. ere are two caveats to this narrative. Firstly, the “Merdeka!” ruse has become part of the PAP lore, and is repeated in Men in White: e Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party, the publication to mark the 50th anniversary of the PAP in 2004 (though it was published in 2009). It cites Goh Keng Swee who remembered the incident distinctly, that whether the members realised it or not, their reaction on that fateful day had deprived them of the right to vote for the CEC. e editors of the volume noted that the “bookish English-educated scholars” had bested the “street-smart Chinese-speaking leists,” even while they portrayed the leists as mindless, unruly and easily manipulated at the meeting, quite devoid of smartness of any form.2 7

Secondly, the account of what Goh Keng Swee “remembered distinctly” about the Chinese-speaking le’s fateful Pavlovian response to hearing “Merdeka!” is pure fabrication. e Special Branch was present at

the CEC meeting. Its report, which came to light in recent years, noted that only about 350 of about 2,000 registered members turned up, and surmised that because aendance was by admission passes issued by the CEC, it was likely that those who were likely to dissent were not invited. e Special Branch also recorded that the conference was orderly throughout.28 e PAP’s decisive victory in the general election held on 31 May 1959 was greeted with resounding yells of “Merdeka!”. At each of the fortyeight constituencies where the party triumphed, the newly elected assemblymen and women were immediately chaired in the street by supporters. Ong Eng Guan, the best performer in the election, had to ask the crowd to disperse aer shouting “Merdeka!” three times so that there would not be cause for trouble.29 e swearing in of Singapore’s first elected cabinet was held on 6 June. Dressed in white shirts and slacks, the ministers turned up at City Hall rather than Government House for the ceremony. A crowd of 2,000 roared “Merdeka!” when Lee Kuan Yew made his appearance. He waved in acknowledgement.

is scene was repeated when Lee led his ministers and PAP assembly members to the opening ceremony of the first fully elected legislative assembly on 2 July. e first local Yang di-Pertuan Negara was installed on 4 December. e PAP contingent cheered “Merdeka!”. e last report in the year of “Merdeka!” was a heartwarming one. e prime minister was the guest of honour at the Banda Street Children’s Creche Christmas party. e sixty-one children wished him “Selamat pagi,” gave three loud and hearty shouts of “Merdeka!” and sang “Majulah Singapura.”30 Conflict over “Merdeka!” e months of unproblematic “Merdeka!” cheering by the PAP ended abruptly and dramatically when on 21 June 1960, Ong Eng Guan, Minister of National Development and PAP CEC member, was suspended from both positions. In quick succession, the PAP Hong Lim branch commiee headed by Ong was suspended on 28 June 1960, and Ong was expelled

from the PAP on 29 July 1960 along with two assemblymen who supported him. e chain of events was triggered by the tabling of sixteen resolutions by Ong Eng Guan’s PAP Hong Lim branch at the special PAP conference called to review the party’s progress. Party chairman Toh Chin Chye condemned the resolutions as a challenge to the party’s collective leadership and an aempt by Ong to build a personality cult.31 e first of the sixteen resolutions called for the PAP to reaffirm its faith in the 1954 revolutionary party manifesto and to demand immediately that fresh constitutional talks with the United Kingdom be held as the current one did not meet the people’s satisfaction. e absolute power of the party CEC and lack of democracy was also called out. Ong consolidated the sixteen resolutions under the rubric “How to Fight Colonialism.” e 10,000 who packed the Singapore Badminton Hall for the lecture raised their hands to signify their support on 13 July 1960 with repeated shouts of “Merdeka!”. He labelled the PAP leadership controlling the state apparatus the “ruling clique,” which had “compromised with colonialism” while the

forces of anti-colonialism were the thousands of rank-and-file PAP members dedicated to completing the revolution and baling on, based on their convictions, unity and enthusiasm.32 Lee Kuan Yew in turn claimed that the contradiction was between his le-wing government and the combination of the British and the rightwing government in the Federation; at the same time the Communist Party of Malaya was supporting the PAP against colonialism, imperialism and feudalism.33 e issue that resonated with the electorate most concretely was the continued detention by the PAP government of persons arrested before 3 June 1959, that is, by the ‘stooge’ Lim Yew Hock government. e PAP had promised the electorate it would free all those prisoners if it aained power. is it did not do. Ong Eng Guan did not have strong le-wing credentials. In fact, he had been ousted from the PAP CEC in 1957 by the le-wing faction for his right-wing posture. He won Hong Lim for the PAP in 1959 with 77.02 per cent of the votes, the highest margin of victory. He also challenged Lee Kuan Yew for the

position of prime minister in the PAP CEC and lost only when party chairman Toh Chin Chye gave his casting vote to Lee. Ong Eng Guan was certainly popular with the electorate for his anticolonial declamations and actions as mayor aer the first and only City Council election in December 1957. He had refused the mayoral robes for his inauguration, and got rid of the mace, a symbol of office, which he called a relic of colonialism. He won the Hong Lim by-election on 29 April 1961 with a 73.3 per cent majority. e common factor in both his election victories was his anti-colonial manifesto. If the voters of Hong Lim could be said to have been tricked by Ong Eng Guan’s claims that he was an anti-colonialist as Lee claimed, it could equally be said that by voting for Ong that they sidestepped Lee Kuan Yew’s tricks, for he was really no anti-colonialist either. Unbeknownst even to his cabinet members, Lee had not submied applications to the Internal Security Council for the release of political prisoners since early 1960.34 Without this initiative on the part of the

prime minister, the question of further releases did not arise for the ISC’s consideration. In the Hong Lim by-election, Ong Eng Guan’s “Merdeka!” defeated Lee Kuan Yew’s. In the Anson by-election two and a half months later, on 17 July 1961, David Marshall’s “Merdeka!” too defeated Lee’s. Like Ong, Marshall had called for the immediate release of all the detainees, and the scrapping of the enabling legislation, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance.35 e PAP claimed that such a call could lead to a clash with the ISC, which could lead to a suspension of the constitution by the British, a serious setback for internal self-government and certainly any hopes of achieving full Merdeka.36 To this, Marshall had a ready reply: if the Singapore government decided to release the detainees and was opposed by the other ISC members, the British high commissioner would have to inform the Yang di-Pertuan Negara, and it would be a public maer. Marshall did not think that the British would allow such a situation to develop. Even if they did,

there was no reason for the government to resign as the people would know where the blame lay. e prime minister should thus press ahead if he really wanted the releases.37 Marshall shouted “Merdeka!” at the end of taking his oath of appointment as a member of the legislative assembly and received a rebuke from the Speaker for such unparliamentary behaviour. David Marshall had another moment of glory with “Merdeka!” which e Straits Times recorded. He was the defence lawyer for two officials of the Singapore Insurance Company Employees’ Union who were leading a strike. ey were charged and acquied without their defence being called, allegedly for leading thirty strikers who booed at the British manager of their company and blocked his path. Marshall suggested to the court that the plaintiff had shouted “Merdeka!”, raising his le clenched fist at the strikers, and used the “sacred word” sneeringly to “incense the crowd.” If a riot had been caused by the provocation, the complainant would have been responsible.38 Merdeka Malaysia

Lee was badly jolted by the loss of the two by-elections in quick succession. e electorate would not tolerate the PAP reneging on its election pledge to free the political prisoners. e British high commission was at this point sufficiently alarmed that Lee was heading for a defeat at the next election and was prepared to consider his plea for the British to countermand his order to release the prisoners. ey were not prepared to lose the military bases in Singapore. However, the Federation refused to allow the ISC to go along with the deception.39 In the end, the British high commissioner offered Lee a lifeline by activating at an accelerated pace the Colonial Office’s Greater Malaysia plan which roped Sarawak and British North Borneo (now Sabah) into the union of Singapore and Malaya. is made ‘Malaysia’ more palatable to the Tunku, who had not been openly keen for unification with Singapore which he considered too leist and Chinese. In return, Lee would have to break with the PAP le, which he finally did by expelling them. e expelled members and their supporters accordingly formed the Barisan Sosialis, whose constitution was basically that of the PAP.

With the sanction of the British and the Federation governments, Lee could then fight the le on the issue of merger, rather than on the detainees. He did this with a vengeance. From then on, when the PAP leaders shouted “Merdeka!” it meant “Merdeka Malaysia!”. e Barisan was relentlessly accused of being communists and hence “against merger,” though the party had clearly stated that it was the terms of the merger that Lee worked out which they rejected. e “Merdeka!” of the Barisan’s mass rallies were not registered in e Straits Times. Yet it was not the PAP’s “Merdeka!” that defeated the Barisan’s in open contest. Rather it took Operation Coldstore and waves of arrests of its key leadership, branch workers and labour union activists under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance and its successor legislation, the Internal Security Act, to cripple the Barisan Sosialis. With Separation coming just short of only two years into a disastrous merger of the PAP’s making, “Merdeka!” was completely voided, along

with the anti-colonial politics that it was embedded in. e Merdeka generation e generation who demanded Merdeka was not only about sloganshouting. ey demanded the end of colonialism. In the first couple of years the PAP government implemented Merdeka policies as the party had pledged, to the satisfaction of its members and the electorate. One of the most urgent tasks was to build schools in each of the four language streams. While the colonial government had catered to the English stream up to tertiary level, the Chinese-medium schools had basically been run on community funding, while education in the Malay and Tamil streams were badly neglected. It was the PAP government that brought the first Malay-medium secondary school into existence on 14 October 1961: Sekolah Menengah Sang Nila Utama at Aljunied Road. at Singapore hitherto was without a Malay-medium secondary school was a serious indictment on colonial rule. By any measure, the establishment of Sekolah Menengah Sang Nila Utama was a historic








government in the legislative assembly on building the school.40 Along with the establishment of the school, the Ministry of Education’s report to the legislative assembly stated that the government was forging ahead with plans to intensify the study of the National Language. e Teachers’ Training College conducted Malay language classes, as did the Lembaga Gerakan Pelajaran Dewasa for members of the public. Seven thousand candidates sat for the National Language Public Examinations and 4,500 obtained Standard I, II and III Certificates. e acceptance of Malay by the people of Singapore as their National Language and the existence of Sekolah Menengah Sang Nila Utama embodied what “Merdeka!” was all about. With 9 August 1965 however, the reversal of the Merdeka years was set in place. e National Language lost its significance, and since then, Singaporeans by and large have no idea why their national anthem is in Malay. ere was no place for the anti-colonial movement in Singapore’s history as the PAP government looked to the western powers and their allies for its economic and strategic future.

It is thus ironic that the person who brought the forgoen Sang Nila Utama Secondary School to public aention in 2019 was a member of the 1819 Bicentennial advisory commiee formed to ‘reflect’ on Raffles’ arrival. Interviewed on his appointment, Yatiman Yusof spoke of how a few months earlier he had wrien to the government to request the naming of a street in a new public housing estate “Sang Nila Utama,” where the school used to stand. Yatiman Yusof was an MP (Member of Parliament) from 1984 to 2006 when he retired. In the last phase of his career as an MP, he was Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Communication, Information and the Arts. He was also a student of Sekolah Menengah Sang Nila Utama (1961–1964). He explained that the school marked a milestone in Singapore’s education system. Malay girls were able to go to school, which hitherto had been run by Christian missionaries. Many of its students, especially the female students, were able to further their education at the University of Singapore.41 However, Yatiman did not mention that the school only

came about with the aainment of internal self-government in 1959, and that 2019 was the silver anniversary of that historic turning point. e authorities decided to put up a small plaque to mark the site of the school, which to Yatiman indicated the authorities’ lack of depth in their understanding of Singapore’s history. e Bicentennial made much ado about the arrival of Sang Nila Utama 700 years ago, five centuries before Raffles. It was clear however that this was superficial and did not even entail recognition of what his name meant to Yatiman and the wider Malay community. e sound of silence over Merdeka in the Singapore Story signifies the unspeakable complexities that threaten to unravel the official narrative, including the PAP government’s achievements in the years when “Merdeka!” prevailed. e silence is that much more deafening with the noise and racket of the Bicentennial. e Bicentennial postscript “Merdeka!” may have been rendered mute in the Bicentennial, but this did not go unnoticed. In the forefront was the play Merdeka / 獨 ⽴ /

. At the same time, some academics had picked up on Yatiman’s account in the press on his proposal to mark the site of Sekolah Menengah Sang Nila Utama. Whenever the Bicentennial historians mentioned that Singapore history now stretched back to 700 hundred years, beginning with the landing of Sang Nila Utama, it was an invitation for the retort that, at the same time, the authorities had refused to name a road aer him at the site where the school which bore his name used to stand. In November 2019, two months before the Bicentennial year ended, the government announced that there would be a Sang Nila Utama Road aer all, and in addition, a Sang Nila Utama Boulevard where the school used to stand when the housing estate under construction was ready.42 A month earlier, a road adjacent to the old Nantah Administration Building repurposed as the Chinese Heritage Centre was renamed “Tan Lark Sye Walk,” to mark pioneers’ contributions to the development of the country’s education system.43 It appeared that the naming and renaming of roads to honour pioneers real and mythical had been scheduled as a

finale to the Bicentennial, though the rejection of Yatiman’s proposal earlier on would indicate otherwise. e last months of 2019 also squeezed in gestures to acknowledge the silver jubilee of Singapore’s aainment of statehood. On 3 December 2019, a brief ceremony was held at the steps of the former City Hall building to mark the 60th anniversary of the national flag, the national anthem and the state crest. A Frame in Time, a three-part CNA docudrama, was screened in April 2020. It was billed as reliving history through the vernacular, exploring the anti-colonial sentiment of the 1950s, the Merdeka moments of the early 1960s and ending in Separation. One episode was built around Chua Mia Tee’s painting National Language Class (1959). e young Chinese students and their cikgu in the painting come to life as fictional characters, interspersed between interviews with the artist and other contemporaries as well as academics. e National Gallery’s curator highlighted the fervour that the youths had for learning the newly designated National Language, which was integral to their aspiration for achieving independence and building a multiethnic society.

However, the fictional characters based on the painting proffered only utilitarian reasons for aending the national language class—it was required for their jobs; it would be useful for pey businesses in areas where Malays congregated. Chua Mia Tee himself in the interview stated that being able to speak Malay was useful for communicating with the non-Chinese. ere was no mention that the urge to learn the National Language that was going to replace the colonial language was the aspiration of a new Malayan citizen. Pragmatism, not nationalism. One of the key features of the painting National Language Class that commentators have pointed to is that the young man standing up and reading is wearing a mourning pin. So commied was he to learning the National Language that bereavement did not stop him from aending the classes. However, he is not the protagonist of the drama segment of the docudrama, but the fresh-faced, diligent Hokkien-speaking daughter of a provision shop owner in Geylang. e episode sets itself in 1959, where in the early scenes, she earnestly tells the class that her being able to speak Malay would be good for business as there were many Malays in the neighourhood. e cikgu tells her the word she wants is “duit.” But she is

not just money-minded. She asks Cikgu why he is teaching them Malay. He hums the melody of a Malay song being played on the radio and tells her that it is such a beautiful language; it would be selfish of him not to teach it. e Separation on 9 August 1965 is encapsulated on cue in the docudrama by the video clip of Lee Kuan Yew unable to restrain his tears when he announced the historic break. Towards the end of the docudrama, we are brought to this concluding scene: e calendar hanging in the Geylang provision shop now shows December 1965. A Malay girl comes into the shop with her father to buy salt. He looks dishevelled. It is Cikgu. e shopowner’s daughter greets him, but he walks out abruptly. He can no longer speak aer an operation on account of throat cancer. She runs aer him. She hums the tune that he loves. He turns around. e frustration and anger at his condition on his face melts into a grim nod when she says the following: Cikgu Sebelum saya temu kamu,

saya bisu. Tetapi sekarang saya boleh nyanyi. Suara saya adalah suara Cikgu [Teacher, before I met you, I was mute. But now I can sing. My voice is your voice.] Viewers might well find these closing lines touching and might even be moved to tears by the plight of Cikgu and his inspiring student in the drama. ose from the majority race can easily be enticed into identifying with the female protagonist. However, the concluding scene is anything but heartwarming. Cikgu’s loss of his voice is no less the loss of the potency and meaning that “Merdeka!” once had—the disintegration of the compact held by the people of Singapore who gave the PAP its overwhelming victory in the 1959 general election, the country’s first and freest to date.

With 9 August 1965, the aspirations of the country were henceforth framed by another tongue. Doubtlessly such a person as the intrepid female protagonist in the docudrama would be aending English language classes in no time. e assumption that her voice could be that of Cikgu’s—that the Malays could be properly spoken for by the majority race—continues to be the myth buressing the Singapore Story.

1 e Straits Times, 5 April 1955, “Labour Front Programme.” 2 e Straits Times, 17 October 1955, “Now a clerk’s charter.” 3 e Straits Times, 19 October 1955, “‘Merdeka?’ Yes, but clenched fist is out.” 4 e Straits Times, 28 November 1954, “A party is born, but no pain.” 5 e Straits Times, 14 March 1955, “2,000 shout ‘Merdeka.’” 6 e Straits Times, 17 September 1955, “‘Merdeka’ To shout or not to shout it.” 7 e Straits Times, 19 July 1955, “Merdeka x 17.” 8 e Straits Times, 20 July 1955, “Manners of a President.” 9 e Straits Times, 21 July 1955, “is is an insult to Soekarno: Marshall.” 10 e Straits Times, 2 May 1955, “PAP: We’ll back Labour if…” 11 e Straits Times, 24 December 1955, “A hero’s welcome.” 12 e Straits Times, 10 March 1956, “7-day merdeka drive.” 13 e Straits Times, 22 March 1956, “A look-back—by Mr Marshall.” 14 e Straits Times, 24 March 1956, “Merdeka? Not on your life.” 15 e Straits Times, 26 March 1956, “Merdeka: Secret poll demand.” 16 e Straits Times, 29 March 1956, “e people who fear Merdeka: by Mr Marshall.” 17 e Straits Times, 18 February 1956, “Rude words to women cost him five dollars.” 18 e Straits Times, 27 March 1956, “Colony jeers for the een.”

19 e Straits Times, 22 March 1956, “Film on royal tour banned.” 20 e Straits Times, 14 April 1957, “ousands will line the streets to cheer.” 21 e Straits Times, 15 April 1957, “iet welcome for Lim”; “e People watch in silence as Lim crosses Merdeka Bridge.” 22 e Straits Times, 27 April 1957, “Marshall speaks of the ‘stony silence’ of 5,000 people.” 23 e Straits Times, 26 March 1956, “PAP whips up rally for merdeka.” 24 e Straits Times, 10 March 1956, “7-day Merdeka drive.” 25 Lee Kuan Yew, e Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore: Times Editions, 1998), pp. 150–151. 26 e Straits Times, 19 August 1956, “Merdeka! e answer was half-hearted.” 27 Sonny Yap, Richard Lim and Leong Weng Kam, Men in White: e Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party (Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 2009), pp. 128–9. 28 FCO 141/14783, Special Branch on the special party conference of the People’s Action Party held at the Badminton Hall, Singapore, on Sunday 23 November 1958, cited in Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: Function 8 and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2016), pp. 188–9. 29 e Straits Times, 31 May 1959, “Merdeka—then leaders are chaired in the streets.”

30 e Straits Times, 24 December 1959, “Rousing welcome for Mr Lee at crèche Christmas party.” 31 e Straits Times, 21 June 1960, “Ong: e full story.” 32 e Straits Times, 13 July 1960, “Talks on anti-colonial fight.” 33 e Straits Times, 4 August 1960, “New Bale of Singapore: PAP vs hidden communist forces.” 34 CO 1030/1149, Selkirk to Colonial Office, no. 214, 20 June 1961, cited in Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: Function 8 and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2016), p. 232. 35 e Straits Times, 18 June 1961, “Marshall blasts at ‘Emperor Lee.” 36 e Straits Times, 18 June 1961, “Petir query for TUC Six.” 37 e Straits Times, 26 June 1961, “e detainees: Marshall explains issue.” 38 e Straits Times, 5 July 1963, “e clenched-fist ‘Merdeka.’” 39 Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: Function 8 and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2016), pp. 234–5. 40 Singapore Legislative Assembly Debates, 21 December 1961, Column 2688. 41 CNA, 31 December 2017, Monica Kotwani, “Singapore’s bicentennial commemoration in 2019: A time to reflect on its rich history.”

42 e Straits Times, 3 November 2019, Yuen Sin, “Road in Bidadari Estate near former Malay Secondary School Site to be named Sang Nila Utama Road.” 43 e Straits Times, 19 October 2019, Felicia Choo, “NTU building and road renamed to mark pioneers’ contributions.”

Stamford Raffles and the Founding of Singapore: The Politics of Commemoration and Dilemmas of History1 Huang Jianli Framing the Bicentennial: Preparations and Tensions PREPARATIONS FOR THE BICENTENNIAL of the January 1819 landing of omas Stamford Raffles in Singapore was officially launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2018 New Year’s Day message, with activities reaching a climax on National Day, 9 August 2019. e Singapore Bicentennial Office was constituted under the Prime Minister’s Office,2 and overseen by a Ministerial Steering Commiee, with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat as adviser and two other ministers, Josephine Teo and Desmond Lee, serving as co-chairs. It also had a 16-member Advisory Commiee of academics and society leaders. Civil servant Gene

Tan, who had been in charge of the government initiative Singapore Memory Project, was appointed the Executive Director with a team of administrators. Despite some allowance for grassroots initiatives and mass involvement, the institutional set-up was geared towards top-level control, indicative of the government’s concern for lurking political sensitivities. Spirited debates on whether there should be a Bicentennial event, and how it should be framed took place in the Forum pages of e Straits Times. One view held that a significant celebration would offer an opportunity for Singaporeans to reflect on their short 200-year history. anks to Raffles, Singapore grew from a small fishing village to a thriving colony. e country should not be afraid or ashamed of its colonial past. e contrary view held that the colonial period was a shameful and humiliating experience. e people were subjugated and dubbed ‘lesser mortals.’ Raffles did not set out to improve the lives of the people as such, but to colonise them for the cause of the erstwhile British Empire. Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was the true founder of modern Singapore, not Raffles.3

Another sensitivity was carried over from the 2015 SG50 celebration of Singapore’s break with Malaysia in August 1965. e aainment of independence had been followed by claims of successful governance over the next 50 years. Lee Hsien Loong’s 2018 New Year message explicitly linked the Bicentennial with SG50: “Without this history [of Raffles], we could not have made the SG50 journey from ird World to First.”4 Gene Tan, as Executive Director, even called the Bicentennial a “prequel to the SG50 celebrations,” saying the event “serves to examine and situate the 2015 celebrations in a broader context in time and space.”5 However, SG50 also witnessed Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March 2015 at age 91 and was tied closely to the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) quickly calling and winning a general election in September 2015. Critical responses on social media included accusations that the celebration was “yet another round of political and election manoeuvring,” a “disguised way of promoting the PAP,” an aempt “to gain political mileage for the next elections,” and “misuse of public funds and state resources.”6 e Bicentennial organisers accordingly exhibited an extraordinary degree of caution in the preparatory stages. ey declined to disclose a

budget for the event but declared that it would be “on a smaller scale than that for SG50.” ey also took a categorical stand against a “rose-tinted celebratory” atmosphere or perpetuating “a great man” historical narrative. ey wished to be “responsible to history” and “will not shy away from addressing elements in history that may not always be positive,” promising that their coverage would include “not-so-shining elements of colonial life, such as ‘squalor and segregation’.”7 e Straits Times editor Elgin Toh praised the proposed approach of presenting a “warts-and-all history” of Singapore, how the organisers were “scrupulous in avoiding the word ‘celebrate’ in interviews and publicity materials, opting for words like ‘mark,’ ‘commemorate’ and ‘reflect on’.”8 Minister Desmond Lee provided reassurances that the organisers would “consult widely” and that “it is not the government agencies that decide how the bicentennial will be commemorated. It cannot be a top-down commemoration.”9 ere would be numerous activities by schools, businesses, religious organisations, and that more than sixty organisations had already been contacted by the time of the launch and 3,800 volunteers would undergo training.10

Stretching Back to the Ancient Pre-Raffles Era: Claiming 700 Years of History Indicative of the elasticity of the Bicentennial, some organisations including the Ee Hoe Hean Club opted to use the lesser word ‘landing’ instead of ‘founding’ to frame Raffles’ role.11 is downgrading underlined a fundamental issue in the scripting of Singapore’s national history: Did Raffles really ‘found’ Singapore? Was there not a substantive local selement on the island before he claimed it for the British Empire? Should the commemoration be about a less than heroic landing instead of a visionary founding? Indeed, right from the start, the Bicentennial Office made the strategic decision to embrace the longue durée of a 700-year timeline to Singapore’s history. e space occupied by Raffles was accordingly diluted. Bicentennial SG200 became conflated with, hijacked by, and subordinated to SG700. Archaeological excavations carried out by historian John Miksic and others at Fort Canning and nearby locations since 1984 have produced evidence of a thriving selement on the island circa 1299–1399 as the kingdom of Temasek/ Singapura.12 e Singapore National Museum,

which endorsed and spearheaded the initial Fort Canning archaeological digs, mounted a well-aended exhibition on “700 Years of History” and sponsored numerous supplementary publications. In 2009, three National University of Singapore historians published a history textbook Singapore: A 700-year History, from Emporium to World City, challenging accounts by earlier University of Singapore history professors (including Mary Turnbull, K G Tregonning and Wong Lin Ken), who laid down the “noSingapore-before-Raffles” history template.13 In 2014, the government incorporated this longue durée history into the Ministry of Education’s textbooks for all Secondary One students.14 e Bicentennial’s strategic embrace of Temasek/ Singapura was not without a touch of irony. Yatiman Yusof, a former PAP parliamentary secretary serving on the Bicentennial advisory commiee, bemoaned the fact that government agencies had recently demolished the Sang Nila Utama Secondary School, named aer the Palembang prince credited with giving Singapura its name of Lion City. His request to give the name to a road within the upcoming housing estate in the vicinity of the school was rejected, and planners offered only a token gesture of puing up a small

memorial plaque. Yatiman pointed out that Sang Nila Utama Secondary School was the first Malay-medium secondary school in the country, which the PAP government set up in 1961, and made it possible for Malay girls to continue with post-primary education. ere was nothing le in Singapore named aer the founder of Temasek/ Singapura.15 Yatiman was embarrassed by the shallowness and lack of logic in rejecting his request, which pointed to his party’s “lack of depth in understanding Singapore’s history.” Adding 500 years of pre-Raffles history entailed chronological problems, particularly what happened aer the sacking of Singapura in 1399, possibly by the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit or more likely by Siamese proxy forces, aer which the fih and last king fled to Malacca to establish a new kingdom that flourished for a century before the Portuguese takeover in 1511. e ‘black hole’ or ‘dark space’ between 1400 and 1819 had been crying out for aention. is was partly filled by Peter Borschberg, Roderich Ptak, Kwa Chong Guan and Tan Tai Yong, based on cartography, Portuguese and Dutch wrien sources, and longue durée perspectives.16 eir basic idea is that the period was a time of dynamic

interplay among the Portuguese, Dutch, British and scions of the displaced Malacca rulers (who had fled to the vicinity of the Johore River aer 1511). Based on a detailed exploration of Portuguese and Dutch sources and confusion surrounding the toponym Singapore and its many variants, Borschberg emphasised that evidence of a substantive human selement (whether along the island’s coast or in the interior) was inconclusive, noting the majority of references merely imply a generic maritime gateway.17 e lack of evidence of a continuous, substantive local human selement throughout the 700 years could not support an unbroken ‘connected history’ of Singapore. A ‘discrete fragmentary history’ is more plausible. Notably, the view that Singapore on the eve of Raffles’ landing was unpopulated, apart from a small, backward ‘fishing village,’ persisted. e sleepy fishing village reference was first evoked by John Crawfurd, the second British Resident of Singapore, but it was embedded widely in public imagery through the vivid prose of the late Mary Turnbull:18

In the first decade of the nineteenth century, the Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman, with a small band of Malays, set up a village on the site of the old town of Singapura, where he gathered about him the Orang Gelam tribe… . Other more primitive people lived on the island: the Orang Seletar … Binduanda Orang Kallang … they had no agriculture but lived on fish and produce gathered from the jungle. A few Chinese selers lived near the Temenggong’s village … while others grew gambier on the nearby hills. Altogether in January 1819 Singapore had perhaps a thousand inhabitants, consisting of some 500 Orang Kallang, 200 Orang Seletar, 150 Orang Gelam in the Singapore river, other orang laut in the Keppel Harbour area, twenty to thirty Malays in the Temenggong’s entourage and a similar number of Chinese. At that time the selement on the Singapore river was a typical Malay ruled, orang laut village, consisting of the Temenggong’s substantial wooden house, surrounded by a few huts, with large numbers of boats clustered in the river nearby. e inhabitants grew fruit but no rice

and depended for their livelihood on collecting jungle produce, fishing, small-scale trading and piracy. e ‘sleepy fishing village’ imagery lent credence to the argument that Raffles ‘founded’ Singapore, and that he and the British colonial authorities transformed the island. Lee Kuan Yew, in his 1969 speech commemorating





referenced the ‘fishing village’ metaphor twice and praised Raffles:19 It is not oen one has the good fortune to celebrate a 150th anniversary. But for the wisdom and foresight of the Englishman with whose name the history of modern Singapore will always be associated … all of us would not be here today.… When Stamford Raffles came here 150 years ago, there was no organised human society in Singapore, unless a fishing village can be called a society. ere are now over two million people with the second highest standard of living in Asia.… [Early pioneers] and their descendants … built modern Singapore.… the contribution they made in

converting a fishing village into a humming centre for commerce, communication and industry. (emphasis added) Problematic Legacy of Raffles: Great Man History and Critiques Although the commemoration is premised on Raffles’ landing on the island, the Bicentennial Office had boldly proclaimed that it wished to avoid ‘great man’ or ‘heroes’ narrative histories. e “Great Man eory” was popularised in the 1840s by Scoish historian omas Carlyle, who argued that the history of the world is but the biography of great men with personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom or political skill. Riding on the wave of a Victorian view of heroic administrators guiding British imperialism, Raffles came to be increasingly elevated in the colony with several prominent locations named aer him: Raffles Lighthouse (1854), Raffles Place (1858) and Raffles Institution (1868). is adulation reached a climax at the celebration of een Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 when a bronze statue of Raffles was cast and placed in what later became a central location on the Padang, the field in front of Singapore’s

government offices. It was relocated to the newly built townhall nearby, Victoria Memorial Hall, during the Centennial commemoration in 1919. Lee Kuan Yew’s praise of Raffles at the 1969 150th anniversary as a visionary par excellence served as a benchmark for Lee’s own leadership of the newly independent Singapore. Lee confessed at that point that “I am flaered, if a lile apprehensive, by your generous comparison of the qualities of Sir Stamford Raffles with the aributes I am supposed to have.”20 Lee’s Dutch economic adviser (during 1960–84), Albert Winsemius, had argued against removing the bronze Raffles statue away from the heart of Singapore’s civic district for economic and psychological reasons.21 e PAP government not only accepted his advice but constructed a larger, white-washed version for a site nearer the Singapore River and Parliament House. Among Lee Kuan Yew’s ministers, S Rajaratnam was the most vocal and steadfast in arguing that Singapore history should begin with Raffles and his arrival in 1819 in order to ward off any nativist indigenous claims and prevent the exploitation of racial and communal cleavages. e single-minded focus would then be on nation-building rather than contending claims of Malays, Chinese, Indians

or Eurasians, an approach that required a degree of “collective selective amnesia.” Rajaratnam protested but to no avail in 1990–1, when Lee and his younger ministers reversed course from the 1980s and embraced ‘backto-ethnic-roots,’ Asian values, civilisational discourse and ‘hyphenated Singaporeans’ with ethnic identifier.22 e centrality of Raffles was enshrined in Mary Turnbull’s tome, which made the 1819 landing the starting point of modern Singapore and highlighted Raffles’ vision for education in which the “Singapore Institution” (later renamed the Raffles Institution) complemented the island’s mercantile vitality. In the 1984 PAP Ministry of Education history textbooks, Raffles occupied three chapters.23 For the contemporary Singapore business community, tagging their enterprises with the name of Raffles remains a popular practice.24 Lee Hsien Loong also sang Raffles praises in his 2018 New Year’s message launching the Bicentennial:25 Raffles set Singapore on a different trajectory, which brought us to where we are today. Had Raffles not landed, Singapore might not have become a unique spot in Southeast Asia, quite different from

the islands in the archipelago around us, or the states in the Malayan peninsula. But because of Raffles, Singapore became a British colony, a free port, and a modern city. However, Elgin Toh, editor at e Straits Times, rightly cautioned, “Many Singaporeans will accept this ‘establishment’ view; but some will not. A healthy debate may ensue in the gradual build-up to 2019.”26 In fact, the landscape of scholarship and print culture has over the decades shied against Raffles. Even in the early 1980s, a student’s graduating history thesis provided an overview of the entire spectrum of panegyric and revisionist writings, beginning with the initial dutiful promotional efforts of Raffles’ widow Lady Sophia.27 But it was the scholarship of John Bastin from the late 1950s that spearheaded the critique of Raffles and the associated hagiography, and elevated the role played by his associate William Farquhar.28 By the early 1970s, sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas had daringly painted Raffles as a colonial schemer. He drew a harsh conclusion:29

As far as Singapore is concerned the problem is the exaggeration of his so-called good qualities rather than their opposites.… His role in the history of Singapore has also been exaggerated.… As far as Singapore was concerned, had Raffles not been around another man would have done the job.… By an enlightened 19th century standard his general ethical and intellectual outlook was parochial and superficial.… To rank him as a humanitarian reformer is to abuse the use of the term. A much younger Malay scholar, Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, was equally negative about Raffles’ jaundiced view of Malay natives and their religiosity, claiming that he fostered parochialist tendencies in British rule.30 Cultural researcher and writer Ng Yi-Sheng has noted that Raffles has been increasingly sidelined in popular culture, with numerous drama theatre groups presenting revisionist retellings of the story of 1819, highlighting overlooked figures and stressing local agency.31 In terms of fiction writing, the scene was enlivened by Scoish novelist and professor of philosophy and psychology John D Greenwood’s recent Forbidden Hill.

Greenwood, who was “full of admiration” for Singapore but said he had “no wish to lionize the figures who gave it its start,” cast Raffles as “a man of ideas but ineffectual at seeing many of them through.”32 In her recent publication William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping Out from Raffles’ Shadow, Nadia Wright argues that “Raffles has been aggrandised at the expense of Major General William Farquhar” and the laer’s role has been “obscured for the most part by the glorification of Raffles.”33 Tommy Koh, who was the doyen of the Singapore diplomatic circuit and has become more critical of the establishment, wrote a foreword to Wright’s book reminding readers: 34 [Raffles] only spent 38 days in Singapore, between 1819 and his return [to Britain] in October 1822.… I do not wish to be a revisionist and criticize Raffles or take him down from his pedestal. Aer all, every country needs national heroes and myths. What I would like to do instead is to render justice to Raffles’ number two William Farquhar.… It was Farquhar who did all the heavy liing in Singapore.

Similarly, the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, a key organising partner for the Bicentennial chose the theme of ‘unsung heroes’ of the early migrant Chinese society for its activities to celebrate the common people.35 A local engineer Zhang Liangwo wrote a commentary in the Chinese language which raised two highly sensitive issues. First was the need to pay aention to early cemeteries as an important source of tracking the unsung heroes,36 re-surfacing queries about the fate of the Bukit Brown Cemetery, the site of possibly more than 100,000 graves of early Chinese pioneers cuing across a wide socioeconomic spectrum and slated for destruction to make way for a highway and housing developments despite major public protests in 2011–14.37 Second, he mentioned briefly the lile-known role of Cao Yazhi, a Chinese carpenter from Penang who was tasked to land before Raffles to conduct reconnaissance, and possibly to plant the British flag. is neglected episode contains potential elements to privilege the ethnic Chinese contribution in contrast to the usual emphasis on British and Malay activities at the 1819 epic moment of becoming a colony.38

Grappling with British Colonialism: Colonial Singapore and its Post-Coloniality e Bicentennial also has had to contend with appearing to endorse British colonialism, as the organisers were well aware of. Still fresh in people’s minds is an earlier public backlash when the National Gallery Singapore was forced to drop its theme of ‘e Empire Ball’ for its fundraising gala in October 2016. Artists and the public contended that ‘empire’ was a politically and historically fraught term associated with a “shameful oppressive epoch,” and the ball’s theme was “insensitive and dismissive of the violence and scars of imperialism,” carrying with it the idea of colonial oppression, which was “in poor taste for a celebratory event.”39 is controversy was probably behind Minister Desmond Lee’s categorical declaration that marking 1819 was in “no way a celebration of colonialism!”40 In short, there would be no running away from engaging in some deep Bicentennial reflections on colonialism and post-coloniality in Singapore. In skirting around the possible accusation of having betrayed its early anti-colonial beginnings, the dominant state narrative of the PAP placed

emphasis on the benign nature of British colonialism which made Singapore an ‘exceptional colony.’ is was echoed by Asad Latif, e Straits Times editorial writer who happily migrated from India to Singapore in 1984 and was unafraid of being seen as harbouring a procolonial mindset:41 Raffles incorporated Singapore into emerging paerns of economic globalization that help to define its destiny even today.… Raffles’ colonialism was decidedly benign by the standards of murder and plunder practised in the United States or Australia or the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, the Belgian Congo and apartheid South Africa. He le behind, not a history of physical extermination and territorial dispossession, but an entrepôt that seized economic opportunities abroad while governed by the rule of law and constitutional gradualism at home. Historian Hong Lysa, however has challenged this perspective, pointing to the civil disenchantment evident during colonial anniversary celebrations of 1887 (een Victoria’s golden jubilee), 1897 (her diamond jubilee) and

the 1919 centennial of Raffles’ founding. She also highlighted the stultification of political aspirations of even loyal English-speaking Straits Chinese during the period between the two World Wars. Hong has argued that colonial Singapore was riddled with inequalities based on race and class, and the suspension of civil rights, banishments and incarcerations in the name of colonial security as witnessed in the Emergency regulations. In the end, the British departed because the cost of remaining became too high, not because the colonial rulers deemed that Singapore had become sufficiently well-educated and enlightened to be awarded sovereignty.42 Shunting aside the initial impulses of its own anti-colonial nationalist struggle, the PAP’s Singapore Story has emphasised system inheritance and improvements built on a positive colonial foundation. us, postcoloniality has never quite ‘dawned upon’ Singapore in a way that would lead to an entirely new and different state agenda. Instead of sharp postcolonial breaks, there was a blurring of lines, resulting in a hazy colonial– post-colonial historical continuum. e retention of many dimensions of Britain’s socio-politico-economic security approaches aer independence arguably brought a perpetuation

or ‘Gramscian’ reproduction of aspects of the colonial order by the English-educated PAP political elite. It also explains why the Bicentennial has avoided providing a discursive space for highlighting the neglect and mistreatment of Chinese-language primary, secondary and tertiary education under British colonial rule as well as the painful anti-colonial struggles of Chinese-educated leists. e party-state’s wariness in patrolling the boundary of such discussion is evident in recent public bales over the direction of historical writing. Crossfire in the Ongoing Battle for Post- Cold War History: Bicentennial and the Shanmugam-um Interrogation e various ‘dilemmas of history’ associated with the Bicentennial are closely tied to two larger issues afflicting the discipline of history and historical writing. First is the alignment, and yet tension, between the past and the contemporary. As Benedeo Croce famously pronounced: “All history is contemporary history.”43 Looking at and interpreting the past through the lens of presentism has increasingly become an aractive proposition, if not an inevitable positioning, for many history writers. But

this naturally invites the danger of anachronism and uncovers contradictions which require sensitivity and skilful management of sources. Secondly, although history writing has retained a deep respect for a positivist empirical evidence base in the pursuit of objective truth, it has moved beyond that initial discipline emphasis. Beginning with E H Carr’s 1961 treatise What is History?, the prevailing value and thought system of the interlocutor and his resultant dialogue with the body of historical facts are now recognised as generating multiple perspectives, injecting a dynamic relativism and revisionism into history writing.44 Both of these discipline-related issues are inherent in the dilemmas of the Bicentennial, but they have become highly charged because the commemoration was caught in the crossfire of an ongoing bale for postCold War history in today’s Singapore. e heart of this conflict is the struggle for a place for le-wing anti- colonial history in the metahistorical narrative of the birth and early years of the young nation. is is especially so for a segment of the Chinese-speaking community which were regarded as communists or communist sympathisers and targeted by a major internal security sweep (Operation Coldstore) mounted in

February 1963 that resulted in large-scale detentions for years without trial. From the 1990s, with the winding down of the global Cold War aer the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a worldwide interrogation of Cold War binary narratives on “communists versus anti-communists” took place. In Singapore, both Chinese- and English-speaking political veterans framed by the state as “subversive, violent, communist, anti-national elements” emerged to proudly reclaim recognition as “legitimate, non-violent, constitutional, le-wing, anticolonial, nationalist fighters.” But the state narrative of the Singapore Story, which was premised upon the PAP’s anti-communist struggles, was neither willing to accede the space nor to shoulder historical responsibility for possible excesses in security operations. A deep fissure therefore opened up between the establishment’s official narrative and a large and growing pool of Chinese- and English-language revisionist writings.45 Disagreements had already surfaced during SG50 in 2015 over 1965— the break-up or failure of merger with Malaysia, a scheme that was central to the launching of Operation Coldstore. e “Shanmugam versus um”

interrogation in March 2018 in the government-initiated parliamentary Select Commiee hearing on “Deliberate Online Falsehoods,” barely three months aer the launch of the Bicentennial, made it plain that the state would not brook serious challenge to its narrative.46 In brief, the Harvardand Oxford-trained historian um Ping Tjin had put forward a submission to the Select Commiee contending that there was no need for additional draconian laws against fake news, and that one of the biggest sources of such news was no less than “the politicians of Singapore’s People’s Action Party.” um referred to lengthy detentions without trial on what he contended were invalid grounds, ranging from the 1963 Operation Coldstore to the 1987 Operation Spectrum. e government, led by Minister of Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, carried out a harsh six-hour parliamentary interrogation of um on 29 March 2018, which was broadcast over public television. Shanmugam’s long and intensive questioning of um’s academic credentials and his revisionist history writings, oen demanding a simplistic yes-or-no answer and denying um the right to explain his position, created a public uproar both locally and internationally.47 e Select Commiee accused um of secretly









parliamentarians in an ex-colony” (emphasis added), accusing him of perpetuating colonialism and inviting foreign interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation.48 e Commiee eventually submied a 176-page report in September 2018 that made 22 recommendations to tackle deliberate online falsehoods; it declared that um was not a credible academic and that no weight would be given to his views.49 However, indicative of the nation being at a crossroads in determining the direction of its national history, Bicentennial history advisor Tan Tai Yong had offered the following view just weeks before the spectacle of the Shanmugam-um interrogation session:50 Only politicians would consider history as having the two opposite sides of good/beauty and bad/dark. History to me is a series of complex events crisscrossing and moving along. It is only by capturing the holistic view and its cause-and-consequence that one can comprehensively understand its complex nature.

Coming from a former head of the History Department and of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore, as well as the current president of Yale-NUS College, Tan’s pronouncement set the tone for the Bicentennial. And he was not alone in this. In a thoughtful Bicentennial editorial, the


newspaper Lianhe zaobao also called for a more inclusive, accommodating approach:51 All societies cannot avoid the internal tension between history and politics. But the mature and correct aitude is to build upon the respect for historical truth and accept multiple interpretations. Hence, apart from the official view on 200 years, one cannot ignore the research results and different narratives of community and scholarly experts. It is only by being open and inclusive towards pluralistic history accounts that one can achieve the effects of hearing all parties and thus securing a compass for future development directions.52

e newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Han Yongmei, followed up with her personal commentary:53 ere are many perspectives to history, a wide surface area to dig, and many different interpretations. … Regardless of whether one is a community history researcher, a professional historian, or a politician … everyone can have their individual interpretation and I think the liberty to master and interpret history is the index of maturity and freedom in this society. Hopeful about the prospect of having “a chance to tell warts-and-all history of Singapore” for the Bicentennial, e Straits Times editor Elgin Toh, weighed in as follows:54 It is far beer to simply allow a heterogeneous mosaic of stories to be told … if this warts-and-all approach to history is the right one to take, should it not apply also … to how Singapore examines all periods in its history … some historians have long felt that post1959 [PAP] history can be more varied in how it is told … if the history-as-complex view can apply not just to colonial history, and

can be allowed to spill over to more recent history, it will be an important legacy of the bicentennial commemorations. Such open and vibrant calls for “leing a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend” in January 2018 were not sustained. e mood soon turned sour with the government’s heavy-handed approach in K Shanmugam’s interrogation of P J um and the subsequent local and international uproar. It appeared that the nation had arrived at a crossroads, with its political leaders uncertain about how to steer its history. In April, Minister Desmond Lee, who co-chaired the Ministerial Steering Commiee for the Bicentennial , was confronted on how his commiee would “deal with revisionist interpretations of history” that emerged from the parliamentary debate over Operation Coldstore. He replied that it “will look at a wide range of narratives” and elaborated by adding “we want to cover different narratives in there—political narrative, geopolitical narrative, the community narrative, the social narrative, the cultural narrative, religious aspects, the merchants. … So there are many layers.”55 Soon aer, another junior minister, Koh Poh Koon, was similarly

queried by journalists about whether the controversy over um would have any impact on the ongoing Singapore Bicentennial. He also answered tangentially that it was important to gather facts and there was “the need to see history not just from one particular perspective but in a more comprehensive way.”56 e ministerial responses demonstrated awkward tensions between the official stand on post- Cold War history and the tone of the Bicentennial, with the laer offering a moderating approach to the harsh anti- revisionist thrust of the party-state. e Next Lap e politics and dilemmas of the Bicentennial had evidently been intertwined with the larger ongoing struggle concerning how the history of a young nation-state should be scripted. Right from the beginning there had been an awareness of lurking political sensitivities and anticipated tensions. Nonetheless, the rolling out of events and unfolding of spirited discussion were of a magnitude and complexity that were beyond the expectations of many.

e commemoration had undoubtedly played a major role in raising historical consciousness and in geing both the one-party dominant state and its increasingly well-educated citizenry to ponder over various foundational issues, including the island’s pre-Raffles past, its colonial and anti- colonial legacy, and even the changing nature of history as a discipline. While in the short term there were the inevitable disagreements, tensions and confusion, in the long run, these would prove to be timely and valuable for the forging of deeper and more reflective bonds between the country and its citizens, as well as for fortifying the heartbeat of the island city-state as it runs its next lap under a new generation of political leaders.

1 is chapter is an adapted version of the original, which was published as “Stamford Raffles and the Founding of Singapore: e Politics of Commemoration and Dilemmas of History” in Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 91/2.315 (December 2018), pp. 103–122. Re-publication is with editorial assistance from Hong Lysa and permission from JMBRAS. 2 A work plan group had been set up earlier in October 2017; see Lianhe zaobao, 22 April 2018, “To recruit 3,800 volunteers for Bicentennial activities.” e author’s informal meeting with Bicentennial administrators on 29 October 2018 pointed to the Prime Minister’s initial hesitation in having a commemoration. 3 is exchange in e Straits Times was relayed on the website of e Independent, 26 May 2017, “Celebrate colonisation of Singapore?” hp://www.theindependent.sg, accessed on 6 January 2018. 4 e Straits Times, 1 January 2018, full text of Lee Hsien Loong’s New Year message. 5 e Straits Times, 1 January 2018, Melody Zaccheus, “Year-long calendar of events for bicentennial in 2019.” 6 For example, see Red Ants, 2 January 2018, Shen Zewei, “1819 to 2019: Who is to interpret and patch the history of Singapore,” hp://www.redants.sg/perspective/stor y20180102-1016, accessed on 3 January 2018; e Online Citizen, Jose Raymond, “Political agenda behind Singapore Bicentennial celebrations in 2019,” and Min

Zheng’s reposting on 5 January 2018 with added remarks, hps://www.facebook.co m/jentrified.citizen, accessed on 6 January 2018. 7 e Straits Times, 1 January 2018, Yuen Sin, “Singapore to mark 200th anniversary of Raffles’ arrival,” 9 April 2018; e Straits Times, Melody Zaccheus, “Singapore Bicentennial to be effort of community, says Desmond Lee”; Lianhe zaobao, 1 January 2018, “Formation of steering commiee for Bicentennial.” e final direct budget is said to be likely around 30 per cent of SG50, during an informal working meeting between the author and Bicentennial officials on 29 October 2018. 8 e Straits Times, 23 January 2018, Elgin Toh, “Bicentennial a chance to tell wartsand-all history of Singapore.” 9 e Straits Times, 9 April 2018, Melody Zaccheus, “Singapore Bicentennial to be effort of community, says Desmond Lee.” 10 Lianhe zaobao, 22 April 2018, “To recruit 3800 volunteers for Bicentennial activities.” 11 See the special edition of its club magazine Yihe shiji (Century of harmony and peace), Vol. 36 (July 2018), on “What is history and who writes history.” 12 John Miksic, Archaeological Research on the ‘Forbidden Hill’ of Singapore: Excavations at Fort Canning, 1984 (Singapore: National Museum, 1985); John Miksic

and Cheryl-Ann Low Mei Gek, Early Singapore, 1300–1819: Evidence in Maps, Text and Artefacts (Singapore: Singapore History Museum, 2004). 13 Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore: A 700-year History, from Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives, 2009). 14 Ministry of Education, Curriculum Planning and Development Division, Singapore e Making of a Nation-state, 1300-1975 (Singapore: Star Publishing, 2014). 15 Lianhe zaobao, 1 January 2018, “Refusal to name any facility aer Sang Nila Utama, reflecting poor historical sensibility”; CNA, 31 December 2017, “Singapore’s bicentennial commemoration in 2019.” 16 Peter Borschberg, e Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, Security and Diplomacy in the 17th Century (Singapore: NUS Press, 2010); —, “e dark space of Singapore history, c. 1400–1800’, Passage (May–June 2015); —, “Singapore in the cycles of the longue durée,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (2017), 90/1.312, pp. 29–60; Roderich Ptak, China, the Portuguese, and the Nanyang (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); e Straits Times, 5 January 2018, Kwa Chong Guan, “700 years of history, a bicentennial and four cycles of selement”; Tan Tai Yong, “e long and short of Singapore history: Cycles, pivots and continuities,” public IPS-Nathan Lecture 1, 5 September 2018.

17 e Straits Times, 27 October 2018, Kwa Chong Guan and Peter Borschberg, “Singapore’s tricky place in archipelagic history.” 18 C M Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1975 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 5; A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005, (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), p. 4. Significantly, Turnbull rejects the new scholarship on Temasek: “e [new] findings… supplement but basically support the previous known story: namely that Temasek appeared and flourished for a few decades as one of a number of moderately prosperous ports in the region but came to a sudden, violent and mysterious end at the close of the fourteenth century.” She insisted: “Aer the fall of Temasek, nothing of significance took place on the island until Raffles’ party landed in 1819.” 19 Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at a banquet hosted by Singapore International Chamber of Commerce to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Singapore, 6 February 1969. A shorter, less inspiring speech was delivered a few months later during National Day on 8 August 1969. Both speeches on the internet by the National Archives of Singapore, lky/1969/lky0206 and lky/1969/lky0808c, accessed on 4 June 2018. 20 See Lee’s speech at the 1969 150th commemoration. 21 Lee Kuan Yew, From ird World to First: e Singapore Story, 1965–2000 (Singapore: Times Editions, 2000), pp. 66–67, 78.

22 Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli, e Scripting of a National History: Singapore and its Pasts (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; Singapore: NUS Press, 2008), pp. 7, 16–18, 53–6; Hong Lysa, “Making the history of Singapore: S Rajaratnam and C V Devan Nair,” in Lee’s Lieutenants: Singapore’s Old Guards, rev. edn. edited by Lam Peng Er and Kevin Y L Tan (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2018), pp. 194–9. 23 Kevin Blackburn, “1819 and the concept of empire in the imperial history curriculum of Singapore,” presentation at the March 2018 NUS History Department workshop on ‘Reassessing 1819 in Singapore history,’ looking into the curricular texts of 1899, 1928, 1936 and 1984. 24 Lianhe zaobao, 20 May 2018, “All the troubles caused by Raffles.” 25 e Straits Times, 1 January 2018, full text of Lee Hsien Loong’s New Year message. 26 e Straits Times, 23 January 2018, Elgin Toh, “Bicentennial a chance to tell wartsand-all history of Singapore.” 27 Wong Siew Hoong, “e Role of Sir Stamford Raffles in the History of Singapore, 1819–1826: A Historiographic Analysis,” BA honours thesis, Department of History, National University of Singapore, (1982–3), pp. 1–13. 28 See John Bastin’s extensive writings on various aspects of Raffles from 1950s to present, including William Farquhar: First Resident and Commandant of Singapore

(Eastbourne: privately printed, 2005). 29 Syed Hussein Alatas, omas Stamford Raffles, 1781–1826: Schemer or Reformer? (Singapore: Angus and Robertson, 1971), pp. 39–52. Ernest C T Chew, another keen scholar on the historiography of Raffles, had wrien a stern critique of Alatas’ book and their back-and-forth disputes are available in “A controversy on Raffles,” in Suara Universiti, 3.1 (October 1972), pp. 49–61. 30 Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Raffles and Religion: A Study of Sir omas Stamford Raffles’ Discourse on Religions amongst Malays (Kuala Lumpur: e Other Press, 2004), pp. 94–8. 31 Ng Yi-Sheng, “Raffles restitution: Artistic responses to Singapore’s 1819 colonisation,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (December 2019), 50.4, pp. 599–631. 32 John D Greenwood, Forbidden Hill, Singapore Saga Vol. 1 (Singapore: Monsoon Books, 2017); e Straits Times, 30 January 2018, Olivia Ho, “100 years of early Singapore in new fiction series,” 33 Nadia Wright, William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow (Penang: Entrepot Publishing, 2017): back cover. 34 Ibid., p. xiii. 35 e Straits Times, 2 April 2018, Yuen Sin, “PM pays tribute to early migrants at clan’s centenary celebrations.”

36 Lianhe zaobao, 27 January 2018, Zhang Liangwo, “Writing on the 199th anniversary of the founding of Singapore”; Lianhe zaobao, 27 October 2018, Zhang Liangwo, “e scripting of small people and big history.” 37 Huang Jianli, “Resurgent spirits of civil society activism: Rediscovering the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (2014), 87.2, pp. 21–45. 38 e Straits Times, 12 May 2013, Teo Han Wue, “Did a Cantonese carpenter land before Raffles?” 39 e Straits Times, 22 September 2016, Huang Lijie, “National Gallery Singapore drops “empire” theme for its gala.” 40 e Straits Times, 9 April 2018, Melody Zaccheus, “Singapore Bicentennial to be effort of community, says Desmond Lee.” 41 e Straits Times, 8 January 2018, Asad Latif, “Looking back to Raffles to move ahead.” 42 Hong Lysa, “e public life of history in Singapore: 1819 and the exceptional colony,” presentation at the 1–2 March 2018 NUS History Department workshop on “Reassessing 1819 in Singapore history.” 43 Benedeo Croce, History as the Story of Liberty (London: Allen & Unwin, 1941) and History: Its eory and Practice (New York: Russell & Russell, 1960).

44 E H Carr, What is History? (London: Macmillan, 1961). 45 For example, see Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa, e 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years (Kuala Lumpur: SIRD & Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2013); Kumar Ramakrishna, Original Sin? Revising Critique of the 1963 Operation Coldstore (Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2015). 46 e commiee had received 170 wrien submissions before its public hearings and heard evidence from 65 speakers, and more people wrote in thereaer. e Straits Times, 26 June 2018, Nur Asyiqin, “Select Commiee aims to strike right balance in war on fake news.” 47 e Straits Times, numerous articles, 30 March to May 2018; Four parts of YouTube videos on um’s public hearing posted by the Singapore government at hps://ww w.youtube.com/watch?v=7riDKnI8mO4; first submission of um Ping Tjin dated 26 February 2018 and his follow-up submission of 3 May 2018 are available at hp://me dium.com/submissions-to-the-select-commiee-on-deliberate/, accessed on 3 May 2018. 48 Press release by Charles Chong as chairman of the Select Commiee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, 30 April 2018, paragraph 12. 49 e Straits Times, 21 September 2018, Royston Sim, “Select commiee releases 22 proposals to combat fake news,”; Yasmine Yahya, 21 September 2018, “No weight

given to historian’s views as he was found lacking in credibility.” 50 Lianhe zaobao, 1 January 2018, “Prof Tan Tai Yong: Our national history can be traced to 1299.” 51 Lianhe zaobao, 2 January 2018, editorial, “History as a mirror to construct the future.” 52 All translations by the author unless otherwise indicated. 53 Lianhe zaobao, 7 January 2018, Han Yongmei, “e pluralistic perspective of history.” 54 e Straits Times, 23 January 2018, Elgin Toh, “Bicentennial a chance to tell wartsand-all history of Singapore.” 55 e Straits Times, 9 April 2018, Melody Zaccheus, “Singapore Bicentennial to be effort of community, says Desmond Lee.” 56 e Straits Times, 22 April 2018, Ng Jun Seng, “Gather facts to forge consensus on history: Koh Poh Koon.”

The Bicentennial: Of Precedents, Prequels and the Discipline of History in Singapore Hong Lysa e Contours: of dates and numbers THE DECLARATION BY the prime minister on 31 December 2018 that there would be a Bicentennial is the third time in Singapore’s history that the arrival of omas Stamford Raffles in 1819 has been marked in the official calendar of events. From the celebration of the Centenary by the British rulers, it has been a once-in-fiy-years occurrence, under the aegis of the government of the Republic of Singapore. What was commemorated as the founding of Singapore was not observed annually as a public holiday when it was a colony; the British monarch’s birthday was. National Day is celebrated annually in independent Singapore; in 1969 and 2019, the day was also the high point of the year-long 150th and 200th anniversary celebrations of the commencement of its colonial past.

e national day of an ex-colony would logically mark its success in puing an end to colonial rule and aaining independence. Singapore celebrated the first anniversary of its national day on 3 June 1960, marking the swearing in of the first Singapore elected cabinet led by Lee Kuan Yew of the People’s Action Party (PAP), with external relations and defence remaining under the British. Colonial rule ended in Singapore on 16 September 1963, when it joined the newly formed Federation of Malaysia as one of its 14 states. With Separation taking place aer 23 months on 9 August 1965, the island became a sovereign country. In the course of these political landmarks from 1959 to 1965, the PAP government turned from being overtly anti-British, to covertly pro-British, to overtly pro-British culminating in its celebration of the 150th anniversary of the landing of Raffles in Singapore, glossed as the founding of modern Singapore, four years aer being separated from Malaysia. Within the span of those six years, Singapore changed its national day celebrations three times. Its severance from its colonial rulers was not a clean-cut affair. In fact, it was aer the island aained sovereignty that the

government became most desirous of being linked to the former mother country. In craing a founding myth for the nation, the Singapore government in 1965 broke away from its 1959 declarations to rid the country of colonial vestiges. It chose 1819 as the country’s foundational myth. e logic behind the apparent irony of sovereign Singapore celebrating its colonial birthday every fiy years resides in the ruling party’s narrative of how colonial rule came to an end, how it came to power, and how they have remained in government since. e transfer of power between 1959 and 1965 is the most contested in the country’s history as it concerns the legitimacy of PAP rule. Did they fight the communists in a baptism of fire, or was Operation Coldstore of 2 February 1963 the original sin, where Lee’s most credible political opponents on the le were arrested without trial on charges of being communist and pro-communist subversives, which allowed the PAP to win the critical election of 1963? Did the two short years of being in Malaysia awaken the PAP to the inherent and indelible chauvinism of life in the peninsula, or did the PAP itself exacerbate that chauvinism?

rough those years the British were the most powerful force behind the besieged PAP government. Marking 1819 postulates that colonial rule was good for Singapore for it ended with the present ruling party as its successor. Without Operation Coldstore and the related merger with Malaysia and Separation, there would have been no need for Singapore to go through a Bicentennial. 1919: A statue, a tome… and a university e genealogy of the Bicentennial is obviously to be traced to the Centenary, with shis in emphasis or implications in marking 1819 built in to serve contemporary apprehensions. In form, the Centenary commiee defined the celebrations with two objects which subsequently featured in 1969 and 2019 as well: the statue of Raffles, and the commemorative tome. While certainly the occasion was the celebration of the empire including its victory in World War I a year earlier, there were aspects to the Centenary that undercut the assumption that Singapore’s colonial society reposed complete faith in the local government. An understanding

of colonial society which the Centenary potentially affords is irrelevant to the ‘statue and tome’ rituals of 1969 and 2019. Neither of the two occasions were interested in the past as such. On 6 February 1919, to commemorate the day a century ago when Raffles got the temenggong and the sultan of Johor whom he recognised over a rival claimant to sign a treaty permiing the British to establish a trading post on the island, the governor of the Straits Selements unveiled a copper plate tablet affixed to Raffles’ statue, transferred from its original spot to the front of Victoria Memorial Hall, a more grandiose location. e tablet lauded Raffles’ “foresight and genius” to which Singapore owed its existence and prosperity.1 A train of dignitaries queued up in order of importance according to colonial protocol to present their felicitation addresses to the governor of the British Straits Selements. e Singapore Chamber of Commerce largely representing the western mercantile interests was followed by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Straits Chinese British Association and so on.

e Centenary Commiee also commissioned the publication of One hundred years of Singapore: Being some account of the capital of the Straits Selement from its foundation by Sir Stamford Raffles on the 6th February 1819 to the 6th February 1919, edited by leading members of society and whose writers had first-hand involvement and knowledge on their subject. e tome is encyclopedic, in no small part constituting the life story of the British residents themselves. Its Straits Chinese counterpart One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore published in 1923 is essentially a long-form who’s who of Singapore’s leading Chinese families and personalities. In its Centenary address to the Governor, the Straits Chinese British Association expressed its gratitude to the British government for its “consistently benign rule.” e pomp and circumstance of the rituals of the day however was only one layer of life in colonial Singapore. e Centenary also gave room for the non-official elite strata of society both British and Asian to lobby for policies and measures for the beerment of their society. A public poll was conducted to decide on a permanent commemorative project, resulting in the establishment of a university as the unanimous choice.2

Such a call had already been made in the first issue of the Straits Chinese Magazine in 1897. As to be expected, Raffles’ words on education as one of his key missions were cited in the Centenary commiee’s report.3 Preliminary steps for the establishment of Raffles College entailed a review of the state of English-medium education in the colony, which concluded that it was in a woeful state. e chair of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce who was a legislative council member told the council of the “present deplorable state of elementary education.” Government investment was needed—of the 16,000 boys and girls in English schools, fewer than 8,000 aended government schools.4 e fees for primary schools were high. No training was available for local teachers, while the salaries for imports from the ‘mother country’ were grossly unaractive.5 e salaries commission concurred that “Education in Malaya seems to be in a very unsatisfactory position.” It was “a history of parsimony and failure.” e government had “kept in the background and stinted.”6 e putative benign colonial rule also entailed benign neglect.

e government could not reject the Raffles College project—Straits Chinese leaders like Lim Boon Keng had rallied the community to donate towards the purchase of baleplanes and supported the war tax during the first World War. However, cognisant of the fact that higher education for colonial subjects would lead to greater demands for political participation, the government “hastened slowly,” enduring scathing public criticisms and scorn for incompetence.7 Raffles College commenced classes in 1928, a full nine years aer the Centenary. Raffles College was not set up by the colonial state as a fulfillment of Raffles’ vision. It was a demand made by the elite of both the local English speakers and the long-term expatriate residents from Britain as part of the Centenary, at a time when it would be awkward for the government to turn down. ese organic aspects of colonial society at play in the Centenary were of scant interest to the Bicentennial, which in the main lauded the virtues of community self-help, philanthropy and the industry of the historical personalities it identified as role models. Reflective of the politics of their own time, the organisers of the 2019 events ignored the efforts of

members of civil society who pressured the colonial government to provide amenities and services and greater representation in the affairs of the country that made for a more mature society. 1969: Banquet of Chinese cuisine and a toast to the queen Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s speech at the 1969 National Day cum 150th anniversary banquet concluded with him giving “credit to our founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and to those who came aer him. Without them, modern Singapore would not have been the same.” is was followed with a toast to the queen. Singapore had been separated from Malaysia for only two and a half years when the British government announced on 16 January 1968 that its military withdrawal would be brought forward by four years to 1970. Lee was highly concerned about Singapore’s defence, and the impact on foreign investment. A Singapore cabinet meeting on 7 February 1968 decided to mark the 150th anniversary with “celebrations on a big scale.” Lee wanted to highlight Singapore’s positive appreciation of its colonial history in order that Britain and the Commonwealth members of

Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia would commit to a five-power defence agreement which included Singapore. Accordingly, Lee wrote to the British prime minister in January 1969 inviting een Elizabeth II to aend the 150th year celebrations or send her cousin Princess Alexandra in her stead. e Foreign and Commonwealth Office found itself in the unusual situation of having to restrain the enthusiasm of a former colony in demonstrating its appreciation to the crown. To avoid any suggestion that the queen had any constitutional standing in Singapore, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office preferred that the princess aend “in her own right.” Lee insisted that her visit be given “all possible trappings,” including “as many guns as it is possible to fire” and to “make manifest [Singapore’s] connexion with Britain.”8 As the queen’s ‘Special Ambassador,’ Princess Alexandra was the principal guest at the National Day parade. “God Save the een” was played when she arrived aer Lee and just before the President.9 e Lord President and Leader of the UK House of Commons, the British Commander in Chief of the Far East Command, and his navy, army and

air commanders were also present, as well as Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Razak, and cabinet ministers from Australia and New Zealand at the National Day banquet.10 Lee succeeded in obtaining assurance of the defence and security protection that he sought, as well as minimising the negative impact of an accelerated military withdrawal on Singapore’s economy. At the same time, the 150th anniversary had an existential dimension relating to Singapore’s identity as a nation. 1969 was also the 15th anniversary of the aainment of statehood, and of the PAP in government. e 1959 general election had brought forth the country’s first fully elected cabinet though maers relating to defence and external affairs remained with the British, and the Internal Security Council comprised representatives of Britain, Singapore and Malaya. e PAP, the most lewing political party at the time, won 43 of the 51 parliamentary seats in Singapore’s most unencumbered election to date. e country rejoiced with “Merdeka” as the rallying cry. In 1969, the significance of the year 1959 was displaced by 1819. Two days before National Day and the climax of the 150th celebrations,

Minister of Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam, in his capacity as the director of the party’s politburo, stated at the exhibition on the PAP’s 15 years as government that when the party came into power it was so anti-colonial that Raffles was earmarked for removal, escaping that fate narrowly. But the party had “passed that stage—only Raffles remains.” In fact Raffles was deemed to have a role to play in multiracial, multicultural Singapore: as an Englishman, he was “a neutral” so there would be no dissension among the communities for him to be recognised as the country’s founder, unlike puing up the first Malay, first Chinese, first Indian or first Indonesian.11 e ‘Raffles as neutral’ argument would have been unthinkable before 1965, as seen in the acceptance in Singapore of Malay as the national language, and concomitantly Article 152 of the constitution of Singapore, 1959 which recognised the Malays as the indigenous people. e English language was then regarded as that of the coloniser. 1965 overturned the dire position of Raffles. He came up on top. And in 1968, the PAP won all the seats in the general election which the opposition parties, including the Barisan Sosialis, boycoed.

e 150th anniversary was the first time that a year-long celebration had been declared in Singapore. e previous orthodoxy of the PAP being anti-colonial, and Singapore as historically linked with Malaya no longer held; the struggles in the 1950s ceased to be narrated as efforts to end colonial rule but as heroic rescuing of the country from the communists. e Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau dubbed the activities on 9 August 1969 “a double celebration.” e 150th anniversary and National Day celebrations were not two discrete events but the warp and we of a tapestry of the colonial past as woven by the post-colonial government of the Republic of Singapore. e year-long celebrations commenced with a banquet on 6 February 1969 hosted by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as the guest of honour. Publishers and writers Donald and Joanna Moore were commissioned by the Chamber to produce e First 150 Years of Singapore, which was launched on the occasion. e book opens with:

e first one hundred and fiy years of Singapore open and close under the aegis of a great man: Raffles, a beacon of almost blinding light at the beginning, pointing the way; Lee Kuan Yew, successor in a world not even Raffles, for all his vision, could have recognized today… Raffles and Lee Kuan Yew, as we shall see, have much in common, not only in themselves, but in their stars.12 150 Years would be the first to pair Raffles and Lee in this manner, no doubt with at least prior approval from the laer. To intertwine the life of the colonial ‘founder’ with that of the ex-colony’s first elected prime minister would have been heresy only just three and a half years earlier. Lee made a telling statement at the banquet: “But for the wisdom and foresight of an Englishman, there would have been no gathering for the occasion, and no banquet of Chinese cuisine (emphasis added).”13 e business acumen and the regional networks of the Chinese merchants who flocked to the free port of Singapore were indispensable to the ability of the British trading houses to be profitable. ere were 30 Chinese with Raffles on 6 February 1819.14

Lee went on to comment on Pelayaran Abdullah, by Raffles’ scribe, Munshi Abdullah, noting that had he read and digested the book earlier in his political life, he would have been saved from much disappointment. e munshi’s account of his trip to Kelantan in 1838 to represent Chinese and European merchants whose interests were endangered by the ongoing civil war told of the poverty and misery of the lives of the inhabitants who lived in constant fear of the oppression and cruelty of the rajas and other notables.15 Lee did not disguise his great disdain for Malay history and culture. His rancour towards Malay society displayed in the reference to Pelayaran Abdullah emanated from his blaming of the failure of Singapore’s Malaysian years solely on the racial extremists in United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) whose presence he claimed not to have been aware of prior to their crossing swords. Lee absolved himself completely of any responsibility for the heightened tensions between the races which has continued beyond 1965. e affirmation of Singapore’s colonial history was given concrete form when a white statue of Raffles made from a plaster cast of the bronze

statue at the front of Victoria Memorial Hall but taller than the original by two metres was installed in 1971 to signal that Singapore was set to “leapfrog” the region to link up with the developed western world to aract investment in manufacturing.16 e inscription in four languages on the pedestal lauded the genius and foresight of the hero who changed Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis. e notion that Singapore history was bookended by two great men became the orthodoxy from 1969, as did its corollary—the rags to riches story of the hardworking immigrant Chinese and the myth of the lazy natives as manifested in the backwardness of Malay culture and people. In 2014, five years before the Bicentennial, it looked like the racial stereotypes embedded in starting Singapore history with the sleepy fishing village being founded by Raffles was finally being done away with. e country’s history textbook was revised to date the start at just before the beginning of the 14th century, in accordance with the 2009 academic publication, Singapore: A 700-Year History. e New York Times found the implications of this newly discovered old history newsworthy, and

featured critical comments by historians from the local universities on the additional 500 years of history: Now we are more confident to say we were once a Malay polity.… If Singapore before 1800 was a sleepy backwater, the Chinese majority could say ‘We built Singapore; before it was a blank slate.’17 e two statements hit at the nub of the racialised history and society Singapore adhered to from 1965 on wards, but the radical implications they potentially held were not triggered. Recognition that Singapore was once a Malay polity did not entail accepting the Malays as being indigenous to the island; acknowledging the thriving maritime trade that traversed the Malay world but which was at a low point in Singapore when Raffles landed in 1819 may have corrected the ‘blank state’ fallacy, but not the claim that modern Singapore was built on the innate qualities of the Chinese race. e Bicentennial, amplifying its 700-years stance, asked provocatively in one of its publicity tags: “Who says pre-1819 Singapore was a sleepy

village?” e plaque on the white Raffles statue says so, to this day. 2019: The prequel Fiddling around with Raffles Announcing the Bicentennial, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to its precedent: “We should commemorate this Bicentennial properly, just as we marked the 150th anniversary in 1969.” Unlike the laer’s regimented programming, however, the Bicentennial was a massive public relations exercise to generate a collective effervescence. It drew in community groups with ‘road shows’ to the ‘heartlands’ of the island including facilitating ordinary people to tell their stories. To create a ‘buzz,’ wellknown media and art and other creative industry exponents were deployed; social media platforms were used extensively. e event was an update of the PAP, state-led rendition of the place that 1819 occupied in Singapore history, suited to the age of information technology and cultural consumerism in the globalised city-state, post-Lee Kuan Yew.

e Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO) was set up under the Prime Minister’s Office to handle the programming and organisation of the yearlong events. Two edgy statements were enunciated: firstly, it was not a celebration of the Raffles landing, for Singapore was certainly not the work of a single person but of many. An even greater iconoclasm was that the bicentenary year notwithstanding, Singapore has a newly embraced 700-year-old history, of which the last two hundred years were but a chapter or two. e word ‘celebration’ was taboo: 2019 was to be a year of ‘reflection’ of Singapore’s history, and what it meant to be Singaporean. ‘Complexity,’ ‘nuances,’ ‘multi-layered’ were the trending Bicentennialspeak. e speech of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 28 January 2019 at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial was however a straightforward one. He disposed of the first 500 years by mentioning a name from the 14th century (Sang Nila Utama), and another from 16th and 17th century (Jacques de Coutre), and averred that while Raffles did not ‘discover’ Singapore any more than Columbus did America, “without 1819, we would not have had 1965, and we would certainly not have celebrated the

success of SG50. 1819 made these possible. is is why the Singapore Bicentennial is worth commemorating.”18 e Bicentennial was thus a celebration of 1965 to the present, the success story with Raffles central to the telling. In a new 21st century history of Singapore however, he was no longer the flawless founder, and had to share the honour of seing the island on its present course with other colonialists, be it Farquhar or Crawfurd, and the supposedly multitudes of non-white peoples who contributed to its present-day success. e position of 1819 in this narrative however was unchanged if not reinforced, with the outdated ‘great man in history’ framework ostensibly retired. e inaugural Bicentennial project took place over the few days before and into 2019—and it involved the Raffles statue. In an optical illusion stunt, the white Raffles statue, coated in grey to blend with the building in the background would disappear when viewed from designated spots. is novelty was available for six days. It was publicised in e Straits Times on the day that the statue would revert to its whiteness.19 About three weeks later, the statue found itself surrounded by four matching companions, all

white— Sang Nila Utama, putative founder of Singapore in 1299; Munshi Abdullah Abu Kadir, Raffles’ scribe, and the wealthy and philanthropic Tan Tock Seng and Naraina Pillai—the last three being predictable choices to stand for ‘the many.’ e additions were relocated along various points along the riverbank less than a week later, where they stood till the end of the year when they were then removed. e short-lived ‘pop-up’ alterations to the white Raffles statue could well be either awkward aempts by the SBO to desacralise Raffles while uncertain how far that should go, or simply gestures for the record in the newspaper headlines. In any case, one recent immigrant expressed appreciation of the efforts which she preferred to take at face value. To her, Raffles and the imperialism he stood for had cowed an earlier Singapore, but not the largely young well-educated, well-travelled present-day Singaporeans. Making Raffles ‘disappear’ showed their “insolent irreverence” towards the colonial rulers of yore. A ‘rootless person,’ she finally found her home among Singaporeans, whose identity was rooted in 1965.20 A

cosmopolitan society without historical hang-ups which appealed to a set of well-educated, well-travelled New Singaporeans. Singapore: A 700-Year History (2009), 21 Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore (2019)22 e Bicentennial had been anticipated a decade earlier in Singapore 700Year History published in 2009. e last timeline entry in the book reads “Singapore celebrates the 190th anniversary of its (re-founding) by Raffles, as well as seven centuries of the name of Singapore or Singapura.” ere is no record of such a public celebration being held unless the authors were referring to the publication of their book. It was not surprising therefore that the ministerial steering commiee declared that the 2009 edition of the book was a foundational reference for the SBO,23 with the Bicentennial as the ‘prequel’ to the SG50 celebrations, “puing it in a broader context in time and space.”24 While Singapore history was stretched back 500 years longer

than previously

acknowledged, it remains unclear how these centuries fit into SG50, except as timeless ‘lessons’ which the 700-Year History authors have

drawn about the geography of the island determining its cyclical destiny— just as the island in the pre-colonial past had outlasted its inhabitants at various points in time before 1819, so would it into the future. Notwithstanding the longue durée claims to complexity, the prime minister’s address stated unequivocally that 1819 flowed directly into 1965. e immediate prequel to SG50 was the transition from colony to independence. Both editions of the book affirm the establishment line, which put the PAP’s fight against communism and chauvinism of the Chinese le, and the communalism of the Malay extreme right in the Malaysia years as heroic bales that made possible the birth of the Singapore nation in 1965. is narrative has been challenged in recent years aer decades of unquestioned dominance.25 e account stitched together in the 190th anniversary of the ‘re-founding’ underwent a ‘complete rewrite’ for the Bicentennial year. e most glaring weakness of the sections on post-war political developments in the 2009 version was the omission of Operation Coldstore; the 2019 version made good for this, while leaving out the

Hong Lim by-election, a significant event in the 2009 narrative and critical to understanding the politics of the time. Singapore: A 700-Year History (2009) plunges into the post-war period with the continuing need by the British for Singapore as a military base, adopting the lens of the Cold War. It ignored the dynamic anti-colonial activism on the ground, operating under conditions of the Emergency regulations. ere were only communists and Chinese chauvinists, and there was Lee Kuan Yew. Hence the PAP loss of the Hong Lim by-election in April 1961 was explained as having been “engineered by the Communists aer they withdrew their support to show how critical their support was to the party.”26 However, even Lee Kuan Yew’s account of the by-election in his 1998 memoir did not go that far. e intra-party rivalry between him and the popular and populist right-wing Ong Eng Guan led Ong to resign as the member for Hong Lim, and contest for the seat in the by-election as an independent against the PAP candidate. Lee’s memoir aributed the PAP candidate’s defeat to Ong having done his constituencies “too many

favours by giving whole streets away to hawkers, put up standpipes and street lamps and talked about distributing taxi licenses freely.”27 As expected, Lim Chin Siong, the leader of the PAP le whom Lee had insisted was a communist could not be le out of Lee’s story. He alleged that Lim Chin Siong had quietly passed the word around for the voters not to support the PAP. is was despite the fact that Lee revealed in his radio broadcasts in September and October of 1961 aer he had expelled the le wing from the PAP, that since 1958, he had been in a covert ‘united front’ with the leader of the communist party in Singapore, whom he dubbed “the Plen.” If Lim Chin Siong had lobbied for Ong, it would have been against the position taken by the communists, which Lim was accused of being. In the mainstream history, every action of Lim Chin Siong’s was dictated by his being a communist, an allegation which he had denied all his life. Ong fought the by-election on the issue of the PAP’s failure to keep its pledge made in the 1959 general elections to free the political prisoners arrested by the Lim Yew Hock government. e voters punished the party for its breach of faith, apparently defying the orders of the communists.

e PAP’s defeat in the Hong Lim by-election led the British to bail Lee out from facing the le wing in the general election scheduled for 1963. e arrest of Lim Chin Siong and the le had to be engineered to ensure Lee’s political survival. e merger of Singapore with Malaya would pass the responsibility of arresting the PAP le to the politically conservative Tunku Abdul Rahman, prime minister of the Federation of Malaya who however had stated publicly that he was not keen to merge with Singapore, given its pro-le and majority Chinese population. It was the British who induced him to change his mind by including their territories of Sarawak and British North Borneo into the package. A 700-Year History presents an anaemic account of Merger. It claims that Merger was a key 1959 electoral promise and Lee’s political survival was at risk if he did not fulfill it. Merger meant the end of colonial rule and independence for Singapore within the Federation of Malaysia which would weaken the le-wing and pro-communist politicians. It was deemed to have worked so well that the PAP won a sweeping victory in

the general election held on 21 September 1963, less than a week following the formation of Malaysia. In this account Operation Coldstore, which took place seven months earlier resulting in the top political opposition members and activists being taken out of the political process, was deemed irrelevant to the outcome of the election. Similarly omied is Operation Pechah, ordered by the Malaysian government a fortnight following the election. irtyone people were imprisoned including three newly elected Barisan members of parliament (two others escaped capture), unsuccessful Barisan election candidates and trade union leaders. In a reversal of the 2009 version, Operation Coldstore is featured in the 2019 edition, but not the PAP’s Hong Lim by-election defeat, thus glossing over the precarious political position of the PAP government at that point. Once again, Merger is presented as the Tunku’s initiative—it was he who “raised the possibility” of linking Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo (Sabah) and Brunei closer together, though Brunei got out of the deal. is time the Tunku’s role is made out to be even more critical, for this initiative of his split the PAP; it was also one of the Tunku’s

conditions for Singapore’s entry into the Federation that the radical le in Singapore be arrested.28 Operation Coldstore was supposed to have forestalled violent actions that the Barisan was contemplating in conjunction with the Brunei Revolt of December 1963. All this follows closely what Lee was saying at the time. e primacy given to Tunku Abdul Rahman’s role takes the focus away from the key movers of events—the British, who were in a position to offer its Borneo territories regardless of the wishes and interests of their people, and Lee Kuan Yew himself, the direct beneficiary of Operation Coldstore. is gives the impression that the two parties had to be armtwisted into ordering the arrests. Indeed, Lee was then denying that he was a willing party to the decision to arrest his former party members. e Tunku insisted that the arrests take place before Malaysia came into being so that the opprobrium would also be borne by the British and Singapore governments as members of the Internal Security Council. e British and Lee were concerned with negative repercussions that might befall them when the Brunei Revolt occurred, giving them the justification to act. Nevertheless, Operation Coldstore took place two months aer the

Brunei Revolt, long aer whatever danger of an uprising in Singapore, if there was any in the first place, would have passed. e three leaders could not agree on a list of those to be arrested. No evidence has ever been produced to show that the Barisan had any involvement with the Brunei Revolt or were planning local armed uprisings in its wake despite demands for such evidence to this day made by the survivors of Coldstore. With Operation Coldstore, the threat of a PAP electoral defeat in the September 1963 general election was put out of the way. Following Merger, Kuala Lumpur, which had been in charge of internal security, carried out further arrests in October 1963, and in September and October 1964, sweeping through Nanyang University as well as trade unions, detaining close to ninety people. Lee’s position was secured. However, the problems inherent in the terms of Merger came to the fore; in particular, the role of Lee Kuan Yew vis-à-vis the politicians in peninsular Malaysia at the federal level. ey manifested themselves as toxic racial acrimony heading inexorably towards violent confrontation. On 9 August 1965, Singapore exited Malaysia.

e failure of Singapore’s merger has been told as the good faith of the PAP betrayed, the nightmare that steeled Singapore to its pursuit of a multiracial society with equal opportunities for all. e political opportunism on the part of all three parties—the British, Lee Kuan Yew and the Tunku—coming together in the merger agreement, with lile more than the purpose of crushing the le to forestall its ascendancy through the political process, has led to clumsy contortions in the telling. As with the 150th anniversary of 1969, the Bicentennial was a working out of Singapore’s Malaysian years. e trauma of those 23 months was still raw in 1969. By 2019 the prime minister was ready to historicise its once-upon-a-time Malaysian aspirations as an understandable case of collective mistaken identity: is history (of identifying ourselves as Southeast Asian and especially Malayan), seeded in 1819, drove us to join Malaysia in 1963. But though we did not realise it then, this history had also made us quite different from our neighbours and friends… Over nearly 150 years, our political values, our inter-communal

relations, and our worldviews had diverged from the society on the other side of the Causeway. So, in retrospect, it was not surprising that less than two years aer Merger with Malaysia, we had to part ways, in an emotionally wrenching Separation.29 e prime minister regarded colonial Singapore seeing itself as “Malayan” as a superficial and mistaken notion, arguing that while the island was never governed in the manner of the Malay states, it took the abrupt failure of merger for this truth to sink in. In Bicentennial-speak, the prime minister’s reflection was nuanced in its understanding that British colonialism was not the same everywhere, certainly not Singapore and the Malay States. Correspondingly, in the historian’s 700 years’ “longue durée” time frame and “long-sighted” view, merger to form Malaysia becomes “an interesting case of historical amnesia.”30 From the 14th to the 19th centuries, Singapore’s hinterland was sea-based, covering much of maritime Southeast Asia. From the 19th and 20th centuries up to 1965 however, the colonial economy was such that the Malay peninsula became

the land-based hinterland for Singapore from which wealth flowed in via the causeway. Singapore’s post-war leaders had ‘forgoen’ that the island had thrived without relying primarily on that overland hinterland. Hence, they fought hard for merger, going against the tide of its first 500 years of history. Both the prime minister and the historian concluded that the fundamentals of Singapore’s historical condition meant that Merger would not have worked. eir grand and sweeping pronouncements elevated the failure to historical destiny—the inevitable outcome of the very nature and essence of what Singapore is. At the same time, the ‘misidentification’ and ‘amnesia’ allegedly induced by colonialism were in fact positive ones which distinguished Singapore from its neighbours: “our political values, our inter-communal relations, and our worldviews.” en there was the wealth generated by tin and rubber which flowed from across the causeway. Extrapolating from these statements one could well point out that the relentless vitriol that the PAP government heaped on the Barisan Sosialis for being ‘anti-merger’ (though the Barisan had stated categorically that they were against the disastrous terms of Merger which

Lee had agreed to, and indeed saw themselves as Malayan) indicated that it was the le then who were immune to the seductions of colonialism. Merger was a nightmare as the British departed, leaving the Malaysians in their place though no one defended the terms of Merger that he agreed to more desperately and willfully than Lee Kuan Yew himself. e Merger scheme was an expedient, short-term political calculation which Lee bulldozed through with a highly questionable referendum and by condemning those who opposed the terms of the deal as communists. Once the common aim of puing away the le was achieved, the unresolved issues took over. If indeed the Singapore government had gone into merger with the formation of the common market as the foremost consideration, then it would have been grossly amiss, for the basic issues involved proved to be complex and contentious, and negotiations were deferred till aer Merger. It was imperative that the le be dealt with before the general election due in 1963. Ensuring that Singapore would be a durable part of Malaysia was not uppermost in the minds of the governments involved in the negotiations for the island’s inclusion into the new federation.

What history is not e Bicentennial can be said to be a nebulous national celebration. e legacy of 1819 remains intact, albeit with the caveat that there was a first ‘founding’ 700 years earlier. But so long as 1299 and 1819 lead unproblematically to SG50 and the Bicentennial, then not much has changed. For one thing, critiques of Raffles are certainly not unprecedented in Singapore. ey have been presented via theatre and art with imagination, sophistication and pertinence. But it is the accredited historians who hold sway in the classrooms, lecture theatres and mainstream media. e Bicentennial historians have handled the counter-histories that have emerged in the last decade by making expansive statements that different versions and a range of stories would enrich our understanding of the early 1960s; it was time to move beyond the dichotomy between them and us,31 and that one strived to be intellectually honest, and undertake proper research.32 Yet the Bicentennial history has reinforced the dominant and routinised narrative of Singapore in Malaysia. 200 Years of Singapore and

the United Kingdom, another Bicentennial publication, featured local authors alongside western ones. However, only “British Views” were represented in the section “Singapore in Malaysia: 1963–1965,” with the editors explaining the absence of “Singapore Views” with the assertion that “we are all familiar with the Singapore narrative on merger and separation.”33 e ‘familiarity’ with the narrative that we supposedly all have points to how controversial and contested it actually is, and to the high political stakes that have been invested in it. Tommy Koh, lead editor of the book, declared that he wanted to edit a balanced and objective book. is would mean that an acceptable “Singapore View” chapter on the 1963–1965 period would have to go beyond what is understood as the bounds of the permissible. at is not to say that the ‘familiar narrative’ cannot be ‘defamiliarised.’ Indeed, this has been done—to no surprise by the very same historians who espouse the ‘familiar’ one. Declaring that he had access to new materials which showed that from early 1964, there were members of the Singapore Cabinet who had already decided that Malaysia

was not working, one historian laid claim to the revelation that the story that most Singaporeans know of the Republic’s separation from Malaysia —that it came as a shock, suddenly and unexpectedly, was “probably not historically accurate.”34 at the story that most people know of Separation is inaccurate was already revealed in 1996. In a published interview, Goh Keng Swee made public the existence of a secret file he named “Albatross.” To the question as to whether the breakup with Malaysia was a surprise, he volunteered, “Now I am going to let you into what has been a state secret up to now.” It transpired that from 20 July 1965, Goh and Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein had been working on Singapore’s complete secession. Goh stressed that Separation was well planned by both sides, and not foisted on Singapore.35 e public finally got to see three documents from the Albatross file when they were displayed in the National Museum of Singapore exhibition We Built a Nation, a tribute to Lee Kuan Yew six months following his death in March 2015. e takeaway given by the historian who elaborated on the documents in an op-ed in e Straits Times was

that the “popular descriptions” of Singapore being expelled from Malaysia should be replaced by “a more nuanced view” without any indication of what that might possibly mean.36 e more recent teaser by the historian claims to have access presumably to even ‘newer’ materials that reflect the viability of Singapore being part of Malaysia had already been expressed by early 1964, less than six months into Merger. He has indicated that there are likely to be more ‘secrets’ contained in the Albatross file that might be allowed to come to light. e possession of the documents and timing of their partial release are the prerogative of the government. e historians can take credit for deflecting the implications of such realities. More crucially, the historians have not addressed the elephant in the room: what then to make of Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘moment of anguish’ speech on television on 9 August 1965, the source of the ‘inaccuracy’ which has so defined the nation’s understanding of Separation, and which Tunku Abdul Rahman did not challenge? Historians have been at the forefront of guiding the Bicentennial narrative.

e discipline of history as it pertains to Singapore is the collateral damage.

1 e Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Free Press), 7 February 1919, “Singapore Centenary: Yesterday’s historic ceremony honouring the Colony’s founder.” 2 e Straits Times, 16 October 1918, “Centenary of Singapore.” 3 “Education must keep pace with commerce… However inviting and extensive the resources of a country may be, they can best be drawn forth by the native energies of the people themselves. Singapore is the most eligible situation for an educational establishment,” cited in e Straits Times, 16 October 1918, “Centenary of Singapore: Report on Commemoration Scheme.” 4 e Straits Times, 12 November 1918, “Legislative Council.” 5 e Straits Times, 17 October 1918, “Legislative Council.” 6 Free Press, 5 May 1919, “An educational problem.” 7 Philip Holden, “A Building with One Side Missing: Liberal Arts and Illiberal Modernities in Singapore,” SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 33.1 (2018), p. 5. 8 Telegram, de La Mare to John Johnston, 5 April 1969, TNA, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 24/379 cited in Ng Paul Seen, “Celebrating Singapore’s 150th anniversary on its 4th National Day (9 August 1969),” JMBRAS, 92/2.317 (December 2019), pp. 62–63.

9 Ibid., p. 64. 10 e Straits Times, 9 August 1969, “Lee: Why we must stick together.” 11 e Straits Times, 7 August 1969, “Raffles: How he nearly came off his Empress Place pedestal.” 12 Donald Moore and Joanna Moore, e First 150 Years of Singapore (Singapore: Donald Moore Press, 1969), p. 1. 13 e Straits Times, 7 February 1969, “More than a place on the map.” 14 Ibid. 15 Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, e Voyage of Abdullah (Pelayaran Abdullah): being an account of his experiences on a voyage from Singapore to Kelantan in AD 1838, second edition, translated by A E Coope (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 18–23. 16 Lee Kuan Yew, From ird World to First: e Singapore Story 1965-2000 (Singapore: Times Editions, 2000), pp. 57–58. 17 e New York Times, 11 May 2014, Jane A Peterson, “In a New Textbook, the Story of Singapore Begins 500 Years Earlier.” 18 “Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019,” Prime Minister’s Office, 28 January 2019, hps://www.pmo.gov.sg/New

sroom/PM-Lee-Hsien-Loong-at-the-launch-of-the-Singapore-Bicentennial-Jan-2019, accessed on 30 April 2020. 19 e Straits Times, 3 January 2019, Vanessa Liu, “Raffles does a ‘disappearing act’ in North Boat ay.” 20 e Straits Times, 1 September 2019, Meira Chand, “What Singapore’s bicentennial means to this new immigrant,” originally in Cultural Connections, 4 July 2019. 21 Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore: A 700-Year History from Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives, 2009). 22 Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Peter Borschberg and Tan Tai Yong, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore (Singapore: National Library Board, 2019). 23 e Straits Times, 25 May 2019, Melody Zaccheus, “Revamped history book gives voice to orang laut.” 24 e Straits Times, 31 December 2018, Melody Zaccheus, “Tan Tock Seng, Whampoa and Manasseh Meyer among those to feature in commemoration of 1819.” 25 Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa eds., e 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years (Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2013); Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: Function 8 and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2016).

26 Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore: A 700-Year History from Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives, 2009), p. 162. 27 Lee Kuan Yew, e Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore: Times Editions, 1998), pp. 353–354. 28 Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore: A 700-Year History from Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives, 2009), pp. 251–253. 29 “Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019,” Prime Minister’s Office, 28 January 2019, hps://www.pmo.gov.sg/Ne wsroom/PM-Lee-Hsien-Loong-at-the-launch-of-the-Singapore-Bicentennial-Jan2019, accessed on 30 April 2020. 30 e Straits Times, 2 April 2019, Tan Tai Yong, “A port city in search for a hinterland”; Tan Tai Yong, e Idea of Singapore: Smallness Unconstrained (Singapore: World Scientific, 2019), p. 92. 31 Tan Tai Yong, e Idea of Singapore: Smallness Unconstrained (Singapore: World Scientific, 2019), p. 197. 32 Ibid., pp. 32–33. 33 Tommy Koh, “Foreword,” in 200 Years of Singapore and the United Kingdom edited by Tommy Koh and ScoWightman (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2019), p. 11; e

Straits Times, 29 January 2019, Tommy Koh, “Singapore and the United Kingdom: 1819 to 2019.” 34 e Straits Times, 1 October 2019, Rei Kuroshi, “Arrests of le-wing forces a condition for Singapore becoming part of Malaysia in 1962, says historian.” 35 Melanie Chew, Leaders of Singapore (Singapore: Resource Press, 1996), p. 146. 36 e Straits Times, 22 December 2015, Edmund Lim, “Secret documents reveal extent of negotiations for Separation.”

Why Raffles is Still Standing: Colonialism, Migration and Singaporeʼs Scripting of the Present Sai Siew Min Performing Historical Revisionism THE COMMEMORATION OF Singapore’s Bicentennial in 2019 had started right on cue. In the early days of January 2019, Singaporeans were provoked to entertain visions of Singapore with Raffles positioned offcentre. First, Raffles’ statue by the Singapore River was made to ‘disappear’ using trick-of-the-eye hocus-pocus. e installation was supposed to enact a tangible deconstruction of colonialism and was soon followed by the creation of four statues of our early pioneers mimicking the white Raffles one. For about four days in January, they were placed right beside the original Raffles, aer which, they were sent to stand along various points along the river. is pantheon of pioneers, all male and gleaming under the sun in white, was conveniently ‘CMIO-ed.’ One figure

in the pantheon stood out, Sang Nila Utama, the Palembang prince who gave us the name “Singapura” and who, in the words of the Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO) had “arrived” not in 1819 but 1299. In a significant gesture of historical revisionism, 1819 was no longer sacred as the SBO used the occasion to stretch the nation’s history some 700 years backward. e SBO also told Singaporeans that these white statues were meant to be representative of all pioneers and migrants throughout our 700-year history who had made Singapore what it is today. Tan Tai Yong, one of several historians advocating the merits of a longue durée view of Singapore’s history, wrote in late December 2018 that the Bicentennial was “actually commemorating 700 years of history … It is now clear that 1819 was not a point of origin; it was a mere pivot in a much longer storyline.” Tan was reacting to criticisms that as an independent nation, Singapore should not be celebrating its moment of colonisation. He argued further that commemorating the Bicentennial would be “worthwhile” if we avoided a “celebratory or didactic” approach toward colonialism. “Rather it should generate reflection of how we came

to be, with a ‘warts-and-all’ approach that would acknowledge the blemishes, disruptions, twists and turns of a complex past.”1 I want to be clear from the outset that I support this long overdue effort in historical revisionism as a professional historian and as a citizen. I know that fellow historians and scholars based in local universities, museums and research institutes here have expended great energy and effort in researching and showcasing our pre-1819 past. And they have been doing so for decades, long before the Bicentennial generated aention in 2019. Tan’s commentary suggests that it is acceptable and even ‘worthwhile’ to commemorate 1819 if we do two things: one, revise 1819 as the point of origin of Singapore’s history and acknowledge that it is 700 years old; two, be critical about British colonial rule. In view of the sterling scholarly effort in revising 1819, we do need to re-focus our aention on the 700-years narrative and ask another set of questions. Given the purported iconoclastic intention of this narrative, should it be used to celebrate the Bicentennial? Is the narrative used in a manner befiing the event it is supposed to celebrate? Does the narrative match

the occasion? Did we finally succeed in revising our history in 2019? My answer is no. e critical edge of historical revisionism is dented by the incompatibility between narrative and occasion. I would think that any date or event marking Singapore’s development toward independent nationhood would have been more appropriate to showcase 700 years of Singapore history. Our choice of National Day in any year, for example. Or as it so happens, 2019 was also the 60th anniversary of Singapore’s achievement of self-government. As uncanny as it is, this occasion had been completely eclipsed by the Bicentennial buzz. So, we should ask why not 1959? Why did we choose to mark our moment of colonisation over our achievement of self-government, and more pointedly, why did we do so with a 700-years narrative? Why was a 700-years narrative necessary to tell 200 years of history counted (and still counting) from 1819? Tan’s rationale made it look like the 700-years narrative was deployed to justify our celebration of the Bicentennial. 1819 found 1299. e narrative was made to fit the occasion, which had the unfortunate effect of obfuscating just exactly what we were celebrating in 2019.

A revisionist history critical of the myths Singapore has built around its colonisation could be unequivocally featured had it been used to celebrate an occasion other than 1819. is was not the case. Instead, it was used literally as a ‘pretext’ to explain why independent Singapore had to celebrate its moment of colonisation, which undermined the critical work it was supposed to do revising 1819. On 28 January 2019, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated over the launch of the Bicentennial celebrations, he began with the ‘not-1819’ narrative. He noted that “Raffles did not ‘discover’ Singapore any more than Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America,” because by 1819, Singapore already had “hundreds of years of history.” e bulk of the Prime Minister’s speech was, surprisingly, focused not on pre-1819 but post-1819 Singapore. He noted that “1819 marked the beginning of a modern, outward-looking and multicultural Singapore,” which eventually made 1965 and our SG50 celebrations possible. erefore, Lee said that the Bicentennial was “worth commemorating” because “we are not just remembering Stamford Raffles or William Farquhar, though we should.” According to the Prime Minister, there is a longer history way before 1965

(and I suppose, 1819) “which shaped and created today’s Singapore. is was our journey, from Singapore to Singaporean.”2 e 700-years narrative was, therefore, contrived as the ‘prequel’ to SG50 as the SBO declaimed. 1819 was one humongous blip in a long series of blips but 700 years of blipping does not seriously disrupt, challenge, overturn or render 1819 superfluous. e SBO’s representation of Singapore as a 700-year-old entity in its various guises re-tells a teleological account of Singapore’s relentless march to the present. e 700-years narrative does not challenge our existing understanding of British colonial rule. ite the opposite happened. Deadening euphemisms and politically correct discourse soon emerged in public discussions on the Bicentennial celebrations and Singapore’s inconvenient colonial past. What this vocabulary enabled was the performance or semblance of critical thinking about colonialism. It was most useful like a salve soothing our fighting desires to be independent-thinking citizens who must celebrate our moment of colonisation regardless. Use “commemoration” and “reflection.” We are not ‘celebrating’ 1819 and colonialism. Use “the arrivals” so that no one, not even Raffles and his

landing would be privileged. Be ‘inclusive.’ Be ‘fair’ and ‘balanced,’ especially to Raffles. Colonialism was both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ What the SBO meant by its description of Raffles and colonialism as “nuanced,” “complex” and “multifaceted”—another set of frequently used politically correct Bicentennial language—was on full display at one inevitable exhibition on the man. No Bicentennial celebration would be complete without one. Held at the Asian Civilizations Museum and aptly titled “Revisiting the Scholar and Statesman: Raffles in Southeast Asia,” the exhibition showcased ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Raffles. e publicity materials for the exhibition promised an exacting examination of whether Raffles was “ruthless or righteous,” a “scholar or scoundrel,” “botanist or brute,” “plagiarist or pioneer,” “leader or liar” as part of the “multi-layered story of Southeast Asian politics.” Here, the use of the 700-years narrative as more prop than critical device becomes clearer. In one section entitled “Realigning Power Centres in the Malay World,” the notes on the wall explained that the “unstable” politics and “complex power plays” in the Malay World gave Raffles the opportunity to “meddle” in a political dispute in the Johor-Riau Sultanate in the 1800s which led to his

establishment of a trading station in Singapore in 1819. e notes also explained that given the political circumstances, the Malay Sultans and chiefs possessed agency so British colonial intervention in the region was “just one part of a multi-layered story of Southeast Asian politics.” According to these notes, this was not “simple European subjugation.” So much was absent and implied about the Malay World and its inhabitants in this presentation, pointing to but not really showing. It was a strange way to exhibit. e problem with the notes on the wall was not the negative portrayal of political in-fighting in the Malay World. Political leadership in the Johor-Riau Sultanate was indeed “unstable” during the 18th and 19th centuries as the power play was intense and had involved diverse factions, players and inter-related lineages. What was disconcerting was that these notes appeared to exculpate Raffles and European colonisers in the region who happened to be just capitalising on the in-fighting to advance their interests. Never mind that their history of ‘meddling’ went back several centuries and they had, in fact, become part of the “complex” and “multilayered” power play in the Malay World. Raffles did not just ‘meddle.’

What was missing in these notes is not a “nuanced” account of Raffles but a nuanced account of the Malay World. But since we were celebrating 1819 and Raffles’ legacy, Raffles (and not the Malay World) had to be the pivotal centre of the exhibition. We ended up with a more “nuanced” and “complex” myth about Raffles and 1819. My second example of how historical revisionism was tamed with politically correct language is the equation of the “warts-and-all” approach with the “balance sheet” approach to colonialism. Notwithstanding the fact that it is hardly ever “nuanced” to fit all of humanity and history into two finite ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides, performing the “balance sheet” approach to colonialism is how most Singaporeans imagine we were being ‘critical’ about our colonial past. Predictably, however, the conclusion to such ‘critical’ work is foregone because the ‘balance’ always tilts in favour of colonialism being a ‘positive good.’ One book which was published on the occasion of the Bicentennial says as much. e book, 200 Years of Singapore and United Kingdom, concludes that “British rule of Singapore was probably 60 per cent good and 40 per cent bad … compared to other colonial powers which ruled Southeast Asia, the British were the least bad.

e British le us with a very positive legacy. Independent Singapore was able to build on that legacy and to catch up and even surpass the United Kingdom in some respects. ere is lile hostility among Singaporeans towards the British.”3 Using familiar Bicentennial-speak, the book also claims to look at this “unique two-centuries-old relationship” within the “broad narrative of Singapore’s 700-year history.” Perhaps the starkest indication that historical revisionism has served the status quo is what we are le with now that the Bicentennial is over. When the performance of historical revisionism ended and we are all balanced out, the hocus-pocus is gone and Raffles’ ‘CMIO-ed’ companions no longer decorate the banks of the Singapore River. Only Raffles remained. We have reverted to where we started before the Bicentennial celebrations—a clear-eyed view of Raffles in all his white glory. Not only is Raffles still standing (and I suspect, puffed-up and taller than ever), he pontificates to us from his pedestal, eminently assured that his foundation of Singapore is now backed by several centuries’ worth of history. One long Bicentennial year later, a revisionist narrative, once reviled by the

ruling government, now enjoys its fullest sanction as Singapore’s new historical orthodoxy. Updating the Narrative: A Dialogue Between the Former Coloniser and Colonised e British historian, Anthony Stockwell, once related an anecdote between a former coloniser and formerly colonised. is anecdote yields insights on how we should re-think the idea of ‘British legacy’ or ‘colonial inheritance.’ Stockwell writes that Margaret atcher was so impressed with Singapore’s progress that she once marvelled at Singapore’s success in front of Lee Kuan Yew. Lee apparently replied—I like to imagine, he was pretending to sound casual, like it was a walk in the park but the hint of sarcasm in his voice would be unmistakable —“We have applied the lessons the British first taught us and then themselves promptly forgot.”4 When we use “colonial legacy,” we tend to think in terms of passive reception and grateful preservation of an inheritance. It is as if we were bestowed a Steve Jobs who made sure he le behind enough of his genius for Apple to thrive for an eternity. I bet Lee would have none of this idea

of ‘inheritance.’ His caustic retort underscored the extent Singapore has gone (way) beyond our former coloniser. To say he/we made good on an inheritance did not mean that the inheritance was inherently ‘good.’ Strictly speaking, one could come into a miserly inheritance and if one had the golden touch, one could still grow it substantially. e reverse is also true. It is, therefore, illogical to deduce that because Singapore was successful in growing our colonial inheritance, our apparent success somehow proves retrospectively that colonialism had been ‘good.’ ere is at least one logical leap of reasoning here. is anecdote points to a different reading of Singapore’s relationship with colonialism. Lee’s riposte reminds me of this on-point explanation of how the logic of colonial rule worked. Radhika Mongia, a historian on migration and state formation in India, writes: Colonialism could operate only by simultaneously advancing the uncivilised status of the natives and their impending civility. To push either of these positions to their logical end would have undone the ideological justifications for colonial rule. For, if the

native could not be civilised, then what was the purpose of colonialism? Alternatively, if the native acceded to the trappings of civilization, then what justified the continued colonial situation? Rescuing and re-inscribing the narrative of the civilising mission, was therefore, a constant, threatened project within colonialism.5 To paraphrase Lee using the words of the historian, Singaporeans had, in fact, “over-acceded” to the trappings of civilisation, rendering continued colonial rule unnecessary. We are not a shining example of the good colonialism did; we are a shining example of how our former coloniser had become redundant. In short, Singapore no longer needed Steve Jobs. We simply took over Apple and did way beer than him. However, making the coloniser irrelevant by over-acceding to the trappings of civilisation is not the same as replacing colonialism with something else. at would be the proposition of the anti-colonialist. Aer all, Apple is still standing. It is absolutely crucial to recall that Lee had in fact defeated the anti-colonial proposition which then created the conditions of possibility for his script of over-reaching the expectations of

our erstwhile coloniser. Lee’s relationship with the British was, therefore, ambivalent to say the least. He styled himself an ‘anti-colonialist’ during the early days of his political career but he would eventually work with the British to facilitate their departure. Unlike most nationalist leaders elsewhere, he refrained from running them down. Instead, Lee’s Singapore Story went much louder and deeper on defeating an alleged conspiratorial Communist movement led by a le-wing group made up of his former allies than on beating up his former coloniser. And of course, it was Lee who kept Raffles standing by the Singapore River to signal Singapore’s continued embrace of the Euro-American dominated capitalist system aer 1965. e long aer-life of Raffles—now given a renewed lease of an additional 500 years—must, therefore, be understood as part of this post1965 script. Raffles symbolises Singapore’s compromised decolonisation as we inducted ourselves voluntarily into the global capitalist order, exceeding the ‘standards of civilisation’ introduced by our now forgetful coloniser. What ‘standards of civilisation’ did Singapore embrace and expand upon independently of our coloniser? e short answer is those of

Eurocentric modernity, invariably a product of colonial capitalism in most parts of the world. Arif Dirlik, a historian of China, gives us this succinct description of modern colonialism, grounded in an account of global capitalistic development. His is a fiing description given Singapore’s 1819 origin story which we have emphatically not given up. Dirlik writes: Modern European colonialism is incomprehensible without reference to the capitalism that dynamized it, just as the formations of historical capitalism in Europe may not be understood without reference to colonialism. is intimate relationship






colonialisms, both in scope (the entire globe) and in depth (the transformation of life at the everyday level). If the goal of global conquest by capitalism/colonialism has become a reality only by the late twentieth century, the reality nevertheless has a long history behind it that is deeply entangled in colonialism.6 Extending the life of Eurocentric capitalist modernity in Singapore aer 1965 has undoubtedly given us economic prosperity but that is not all.

Consider the fact that this has entailed keeping alive structures ensuring the aerlife of Eurocentric modernity made under conditions of British colonial rule. Raffles’ statue is one such structure. Less symbolic and tangible are colonial-era racialised structures, that is, formulaic ways of thinking about ‘race’ as well as race-based practices and institutions that had fuelled Singapore’s economic development under the British from the 19th century onward. In February 2019, Yaacob Ibrahim got up during the Budget debate in Parliament and said, “If we are to commemorate the bicentennial, we must also recognise the less savoury aspects of it— practices and ideas designed to meet the needs and maximise the profits of the empire at the expense of the indigenous population.” While Yaacob stuck to the politically correct tone of Bicentennial-speak, he pointed to a lingering colonial-era myth about the Malay community arguing that “we need to acknowledge that different communities have different historical experiences and memories of British colonial rule.” Yaacob took issue with one particularly toxic stereotype—the myth of the lazy native—that had impacted the Malay community and Yaacob personally. As he recalled, “When I was growing up in modern Singapore, my own teachers

dismissed my community as being lazy and unable to study hard. is is the burden of history that my community carries. It is unjust and unfair.”7 It is notable that Yaacob was born in 1955 and would have been in school by the time the ruling party came into power in 1959. He belonged to the generation that grew up during Singapore’s uncertain transition to formal independence. In the classic work titled e Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th century and its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism, sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas had combined historical inquiry and sociological theorising to trace the beginnings of the stereotype of the ‘idle Malay’ to the 19th century. Alatas demonstrated that this racialised image of the Malays was not evident prior to the intensification of European imperialism in Southeast Asia. Rather, it had evolved from and was justified according to the demands of colonial capitalists whose key interests lay in labour-intensive plantation agriculture as well as the mining industries in British-ruled Malaya. Singapore was a crucial node in this political economy. In Alatas’ words:

It is clear from the study of the philosophy of colonial capitalism, that for a labourer to qualify as industrious, he has to be the ‘mule among the nations—capable of the hardest task under the most trying conditions; tolerant of every kind of weather and ill-usage, eating lile and drinking less; stubborn and callous; unlovable and useful in the highest degree.’ Preoccupation with other types of labour that fall outside the category of ‘the mule among the nations’ is qualified as idle or indolent. To be a chael of colonial agrarian capitalism is a requirement to be considered as industrious.8 It is no wonder that the Malays, who had recourse to other means of livelihood, refused to allow themselves to be exploited for which they earned undeserving labels of ‘idle,’ ‘indolent’ and ‘lazy.’ As Alatas also shows, the same logic driving colonial capitalism was responsible for ‘positive’ racialised stereotyping about the Chinese and Indian migrants. Relative to the Malays, these two racial groups were seen as ‘model’ labour migrants—the proverbial “mules among the nations.” e ‘Chinese’

were famously hardy and diligent while the ‘Indians’ were docile and easy to control. Alatas is telling us that colonial capitalism which supercharged Singapore’s early economic development was also guilty of supercharging racial stereotyping. In a similar vein, the statement “colonialism had been beneficial” (even if only 60 per cent) judges colonialism using its internal logic and cannot be proven objectively true outside of the logic of colonisation. I suggest that “beneficial” is the wrong adjective to use since the supposed ‘benefits’ flowed from the coloniser’s resolution of problems created by his colonial ambitions and interests in the first place. Using “beneficial” to describe the supposed ‘positives’ of colonial rule means giving credit to the British for solving problems they caused (us) as a result of their act of colonisation. Most significantly, if there were indeed ‘benefits,’ it is pertinent to ask who ‘benefied,’ as well as how and if these ‘benefits’ were distributed fairly. e history of Singapore’s labour migration is instructive. We credit the British for giving us ‘law and order’ and tuck this item under the ‘positive’ category of our colonial inheritance. In the late 1870s, the colonial government created an institution known as “the Chinese Protectorate” in

Singapore. e Chinese Protectorate was first established to manage and control the large-scale migration of Chinese labourers into the colony but it evolved multiple functions of governing the Chinese migrant community. Historical accounts and analyses of the Protectorate tend to commend its work in imposing ‘law and order’ on what was seen as an ‘unruly’ community.9 e institution certainly possessed an impressive resume: it prevented abuses and regulated the trade in Chinese labourers, prevented trafficking in women and young children, as well as checked the power and influence of Chinese secret societies and later, political activism amongst the Chinese-educated intelligentsia. As this ‘positive’ evaluation of the Protectorate from a former colonial-era British bureaucrat enthused, “Malaya’s Chinese had contributed much to the development of the country and had benefited accordingly. It was their work and the tin and opium revenues made possible by their presence that had laid the foundations of the country’s prosperity. anks to the protectorate and the police, they had been shielded from their worst impulses and anti-social elements and thus allowed to reap great rewards from their labours.”10

It is hard to miss the potent mix of British paternalism swirling with assumptions about the character of ‘the Chinese’ that is driven by an intense preoccupation with benefits, prosperity and economic exploitation in this law and order success story. Narratives like these displace the burden of colonial domination and economic exploitation onto the subject populations. e Protectorate’s historical record of giving the Chinese community ‘law and order’ can only be seen as a ‘positive’ experience if we were immersed in the coloniser’s world that had been defined by his ambition, his interests, his priorities and his existential need to feel good, and if we constituted ‘problems’ that he had solved for which he received credit. Karuna Mantena, a political scientist who studies the history of British liberal imperialism, calls these racialised and/or culturalist explanations “alibis of empire.”11 We no longer inhabit the coloniser’s world. We should not rehash his logic. Mantena has argued eloquently that the displacement of the burden of empire onto the subject populations, in particular, onto their ‘nature’ or ‘character,’








consequences of empire. In our case, racialised explanations for empire

have deflected aention away from the fact that European empirebuilding in the region was reliant upon enabling and controlling the largescale migration of labourers to extend their colonisation-exploitation of the Malay World, with enduring consequences for post-independence inter-relationships between the different communities. Most egregious is our stubborn resort to these “alibis of empire” in our history-writing. While the narrative of colonial exploitation of cheap ‘Chinese’ and ‘Indian’ labourers has been converted into feel-good stories about migrant fortitude in post-independent Singapore, the Malay community, as Yaacob observes, still bears witness to the coloniser’s world. We cannot unpack the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ racially charged myths without dismantling his world. My Great-Grandfather’s Story: Scripting the Present “Raffles was the founder of modern Singapore. If Raffles had not come here in 1819 to establish a trading post, my great-grandfather would not have migrated to Singapore from Dapu county in Guangdong province, southeast China. e British created an

emporium that offered him, and many thousands like him, the opportunity to make a beer living than in their homeland which was going through turmoil and chaos as the Qing dynasty declined and disintegrated.”12 —Lee Kuan Yew “… this history since 1819 explains why aer Separation, Singapore not only survived, but thrived. Our forefathers had not come here with the intention of staying. ey had come as sojourners, to earn a living and perhaps a fortune, to support families back home. But over time, as they slogged for a living, to feed themselves and their families, many decided to sink roots here. During the Second World War, they endured the dangers and privations of the Japanese Occupation. Aer the War, they were swept up in the worldwide wave of nationalism, anti-colonialism, and the struggle for self-determination. When the Communists won the civil war in China, Singapore felt the impact. e population had to decide who they were, and where they should sele and seek citizenship.

A few le , but many stayed. ey organised themselves and fought to shake off the British colonial yoke. is emporium became their home, and eventually their country. Gradually, they nurtured a national consciousness and sense of identity. ey started thinking of themselves as Singaporeans. So when Singapore separated from Malaysia, the Pioneer Generation were no strangers to hardship and struggle. We had the grit and the resolve to show the world, and ourselves, that we were determined to endure, and to be masters of our own fate. And so we did.”13 — Lee Hsien Loong As with Raffles and other colonial-era structures we have kept alive, racialised myths and tropes have survived the formal end of British rule. Like Raffles, they too have been appropriated and re-inscribed in new narratives to complement the dominant one on Singapore’s outsized success in the global capitalist order. Singaporeans would be accustomed to one such narrative by now. is narrative reworks a specific experience of migration originating from Southern China to lay claim to a racially-

culturally authentic economic transformation in spite of or because we overreached the standards of Eurocentric modernity. In this narrative, the colonial-era figure of the hardy and much abused male Chinese migrant labourer now channels highly prized ‘Confucian’ virtues of a tough work ethic, social discipline and competitive achievement of educational excellence. ere is extensive scholarly literature documenting and commenting on the ruling government’s periodic campaigns to cleanse Singapore’s body politic of ‘Western’ pollutants in a bid to assert ‘inherent Chinese-ness/Asian-ness.’ I had to go through one in the late 1980s, literally imbibing e Analects as part of the compulsory subject “Religious Knowledge” taught in schools. Partaking in ‘Confucian communion’ with South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Singapore has joined the ranks of the so-called ‘dragon economies.’ is re-scripting of post-1819 migration, economic success and Singaporean nationhood resonate profoundly and powerfully. e first extract at the beginning of this concluding section is from the second volume of Lee Kuan Yew’s memoir. In this extract, Lee recounts his personal and family history, which features a familiar tale of migration

that resonates with many Singaporeans who claim some Chinese descent. Lee’s retelling creates, consciously or otherwise, an alignment between two events: a symbolic male ancestor—his paternal great-grandfather— who migrated to Singapore from China as well as the colonisation of Singapore by Raffles in 1819. e masculine overtones in this twinned tale of migration and colonisation are unmistakable. Lee’s interpretation of his family history, however, selectively privileges symbolic patriarchal ancestry over undated matrifocal origins in Singapore. In the first volume of e Singapore Story, Lee wrote emphatically that his family history in Singapore began with his paternal great-grandfather, Lee Bok Hoon, who came from Tangxi village in Dapu Prefecture in Guangdong Province. Far more compelling and taking up more bandwidth in his memoir is Lee’s account of his local-born great-grandmother Seow Huan Neo who hid her children, including Lee’s grandfather in Singapore, from her husband when he wanted to return to China. Lee’s grandfather was, therefore, brought up in a matrifocal family. Equally pronounced in Lee’s account are the deep connections both sets of Lee’s grandparents had with not only Singapore but also Singapore’s immediate environment. For example,

Lee’s grandfather made his fortune under the employ of the Semarangbased millionaire Oei Tiong Ham in Java and married Lee’s grandmother in Semarang.14 By Lee’s own account, and as Lee’s own larger-than-life story demonstrates perfectly, his portrayal of family roots and connections in Singapore and the region trumps symbolic male ancestry in China. And yet, symbolic male lineage on the Chinese mainland is where Lee chose to begin his family history. e second extract is taken from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the launch of the Bicentennial celebrations on 28 February 2019, parts of which I cited at the beginning of this chapter. In this extract, the prime minister reprises a history of migration, drawing once again on the familiar route and experience of movement from China to Singapore. is route and experience are generalised and assumed to be meaningful for all Singaporeans. Prime Minister Lee makes clear that without all of our migrant pioneers, Singapore would not have succeeded as a viable economic entity first, under the British, and finally, some 200 years later, as a nation-state. rough sheer grit and hard work, they/we managed to prevail and contribute to building contemporary Singapore. e selective

scripting of migration in the personal and national registers represents British colonisation of Singapore as an opportunity and neutral platform for all migrant pioneers who are now cast in the mould of our Sinicised pioneers. e 700-years revisionist narrative hits a speed bump when we arrive in this present for it does not revise the 1819 foundational myth. On the contrary, it is the contemporaneous Sinicised script of rags-to-riches migration which serves as the template for re-imagining Singapore’s 700year history that would secure our arrival in a racially-culturally authentic postcolonial modernity. Now properly re-inscribed, Sang Nila Utama may finally take his place at the fount of Singapore’s new historical orthodoxy as “Migrant Number One.”

1 CNA, 23 December 2018, Tan Tai Yong, “Commentary: Bicentennial Can Be a Worthwhile Endeavour.” 2 Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019, Prime Minister’s Office, hps://www.pmo.gov.sg/Newsroom/PM-Lee-H sien-Loong-at-the-launch-of-the-Singapore-Bicentennial-Jan-2019, accessed online on 4 April 2019. 3 Tommy Koh and ScoWightman, 200 Years of Singapore and United Kingdom (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2019), p. 13. 4 Anthony Stockwell, “Forging Malaysia and Singapore: Colonialism, decolonization and nation-building,” in Nation-building: Five Southeast Asian Histories, edited by Wang Gung-wu (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005), p. 213. 5 Radhika Mongia, Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018), p. 49. 6 Arif Dirlik, “Rethinking colonialism: globalization, postcolonialism and the nation” in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 4.3 (2002), p. 441. 7 All quotes aributed to Yaacob Ibrahim in this paragraph are taken from e Straits Times, 28 February 2019, “Parliament: need to acknowledge both good and bad of colonial rule: Yaacob.”

8 Syed Hussein Alatas, e Myth of the Lazy Native (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), reprint edition, p. 76. 9 For example, this classic if outdated article by Eunice io, “e Singapore Chinese Protectorate: events and conditions leading to its establishment, 1823–1877,” Journal of South Seas Society, 16 (1960). 10 Robert Heussler, British Rule in Malaya: the Malayan Civil Service and its Predecessors, 1867–1942 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1981), p. 166. 11 Karuna Mantena, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010). 12 Lee Kuan Yew, From ird World to First: e Singapore Story: 1965–2000 (Singapore: Times Media, 2000), p. 67 13 Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019, Prime Minister’s Office, accessed online on 4 April 2019. 14 Lee Kuan Yew, e Singapore Story (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1998), Chapter 2.

Finding Merdeka in a World of Statues: Singaporeʼs Colonial Pageant Remade and Unmade Faris Joraimi “A world of statues: the statue of the general who led the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. A world cocksure of itself, crushing with its stoniness the backbones of those scarred by the whip. at is the colonial world.” —Frantz Fanon, e Wretched of the Earth (1961) THE SINGAPORE BICENTENNIAL, a year-long series of events overseen by the Prime Minister’s Office intended to “commemorate” Singapore’s history, was held in 2019: two centuries aer Raffles was granted a lease by grandees of the Johor-Riau Sultanate to establish a British trading post on the island. On 2 January 2019, the city was abuzz with talk over a curious phenomenon on the site where he was believed to have landed. Artist

Teng Kai Wei—and, by extension, the Singapore Bicentennial Office— performed an optical illusion: a statue of Raffles was made to disappear. Paint was applied to the white polymarble statue, and Raffles camouflaged himself—rather aptly—with a bankhouse towering behind him. An art installation named “e Arrivals” performed yet another trick of the eye. Four new statues appeared alongside Raffles. All this fuss around the Raffles Landing Site to open a Bicentennial that tried so hard to not talk about Raffles; the rub, of course, being that they were really talking around him instead. ese shenanigans on the banks of the Singapore River have a lineage. ey are firmly established in a deeply colonial tradition of civic commemorations intimately tied to Raffles statuary, and by extension, the place he has come to stubbornly occupy in the national psyche. “e Arrivals” represents a novel way of participating with that tradition, breaking from earlier iterations in form but preserving many of their elements in spirit. e counterpoint to this is the range of artistic responses and gestural interventions to the Raffles statue, which is vast. is essay however will focus mainly on those executed by Malays, whose

engagement with it is heavily inflected by themes of indigeneity and ethnic discrimination in independent Singapore, which has in many ways furthered the project of the colonial state. Much of this corpus also pits the triumphalist colonial narrative—which centres Raffles—against Malay historiography, that draws on dynastic lore and nationalist discourses. Rituals of the Raffles Cult Singapore’s Rafflesophilia in the form it takes today can be traced back firmly to the events of 1887, when the city threw a lavish party marking the Jubilee of een Victoria’s reign. A colourful report by e Straits Times presented a postcard-perfect portrait of colonial society par excellence. In aendance were “representatives of the many nationalities which constitute the population of Singapore” and members of the European administrative and commercial elite. Malay aristocracy showed up as well; Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor “arrived in handsome equipage.” Not to be missed were towkays like Seah Liang Seah, who delivered an address to Her Majesty on behalf of the Chinese community. It was, in short, a pageant.

A central occasion marking these festivities was the unveiling of the Raffles statue at the Padang. Governor Frederick Weld’s dedicatory speech makes interesting reading, if only for the uncanny realisation that lile— in terms of popular sentiment on Raffles—has changed in the last 120 years. He was, even then, the “illustrious administrator and statesman” who built this “great centre of commerce, a focus from which British influence, carrying with it the light of civilisation, radiates far around.”1 e hagiographic speech bade listeners see the city as a living expression of Raffles’ genius: “Look around, and a greater monument than any the highest art or the most lavish outlay could raise to him is visible in this. … See that crowd of splendid shipping in the harbour in front of his statue. Cast a glance at the city which surrounds it, on the evidences of civilisation.”2 One can only imagine the reaction of the Malay potentates present, upon hearing of Weld’s praise for Raffles’ civilising influence in the Native States, and a dra—in Raffles’ handwriting—of a plan to install British Residents there. is was, as Weld spoke, a campaign already underway.

One needs lile more than these very words out of Governor Weld’s mouth to realise that the erection of the Raffles statue was inextricably linked to the celebration of extractive colonial commerce and imperial expansion (even if Weld expressed “gratitude” to the Malay potentates for making the “concession” of Singapore). It was intended as a symbol of the West’s civilising mission to the East, a project Raffles the man firmly believed in. In 1919 came the centenary of the Raffles landing, and Singapore did not resist the urge to celebrate. More speeches were made paying homage to the great founder, and an opportunity was not missed to feature the statue yet again. By then the Esplanade had become part of the Padang due to land reclamation works, and when football matches took place, people perched on the Raffles statue for a beer view. e centenary was the perfect opportunity to rescue Raffles from this supposed ‘indignity’ and place him in a more commanding location. So, the statue was moved from the Esplanade to its current site in front of the Victoria eatre. is time it was Governor Arthur Young’s turn to deliver the panegyric, a different priest presiding over similar ritual proceedings. He honoured the

“memory of Stamford Raffles, who, 100 years ago, with wonderful foresight, founded this Selement, then a mangrove swamp.” If the myth of Raffles must be sustained, the myth of the empty, untamed wilderness of Singapore too had to be invented and perpetuated. is is the colonial lens espoused by authoritative histories by the likes of C M Turnbull, still highly esteemed today. Every White coloniser needs his virgin soil. No frontier, no pioneer. Never mind that hundreds of people were living, trading and bartering on the island in 1819. Or, for that maer, that it was part of a vast maritime network of ports, riverine systems and islands that constituted the Johor-Riau Sultanate. 1969 saw the next great Raffles festivity. Just four years into ejection from Malaysia and its fledgling existence as a sovereign Republic, Singapore celebrated the 150th anniversary of its ‘founding’ as a city. Every National Day to date has had a slogan. e officially worded theme that year was “150th Anniversary of the Founding of Modern Singapore.”3 Raffles figured again as the locus of commemoration. At a banquet held by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) in honour of Raffles’ ‘founding,’4 R G Benne, then-

chairman of the SICC, compared the late then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to Raffles. Lee was flaered, but le the final verdict to history. Coincidentally or otherwise, when Lee Hsien Loong delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral in 2015, he echoed the exact Latin phrase Weld invoked to unveil the Raffles statue: si monumentum requiris, circumspice.5 In the critical years post-independence, United Nations-appointed economic counsellor Albert Winsemius advised Lee not to remove the Raffles statue, to signal the country’s continued openness to foreign investment. e statue once more emblematised the island’s links to the hegemonic Western world. is time, however, in lieu of its colonial British overlords, Raffles was a soothing gesture to multinational corporations and capital from America and Europe. It acquired another connotation against the backdrop of the Cold War, signalling “public acceptance of the legacy of the British,”6 but also affirmed Singapore’s place firmly amongst the open markets of the free world, and—by extension—the country’s adherence to all the terms this order set for developing economies.

1972 saw a re-enactment of 1887. A second statue of Raffles was unveiled, a polymarble copy cast from a mould of the bronze original, but taller. is time the ceremony was officiated by then-Acting President Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng. His speech rehearsed the same ideas about Raffles. is white polymarble statue on the North Boat ay bank of the Singapore River later became the site of the 2019 Bicentennial installations. Notably, however, Dr Yeoh reminded everyone present to “not forget the endeavours and dedication of the early immigrants, who were the true pioneers and to whom Singaporeans owe so much.”7 Certain progress from Weld’s paean to Raffles, to whom alone everyone else owed their blessings. In light of all these events, gestural interventions to the statues in 2019 deviate from the set choreography quite significantly. ere were no rousing speeches by the statue. One could be forgiven for mistaking that the Raffles cult was finally broken. Make no mistake, however: that the statue was erected by an independent Singaporean government still speaks volumes of how far the State was from disavowing its colonial legacy. Furthermore, it was commissioned by the Singapore Tourism

Board, with the alleged ‘Raffles Landing Site’ now turned into a photogenic landmark for both local and foreign visitors. Like aernoon tea at the grand old Raffles Hotel, this was colonialism commodified. What do we make, however, of these inventive new ways to publicly remember Raffles? e Bicentennial, like it or not, is by definition premised on his 1819 landing. How do we read a civic commemoration that claims to decentre Raffles, but also makes him the central referencepoint for other figures, events and historical forces that shaped Singapore? Remade “e Arrivals” is composed of four new statues. Chinese philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, Tamil merchant Naraina Pillai, Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama and Malay scholar Munshi Abdullah joined the white polymarble Raffles statue. is was supposedly in line with the Bicentennial Office’s slated aims to revise the entrenched notion of Raffles as our sole progenitor, while drawing aention to the broad “cast of contributors” that built Singapore. e Office even made posts on its Facebook page discussing samsui women and Indian convict labour, positioning the

forgoen underclass of colonial Singapore as important actors in our history. So far, so Dr Yeoh. However, these initiatives remain silent on the core issue surrounding the Bicentennial controversy: colonialism. is silence masks the fact that the underclass of migrant labour which built Singapore was exploited under a regime of colonial capitalism. At this stage, it appears that the Office’s broad messaging thrust is one of inclusivity and expanding the space of historical aribution. ere is nothing original in this gesture, for Lee Kuan Yew himself had paid tribute to the Chinese present at the signing of the 1819 Treaty, whose “descendants would be among the Malays, Indians, Eurasians and others who by their hard work, thri, resourcefulness and enterprise built modern Singapore.”8 is is still, however, ultimately an idyllic image of benevolent colonialism guiding the resilient labour of subject Asians. It is easy from our position in time to romanticise the ‘sacrifice’ of those generations as heroic. eir lives, however, did not consciously involve a nation-building project in mind, but rather survival within an oppressive enterprise which they could not escape simply due to

circumstances they were born into. e colonial project did not have their interests at heart, even as it made British capitalists fabulously rich. When I wrote to the Bicentennial Office in early 2019 asking whether they would eventually address these darker aspects of colonial rule, the Office reiterated the same trite cop-outs about sparking “an ongoing conversation” about Singapore’s history, and considering “different perspectives regarding the colonial period.”9 Furthermore, there is great irony in having these figures cast in polymarble. If the Office’s aim was to acknowledge the contributions of other pioneers besides Raffles, surely it is odd to erect statues in Raffles’ likeness! As gleaming and pedestalled as he, they occupy a fantasised position of supplementarity, as Raffles’ aides or lieutenants. While they are not exactly his carbon copies, Raffles remains the mould by which these other idols were fashioned. e cloning of the other figures also suggests that other pioneers can only be sufficiently fêted if they were memorialised using the same visual vocabulary of commemoration with which we honour Raffles.

From another angle, it feels like a rehearsal of 1887. In which case, the ritual has only taken on a new form while re-enacting some of its core tenets. Sang Nila Utama aside, it is once again the Asian elites of British Singapore who are given access to this charmed circle. Tan and Pillai were both influential merchants who profited from British rule, while Abdullah was under the direct employ of Raffles. One cannot shake off the impression of the colonial pageant resurrected, the succession of peoples collected by imperial conquest, reduced to their racialised functional spheres before being ‘represented’ by some native royal or wealthy trader. e centrality of the colonial authorities remains unchallenged. e proximity that Tan, Pillai and Abdullah enjoyed to sources of power and prestige in colonial society is no coincidence. eir presence in “e Arrivals” finely articulates the colonial chain of being in which “layered gradations”10 distinguished between founders, governors, elite subjects and wretched coolies. And what of Sang Nila Utama? Resurrected from the hallowed verses of the Sulalatus Salatin,11 he too has been cast in stone. His presence seems anomalous, given how he is the only figure that predates the

colonial period, and whose existence is aested only in courtly Malay lore. Renewed interest in the Sulalatus Salatin as a result of recent scholarly findings and state-sponsored academic projects catapulted Nila Utama to aention. ere is archaeological evidence of the thriving port-kingdom in 14th-century Singapore, but only the Sulalatus Salatin aests Nila Utama— also identified as Sri Tri Buana—by name. Conveniently, the Bicentennial has made him a symbol. e book Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore, launched to herald this new expanded historical timeline presented by the Bicentennial, offers some explanation why Sang Nila Utama was featured. Under that longue durée schema, he represents the first of three “upcycles” in Singapore’s existence as a commercial centre, the 14th-century Singapura period.12 He also represents the bridge between two “cyclical echoes centred on the sociocultural idea embedded in the port-cities of the Melaka Straits”: Srivijaya-Palembang (which he escaped) and old Singapura (which he founded aer subsequent exile and wandering).13 Nila Utama therefore serves this new 700-year historical timeline by representing the early beginnings of selement and economic activity on

the island. However, his usage as motif in the Bicentennial does not offer a serious challenge to the paradigm of Singapore’s territorial fixity and exceptionalism advanced by the colonial narrative associated with Raffles’ founding. is is evinced in its framework positioning Singapore through various cycles alternating between ‘rise’ and fall. Raffles himself certainly envisioned British rule ‘restoring’ Singapore to its former glory. e book argues that Singapore’s 14th-century golden age was “eclipsed” during the Melaka period, followed by another upswing as a key base of the Johor Sultanate in the 16th century, before being “eclipsed” yet again in the 18th century when Bintan was made the new centre of the Sultanate.14 Seven Hundred Years does acknowledge that nodes of power and commerce continually shied across realms that pledged fealty to the same ruling line. A central concern of the book is in fact figuring out how to write a history of Singapore that links together its discontinuous pasts into a coherent timeline. Framing this history as a series of alternating cycles was one way of reconciling moments of activity on the island with the “‘empty’ phases when nothing seems to have happened.”

at Singapore was periodically le barren and “depopulated,” however, is only seen as “empty” or an “eclipse” if we adopt the view that Singapore must necessarily be a thriving, well-connected trading city, an essentialist view borne out of contemporary neoliberal and globalist concerns. While Seven Hundred Years asserts that Singapore’s history reflects how “the city and land behind the port have been linked and united with the maritime world in front of it,” it falls short of unscrambling the boundaries between the two. In particular, the book does not sufficiently address the fundamental break with this maritime Malay world occasioned by colonialism, framing it instead as one in cycles of “episodic selement.”15 e 1824 Treaty, in which Singapore’s Malay rulers were forced to cede Singapore in full to the British, was framed mainly from the perspective of British strategic interests. ese included the need to maintain ties with a strong Holland as a bulwark against France, and the need to defend its interests in India. e Treaty came about because the Malay rulers were “rendered irrelevant by larger global forces they did not anticipate, and certainly could not influence.”16 at Sultan Hussein and

the Temenggong were coerced into signing the Treaty through suspension of their monthly allowances (to which they were entitled under the 1819 Treaty) was not mentioned, only that Crawfurd “parleyed successfully” with the both of them, who were “unsuccessful” in bargaining for beer terms.17 e fact that the British sailed a 380-ton gunboat called the Malabar around Singapore for ten days to intimidate both chiefs was not mentioned.18 Colonial rule not only severed Singapore’s ties with this wider maritime world in terms of their shared economic and political culture. e displacement of the Malay port-polities fundamentally eroded a trajectory of indigenous wealth accumulation gained from their participation in regional and global trade. e seizure of Singapore as a sovereign British territory formed part of this process. As Carl Trocki explained, while the creation of a British port in Singapore generated free trade for Europeans, to the Malays, it was “the peace of oblivion, as the English solution was to wipe out native commerce altogether.”19 Seven Hundred Years, despite acknowledging Singapore’s ties to its maritime

region, did not elaborate on the consequences colonialism had on its cultural and political hinterland, the Malay world. Sang Nila Utama’s inclusion in “e Arrivals” actively reinforces this erasure, beyond performing feeble tokenism. Sang Nila Utama is framed, like Malays, as the ‘first arrival’ to Singapore. is narrative—of successive waves, or ‘cycles’ of ‘arrivals’ from abroad—elides Singapore’s embeddedness within the Malay world, and its violent uprooting from that world as the result of colonialism. By presenting Singapore as being the product of ‘arrivals,’ it treats everyone—under the contemporary multiracialist framework—as being fundamentally a migrant, even the Malays. e parity between Sang Nila Utama and Raffles, fantasised by the installation, posits an equivalence between the ‘arrival’ of the Malays, and the later ‘arrival’ of the British. Under this “Arrivals” schema, the process of colonialism—traumatic and displacive—is rendered politically neutral. Adding an additional layer of painful irony, the territories broken up by the 1824 Treaty included dominions ruled by the dynasty claiming descent from Sang Nila Utama: the House of Bukit Siguntang. What does it mean

to place this fount of Malay kings next to the haughty English trader who overthrew his descendants? A more potent challenge to Raffles’ centrality appears to be offered by the contemporary Malay social imaginaire, in which Sang Nila Utama features as a kind of ‘Anti-Raffles.’ Sang Nila Utama disrupts the colonial narrative in many ways: not only is he the ‘first founder,’ having established a port-kingdom in Singapore centuries before Raffles; as a mythical king, he signifies indigenous Malay sovereignty over the island; and as a figure from the Sulalatus Salatin, he represents the profound and ancient ties that Singapore has always had with a greater Malay cultural context which the Europeans broke into. While no chance was missed to remember the virtue and tenacity of the great founder Raffles, Sang Nila Utama was relegated to obscurity, and the body of mytho-history which he belongs to systematically beliled and sidelined. British orientalists long dismissed the Sulalatus Salatin as a worthless aggregation of fables and courtly legends. e text is, of course, laced with mythical elements, but it would be misguided to measure up a courtly Malay chronicle to our standards of conventional history today. It was a

mode of conceptualising the past that was perfectly legitimate to its various authors and their audience, living in 17th-century Johor. But the enduring importance of Sang Nila Utama today lies in what he—and his name—have come to represent. e 1988 shutdown of Sang Nila Utama Secondary School, the first Malay-medium school in Singapore remains an unresolved wound amongst many Malays. e school was established in 1961 by the PAP government itself, during those heady days when Singapore was preparing for unification with Malaya. at flame was long extinguished by the time the school was ordered shut. It was one of the last vestiges from a broken Malayan Dream, and one can barely imagine the psychological impact of its closure on those who still grieved the death of a broader political vision it represented. Raffles’ name, meanwhile, to borrow from author Tim Hannigan, infects Singapore “like a rash.”20 His name graces an elite public school, a prestigious social club, a luxury hotel, and a major boulevard in central Singapore. Former Member of Parliament Yatiman Yusof requested a street near the site of the expunged Sang Nila Utama Secondary School to be

christened aer its namesake. An initial official reply confirmed that a small plaque would be placed there instead, but eventually the authorities relented. In November 2019, the government announced21 that two streets in the Bidadari housing district will bear his name: Sang Nila Utama Road, and the pedestrianised Sang Nila Utama Boulevard. But how meaningful are these gestures? e symbolic centrality of Sang Nila Utama amongst Malays in modern Singapore and its erasure vis-à-vis Raffles signifies broader, more complex anxieties and grievances they still bear about their position in the country. On a figurative level, both the peripheral presence of Sang Nila Utama in our symbols and official histories does reflect their marginality. Unmade Not everyone has let Raffles off the hook, however. rough the statue, his body has turned into a site for contestations of meaning in Singapore’s historical narrative, just as it remains a potent instrument of mythmaking. In 1970, the bronze statue was splashed with a bag of white paint thrown by an unidentified member of the public.22 e “vandal,” as the press

called him, escaped before the police arrived. Municipal authorities mobilised workers to clean up the statue within an hour. Visual and literary interventions subverting the Raffles statue—and indeed, colonialism itself—have long been established within the realm of Malay artistic expression in Singapore. Some of the earliest literary manuscripts produced in colonial Singapore include a pair of sha’er23 that illustrate the injustice shown towards indigenous groups and indentured labour under British administration. Discovered at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris in the 1980s, both poems date back to the early years of colonial rule. “Sha’er Dagang Berjual-Beli” (Ballad of the Trading Sojourners) revealed the unfairness faced by Bugis and Malay merchants trying to sell their wares at the port of Singapore. e upending of the old order and the reality of life under colonial capitalism were not lost on the anonymous narrator: “Merchants now are lords of the land, / a sign that the world has truly ended” (Sekarang saudagar memerintahkan negeri / Tandanya dunia sudahlah akhiri). e other poem, “Sha’er Potong Gaji” (Ballad of the Cut Wages), illustrates the harrowing conditions faced by coolies bonded to the East

India Company, which was initially seen as a “great tree offering shade / protecting us all from the heat” (laksana sepohon tempat teduhan / menaungi kami dari panasan). Alas, it was not to be: Terendanglah kami tidak berminyak Dengan air terbakar, dengan angin tertanak Hati dan jantung sangatlah senak Pendapatan seperti utan dan semak24 We are fried alive without oil Grilled with the air, boiled with the wind Liver and heart both filled with pain We are paid in sticks and stones25 A century aer those murmurings, the anti-colonial movement of the postwar period produced an explosion of writings by members of the Malay press and intellectual circles. e likes of Usman Awang, Harun Aminurrashid, Abdul Samad Ismail, Kassim Ahmad and Ishak Haji Muhammad were among the ideological vanguard

that mobilised public consciousness against colonial rule through their poems, novels, essays and short stories.26 But the struggle did not end aer the achievement of Merdeka and Separation from Malaysia. In independent Singapore, Malay writers turned the focus of their critique towards the ‘post’-colonial state’s appropriation of colonial symbols, in particular, Raffles. In 1979, poet Suratman Markasan wrote “Balada Seorang Lelaki di Depan Patung Raffles” (Ballad of a Man Before the Raffles Statue). An unnamed Malay protagonist rails against the (white) landmark for five days, levelling charges against Raffles for deceiving his ancestors, stealing their land and distributing the spoils amongst his allies. In short, the Ballad catalogues the atrocities of British imperialism commied against Malays, embodied in the figure of Raffles. Raffles tersenyum kaku Lelaki hilang kepala menggerutu “telah kukatakan seribu kali kau menipu datukku hidup mati

kau merampas hartanya pupus rakus kau bagikan kepada kawan lawan kau dengar Raffles? Kau dengar? Seharusnya kau kubawa ke muka pengadilan Di PBB kota New York Tapi sayang hakim tak punya gigi”27 Raffles kept his frozen smile e man who lost his mind started ranting “I’ve said a thousand times you deceived my grandfathers in life and death you seized their possessions rapaciously you divided the spoils amongst your friends and foes do you hear me Raffles? Do you hear? I ought to drag you to stand trial At the United Nations in New York City Too bad those judges are toothless too

Pak Suratman’s nameless man—repeatedly characterised as ‘hilang kepala’ (headless; insane)—embodies a kind of irony. An individual delivering impassioned accusations to a silent statue is quite the unusual phenomenon, but a double-entendre is at work here. e view that Raffles was a villain who commied historical injustices remains outside the logic of the national narrative. Surely anyone who suggests that Raffles was a brutal coloniser must be unhinged. e voice of outrage against Raffles can only, therefore, come from a man who has lost his mind, who stands outside the normative order. But the poem poses questions: who really is the voice of reason in this one-sided exchange? And is Raffles’ powerful silence—the silence of a comfortable fait accompli—ultimately louder than the man’s monologue? At the end of the fih day, the man appears in a white sarong, a white baju kurung, and songkok as white as Raffles. He kisses the statue’s face, and leaves. e poem is but one manifestation of a widespread sentiment amongst Singapore’s Malay intelligentsia and literati concerning the figure of Raffles. Syed Hussein Alatas, who served as head of the Department of

Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore excoriated Raffles’ legacy in his work, Raffles: Schemer or Reformer (1971). Isa Kamari’s novel Duka Tuan Bertakhta (Sorrow of the Reigning Lord) draws aention to Raffles’ intrigues leading up to the treaty and events in the fledgling selement retold as historical fiction. And besides Pak Suratman, other Malay poets also produced counterpoints to paeans praising Raffles, articulating colonial injustice as a society’s collective trauma. In “Potret Singapura” (Portrait of Singapore; 1987), Cikgu Mohamed Latiff Mohamed translates this into grief beyond words. It contrasts Raffles the great scholar—collecting and studying the Malay world—to the lived reality of Malays themselves: mendengar kembali suara sejarahmu teringat akan raffles mengumpul gurindam pantun dan seloka lalu terbakarlah ‘the fame’ wajah Abdullah munshi yang kecewa melihat melayu lelap matanya

setelah terkumpul padi dan jagung di dapur buruknya28 As I listen to the voices from your past I recall Raffles Gathering ballads, pantun and other rhyming verses And then ‘the Fame’ went up in flames Abdullah Munshi looked, forlorn At the Malays in repose shuing their eyes Aer gathering but rice-grains and corn-kernels in their wretched kitchens For the 2016 Biennale, artist Fyerool Darma produced an installation entitled “e Most Mild-Mannered Men,” in which a bust of Raffles faces an empty pedestal. On the laer is inscribed “Hussein Mu’azzam Shah: 1776–1835.” e work critiques how historical commemoration in Singapore is performed, perpetuating one-sided narratives and silencing figures rendered invisible or absent from them. Or perhaps it interrogates modes of commemoration that are not performed by Malay society.

Official portraiture is not practiced, in line with an Islamic injunction against depictions of human individuals. is makes for an even more pointed critique of the preference for Great Men’s busts (and statues) in remembering history. Sang Nila Utama as ‘Anti-Raffles’ is also expressed through the loss of an idealised Malay world. “Bicara Diri Sang Nila Utama” (Sang Nila Utama’s Monologue; 2011) laments the decline and fall of Nila Utama’s royal line over time. Wrien by Pak Samsudin Said, the piece adopts a more romanticised view of a Malay past before colonial modernity, imagined as a golden epoch: Warisan pusaka nenek moyangya Bukan lagi martabat gemilang Menjajah Nusantara Melayu Semakin pudar dan lesu Ditelan suasana maju Atas gema Melayu baru Kian birat membiru

Wajahnya hanya debu Melekat pada arca masa Sekadar tatapan hikayat lama Anak-anak cucu bangsanya Masih lena dan alpa29 e inheritance of his ancestors No longer the shining splendour Ruling this Malay Nusantara Growing lethargic and losing lustre Swallowed by this atmosphere of progress Over echoes of ‘the New Malay’ Scarred black-and-blue, His face is now dust Plastered onto the stone-relief of Time Just an object of ancient tales e progeny of his race Still carelessly asleep

Sang Nila Utama—and all that remained from an idealised past of dignity and grandeur—has been discarded, giving way to an ethos of development-oriented ‘progress.’ e Paradox of Sang Nila Utama Acknowledging Sang Nila Utama’s presence and raising a statue of him does lile to address the structural discrimination Malays face, solidified over the course of decades. Moreover, his adoption as a signifier to represent Singapore’s ancient ties to a Malay world brings its own set of issues. Ironically, Sang Nila Utama probably would not have been known to the vast majority of the Malay masses if not for colonial education. Chronicles about the House of Bukit Siguntang were the reserve of manuscripts kept in royal palaces, and circulated only to a privileged elite. ey were also read out infrequently: for instance, the Sulalatus Salatin was recited aloud at the court of Riau to the sound of cannon salutes only on special occasions.30 It was not, aer all, the business of commoners in traditional Malay society to learn royal genealogies or events concerning

the kings of yore. ere were of course, tales that the ordinary rakyat were familiar with, such as those recounting the wiles of Sang Kancil, or the epic cycle of Seri Rama. But these were not court histories. Missionaries first published copies of the Sulalatus Salatin en masse and taught them to schoolchildren in Singapore beginning in the late 19th century.31 In 1906, British education administrators R J Wilkinson and R O Winstedt began producing an authoritative ‘canon’ called the Malay Literature Series.32 It was thought that by giving the Malays a sense of their shared literary heritage, they could further see themselves as one people united by a common mythology, rather than separate peoples subject to different rulers. One of the titles contained in this series was the Sulalatus Salatin. To be clear, the British were not set on selflessly educating the Malays about their own literature. e aims of vernacular education in Malaya then were largely to create a unified colonial administration staffed by educated natives. ere was certainly an element of the White civilising mission in the idea that familiarity with a canon would set the Malays on a path of creating “a modern literature of their own,”33 in line with

European ideas about what ‘modern literature’ meant. is was also an aempt to rationalise Malay literary history according to fixed parameters set by the British, and reinforcing an ideal of Malayness that was essentially feudal and antiquated. Wilkinson and Winstedt took it upon themselves to determine which titles should constitute a fixed canon, an idea that did not exist in Malay literary tradition before. e Series resembled the colonial dictionary, in what historian Rachel Leow described as “a print-based assertion of fixity, of the right to codify the right Malay, and to fix the Melayu label under the aegis of British philology and rule.”34 Since many of the educated literati—who were raised on a reading diet based on this Series—later also became prominent voices in the Malay nationalist movement, ideas about a Malay past began to be constituted by themes and imagery associated with this lore. e valour of Hang Tuah, the splendour of Melaka and Sang Nila Utama entered the popular consciousness of a Malay reading public. e idea that Sang Nila Utama sufficiently represents a pre-colonial Malay past is in itself a function of colonial historiography. Appropriated by Malay nationalists, his dynasty

came to represent an ethno-racialised view of the Malay world in olden times, bolstering the narrative of a Malay ‘nation’ (bangsa) with a lost great age. e erection of Sang Nila Utama’s statue thus partakes in another problematic recurrence: the use of figures from courtly literature as motifs from an antiquated Malay past. Not only is it a product of colonial scholar-administrators determined to establish a canonical mythology for Malays, the Singapore state itself makes use of this mytho-historical corpus as a kind of legendary prologue to 1819: the year Singapore’s ‘real’ historical chronology supposedly begins. Such is the paradox of Sang Nila Utama. It may seem that the country’s Malay heritage is being paid tribute to with his representation. Upon careful reflection, Sang Nila Utama obscures, rather than highlights, the rich and dynamic history of the precolonial Malay world, which will be further discussed below. “e Arrivals” was ultimately a performative erection. e Raffles statues remain, with the supplementary four removed when the Bicentennial ended on 31 December 2019. Clearly, it was never about a serious reckoning of Raffles’ legacy. e fact that the installation was

temporary reinforces Raffles’ primacy, for the statues of him alone endured. Pre-Colonial Pasts; Decolonial Futures Beyond token reflections, Instagram-worthy optical illusions and visual spectacles, however, we need a deeper, sustained engagement with our past. A healthy and robust historical understanding of Singapore history must engage with the history of its home region, the Malay world, instead of a framework that does not interrogate the effects of colonialism. Unmaking the colonial pageant demands sustained effort. As one character in Alfian Sa’at’s play Merdeka / 獨⽴ /

puts it,

“Part One was when we got rid of our colonial masters. Part Two is when we begin the real work: decolonising our minds, our systems, our statues.” An important step in “decolonising our minds” is decolonising our histories and the frames we use to understand them. is means contesting those which normalise colonialism as a natural pre-requisite for the modernity, prosperity and cosmopolitanism Singapore enjoys today. is is another reason why the benign linear-cyclical framework of

the Bicentennial’s canonical text, tied mainly to waves of selement and economic activity, is not the most useful in helping us understand Singapore’s past. An alternative to the framework of “episodic selement” proposed by Seven Hundred Years could therefore be one that engages with the ecology of the Malay world, of which Singapore was part and how colonialism radically transformed it. e “upswing” under colonialism may not have taken place under the aegis of a traditional Malay maritime polity, but British Singapore replicated its functions, as Trocki observed.35 Dr Imran Tajudeen, in a lecture delivered on 25 July 2019, noted how colonial Singapore enjoyed the distinguished pedigree of Malay port-polities that came before it.36 Like Melaka or the Johor capitals, it served as a collecting and distributing centre for feeder ports, and hosted diverse trading communities under the patronage of a Malay court (until 1824). Out of this ecology of culturally diverse Malay port-polities arose a creole social dynamic. is was an embedded cosmopolitanism which scholar Sumit Mandal identified in the region’s polyglot trading cities like Palembang, Aceh and Melaka.37 e emergence of creolised peranakan38

communities of Arab, Indian and Chinese ancestry who spoke Malay and dressed like Malays aests to this permeability, as long-established émigré communities who became co-participants in the Malay world’s rooted but eclectic cultural spectrum. In contrast, the British and Dutch colonial regimes established racialised hierarchies where one’s ‘race’ intersected with economic function. Under colonial capitalism, racial antagonisms and essentialised racial identities emerged. is undermined the cosmopolitanism that was already burgeoning in the regional Malay port-polities. Singapore’s “upswing” brought about by colonialism was fundamentally different from those that came before it, not only in its displacement of an indigenous political and economic ecosystem, but also of a Malay world open enough to absorb peoples from China, India, Arabia and beyond into an indigenous social order and cultural matrix. is ecology is a more useful anchor to make sense of Singapore’s “discontinuous” pasts. As it adopts a regional perspective, this history is actually revealed to be less discontinuous than one that posits Singapore as a discrete entity within a larger arena of interactions. e pre-colonial

Malay world that Singapore was part of was more than just the murky legends of Sang Nila Utama, or faint echoes provided by that period’s archaeological finds. It was also, between the 13th and 18th centuries, a realm of bustling cosmopolitan port-principalities. As the only city-state in Southeast Asia today, Singapore has—albeit in a radically different form —preserved the spirit of those many old maritime negeri39 that once doed the Archipelago like mousedeer around a pond. e idea, therefore, that we are a radically exceptional product of colonial genius demands scrutiny. e modern city-state of Singapore in fact participates in a historical trend endemic to this region that is at least several centuries old. Such is one way to articulate our historical connection to the Malay world, which endures yet if only in fleeting glimpses. Indeed, developing a coherent language to talk about our history before Raffles is the most important step in the path towards imagining life aer him. Life Aer Statues

Public statuary is, ultimately, a mode of historical commemoration centred around the cult of Great Men. Nestled between the neoclassical facades of the Victoria eatre and the Old Parliament, Teng Kai Wei’s installation ironically relies on a language of commemoration employed around the world by colonial regimes and many of their authoritarian successors. ese statues celebrate people who built and maintained oppressive systems that profited the Empire at the expense of indigenous societies and exploited labour. By retaining them as memorial fixtures in our civic spaces, these statues legitimise the actions of those they depict. It is difficult to begin an honest public discourse about Raffles’ atrocities when he is still so publicly venerated. In response to a wave of statues being toppled as a response to the 2020 Black Lives Maer protests, Kuala Lumpur-based artist Izat Arif produced a graphic print with an image of the polymarble Raffles. Its caption, “Aer You row Your Master In e River, Please Save e Pedestal For Me”, invited Singaporeans to give their Columbus a longoverdue bath too.

Singaporeans like Dhevarajan Devadas considered the question of whether we should keep the two Raffles statues. In a viral Facebook status, he suggested we put them in a museum.40 But when “e Arrivals” was set up, many asked why their own favourite characters from Singapore’s history were not chosen. Not only did public sentiment find nothing objectionable about maintaining the Raffles statues; many wanted their own heroes from Singapore history to have one just like his. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at his speech launching the Bicentennial, declared that it was Raffles’ arrival that made us a diverse and open society.41 But Raffles, and his adoption as a founder-figure, stands in stark contrast to the ethos of the creole Malay world. S Rajaratnam’s assertion that he provided a ‘neutral’ symbol for a multiracial Singapore reinforces the paradigm of essentialised racial groups dependent on a forceful entity to mediate between them, be it a colonial government or authoritarian regime. Unearthing the Malay world’s acculturative and assimilative processes that pre-dated colonial racial classifications complicates the assumption that Singapore’s different

cultural communities are innately antagonistic, or need mediation through ‘neutral’ symbols like Raffles. So what do we do with the two statues? Reserving them a place in any of our museums may be a lile too dignifying. But imagine finally being able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Raffles, and seeing him at eyelevel. As the visitor’s gaze travels downward, we see his right foot planted firmly on what appears to be a scroll; upon closer inspection, an outline of the Malay Peninsula and its surrounding environs is revealed. is dark aspect—a “lile joke” included by the sculptor omas Woolner—so symbolic of Raffles’ subjugation of the Malay world, reveals how there is nothing benign about the statues. We must likewise unseat colonialism from the sacrosanct pedestal from which it lords over Singapore’s predominant historical narrative, while feigning benevolence. Expanding the timeline and acknowledging a wider cast of contributors are not enough; we must desacralise and place its legacies under scrutiny. Only then can we properly expose its violence and brutality. In any case, a ceremonial removal of the statues can be a powerful moment for the nation to reflect on what it means to no longer be

beholden to colonial narratives. It can be a solemn act of renunciation that marks a new era of self-confidence. But why stop there? One character from Alfian’s play proposed reinstating Singapore’s indigenous name, Singapura. Such a gesture, however, does not imply that decolonisation means returning to a ‘purer,’ more authentically ‘native’ past. It simply affirms that the English language and English symbols do not have a monopoly on creating a neutral space for articulating a shared national identity. And in fact, that there was nothing ‘neutral’ in adopting them for such a purpose either. ose of the generation fighting for Merdeka, I imagine—of different ethnicities—would have understood this. e 1947 People’s Constitution, for instance, proposed by le ist Malayan organisations, advocated for the term “Melayu” to refer to all citizens, even if they were not ethnically Malay.42 is reflected an expansive and fluid indigeneity, in which proximity to Malayness did not necessarily dilute or diminish one’s own non-Malay identity. Indeed this was recognition that Malayness—through its multiple linguistic and cultural constituents—had provided a shared basis for inter-cultural interaction in this region for centuries, and could continue to play that

role. No wonder so many non-Malays in postwar Singapore hardly saw a contradiction between adopting and studying Malay as our National Language, and a multicultural Malayan identity. Statues, like all totemic idols, only have as much power as we give them. e quest to unshackle our minds and systems cannot stop at removing symbols. Understanding our historical rootedness in the Malay world offers a repository for how to imagine—and work towards—a decolonial future.

1 e Straits Times, 7 February 1919, “Centenary of Singapore: celebrations brilliantly successful.” 2 Ibid. 3 Linda K Fuller, “Reading Singapore’s National Day: a case study in the rhetoric of nationalism,” in National Days/National Ways: Historical, Political and Religious Celebrations from Around the World, edited by Linda K Fuller (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), p. 212. 4 Alex Josey, Lee Kuan Yew: the crucial years (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 1968), p. 511. 5 “If you seek his monument, look around you.” 6 “A Tribute to Dr. Albert Winsemius from Lee Kuan Yew,” (leer, National Archives of Singapore, 6 December 1996). 7 Speech by the Acting President, Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng, at the Ceremony Marking the Landing Site of Sir Stamford Raffles on 3 February 1972, Ministry of Culture, hps://w ww.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/PressR19720203d.pdf. 8 “Speech by the Prime Minister at the Banquet given by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce to Mark the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of Singapore,” (National Archives of Singapore, 6 February 1969), pp. 4–5. 9 E-mail communication: 10 January 2019.

10 David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw eir Empire (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 4. 11 First rendered into English by Scotsman John Leyden, who gave it its more famous title, Sejarah Melayu (the ‘Malay Annals’). 12 Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Peter Borschberg and Tan Tai Yong, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore, (Singapore: National Library Board, 2019), p. 8. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., p. 279. 15 Ibid., p. 281. 16 Ibid., p. 194. 17 Ibid., pp. 191–194. 18 C H Wake, “Raffles and the rajas: e founding of Singapore in Malayan and British colonial history,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 48.1 (1975), pp. 65–70. 19 Carl A Trocki, Prince of Pirates: the Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885, second edition, first pub. 1979, (Singapore: NUS Press, 2007), p. 208. 20 Tim Hannigan, Raffles and the British Invasion of Java (Burrough Court: Monsoon Books), EPUB, p. 63.

21 e Straits Times, 3 November 2019, Yuen Sin, “Road in Bidadari estate near former Malay secondary school site to be named Sang Nila Utama Road.” 22 e Straits Times, 9 August 1970, “Statue of Raffles smeared with paint.” 23 Longform verse narratives; ballads. Also spelled ‘syair’ in modern standard Malay. I prefer the spelling from before the orthographic reforms of 1972 as it is more intuitive to read. 24 Muhammad Haji Salleh, Syair Tantangan Singapura Abad Kesembilan Belas (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1994), p. 52. 25 All translations by the author unless otherwise stated. 26 e work of this cohort of Malay writers is examined in greater detail in Dr Azhar Ibrahim’s chapter, Malay Literary Intelligentsia and Colonialism: A Stunted Discourse. 27 Suratman Markasan, “Balada Seorang Lelaki di Depan Patung Raffles,” in Tiga Warna Bertemu: Antologi Puisi Penulis-penulis Singapura, edited by Suratman Markasan (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1987), p. 141. 28 Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, “Potret Singapura,” in Tiga Warna Bertemu: Antologi Puisi Penulis-penulis Singapura, edited by Suratman Markasan (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1987), p. xxiii. 29 Samsudin Said, “Bicara Diri Sang Nila Utama,” in Tafsiran Tiga Alam, edited by Hamed Ismail, Hartinah Ahmad and Samsudin Said (Kuala Lumpur: Institut

Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia Berhad, 2015), p. 65. First published in Berita Minggu, 20 March 2011. 30 Ian Proudfoot, Early Malay Printed Books: a provisional account of materials published in the Singapore- Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in public collections (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1993), p. 52. 31 Ibid. 32 William Roff, e Origins of Malay Nationalism (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1980), p. 134. 33 Ibid., p. 133. 34 Rachel Leow, Taming Babel: Language in the Making of Malaysia (Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 60. 35 Trocki, Prince of Pirates, pp. 207–208. 36 Singapore Bicentennial, 13 August 2019, “18th century Singapore: Lecture by Assistant Professor Imran Bin Tajudeen,” YouTube, youtube.com/watch?v=IG6FAWai OCM&t=20s, accessed on 15 March 2020. 37 Sumit Mandal, Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World (Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 47. 38 Malay: locally born, but of foreign extraction.

39 In modern Malay, a territorial ‘state’; in older usage, a port-town or selement with a ruler or chief, constituting a single political unit; a city-state; usually either subject to a more important port-polity or exerting influence over its own vassals. 40 I am regreably unable to provide a citation for the post as its seings have since been switched to ‘Friends Only’ following a slew of hostile ad hominem comments by netizens directed towards Devadas. 41 “Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019” (Prime Minister’s Office), hps://www.pmo.gov.sg/Newsroom/PM-Lee -Hsien-Loong-at-the-launch-of-the-Singapore-Bicentennial-Jan-2019, accessed on 8 July 2020. 42 Syed Husin Ali et al., e People’s Constitutional Proposals for Malaya (Kuala Lumpur: SIRD, 2017), p. 59.

Malay Literary Intelligentsia and Colonialism: A Stunted Discourse Azhar Ibrahim “Colonialism in all other systems of domination always aacked people’s languages and tried to replace them with that of the coloniser as the sole language of power and culture. It is the first major step in the aempt to erase the memory of a people regarding their cultural identity.”1 IN







expressions of strong anti-colonial sentiment are relatively rare, if not mostly unthought of. Due to the accepted mantras of historical writing and imagining, a position of neutrality is deemed as the standard academic position, and anti-colonial views are ironically deemed as partisan, if not ‘emotional’ and therefore unwarranted. ey are mostly seen as unnecessary, or imply particular ideological leanings. Indeed, critiques of colonialism have hardly been the core of our intellectual pursuits. History,

in other words, must only be a record of facts, free from any ideological casts, while human sentiments and feelings are seen as threats to historical objectivity. Major historical narratives, be it through scholarly publications and school textbooks, oen chronicle a series of events and the names of great men, who are deemed as illustrious, even if they were also emblematic of colonialism. From such narratives, the conclusion is clear: that modern Singapore’s genealogy as a political entity as well as its ‘legitimate’ history can be traced to the historic establishment of a selement in 1819 by the British. Within such a historical-chronicling mode of thinking, colonialism is reduced to simply being a temporal phase. As such, for a long time the establishment of British power in 1819 was invariably conflated with the start of modern Singapore. e concession of the island by Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdul Rahman is hardly identified as a feature of colonialism, but imagined as a pivotal moment in the making of modern Singapore. Free of such ‘anti-colonial’ sentiment, nowhere could we trace a sense of subjugation and displacement, psychological wounds and scars, the loss

of dignity and the debasement of sovereignty, nor any clues that distinguish between the children of colonialism and the victims of colonialism. Obviously, in the absence of a protracted struggle for independence, this is to be expected. Nevertheless, the idea that there was a total absence of anti-colonial fervour in Singapore is naïve, if not a total disregard for historical facts. e dominant tendency has been to underplay the importance of the anti-colonial movement. is is different from how the region engages with its anti-colonial struggles. While the region’s reading of colonialism is generally critical, ours is distinctly sober, shunning agitative stances, to espousing an almost arrogantly uncritical tenor. But this is not to say that there was never any anti-colonial upstaging in our historical experience. ey were simply not incorporated into the mainstream discourse. Moreover, in a context where English-medium discourse dominates, articulations in the Malay language or any other vernacular have been rarely noticed. is is the very condition of a stunted discourse in which this chapter aims to discuss. is chapter aims to highlight and discuss the anti-colonial sentiments as expressed by the Malay intelligentsia in Singapore during the post-war

period. e ’50s and early ’60s could be considered as two important decades that witnessed Singapore functioning as the cultural hub of Malaya, apart from being an important economic and political centre. In the post-independence period, critiques against colonialism and its neocolonial manifestations were rare or only simply unthought of. ree points deserve mention. First is a general overview of the Malay intellectual milieu in the post-independence period. is era of national consolidation and development featured strong political control and surveillance over critical voices, be they individuals or groups. ose articulations, especially from within specific ethnic communities, were easily deemed displays of chauvinism. Moreover, those who spoke using the lens of class injustice were easily deemed members of the subversive le . In short, the space for dissenting voices was very much circumscribed, if not, virtually not tolerated. Second: the post- Separation exodus of the Malay intelligentsia up north meant only a small fraction of the Malay literati remained, with no strong ideologues in the lead. In the first two decades of the separation, the literati, made up primarily of Malay educationists and cultural activists, was courted by the state. is

was prior to the emergence of Malay-Muslim professional groups that put forth a strong alternative presence in the late ’80s and early ’90s. e third point links to the relative absence of intellectual cosmopolitanism aer Separation amongst the Malay literati. e Malay literati on both sides of the Causeway were confined within their national borders, their discourse increasingly accentuated by domestic nationalism or the nation-building project alongside regional geopolitical tensions. One notable consequence was that the post-Separation literati, who were then very much on their own, were cut off from the burgeoning intellectual life and cultural development in Indonesia, which at that time emerged as the main source of cultural cosmopolitanism in the Malay intellectual world. Furthermore the discourse in Singapore became entrenched within various ethnic silos, with the English-medium narrative predominating the mainstream. e circumscription of intellectual activities by an authoritarian state meant a contraction of space and imagination for critical discourse. Such a condition warrants us to link the relative silence of the Malay literati’s anti-colonial articulations with the general

constriction of political interest and concern in independent Singapore. Aggravated by self-censorship for fear of reprisal or exclusion, depoliticisation emerged, even as sociologists like John Clammer would describe Singapore as being otherwise an “intensely politicised society” due to “intense state-led socialisation practices” leading to “the paradoxical result [o] a society in which direct political access is highly restricted, but yet almost every aspect of life is politicised.”2 To trace the role of this anti-colonial sentiment amongst Malay intelligentsia is imperative. Unless wrien by scholars who are critical or profess le ist leanings, the dominant historical narrative is primarily articulated from a ‘neutral’ position. is becomes accepted, more so when major historians like John Bastin himself unrelentingly adopted this position: “e historian is not concerned with the justification or condemnation of colonialism—that is not his task; he is concerned, rather, to understand and to explain this phenomenon of colonialism … he must accept the facts as they are, and try to

interpret them. His task is finished when he has done this, for the passing of moral judgments is none of his business.”3 While linguistic segregation could well explain this silencing or exclusion, one cannot discount the fact that anti-colonial sentiments are hardly given prominence in general. As with the Malay intelligentsia, so could a similar situation be observed amongst the Chinese and Tamil vernacular. It is in this context that we evaluate the extent and intensity of cultural and intellectual discourse. e post-independence era saw the dilution of politicised discourse, especially when new generations of scholars, literati and activists were conditioned and exposed to ideas very much different from the earlier decades. Rapid development and newly acquired affluence inevitably put many of the best minds of the land in a comfortable position, be it real or perceived. When the criticisms against the post-colonial state itself became timid and marginalised, one surely cannot expect the public to read critically against the colonial past. Ngũgĩ wa iong’o’s observation on the nature of post-colonial writers, based mainly on the African context, nevertheless resonates with

our condition: … the writer in this period was still limited by his/her inadequate grasp of the full dimension of what was really happening in the 1960s; the international and national realignment of class forces and class alliances. What the writer oen reacted to was the visible lack of moral fibre of the new leadership and not necessarily the structural basis of that lack of a national moral fibre. Sometimes the writer blamed the people—the recipients of crimes—as well as the perpetrators of the crimes against the people. At times the moral horror was construed in terms perilously close to blaming it all on the biological character of the people. us, although the literature produced was incisive in its observation, it was nevertheless characterised by a sense of despair. e writer in this period oen retreated into individualism, cynicism or into empty moral appeals for a change of heart.4 Identity politics, which became dominant in post-colonial societies, also became the main fodder for discursive parlance and imagination. As such

one could not expect depth from, or the expansion of critiques against colonialism, or its neo-colonial incarnation in the present. e Forgotten Critiques Due to the suppression of anti-colonial discourses, it is no surprise when colonial figures are rendered as towering figures, great men who opened up land or ports (not colonies) and introduced modernity and prosperity to all. ese colonial figures are elevated as national icons. Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore is a case in point. e mainstream historical narrative put 1819 as the founding of modern Singapore until very recently, when the 700-year timeline became a favoured frame, yet still without any real critiques on the dominance of colonial perspectives in Singapore history. We seem to be more at ease embracing the narrative of a migrant society, brought together by the trading acumen of the British, rather than framing this history as one of a colonised state. ese proclivities suggest the extent of colonial captivity of our historical and moral imagination. Interestingly some would even dismiss the need to be preoccupied with anti-colonial sentiments, which suggests the sheer inability to distinguish

between the children of colonialism, who benefied and profited from it, as opposed to the victims of colonialism who were unjustly oppressed and relegated in history. If we read beyond these dominant narratives, there exists a vast and lively corpus of colonial critique expressed by Malayans (which include those in Singapore) that have never been made part of our narratives about colonialism. ose in the mainstream, of course, make some space for discussing colonialism. But such narratives are hardly anti-colonial in content and spirit. Even in Malay discourse (be it in Malaysia or and Singapore), the serious engagement of colonial discourse is nowhere to be located. While prominent Malay literati were given recognition for their literary achievements, their critical voices against colonialism and Malay feudalism were hardly given aention. Ironically too, despite the strong traces of anti-Western rhetoric, nowhere can we find serious and sustained critiques on colonialism nor its neo-colonial manifestations. However, a brief survey of this literary and intellectual corpus reveals no shortage of anti-colonial agitations made by Malayans (including those

in Singapore). Syed Hussein Alatas’ short piece on colonialism, wrien in 1956, is a case in point: e problems le behind aer a period of colonialism fall into three categories. One is the purely physical and material problem, incorporating agriculture, communications and housing. e second is the problems of organisations, economic relations, political






industrialisation. e third problem is sociological, psychological and moral, and the greatest damage occasioned by colonisation is precisely in this field, since it hampers the solution to other difficulties.5 In Malay literary and intellectual discourse, especially those emerging in the







condemnations of colonialism and Malay feudalism, can be observed. Interestingly, criticism against Malay feudalism was focused not merely on its oppressive practices but also because the feudal powers were foisted by the colonisers, under their indirect rule system. Malay intelligentsia of

that period, who were mostly from the peasantry and had decent education, oen rallied behind political organisations, as well as publishing houses to clamour for beer political and economic rights for their community. Several Malay writers and activists including journalists narrated their experiences under colonial rule, although one should not expect sophisticated deliberation or systematic scrutiny of colonial ideologies and imperialistic designs. Singapore was then the New York for the Malay-Indonesian intelligentsia in the region, especially Malaya. Several leading figures amongst them made this island their base, for work and inspiration. With employment opportunities and beer infrastructure, alongside a greater sense of cultural and political freedom compared to the states on the Peninsula, the colonial port-city became an ideal place for them to write, publish and organise themselves. Political activists like Ahmad Boestamam in Angkatan Pemuda Insaf (API; “League of Conscious Youths”) and Khatijah Sidek in Angkatan Wanita Sedar (AWAS; “League of Conscious Women”) made Singapore their staging area to garner support and disseminate their agenda.

Boestamam’s6 and Khatijah’s7 memoir documented their political struggles against British authorities in the post-war period. Both of them represented the le ist strain within the spectrum of Malay nationalist politics, where vocal agitation against colonial authorities was more pronounced than that of the others.8 e congregation of Malay intelligentsia in Singapore coincided with the booming Malay film industry’s golden age which took off soon aer the war. e formation of ASAS’50, a literary association in Singapore in 1950, rallied several leading and budding Malay writers. ASAS’50 (Angkatan Sasterawan ’50; “e Writers’ Movement ’50”) aimed at safeguarding the interests of writers apart from providing guidance and a vision for literary development. Its declared slogan of “literature for society” coincided with LEKRA (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakjat; “Institute for the Culture of the People”), their Indonesian counterpart, which clamoured for a more politically engaged literary and artistic movement. is Indonesian connection provided a kind of liberative cosmopolitan outlook.

When ASAS’50 was formed, amongst its earliest manifestos was “it is imperative to gain independence, and the laer is the bridge towards social justice and the wellbeing of the people.”9 Amongst the ideologues of ASAS’50 were Keris Mas, Asraf, Usman Awang—all of whom were associated with the Malay press in one way or another. Keris Mas wrote retrospectively of the involvement of the ASAS’50 literati in Singapore: Pada tahun-tahun 50-an, sasterawan berkomited menentang penjajahan, menggalakan manusia supaya ingin merdeka, kerana dengan menghapuskan penjajahan, kita mengharapkan manusia akan lebih maju, tidak tertindas, hidup lahirnya dan tidak tertekan kebebesan berfikirnya. Jadi komitmen setakat di situ sahaja. Selepas itu komitmen itu meningkat sedikit, komited kepada perubahan-perubahan sosial, menentang penindasan ataupun ketidakadilan di dalam masyarakat. Lahirlah sastera-sastera yang dikatakan kritikan sosial, mengkritik pihak yang tidak adil…. Komited kepada idea hendak menegakkan keadilan, kebebasan dan menghapuskan kezaliman penjajahan.10

In the 1950s, writers were commied to resist colonialism, and encouraging people to desire independence [merdeka], because by eliminating colonialism, it was hoped that humanity could advance, would no longer be oppressed, that throughout their lives their thought would never be encumbered. Our commitment was to that only. Aerwards those commitments expanded, to include social change as well as resisting oppression and injustice in society. us were born literary works that can be described as social critiques, criticising unjust parties… commied to the idea of upholding justice, freedom and eliminating colonial cruelty.11 Usman Awang, in his poem “Lambaian Pertiwi” (e Call of the Motherland) in 1950, described the challenges of gaining true independence and freedom. It reflects the spirit of resistance against the cause for the people’s wretchedness: is blazing fire Blow at it till it flares bigger We shall burn away all those fleas

and all this rubbish12 Who will take heed? e world is indeed unjust e colonised remain subjugated e poor still starve to death13 Preceding it in 1948, Usman’s poem “Selat Melaka” (e Straits of Malacca) is equally evocative, reminding us that the historical past must light the path towards an independent future: I turn towards a bygone history a place where butchers gathered for profit a place of the Malay kingdoms’ grandeur fertile, dignified, of knightly prowess Now but a memory To be scribbled by the pen of sages To awaken the colonised children To continuously toil till independence.14

Usman was then working at Utusan Melayu as a reporter in Singapore. Singapore-born A Samad Ismail was another leading figure in Utusan, whose critical voice led him to be detained shortly aer the war for his role in undermining British authority during the Japanese interregnum.15 Samad, according to Ahmed Sebi, was the main ideologue, the “General” amongst ASAS’50 members. “ey looked up to A Samad Ismail as their ‘guru’ for social and literary ideas, whether right wing or le wing, conservative or radical.” Sebi continues: ese individuals edited the newspapers and magazines of Utusan Melayu … they became the convenient lieutenants for A Samad Ismail, the General … the prime mover always seemed to be A Samad Ismail. e cause that inspired him was anti-colonialism. He was the one who saw clearly that literature and the arts could be used as a weapon in the struggle against colonialism.16 Samad himself was endowed with a fair talent for writing short stories. Nationalistic and pluralistic themes were easily identifiable in his works. “Antara Dua Kasih” (Between Two Lovers), a short story published in

Mastika in 1946, narrates the story of Abdullah, an army captain who is determined to dedicate his life to the struggle against colonialism, especially against the returning British aer the Japanese surrender. To Rohani, his lover, their love can wait but the paramount struggle to be freed from servitude cannot. … He is not as happy as everyone else to see the coming of the British to his motherland. He must be frank and he must not hide anything from Rohani. She is not an ordinary girl. She will understand. What is the meaning of a struggle for the nation to her now? Since he will stand on the front lines to defend his country, these thoughts usurped his spirit. Fight for the nation! Free our land from subjugation!17 At the same time, there was the Department of Malay Studies, at the University of Malaya housed at the Bukit Timah campus, where a number of prominent students, such as Ismail Hussein, Syed Husin Ali and Adibah Amin who later stood at the forefront of an emerging Malay intellectual

discourse. Amongst them was Kassim Ahmad, who himself had literary inclinations and was politically vocal, with le ist leanings. In many of his writings, Kassim wrote passionately against colonialism, imperialisms, including feudalism and cultural obscurantism. In his autobiography, wrien during the last phase of his life, Kassim wrote a short passage on the “e Sins of Colonialism,” in which he demanded an apology and reparation from colonial powers to their former colonies.18 In a short story, wrien in English in 1959, Kassim tells the story of the commitment of a young man named Yusuf, who has graduated from a university in Singapore. He returns to his village but feels alienated, and goes back to Singapore once again. He is in love with a Chinese girl but thinks that it cannot work out. He longs for a robust life again and decides to return to his village. He wants to serve his village society, an idea that youths in the late stage of colonial rule had oen clamoured for. Against the advice given by his friend, that it is beer for him to stay put and get an offer for a lucrative position in the government service, Yusuf confesses:

… I’ve lost my soul. Do you know what I mean? I must go back there, that’s where I belong. My life’s bound up with the people there. I must go back and learn their language again, learn their ways and live with them … I know now what I want … I want my soul and the government cannot give it back to me.19 is short story—apparently almost autobiographical—was also an obvious rejection of the colonial government’s co-option of educated Malays. While working for the government guaranteed a steady income and a coveted position, it would not allow a free mind like Yusu’s the autonomy to ‘return to the source.’ is itself reminds us of the struggles of the colonised to retain their self-sufficiency and authenticity. On the theme of self-sufficiency, and the need to safeguard the community’s own interests, an earlier essay wrien in 1949 by Harun Aminurrashid, then a leading Malay educationist in Singapore, is illuminating: Sebagai kita bangsa yang terjajah sudah tentu pemuda-pemuda kita tidak dapat mencapai pelajaran tinggi kerana dipukul rata

bangsa kita miskin dan hidup melarat, ibu bapa bangsa kita yang bercita-cita mulia dan tinggi untuk hendak memberi pelajaran tinggi kepada anak-anaknya memang banyak tetapi cita-cita tinggal cita-cita, kerana semuanya bergantung kepada wang. Maka di sini patutlah kita mengerti jika bangsa kita merdeka tentulah dari negara sendiri yang akan mengaturkan pemuda pemudi kita dipaksa meneruskan pelajaran kerana biasanya negeri merdeka itu pelajaran anak-anak bangsanya ditanggung oleh negara. Maka di sinilah patut pemuda pemudi bangsa kita mesti insaf. Layakkanlah diri








pergantungan kepada negara, kerana negara kita ialah negara dijajah dan negara yang ditaklukkan oleh lain bangsa.20 For us, a colonised people, it is certain that our young folk cannot aain high levels of education, as most of our people on average live in poverty and destitution. ere are indeed many mothers and fathers among us who have noble aspirations and high hopes to give their children a decent education, but all of that depends on

money. So from this we ought to understand that if our people are independent [merdeka], surely a State of our own will arrange it such that our youths will be compelled to continue their studies because in independent nations the education of their youths is the responsibility of the State. e young men and women of our people thus have to be aware of this. Acquire credentials through your own efforts, for there is no hope in being dependent on the State, for our State is a colonised State that is governed by another nation.21 Harun’s critical posture while serving as an educational officer cost him his career dearly. He was eventually posted to Brunei as an education officer, a position which was akin to exile, intended indirectly to keep him away from the expanding Malay intellectual circles of the post-war period. Amongst the intelligentsia more active in the political arena, there were those who demonstrated a more critical stand against colonialism. Said Zahari who was also working in Utusan Melayu was one of them. From one of his poems, originally wrien in Malay, “Anti-Nasional,”

speaks much of his strong opposition against the then-ideology that defended the status quo: “Anti-National,” they said Here is the proof Is that truly so? If Destroying the colonialists Opposing bierly the imperialists Annihilating oppression Liquidating injustice …this is “Anti-National” Yes I am Anti-National! If To entomb the system of discrimination All injustices all servitudes And ending feudalism… this be “Anti-National”

Yes, once again my declaration is “yes” and it is true I am “Anti-National”!22 Lily Zubaidah Rahim, who surveyed the ideas and struggles of radical Malay nationalists in pre-independence Singapore such as A Samad Ismail and Said Zahari, made the following apt remark. Apart from being embroiled in the politics of decolonisation: [ey] transcended the narrow confines of ethnic identity but encompassed identification with the Malay and non-Malay rakyat and included a perspective that was regionalist, internationalist and anti-colonial in a political and economic sense … [they] were also supportive of other anti-colonial nationalist movements that sought







colonialism.23 In the decades aer Separation, Malay literati circles remained very much active, although there was a marked absence of leading ideologues amongst them, unlike the earlier decades. In the socio-political milieu of a decimated political space, one could not expect the literary and

performative domains to continue being a site of critical contestations. Critical voices, especially those not in line with the dominant narrative, found no place for recognition and encouragement. Not surprisingly, literary works marked by domesticated yet oen clichéd issues such as love, daily tribulations, family and personal encounters were not uncommon. Politically charged variants were rare, including critical views on colonialism and the past. But occasionally we come across several leading Malay writers who took up anti-colonialism as a theme in their work, some with more intensity than the rest.24 Two Malay writers warrant special aention. One is Isa Kamari. His historical novel Duka Tuan Bertakhta (Sadly You Rule, 2011)25 provided a narrative from a Malay standpoint on the historic event of 1819, when Singapore was ceded to the British by Sultan Hussein Shah and Temenggong Abdul Rahman. e plot involves other characters such as the legendary wali (saint) Habib Noh and Wak Cantuk the martial arts exponent, all included with the aim to give a supposedly ‘Malay’ insight into that historic event. While such literary creativity can be deemed poetic licence, colonial critiques were not a mainstay of the novel. Instead

it was the roles of the enigmatic Habib Noh and the social critic Munshi Abdullah which formed the moral counterbalance to the failed leadership of Sultan Hussein. As such the voice of critique was oriented more towards failed Malay leadership than colonialism per se. e second is Suratman Markasan. A more blunt, vehement and direct articulation against British colonial legacy was expressed in his “Balada Seorang Lelaki Di Depan Patung Raffles” (e Ballad of a Man before the Statue of Raffles). In this fairly long poem, Suratman writes about an angry madman who poses questions before the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles: Telah kukatakan seribu kali kau menipu datukku hidup mati kau merampas hartanya pupus rakus kau bagikan kepada kawan lawan kau dengar Raffles? Kau dengar? seharusnya kau kubawa ke muka pengadilan.26 I’ve said it a thousand times

you deceived my grandparents totally you seized their properties entirely and greedily you gave it away to your comrades and competitors Are you listening Raffles? Are you? I should have brought you before the law of justice. But this madman’s voice against Raffles is obviously the voice of one who has been the victim of colonialism. A madman being chosen as the instigator reminds us of ‘weapons of the weak’ invoked in confrontations against the dominant power. e fight may be seen as futile, but the very sentiment reflects the angst of humiliation and depravation. e weak, namely the colonised, may have nothing with which to offer serious challenge, except with words affirming their dignity and rights. us, the madman’s curse against colonial figures, is an objection to history by the very people who have been denied mention in history. e poem continues its diatribe against the colonisers: Dosamu tujuh turunan kusumpah terus kau membawa Faquhar dan Lord Minto

siasatmu halus. Membuka pintu kotaku pedagang buruh pemimpin menambah kantung membangun Temasek menjadi Singapura masuk sama penipu perompak pembunuh aku sekarang tinggal tulang dan gigi cuma kusumpah tujuh turunanmu tanpa tangguh!27 Your sins of seven generations, I lay a curse upon them you bring in Farquhar and Lord Minto your intelligence is subtle. By opening the city’s doors to traders, coolies; while your coffers were inflated developing Temasek into Singapore So too enter the swindlers, robbers, murderers I’m now le with only bones and teeth I curse you for seven generations without exception! In another poem, Suratman challenges the dominant historical narrative, yet again reminding us that the victims of colonialism are his people, the Malays:

Di sekolah aku diajar ilmu sejarah Raffles menemui Singapura raja mendapat kekayaan menjadi besar empayarnya sultan mendapat wang menjadi gemuk tubuhnya pendatang bertambah hidupku tak berubah28 In school, I was taught history that Raffles founded Singapore who gained glory, till his empire expanded the sultan received money, till his body grew fat immigrants swarmed in numbers, yet my life remains the same Suratman lamented the fatal consequences of this colonial legacy, namely a kind of cultural and historical amnesia. Pre-colonial historical figures, such as Sang Nila Utama and Tun Seri Lanang were now no longer known by the present generation.29 But it is important, Surtaman points out, to remember those who have enabled this suffering of the people, those whose actions had relegated the plight of his people to the abyss of historical memory.

dan lupa daratan Sultan Husin Syah juga ditambah tipu muslihat Raffles Farquhar tergadai sudah Singapura ke tangan Inggeris30 and Sultan Husin Syah too lost sense of his place added to that were the ruses and deceit of Raffles and Farquhar thus was Singapura pawned into the hands of the British A comprehensive study of the effects of colonialism on the local literati promises many critical insights. As a group, already operating in the vernacular, their opposition to colonialism was expected. Unfortunately, the critical voices of the literati were relegated soon aer independence was achieved, for the reasons deliberated above. e dominant narratives in English have excluded the critical vernacular discourse. Already this very dominant discourse seems allergic to take on a critical anti-colonial posture. Simply put, a study of our historical past will be incomplete if we remain ambivalent towards our colonial past. Exclusion of other narratives will only reveal our biased intellectual horizons, which include

euphoric distractions where post-colonial discourse excites more than our commied anti-colonial critiques. While nativism is easily dismissed as chauvinism, the same hostility is not applied against Eurocentrism. is tendency to shun critical aitudes towards colonialism suggest an academic imperialism at work, which unfortunately could not gain much aention, as the more sophisticated and fashionable ‘post-colonial’ studies abound. Recognising the Space for Colonial Critiques Reading and evaluating the anti-colonial discourse articulated by the Malay literati in decolonising Singapore points us to the anti-colonial sentiments articulated within the local population, or specifically amongst the intelligentsia. By that extension one could also expect such articulations in other vernacular languages. But these very voices are hardly given prominence in the mainstream discourse as if such articulations do not maer or are simply insignificant and unnecessary. Anti-colonial critiques are simply underdeveloped. is very stunted discourse warrants aention, for a society, or discourse uncritical of its

past would not be able to develop a critical consciousness for its present and future. We need, in the words of E H Carr, “a historically-minded generation … which looks back, not indeed for the solutions which cannot be found in the past, but for those critical insights which are necessary both to the understanding of its existing situation and to the realisation of the values which it holds.”31 As long as history remains persistently dictated using a colonial framework and colonial terms, accentuated by cold academia, an alternative historical mode cannot be expected to take root in the social imagination. A discerning, emancipative and engaging discourse is imperative in any society. A euphoric desire to be ‘global,’ oen through mimicking the metropolitan centres of the dominant First World is not the best formula for cultural autonomy, for intellectual captivity is the very dead end for creativity and transformation. is is actually the challenge in many postindependent societies, including ours. Anti-colonial sentiment is oen deemed negatively as partisan, if not emotive or even heavily ideological. Simply put, there has hardly been any interest to collate and recognise anti-colonial discourse as a legitimate area of concern and interest. We

have from time to time, witnessed an academic interest in postcolonialism. While appearing seemingly critical, its commied analysis on the tragedy wrought upon the lives of colonised peoples frequently becomes lost in its overly intricate conceptualisation and verbose theorising. Hence it is not far-fetched to say that the critiques against colonialism are not part of our historical discourse or social memory, nor part of our public conversation. e very tiny circle of literati or scholars writing on it cannot make much impact vis-à-vis the dominant discourse which is rarely critical, and does not allow space for dissenting views. When we commemorated the Bicentennial in 2019, which was supposed to be a reflection of our historical past, critiques of colonialism were neither central nor pursued rigorously. Instead, it was the colonial legacies that seemed to be the mainstay in various events, forums and exhibitions which were organised around it. In fact, even a mood of celebration could be easily detected. is reveals very much the kind of critical scholarship and its aendant discourse developed in the public sphere. Indeed, a Bicentennial

‘reflection’ obviously cannot afford to ignore the phase of colonialism that this island and its people underwent. Moreover our colonial experience could never be understood or narrated as simply belonging within the confines of our present-day territorial boundaries. In more specific terms, our colonialism was part of the colonialism of British Malaya and the Malay world. Hence the articulations of Malayan writers against colonialism, especially those who had worked or transited in Singapore, should also be part of what we can classify as our anti-colonial sentiments and discourse. In developing a critical discourse in contemporary Singapore, a critical engagement when reading history should be a key element. Colonial critiques should not be read as academic opinion nor simply regarded as some distant theoretical postulation. While we can earnestly call for Singapore’s history to be extended beyond 1819, we should not be content that Singapore’s pre-colonial past has finally been given recognition. at pre-colonial past is as important as the colonial phase, and we should not overlook this point. In other words, recognising the pre-colonial past cannot make us less rigorous in probing the colonial past. “By probing the

past,” according to Howard Zinn, “we can counter myths which affect the way we act today.”32 Equally apt is Edward Said’s dictum, when he asserts “colonialism and imperialism are not abstractions for me: they are specific experiences and forms of life that have an almost unbearable concreteness.”33 Moreover, we need a conscious practice of inclusivity, that affirms a plurality of voices in historical and social narratives, such that no one narrative is superior nor beer than another. Privileging one over the other will only limit our intellectual coverage, apart from the fact that such exclusion will sooner or later be subject to greater scrutiny. Aer all, while history in its dominant approach may always be deemed conclusive and authoritative, moral and intellectual imagination always lurks in every corner of each successive epoch to rewrite and reimagine history.

1 Ngũgĩ wa iong’o, “e Politics of National eatre: e Example of Kenya,” TDR: e Drama Review, 62.2 (Summer 2018), p. 19. 2 John Clammer, “e dilemmas of the over-socialized intellectual: the universities and the political and institutional dynamics of knowledge in postcolonial Singapore,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 2.2 (January 2001), p. 203. 3 W F Wertheim, “Asian History and the Western Historian. Rejoinder to Professor Bastin,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 119.2 (January 1963), p. 159. 4 Ngũgĩ wa iong’o, “e Writer in a Neo-colonial State,” e Black Scholar (July/August 1986), p. 6. 5 Syed Hussein Alatas, “Some Fundamental Problems of Colonialism,” Eastern World (November 1956), p. 9. 6 Ahmad Boestamam, Memoir Ahmad Boestamam: merdeka dengan darah dalam api (Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2004). 7 Khatijah Sidek, Memoir Khatijah Sidek: puteri kesateria bangsa (Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1995). 8 See: Rustam Sani, Social roots of the Malay le: an analysis of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (Petaling Jaya, Selangor: SIRD, 2008). 9 “…adalah perlu untuk mencapai kemerdekaan, dan kemerdekaan adalah jambatan ke arah keadilan masyarakat, kemakmuran rakyat….” Cited in Kassim Ahmad,

“ASAS’50 dan Sumber Ilhamnya,” in Esei Sastera ASAS50, edited by A M ani (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1981), p. 27. 10 Keris Mas, Mutiara Fikir Sasterawan Negara Keris Mas (Petaling Jaya: Pustaka Budaya, 1997), p. 60. 11 Translated by Faris Joraimi. 12 All translations are author’s own unless otherwise stated. Api yang menyalanyala ini / Tiup-tiupkan sampai besar / Kita bakar semua kutu kutu/ Dan sampahsampah 13 Siapa mengambil indah? / Memang dunia tak adil; / Yang dijajah tetap terjajah / Yang miskin terus mati kebulur 14 Usman Awang, Jiwa Hamba/Enslaved Soul (Kuala Lumpur: ITBN, 2009), p. 116. Ku balik sejarah yang telah lalu / tempat daging mengaut laba / tempat kebesaran kerajaan Melayu / subur mulia, gagah perwira / Kini hanya jadi kenangan / jadi catitan pena pujangga / untuk menyedar anak pujangga / bekerja terus sampai merdeka 15 See: A Samad Ismail, Memoir A. Samad Ismail di Singapura (Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Press, 1993). 16 Ahmad Sebi, “Samad’s Influence,” in A. Samad Ismail: journalism & politics. Compiled & edited by Cheah Boon Kheng. (Kuala Lumpur: Singmal Pub. Bureau (M),

1987), p. 126. 17 A Samad Ismail, “Antara Dua Kasih” in Ingin Jadi Pujangga: kumpulan cerpen 1944-1991 (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1994), pp. 25–26. 18 Kasssim Ahmad, An Autobiography of a Rebel (Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2020), pp. 99– 100. 19 Kassim Ahmad, “A Common Story,” (1959) in Writing Singapore: an historical anthology of Singapore literature, edited by Angelia Poon, Philip Holden and Shirley Geok-lin Lim (Singapore: NUS Press for the National Arts Council Singapore, 2009), pp. 137–140. 20 Abdullah Hussain, Harun Aminurrashid Pembangkit Semangat Kebangsaan (Kuala Lumpur: DBP, 1982), p. 303. 21 Translated by Faris Joraimi. 22 Said Zahari, Puisi dari penjara = Poems from prison. Disusun untuk penerbitan oleh Usman Awang, (Kuala Lumpur: Setia Murni, 1973), p.17. 23 Lily Zubaidah Rahim, “Daring to Challenge the Status o: e Lateral Vision and Meandering Political Journey of Let Malay Nationalists from Singapura,” in Reading the Malay World, edited by Rick Hosking, Sue Hosking, Noritah Omar and Washima Che Dan, (Kent Town, S. Aust.: Wakefield Press, 2010), p. 62.

24 For instance, in the works of Ahmad Boestamam in Malaya or those early nationalist writers in Indonesia like Tirto Adhi Soerjo and Mas Marco Kartodikromo. 25 Translated into English as 1819 (Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2013). 26 Suratman Markasan, “Balada Seorang Lelaki Di Depan Patung Raffles,” Suratman Markasan: Kembali Ke Akar Melayu Kembali Ke Akar Islam, Jilid 1, Kumpulan Puisi 1954–2011 (Singapore: Darul Andalus, 2013), p. 45. 27 Ibid., p. 47. 28 Suratman Markasan, “Dalam Perjalanan Masa,” Suratman Markasan: Kembali Ke Akar Melayu Kembali Ke Akar Islam, Jilid 1, Kumpulan Puisi 1954–2011 (Singapore: Darul Andalus, 2013), p. 257. 29 Suratman Markasan, “Mencari Melayu Yang Melayu,” Suratman Markasan: Kembali Ke Akar Melayu Kembali Ke Akar Islam. Jilid 1, Kumpulan Puisi 1954–2011 (Singapore: Darul Andalus, 2013), p. 454. 30 Suratman Markasan, “Di Balik Bayang Tun Seri Lanang,” Suratman Markasan: Kembali Ke Akar Melayu Kembali Ke Akar Islam, Jilid 1, Kumpulan Puisi 1954–2011 (Singapore: Darul Andalus, 2013), p. 415. 31 E H Carr, e New Society (London: Macmillan, 1951). 32 Howard Zinn, e Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2009), p. 544.

33 Edward W Said, Power, Politics, and Culture (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007), p. 16.

Opening the Bicentennial: Historical Plurality in Sean Chamʼs Art1 Nicholas Lua e One and the Many I REMEMBER THE BICENTENNIAL in numbers. 2019: the year it happened. 50: for SG50, the previous major public event claiming historical relevance. 2015: the year SG50 happened, celebrating Singapore’s 50 years of independence from Malaysia. 200: the years commemorated since Raffles ‘founded’ Singapore. 1819: the year of that arrival. And now, 700: the new length of the Singapore history promulgated by the Singapore Bicentennial Office. And so, 1299: when Singapore history actually began. But nevertheless, one: one overarching Singapore history in which, to quote from the official Bicentennial website, “[e]ach of us is in some way connected to and intertwined with others.”2 Dates, years, foundings—all concepts the reasonable student or member of the public would tie to history.

So I really also remember the Bicentennial in terms of history. And there were so many histories. I was born in 1994, and I cannot recall a time before 2019 when ‘history’ was debated as hotly, or discussed so widely. e numbers don’t stop. Most recently in December 2019, the scholar Iain Sinclair proposed Singapore has 1,000 years of history at the Indian Heritage Centre’s Sojourners to Selers conference.3 More at stake than the numbers, I realise, is the plurality they represent. e Bicentennial, then, presents itself as an efflorescence. More historical narratives can be told by more people. History books complicated the Bicentennial’s new 700-year narrative. Kwa Chong Guan and Kua Bak Lim’s A General History of the Chinese in Singapore added to that narrative through the lens of race,4 while Eisen Teo’s Jalan Singapura viewed it through movement,5 a perspective the casual reader might find unconventional. Performances added more layers, while inviting the public to reflect on what gets included within Singapore’s history: my personal favourites are Wild Rice’s Merdeka / 獨⽴ /

, the

Esplanade’s Miss British, and the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival’s Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore. Not all this material appeared under

the auspices of the official Singapore Bicentennial Office. is plurality enabled the Bicentennial to grow larger than what the authorities originally mooted. A tension sits at the Bicentennial’s heart, however, for its plurality must somehow remain concomitant with a one-ness. e one, unified Singapore Story: the mythic “version of history Singaporeans are commonly told.”6 Note how in his Bicentennial launch speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong juxtaposed the future’s “richer and greater Singapore Story” with the “personal experiences and collective memories” of the “over 200 groups and organisations” holding Bicentennial commemorative events.7 How can the one co-exist with the many? Sean Cham, an intermedia visual and performance artist,8 answers this question in his two Bicentennial performances: First Storeys, an examination of reselement in Singapore, and e Last Gap, a reflection on the WWII Bale of Pasir Panjang. Cham’s work participates in a broader phenomenon. In engaging with historical plurality, First Storeys aligns with e Future of Our Pasts Festival (TFOOPFest) which commissioned it. In support of the

Bicentennial, TFOOPFest commissioned artists to investigate “less explored narratives” to tell Singapore’s “many pasts.”9 Even as Cham participates in a broader phenomenon, he remains unique in how his performances interrogate two moments crucial to the Singapore Story. First Storeys and e Last Gap present themselves as plugging historical ‘gaps’ in what we know. Grounded in extensive research, both works unearth plural, sometimes even new, narratives about reselement and the Bale of Pasir Panjang. In so doing, Cham challenges the uncomplicated narratives of the Singapore Story and the notion that Singapore’s history can be objective. At times, First Storeys and e Last Gap even destabilise their own narratives, self-reflexively nudging the careful viewer to realise the fallibility not just of Cham’s art, but any historical narrative. is process encourages Cham’s audiences to actively construct their own perspectives on history—instantiating how the Bicentennial’s art has outgrown top-down notions of the Bicentennial. Between the Photo and the Gap: Reading Cham’s Approach to History

Cham’s art, on one hand, is interested in gaps. Cham explores gaps in historical public knowledge, and tries to fill them with what he learns from his research. At the same time, Cham also draws aention to how these gaps can be filled differently, depending on who is trying to fill them. Consider the title of e Last Gap. It refers first to the Malay Regiment’s brave, last-bid defence of “e Gap,” a name for the notoriously curved South Buona Vista Road adjoining Pasir Panjang Ridge.10 It also references the gaps that shape how that bale is portrayed: between Singapore’s nation-state present and British colonial past; emotive memories and objective fact; generations old and young; and many more gaps beside. Consider also the insert provided to aendees of First Storeys, which records the following Q&A exchange between an unknown interviewer and Cham: [Interviewer:] How do you hope First Storeys will contribute to our understanding of Singapore history?

[Sean Cham:] In history, we oen only remember the before, and the aer. But what happens to the in between?11 To Cham, there exists a “before” and “aer” connected by memory, and a silent “in between” that has fallen by the wayside. In the gap of this “in between,” the thinking layperson can ask productive questions. Who are the “we” who own these memories? Is there more than one “we”? at entity’s nature may tell us something about the forgoen “in between.” Gaps are seemingly empty spaces that require filling, and Cham’s art asks us to interrogate the circumstances of that filling. On the other hand, Cham’s art interrogates whether history is as objective as it appears to the average citizen. His 2019 performances may be theatrical, but he first gained public aention as a photographer. e two performances may take place during the Bicentennial, but their roots lie in SG50. For it was during ‘the heritage craze’ of SG50 that Cham took the fiy photos culminating in Yesteryears (2017),12 a series capturing the “abandoned and forgoen places in Singapore through a series of in situ self-portraits.”13 rough the photography of Yesteryears, Cham undercuts

the seemingly objective nature of history—a critique he reiterates in his Bicentennial works. Yesteryears overturns any notion of photographic, and by extension historical, objectivity.14 In this series, Cham actively edits them to feature himself, jarring and out of time, in these forgoen places. Dressed in various costumes, but always a spectral white, in Yesteryears, Cham reanimates these spaces with activities plausible, long-gone and fantastical alike. He transforms these “modern ruins of post-independence Singapore” into speculative dreamscapes. Entry 46 of Yesteryears, for example, features Bukit Brown Cemetery. e cemetery re-entered public discourse and memory when in 2011, Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) decided to build a road through it.15 In one of his photos of the area, Cham appears once in the right foreground, atop the brick steps leading to a Chinese grave. Like the tall grasses obscuring the surrounding graves, the background’s verdantly ominous trees overshadow Cham’s occupation of the space. Faceless in a blank white mask —he is everybody and nobody—Cham fights nature’s unthinking encroachment like some Buddhist protector

deity, his manifold photoshopped arms amplifying his presence. His flowy white robes drape the steps like the pall would a coffin at a Catholic funeral mass, at once apt and impractical in this dirt-covered burial ground. Entry 46 and other photos in Yesteryears do not pretend to be objective photos or archive pieces. Yet Yesteryears also demonstrates that history need not be objective for it to be meaningful. Hokkien mourners may not have literally encountered fantastical white-clad figures while burying their parents in Bukit Brown, but they might have recalled the tale of magical monk Mulian, who rescues his mother from Buddhist hell.16 Cham offers viewers a sense of that bygone socio-religious imaginaire. Yesteryears, like any other history project, remains grounded in research. Reflecting on his artistic process, Cham said in a 2019 interview that: for every Yesteryears shot I did, I [would] read up on the history of the space I would be exploring. It’s all very speculative and it’s difficult to get an all-round history of any space, but I’ll look for articles and stories that are related to the space. en I’ll

conceptualise an image that I think would best represent the space.17 What began in Yesteryears recurs in e Last Gap and First Storeys. Cham recognises that history is not as objective as it appears at first glance— even seemingly accurate photos at best perform the rhetoric of objectivity. Once past this illusion, we learn that meaningful narratives about the past can exist even without any supposed objectivity. When Cham’s art tries to fill the gaps in what we know about the past, it reminds us that there are many ways these gaps can be filled. Gaps are productive spaces: the multiple searching questions asked there lead to multiple and myriad answers. Filling e Last Gap(s) Commissioned by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Centre for the Arts (CFA) for the Bicentennial year,18 Cham’s e Last Gap examines the 1942 Bale of Pasir Panjang during WWII. While Cham examines the Bale’s recurrent use within the Singapore Story, he also finds ambiguity. e Last Gap demonstrates that contingency and uncertainty characterise

knowledge and memory of that Bale—more so than immediately apparent from the Singapore Story. Singapore and Malaysia’s different narratives about the Bale are only the clearest examples of how these gaps can be filled differently to produce multiple narratives. When I aended a preview of e Last Gap on 15 August 2019, Cham made sure the Singapore Story was on my mind. Echoing other epic falls that founded states, such as e Aeneid’s Fall of Troy or the Sejarah Melayu’s Fall of Singapura,19 the Bale of Pasir Panjang occurs right before the Surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942. is last tragic bale kickstarts the Singapore Story, the national narrative that “begins with the harsh years of the Japanese occupation.”20 e performance’s first act, “Regurgitating the War”—the first part of what Cham calls his “syllabus”—begins in a dream classroom. White tables, chairs and slide show; black walls and bright lights. Cham hands out exam scripts to his audience-participants, and I am 16 taking my ‘O’ Levels again. e questions ask me to recall events deployed in nation-building: WWII, SARS and Lee Kuan Yew’s death. I draw Sook Ching at Changi Beach, the Phua Chu Kang SAR-vivor rap, and the queues outside Parliament House.

e Singapore Story is on the syllabus, and I’m not sure I know the ‘right’ answers. e Last Gap demonstrated that portrayals of the Bale reinforce the Singapore Story’s primacy. He drops his MOE invigilator persona, and we move into act two: “Aestheticising the War.” We rearrange the chairs into a U-shape, and are now in a lecture theatre. Cham seems to be a university lecturer. We will analyse representations of the Bale, he tells us, which artists have created based on the facts and stories of others. I remember Cham naming, but not reciting, Edwin umboo’s poem “Adnan & Comrades, Bukit Chandu.”21 Another Singaporean poet, Alvin Pang, is right to recognise the nationalistic character of umboo’s verse.22 “Adnan & Comrades,” with its fateful emphasis on a “soldier’s oath” and “[s]acrifice [that] will never be in vain,” makes sense within the patriotism enjoined by the Singapore Story.23 Created within collective memory, which is “constantly (re)valorized to serve present circumstances,” art like umboo’s re-present the Singapore Story.24 Cham demonstrates that other narratives can be told, and in fact historical accident and uncertainty govern the telling of all these

narratives—more so than we realise. Cham, now a tour guide, ushers us onto a hired bus, which shules us to the Bale’s sites of memory. We enter act three, “Monumentalising the War.” Outside Reflections At Bukit Chandu (RABC), a WWII ‘interpretive centre’ by the National Heritage Board (NHB) which is under renovation,2 5

Cham narrates how the RABC site, in the 1990s, almost became private

land. Had the government not realised the land could commemorate the Malay community’s contribution to the Singapore Story,26 this site would have been forgoen. Cham leads us through Kent Ridge Park, narrating the Bale. He flags uncertainty’s presence: did the Japanese pose as Punjabi or Sikh soldiers during the Bale? It is no longer—perhaps was never—clear. “Did you know that Kent Ridge Park is the Pasir Panjang Ridge where the bale was fought?” Cham asks. I try to reconcile the bale’s tale of heroic tragedy with the leisurely runners at sunset, snuffling dogs on leashes. “No,” replies one middle-aged lady, as we stand around the Bale’s NHB plaque overlooking West Coast, “undergrads used to come here paktor.” Another woman nods her assent. Without the plaque, without RABC, the only tales told here would be romantic liaisons.

We debus one last time on the ridge, at a secluded dead end surrounded by fencing. Cham unlocks the fence, beckons. Gingerly we step into mosquitoes and leaf lier, down green concrete steps and into what I can only call a ruin. Cham tells us that we stand on the top floor of a three-storey observation post built in 1936—on NUS grounds but “untouched by the government.” Consulting Yesteryears aer geing home, I learn this outpost was integral to the Bale, stands on the ridge’s highest point, and once overlooked important British installations.27 No popular narratives of the Bale feature this forgoen site, despite its military significance. Although the outpost presents itself as providing unmediated access to the past, its concrete crumbles and its grilles rust— wiped from public memory. RABC, meanwhile, gets a faceli. When Cham contrasts the way Singapore and Malaysia have talked about the Bale, he makes the case for history’s plurality most clearly. Cut to act four, “Nationalising the War.” is contrast should not be too surprising. Cham found only two WWII museums in Malaysia, but seven in Singapore—and four functioning memorials and twenty WWII sites besides. As mentioned, Pasir Panjang becomes Singapore’s Troy,

Lieutenant Adnan this epic’s protagonist. WWII does not have the same importance in Malaysia’s founding narrative, says Cham. Kuala Lumpur’s National Museum privileges the Malayan Emergency. e two countries share colonial and WWII legacies, but different present circumstances require different powerful official histories. Cham ends e Last Gap with “Remembering the War,” a reflection on all narrative’s contingency and instability. We’re back in the National Education classroom, and Cham asks us, in groups, to consider how we’d tell our story of the Bale of Pasir Panjang. As my group cobbles something together, I suspect that every story, no maer how compelling, retains some fundamental incoherency. e many narratives I met in e Last Gap certainly did. Even e Last Gap gestures at its own fractures. e narratives of Cham’s personae—lecturer, tour guide, teacher, archaeologist and more—crash, diverge and melt into one another, like jagged tectonic plates. e performance disrupts linearity, for its five acts are actually parts V, II, III, I and IV of Cham’s syllabus. Exploring the past, it seems, is an exercise in filling myriad, multiplying last gaps. What WWII scholars Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack write of those captured by

the Japanese Empire could well apply here, and to all historical tellings: there is danger in “reducing these varied experiences, and their place in memory, to one monochrome stereotype.”28 Stories upon (First) Storeys Cham fronts the publicity insert to First Storeys, a work exploring “large scale reselement in Singapore from the 1950s to 1990s.”29 He beams front-and-centre in a black-and-white photo, dressed in white and framed by








photojournalist Larry Burrows’ 1965 photo, “Prime Minister Kuan Yew Lee visiting housing project,” down to the pen at the top-right corner of Lee’s shirt pocket. Lee’s iconic photo most recently fronted A Chance of a Lifetime (2016), the Centre for Liveable Cities’ book. is book, which explored Lee’s role in transforming Singapore’s physical environment,30 retells a familiar strand of the Singapore Story,31 which Cham’s insert calls the “‘kampung to metropolis’ narrative.” At this top-down narrative’s heart, and so retold in “school textbooks, exhibition galleries and official public histories,” is the 1961 fire at Kampung Bukit Ho Swee.32 In this

story, according to scholar Loh Kah Seng, the Housing Development Board (HDB) rehoused fire victims in emergency flats at Bukit Ho Swee, “akin to a modern public housing estate rising literally from its ashes.”33 Cham’s photo differs from Lee’s in one crucial respect. Whereas Lee’s flats flank him triumphantly, their laundry-laden poles proof of housing success, a tall palm tree—equally at home in the kampung—obscures the flats to Cham’s le . e tropical palm, then, haunts the HDB estate with the kampung it has displaced, its nostalgic and romanticised simplicity a counterpoint to Singapore’s uncompromising development. Recall Yesteryears’ engagement with objectivity. Here, in his version of Lee’s photo and First Storeys more broadly, Cham invites his audience to complicate reselement’s one well-trodden narrative with different, plural and perhaps even silent tellings. e “speculative theatrical installation” that is First Storeys explores the costly flipside of Singapore’s triumphalist reselement story. In the show, which I aended at 7.30pm on 2 March 2019, reselement is overseen by the Singapore Housing Improvement Trust (SHIT), a thinly disguised amalgamation of the Singapore Improvement Trust and the

HDB, the two agencies that handled reselement in Singapore.34 e clearly satirical but scatological acronym is critique aplenty. Aer receiving our reselement folders, my audience group becomes prospective resident-reselers. White-clad Reselement Officer (RO) Ng (played by Isaac Tan) shules us around 300 Bukit Ho Swee—in its heyday Bukit Ho Swee Community Centre, built atop the ruins of that fateful 1961 fire—to explain the ‘facts’ of reselement.35 Tragically stuck behind the fourth wall in the ’60s, RO Ng can smugly market scale models of our future flats and a sample flat room, complete with furniture modern for that time. Only his audience can see that this community centre lies abandoned, its black algae-stained concrete and dusty disuse more akin to Kampung Bukit Ho Swee’s ashes than confident modernity. is disjointed, atmospheric ruination accentuates First Storeys’ other tragic stories.36 RO Ng eventually sits my group in a holding area, and we are called in random order before SHIT officers to trade our kampung homes for flats. e point seems to be that no maer how valuable our durian trees and zinc roofs, the flats we receive in exchange are paltry compensation. Drawing from his oral history interviews with reseled

residents,37 Cham enables his audience to experience the injustice underrepresented in official presentations of reselement. e sub-plot centred on two women being reseled, Mdm Hidayah (played by Hasyimah Hassan) and Ms Liu (played by Regina Lim) may be the most tragic. ey interrupt the flat tours to condemn proceedings. As my tour examines the sample flat room, Ms Liu appears behind me, muering in aggressive Hokkien. She smacks her file when I turn to her, complaining in loud Mandarin that her repeated visits to SHIT have not earned her a sympathetic hearing. She cannot live in a flat on her own. Studiously ignoring her, RO Ng raises his voice to extol the virtues of flush toilets. Later in the holding area, an altercation breaks out when Mdm Hidayah and Ms Liu learn that as two unmarried women, despite being strangers and not speaking each other’s languages, they must share a flat. is moment pointedly critiques HDB’s policies that privilege the heteronormative family, while spotlighting the ‘precarious’ situation of single women who do not fulfil “the national responsibility of productive coupling.”38









unsympathetically bureaucratic. He repeats SHIT policy in English to the two uncomprehending women. Who else doesn’t fit, I wonder, or falls into the cracks of the Singapore Story’s edifice? At production’s end, as the audience is guided out, we pass the sample flat room one last time. But it has become Mdm Hidayah and Ms Liu’s shared home. Bowed before the State, the women ended up living together aer all. A stooped, greying Ms Liu sweeps the floor, an equally old Mdm Hidayah hands her an official leer. Cham makes this scene sentimental: the women, who once upon a time could not understand each other, can communicate now. But again, they are displaced by English. Ms Liu, noticing us, asks a girl in the audience to translate the leer. SHIT, it seems, wants them to move again—a story echoed by repeatedly reseled HDB residents.39 eir home is due for demolition. Beyond narrating stories, First Storeys compels its audience to contribute even more complexity to the tellings. We are made to think about real humans negotiating messy life. Despite their unpromising beginnings, Ms Liu and Mdm Hidayah at the end share a genuine affection —one forged not despite, but because of, SHIT’s marginalisation. Stories

like theirs must exist, albeit effaced by the ‘kampung to metropolis’ narrative. Cham’s caricatures, furthermore, are at times so extreme that we are asked to make them realistic. Bureaucrats—SHIT, Stoic, HDB or otherwise—are humans first. Surely there were sympathetic RO Ngs and Pillays in real life, some with reseled relatives, or who had even been reseled themselves? One such RO may not make it into the performance, but he graces the same publicity insert on which Cham’s Lee Kuan Yew photo is printed. When reseling Chinatown’s shophouses in the 1980s, this anonymous RO personally seled the relocation of some physically immobile, elderly women who had been abandoned by their children, even paying their taxi fares so that they could come to sign documents at the main office. In the imagined space of First Storeys, such characters who otherwise leave lile official trace tell—or invite you to imagine—their stories. Concluding in 2006: e Renaissance at Wasn’t On 18 February 2006, e Straits Times published an article titled “Telling the Singapore storyies.”40 e article explores Singaporeans’ increased

interest in history—13 years before 2019. Scholars who have contributed new knowledge about Singapore’s pasts feature in that article, with one of them characterising the moment as a “renaissance of Singapore history.” Graduate students then, Loh Kah Seng, Liew Khai Khiun and um Ping Tjin were quoted on the value of broadening the Singapore Story. Viewed against this past discourse around multiple narratives, Sean Cham’s work suggests a progression since 2006. As the above article demonstrates, conversations about plurality—the move from history to histories—are old. Prefiguring Cham, these researchers hoped that “weaving … disparate voices and multiple versions will knit together a more colourful tapestry of many Singapore stories.”41 Whereas they lamented “difficult access to official documents” and generally produced academic work, Cham can make art that invites public audiences to add to the colourful historical tapestry. Historical-mindedness may have surfaced both years, but 2019 is clearly not 2006. Yet 2006, viewed within Singapore’s larger history, does not feel like a renaissance. e Last Gap may flag SARS’ 2003 and the WWII years as historically crucial, but it probably would not think of 2006. Granted, the

past, even that which is forgoen, shapes the present. Cham’s art builds on earlier tellings. First Storeys’ story draws on the aforementioned Low, whose 2013 book also tells of the 1961 Kampung Bukit Ho Swee Fire. Tours about the Bale of Pasir Panjang predate e Last Gap.42 If we accept the principle that the past survives within the present, we might be tempted to assume that the present can conveniently predict the future. But just as no one remembers 2006, nor could they have anticipated 2020— we cannot assume the Bicentennial’s 2019 and its accompanying historical-mindedness will prove to be a watershed, as opposed to just a moment.

1 I thank Sai Siew Min and Hong Lysa for incisive, constructive comments on this piece, and Tay Jun Hao for reading earlier dras of it. 2 “About the Singapore Bicentennial,” SG Bicentennial, 12 March 2019, hps://www.bi centennial.sg/about/, accessed 5 May 2020. 3 e Straits Times, 22 December 2019, Melody Zaccheus, “Singapore may be 1,000 years old, not just 700 as believed: Study,” hps://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/sp ore-may-be-1000-years-old-not-just-700-as-believed-study, accessed on 23 February 2020. 4 Kwa Chong Guan and Kua Bak Lim, A General History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific, 2019). 5 Eisen Teo, Jalan Singapura: 700 Years of Movement in Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2019). 6 Loh Kah Seng, um Ping Tjin and Jack Meng-Tat Chia, “Introduction: Singapore as a Mythic Nation,” in Living with Myths in Singapore, edited by Loh Kah Seng, um Ping Tjin and Jack Meng-Tat Chia (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2017), p. 2. 7 “Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019,” Prime Minister’s Office, 28 January 2019, hps://www.pmo.gov.sg/New sroom/PM-Lee-Hsien-Loong-at-the-launch-of-the-Singapore-Bicentennial-Jan-2019, accessed on 27 July 2020.

8 “2018 Award Finalist: Yesteryears, by Sean Cham,” Invisible Photographer Asia, 6 June 2018, hps://invisiblephotographer.asia/2018/06/06/awardfinalist-seancham/, accessed on 4 April 2020. 9 e Future of Our Pasts Festival, 2019 publicity booklet, no date, p.3, accessed 4 April 2020. 10 “A Guide to Heritage Roads of Singapore,” NParks, 24 July 2012, hps://www.npar ks.gov.sg/-/media/nparks-real-content/gardens-parks-and-nature/diy-walk/diy-walkpdf-files/heritage-roads-of-singapore.pd?la=en&hash=F68253E9F87AD73B57F0C06C 06AD3E016E9907D0, accessed on 6 May 2020. 11 “First Storeys,” Sean Cham, hps://www.seancham.com/first-storeys, accessed on 10 October 2020. 12 Sean Cham, Yesteryears (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2017). 13 Sean Cham, “Yesteryears (2014-2015),” Sean Cham, n.d., hps://www.seancham.co m/yesteryears, accessed 10 April 2020. 14 Early theorists of photography considered images natural and objective, a claim Roland Barthes repeats: a photo’s literal message is that “the scene is there, captured mechanically, not humanly (the mechanical is here a guarantee of objectivity).” See: Jae Emerling, “Photography theory,” in Grove Art Online, edited by Judith Rodenbeck (Abingdon, Oxon: Oxford University Press, 2020), hps://doi.org/10.1093/gao/978188

4446054.article.T2229380, accessed on 5 June 2020; Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image,” in Image-Music-eory, translated by Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press, 1977), p. 44. 15 Terence Chong and Chua Ai Lin, “e Multiple Spaces of Bukit Brown,” in Public Space in Urban Asia, by William S W Lim (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 2014), pp. 27, 34. 16 Caroline Chia, Hokkien eatre Across e Seas: A Socio-Cultural Study (Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd., 2019), pp. 122–135. 17 “An Interview with Artist Sean Cham,” BooksActually, 10 January 2019, hps://ww w.booksactuallyshop.com/blogs/chowing-fat/sean-cham-interview, accessed on 4 April 2020. 18 “e Last Gap,” NUS Centre for the Arts, n.d., hps://cfa.nus.edu.sg/whats-on/bicen tennial-the-last-gap/, accessed on 30 March 2020. 19 See Book II of e Aeneid for Roman hero Aeneas’ recount of the Fall of Troy: Robert Fagles (trans.), e Aeneid (London: Penguin Books, 2006), pp. 74–102; and see Chapter VI of the Sĕjarah Mĕlayu for the Fall of Singapura: C C Brown (trans.), “Sejarah Melayu or ‘Malay Annals,’” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society XXV, Parts 2 & 3, No. 159 (1952): pp. 40–59.

20 Hong Lysa, “Introduction: Beginning of History,” in Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli, e Scripting Of A National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (Singapore: NUS Press, 2019), p. 6; Hong Lysa, “New Testament: Singapore and Its Tensed Pasts,” in Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli, e Scripting Of A National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (Singapore: NUS Press, 2019), p. 14. 21 Edwin umboo, “Adnan & Comrades, Bukit Chandu,” in e Best of Edwin umboo (Singapore: Epigram Books, 2012), p. 42. Dras of this poem date to 2005, and can be seen in NUS’ digital repository of umboo’s private papers: NUS Libraries, “Poetry,” Edwin umboo’s Private Papers, hps://digitalgems.nus.edu.sg/c ollection/83/items, accessed on 14 May 2020. 22 Alvin Pang, “Reclaiming Literature for Singapore,” s/pores 9 (2011), hp://s-pores.c om/2011/06/reclaiming-literature-for-singapore/, accessed on 10 February 2020. 23 Edwin umboo, “Adnan & Comrades, Bukit Chandu.” 24 Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S A Yeoh, “War landscapes as ‘balefields’ of collective memories: reading the ‘Reflections at Bukit Chandu’, Singapore,” Cultural Geographies, 12.3 (2005), p. 345. 25 “Reflections At Bukit Chandu,” National Heritage Board, 24 October 2018, hps://w ww.nhb.gov.sg/what-we-do/our-work/preserve-our-stories-treasures-and-places/mus eums-and-institutions/reflections-at-bukit-chandu, accessed on 21 February 2020.

26 Cham’s narrative here is consistent with what Hamzah and Yeoh have found. See: Hamzah & Yeoh, “War landscapes,” pp. 349–350. 27 Cham, Yesteryears, entry 43. 28 Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, “Japanese-occupied Asia from 1941 to 1945: One occupier, many captivities and memories,” in Forgoen Captives in Japanese-Occupied Asia, edited by Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2008), p. 2. 29 “First Storeys,” Sean Cham, hps://www.seancham.com/first-storeys, accessed on 10 October 2020. 30 Peter Ho, Liu ai Ker and Tan Wee Kiat, A Chance of a Lifetime: Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2016). 31 Loh Kah Seng, Squaers into Citizens: e 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2013), p. 248. 32 Loh Kah Seng, “e Politics of Fires in Post-1950s Singapore and the Making of the Modernist Nation-State,” in Reframing Singapore: Memory – Identity – TransRegionalism, edited by Derek Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied (Amsterdam University Press, 2009), p. 89. 33 Loh Kah Seng, “e Politics of Fires,” p. 89.

34 Loh Kah Seng, Squaers into Citizens, p. 3. 35 “Preview: First Storeys by Sean Cham (e Future of Our Pasts Festival),” Bakchormeeboy, 12 February 2019, hps://bakchormeeboy.com/2019/02/12/preview-fi rst-storeys-by-sean-cham-the-future-of-our-pasts-festival/, accessed on 18 April 2020. 36 Sean Cham, “Art with the City: e Production of Site-Specific Art in Singapore,” BA esis, Yale-NUS College, 2019, p. 54. 37 Sean Cham, “Art with the City,” p. 50. 38 Lilian Chee, “Unhousing sexuality: Sexuality and singlehood in Singapore’s public housing,” in Sexuality and Gender at Home: Experience, Politics, Transgression, edited by Brent Pilkey, Rachel M Scicluna, Ben Campkin and Barbara Penner (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2020), pp. 36–37. 39 Popspoken, 12 March 2019, Cheryl Tan, “First Storeys: estioning History,” hp:// popspoken.com/arts/2019/03/first-storeys-questioning-history, accessed on 17 January 2020. 40 e Straits Times, 18 February 2006, Zakir Hussain and Sim Chi Yin, “Telling the Singapore storyies,” Insight section, p. S8. Scholar of Singapore historiography Hong Lysa acknowledges this article’s significance when she discusses it in “New Testament: Singapore and Its Tensed Pasts” in e Scripting of a National History:

Singapore and Its Pasts, edited by Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; Singapore: NUS Press, 2008), pp. 14–15. 41 Zakir Hussain and Sim Chi Yin, “Telling the Singapore storyies.” 42 For some examples, consider the Pasir Panjang tours hosted by the NUS Toddycats!, a group of volunteers with NUS’ Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, as recently as 2018 and 2019: NUS Toddycats!, 6 January 2018, Oerman, “Registration open for the Bale of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk – Sun 11 Feb 2018,” hps://toddycats.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/registration-open-for-the-ba le-of-pasir-panjang-commemorative-walk-sun-11-feb-2018/, accessed on 15 June 2020; NUS Toddycats!, 13 February 2019, Kenneth Pinto, “e Bale of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk 2019,” hps://toddycats.wordpress.com/2019/02/13/bale-of-p asir-panjang-commemorative-walk-2019/, accessed on 15 June 2020.

“Giving up an attachment to power”: An interview with Jimmy Ong Alfian Sa’at: I’m going to start by asking: what drew you to exploring Raffles, and the man behind the myth? Jimmy Ong: I think it started as early as 2002, when I was commissioned by Fullerton Hotel. ey wanted a vista of old Singapore. Of a view from Government Hill to decorate the Straits Club. And I was shown an 18th century lithograph, except that they wanted it a hundred times bigger. It’s called What Sophie Saw.

Alfian: So the work would reproduce the colonial gaze, surveying the landscape? Jimmy: Yes, and it got me started on history drawing. Subsequently I did a few more like this one.

Jimmy: So this is the Rampogan Macan. In Javanese, rampogan is like a fight and macan is tiger. It’s a drawing of the aermath between a tiger and a buffalo (banteng), which I did in 2014. It’s now at the NUS Museum. So, basically in the centre is a group of men carrying out a fallen tiger. But the three group-poses of the figures were taken from the internet. I had found photos of the Hock Lee bus riots. is was one of a man being carried out bloody and injured. I just replaced Singapore riot crowds with Javanese characters in my drawing. It’s a kind of coded message. Alfian: So why this juxtaposition between the rampogan and the Hock Lee bus riots? Jimmy: e only thing I have seen of old Singapore that had any bloodshed, was the Hock Lee bus riots.

Alfian: e Hock Lee bus riots was in 1955 right? at was under the David Marshall government, I think. Jimmy: Basically, I was connecting two places based on images of Singapore that I could use for my composition. I didn’t read too much about whether that juxtaposition was accurate; I needed imagery of bloodshed in Singapore that the viewer may find familiar. It was an exercise of artistic licence, to connect two places where Raffles had been. Alfian: But it’s really interesting that you’ve reconfigured it into this scene, which itself is an allegory of anti-colonialism. e Rampogan Macan was a highly symbolic ritual to the Javanese, where the buffalo’s victory was seen as a triumph of the Javanese over the Europeans. And there you have Raffles surveying the scene, looking pensive, maybe even nervous. Jimmy: But I’m also reconfiguring images without telling the viewer where the source is from, to remind the audience that Singapore was once under colonial rule like the Javanese. I’m not sure about you, but in my time, growing up, you cannot talk about the state directly. So you say, “Harry is coming” instead of “LKY is coming.” You say “mata” instead of

“plainclothes” or “ISD.” For a long time I wanted very much to be able to employ that kind of coding in my works. But by the time your generation and the internet came along, that was not really relevant anymore. Alfian: I still think there’s value in coding things though. Even if it’s not so much about responding to censorship, I think it can be about drawing disparate strands into an image, and leing those elements dialogue and speak for themselves. Where was this piece first shown? Jimmy: I had a solo exhibition in 2015. It was at the FOST Gallery in Singapore. e exhibition was called {e History of Java}.

Alfian: at’s referring to the title of the book that Raffles published in 1817, right? Can you tell me more about that exhibition? Jimmy: Yes, it was an exhibition of large charcoal drawings, where I’d shown Raffles at actual historical events like the rampogan, or at the Borobudur ruins. And during the exhibition I also made a performance called Sleeping with Raffles. It was with an installation of Raffles as a textile effigy on a tikar1 embroidered with text from a page comparing the Malay to the Javan. Under more text on the mosquito net, looking so and pliable.

And the following year I was back in Singapore to do a 12-hour sewing on another effigy. is was at the Singapore Writers Festival, where my performance accompanied a durational reading of Meira Chand’s novel A Different Sky. I had decided to make Raffles out of cloth and sewing. I wanted to do something that was slow, feminine and domesticated. e act of cuing, stuffing and embroidering text like taooing and torturing a person. With a group of penjahit (seamstresses) in Yogyakarta to produce a work of seven Seamstresses’ Raffleses in 2016.

And then I re-exhibited these effigies at the OH! Open House exhibition at Emerald Hill in 2018, this time all tied up and hung from the ceiling.

Open House also commissioned a cooking performance where I had a grill made out of two halves of a metal Raffles sculpture and made kueh kapit2 on the grill.

Alfian: Why do you think you moved from drawings to sculpture and installations? Jimmy: Having moved from the US to Indonesia, I wanted to do something new. I’ve been doing drawing for the past twenty-five years. And it was successful, and there was a market for it. But I really wanted to

do something that would break the mould. And actually I was trained in sculpture and performances as well. Plus, the whole energy of Yogya just basically lets you do all of that, with no fear of failing. Because it’s cheap enough to live there for you to fail. So I was doing all that, and I got an assistant to help me. And my assistant was recommending to me, “Oh, would you like more help, more assistants?” So the whole process of it took me into a situation where suddenly I realised I’m the new colonial master. Among the artists there, I’m someone who’s able to employ other artists. Not that the successful Indonesian artists are not employing other artists. It’s just that when they do it it’s not… wrong. (Laughs). I don’t want to be like, just coming in, fabricating things, and then taking things out, which is very colonial. Alfian: I’m intrigued by this self-consciousness you have about the power relations between you and your assistants. e fact that you have this atelier, or studio, and you’re employing staff there. And you felt this arrangement was colonial?

Jimmy: But there were also times when my assistants would dictate to me what to do. For example, we had a six-month research on food. Because they liked to eat, they wanted to show me where all the good food was. e project was mostly taking them out to eat, so I just went along with it. Ethnographic studies of Javanese food. And I found an interesting 1845 book on Javanese cuisine. It described four types of laksa. A Cina laksa, a Portuguese laksa… but today there’s no laksa in Indonesia. So then I was being this colonial, very Singaporean Chinese, “So, let me give you your laksa.” So I tried to re-create those ‘lost’ laksas, and I devised a banquet that I could hold. A performance where I could bring a dish and tell a story that’s related to Raffles’ time in Yogyakarta. Alfian: I want to circle back a lile to all the Raffles effigies you were creating. Were you doing any readings about Raffles during that time? Jimmy: ere was Tim Hannigan’s e British Invasion of Java as well as Peter Carey’s book about Diponegoro3 which had a lot of footnotes about Raffles. Otherwise I’m also very dependent on my assistants, and I consciously wanted to do that, because maybe there’s something else that I

could get from the Javanese archives, or their gossip, their oral history. Maybe they have insights that are not recorded in the books. Unfortunately, most of their knowledge all goes towards the food direction. (Laughs) ere was one nugget, which was also featured in Peter Carey’s book. About a Chinese man called Tan Jin Sing, who was the Kapitan Cina at the time when Raffles was in Yogya. Kapitan Tan Jin Sing was working for the Javanese sultan as a tax collector. He was also friendly with the Europeans, particularly the English. In fact, it was his men who pointed out to Raffles where Borobudur was buried. Interestingly, there was a quote about him that says something like, “Cina wurung, Londo durung, Jawa tanggung.” Which means, no longer Chinese, hardly a European, never Javanese. So this was directed at a Chinese person in 1800s Yogyakarta. And of course I identified with that. It’s also a reversal of fortune for me, you see. Coming from privileged Singapore, I also began to observe, how come in Yogyakarta, the Chinese New Year celebration is kind of quiet? Not only is it quiet, but it is done in

a sheepish way. Behind a lane, you have to go and look for it. And then you realise, we Chinese are actually a minority in Indonesia, and there’s been persecution and genocide involved. With Raffles’ effigies I have taken on the point of view of the Javanese sultan. And what it’s like if you’re the sultan and you’re humiliated. e whole sultan thing is exotic, and beautiful and imperial and grand. So there’s a natural araction to that. It’s a prestigious point of view. Alfian: So right now I’m trying to figure out all these multiple positionalities in terms of identity. On one hand you say that with your practice of employing staff who are from Yogya, that puts you in a bit of a colonial position. But then at same time there are these moments when you feel an identification with the sultan? Jimmy: Well, I choose to take the sultan’s perspective. What would he do to mete out punishment to Raffles as if he was a traitor? Cut off his head and feet. Which is in the tradition of Sultan Agung, the previous sultan. So it wasn’t so much [about] identification, but channelling his power and his prestige.

Alfian: I suppose when we come to a place, a locality, a community from the outside, there are all these complex negotiations. How people look at you, and you’re not completely in control of how people relate to you. I’m just wondering if you’ve had to navigate issues like appropriation, like the permission that’s been granted to you as an outsider to wear their clothes or to sing their songs. Jimmy: I did feel that I didn’t quite belong, even though I was very much accepted by the artists’ community, which showed me great hospitality. As a non-Javanese, I am careful to only have my Javanese assistants perform the songs on behalf of their sultan. But at the same time I’m not really showing a lot of work in Java. Because I’m contracted to only show my work in Singapore. ere was a certain sort of rage, or self-hatred that I had been harbouring. Around that time I was in a long process of going back to the US, to close up my house and process a divorce and move my things back. And it was a painful long process of ending.

And of course my spouse was a white man. Not that he was to be blamed. But because we lived in a situation that was very Waspy4 and very upper middle-class, when we separated, I developed a repulsion for anything I used to love or spent time doing. And I contrasted this with the times when I would go to Yogya, seeing the poverty around me, but the simplicity too. So there was this going back and forth. I was also reading up about Olivia Raffles and how cleanliness and class operated during the time of Raffles in Java. She was not really talking a lot to the Javanese because of language barriers. Alfian: Let’s go back to your readings about Raffles. Was there any moment of discovery? Anything that helped you demystify, or challenge some of the myths you might have held about the man Raffles was? Jimmy: Not really. I started to see him as an alter ego in my work. Especially the period when he was back in Bencoolen aer Singapore. When he was trying to revive something about Java. But it didn’t happen. When he lost his four children outside of England. When he moved back to England and how he was bankrupted, and he had a perpetual migraine

before he died. Now, all that began to resonate with me, with the grief and guilt I was going through. I was thinking, how do you represent a sense of failure and dishonour? So my works were going in that direction. How do I make a monument to commemorate a sense of failure? And the reason being, OK, I can’t change anything about Singapore. If you’re going to announce the Bicentennial of Raffles stepping onto Singapore, I’ll go along with you. But if we’re going to commemorate Raffles, there must be a way in which we can make atonement for what he’s done in Java. at was my take. Alfian: So do you feel that we should have some kind of responsibility, because of our celebration of Raffles? And that the Singapore state has to make restitution, reparations? Jimmy: Yes and no. Before this I was doing a lot of work on ancestor worship. As a gay person who doesn’t have any progeny, I was thinking a lot along those lines. At around the same time, my grandmother had passed away and I was an unmarried old man at her wake. And then my spouse

who I had divorced also passed away. Grief and a funereal mode took over the thinking about my artwork. Home alone in Yogya I was thinking, how could I make some gesture of repair for a deceased person if he was my nation’s ancestor? If Raffles was an ancestor, if we’re going to use him as a national icon, we have to do something for him, right? So there’s a post-funeral ritual that you can do in Chinese culture. It’s called “Por Tor” in Hokkien. It means to patch up your karma. In other words, to increase your merit. And this is usually done by sons, years aer the deceased has passed on. So this went into the exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in 2019, called Poverty ilt/A Year in Java.5 Where I was doing this quasi-pseudo ritual, which was also a wake.

Alfian: But I wonder if there’s a difference between restitution or reparations for the crimes of the ancestor, versus what’s happening here, which is that the ancestor is venerated and you want to increase his merit. Do you see those two things as distinct? Jimmy: You’re right, because Raffles is not actually my ancestor. But that work came out of personal pain and mourning. Alfian: On the subject of reparations, I also wonder what would be the responsibility of the British government then? Because obviously, Raffles furthered their interests and their colonial project. So then what is the

responsibility of the UK to Indonesia, because of that interregnum period, 1811 to 1816?6 Jimmy: Well, you would need to do the regular things—formally apologise, repatriate, give back the stolen things. But that’s all beyond my power. So I’m only trying to do what I can, based on my personal pain. But basically, I’m no longer really interested about Raffles. I was using him as a way of going deeply into my own personal conflicts. It became a way for me to activate my conflicts in order to save myself, not to save anybody else. Liberate me from my own guilt… but along the way I have blurred these things. Mourning for my grandmother, mourning for my ex-spouse, staging a state atonement for Raffles. Alfian: What then is your relationship with Raffles? ere’s one which is sympathy, which I suppose is when we see Raffles as a human being in the twilight of his life, and all the multiple tragedies that have happened to him. So, to see him as someone who’s deeply flawed, to see him as a failure, is one relationship. But did you also feel any kind of identification with him?

Jimmy: It was his opportunism at first, and then later the self-hate that you say is sympathy. I didn’t set about doing a show about Raffles in 2015. If not for the fact that back in 2011, a friend pointed out to me that we’ll have a Bicentennial thing in about eight years’ time. I thought, all right. at would give me time to produce some things that will be in line with a national commemoration. Who knows how things will turn out. In the earlier stages of thinking what I could do about Raffles, it was mostly about what he represented as an economic icon. And that was what I first identified with him. at he was mostly an icon of commerce and prestige. Of being able to trade and continue to do business as usual. So if Raffles was an opportunist, I would also, in the same spirit, be one too. Alfian: So finally, during the Bicentennial, you did your latest Raffles work. Jimmy: Yes, it was in conjunction with the Raffles Revisited exhibition that was held at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Alfian: at exhibition didn’t really ‘revisit’ though. ey just reproduced a lot of things from his perspective. It wasn’t in any way revisionist, I felt.

at was an odd exhibition. Jimmy: I also gave a talk at the museum called {e History of Java} Revisited. And at that talk, I basically got my assistant to sing the babad that was part of the British Library’s manuscript collection.

Alfian: Was this the Babad Bedahing Ngayogyakarta?7 About the destruction of Yogyakarta Palace? Jimmy: Yes. Alfian: e recent Black Lives Maer movement has sent shockwaves around the world. And one of them is regarding the toppling of statues. So this has revived a debate about removing the Raffles statue. What are your thoughts on this? Jimmy: I think changing the plaque on the plinth would be helpful. I think that needs to be corrected. But as for leaving him where he is… we don’t have to give him such a prominent space. I believe his bust used to be under the staircase at the National Museum as an artefact. at was good enough. It’s time we remove the one at Empress Place. But I cannot see how easily we can remove his name from Raffles Hotel, Raffles Institution, Raffles Place… Alfian: But name changes are possible. Raffles Museum became National Museum, and Raffles Library became National Library. In 1960, Rajaratnam spoke in Parliament about the change in the name from “Raffles National

Library” to the “National Library.” And I’ve got the Rajaratnam quote here, which the historian Hong Lysa has shared with me. He said the change “is not a manifestation of oversensitive nationalism nor is it an aempt to obliterate the name of Raffles from the history of Singapore. His name will continue to find a place in the history of Singapore though the place accorded to him in the future may be somewhat different from that accorded him by imperial romantics. Where before the dreams and ideals of Raffles were the motivating force of the ruling class, today new ideals and aspirations have replaced those of Raffles.” So it’s not impossible to do that. It’s whether or not right now you’re trading in imperial nostalgia to sell these brands or images. Jimmy: en my suggestion would be to retain the Raffles, but to put the “ia” at the back, so all these things become “Rafflesia.” So you’re celebrating this pungent-smelling “corpse flower” instead. Alfian: So, like e Rafflesia Hotel? (Laughs) ough some people would say, why did this white man get to name this flower? Because obviously it had an indigenous name.8 But we always refer to these natural historians

who started naming flora and fauna as if they were Adam. at’s also a kind of colonial imprint. On how the world is surveyed and classified and collected. By the way I’m in favour of removing the statue, but also for it to be destroyed. And for that whole thing to be a ritual. Jimmy: I’m trying to devise that ritual. at not only addresses the physical object, but also the internal psyche. Alfian: In a lot of the toppling of statues, people are saying, “You don’t have to destroy it.” You can get a crane to come and remove it properly, and to store it somewhere. But for me the act of destruction, the iconoclasm, is cathartic. It’ll be a kind of exorcism in the presence of witnesses. Jimmy: And performance could help to do that. Alfian: Yes, so maybe there’s something you can read on site, with music brought to the place. If there is the ritual of let’s say, the signing ceremony of 1819, what is that anti-ritual or film negative of that ritual? So this is my point. If we have this Raffles statue in Singapore, and we know of Raffles’ own history and reputation in Java, what is the film negative of the Raffles

statue that we can imagine in Java? What is that opposite? Should it be an opposite? Jimmy: I’m not sure if it can be clearly an opposite. I think what you’ve suggested would be violent. I think for it to happen, it has to be something that you willingly do. It cannot be empty or mechanical. You have to destroy it wholeheartedly. I grew up liking only boyfriends who were white men. It changed because I had a painful experience with that relationship. And my recovery from that relationship happened in a brown community. I also had a lover who helped me recover. But I also realise I’m changing one person for another. If I liked white men previously, now I like brown men. It’s still exoticism of an Other. Either in servitude to the other person, or else to overpower the other person, in a possessive manner. Alfian: What do you think of Singapore’s relationship with the rest of the region? When the National Gallery claims to have the biggest collection of Southeast Asian art, it raises the question of “Who gave Singapore-based

curators or this museum the right to be the centre of surveying the region?” I just wonder, when you have a Raden Saleh9 at the National Gallery, is that an exploitative relationship that you have with the neighbours? Where you’re buying up their cultural treasures, their cultural heritage? Jimmy: Yes, that’s a very colonial relationship. Which is reflected in what museums are about, like the British Museum. Alfian: And the National Gallery is sited, architecturally, in these colonial and neoclassical buildings, so those things don’t help! ey’ve held exhibitions like Artist and Empire10 and one can argue that some of the curatorial direction reproduces a colonial gaze. We’ve yet to come to terms with some of the Nanyang painters who want to be Paul Gauguin so they go to Bali and they think Bali is like a Tahiti, and they paint all these barebreasted ‘noble savages.’ I’m wondering how do you view yourself, as a Chinese artist from Singapore, but instead of exotic Bali, you’ve chosen Yogyakarta. I find it interesting to read your works alongside the Nanyang painters. Because

you’re not there to paint the Javanese in shoulder-baring sarong, or whatever. You’re not trying to capture a Javanese idyll out of your experience there. Jimmy: But that exoticising gaze, exoticising the Other, will always be there. Alfian: But there’s the Nanyang painter going to Bali with their tourist gaze, and their weird ethnographic gaze, versus you who has situated yourself there for a very long time. Jimmy: I haven’t goen rid of my Anglophile… Alfian: But I think you’ve been self-reflexive and critical about it, in ways that I don’t think the Nanyang painters were. Jimmy: I’m only reflective because I’m coming from the other end of it. I was losing the house and the garden in the US. I was becoming poor. I had no legacy to hold on to. at rejection of my privilege is a manner of just making it an easy exit. It’ll be hard for a Singaporean who’s privileged, and powerful, to dissociate the name Raffles from all that is connected to it.

I was with my partner for twenty years. And we got legally married in 2017. But we’d been together since 1996. I had moved lock, stock and barrel over there to the US. He was what I wanted. And for the first ten years we were living in Long Island, New York, and then we moved into a Waspy neighbourhood in Vermont. What was really interesting was that my research into Raffles ran parallel to the failure of my relationship and then the demise of my partner. It caused me to use the research on my work to express what I couldn’t express. As a gay man, who was first married and then eventually widowed. So that has helped me. But it also has made it all very mixed up… the historical, the political, and also the personal. Alfian: Can I ask, and I hope it’s not an intrusive question. Do you think your own desires were shaped by colonialism? Jimmy: Of course. I wanted to go to a concert when I was 15 or 16. Because I was living near the Victoria Memorial Hall. I made myself sit through concerts by the Western orchestra. I was into Western art. I was

interested in Chinese culture too, but that stopped when I was no longer proficient in that language. And if you fall in love with a white world, then you become the white man inside. Which I did. My garden was impeccable, so was my furniture. Watching the sets of Downtown Abbey and Jane Austen movies. And at the risk of psychoanalysing myself, colonial ideas probably shaped me in these unconscious ways. Alfian: And what does decolonising mean to you? Not just in a structural way but also personal and psychological? Jimmy: I think it means giving up an aachment to power. So I think trying to embrace failure would help. Which is why I was intrigued by the part of Raffles aer he fell from grace and went back to Bencoolen. Not much has been wrien about that period. Alfian: And in Singapore, people also don’t write a lot about his time in Java. We still see Raffles as the man who founded Singapore, who facilitated mass migration, who turned it into this entrepôt port. I feel like we’ve not reached a point where we’re examining in what ways was he

quite vicious. e ‘dirty secret’ in Java, which is not in our history books, which has not been acknowledged yet. Because we see Raffles as starting in 1819, the same way we see Singapore starting. We don’t see pre-Singapore Raffles, which is actually where all the darkness is. Jimmy: So we’re basically doing the task of giving that other perspective. It’s going to be one year since the Bicentennial, right? So we have to continue to work on it. Alfian: And this is the kind of pressure that I hope will build, whether it’s through my plays or your artworks. And it will build and build, and one day we’ll find it in the school curriculum. — Jimmy Ong (b.1964) was born in Singapore and currently works from his studios in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

1 A mat usually handwoven out of pandanus leaves. 2 Crispy wafers, also known locally as “love leers.” 3 Peter Carey, Destiny: e Life of Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta 1785–1855 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014). 4 Characteristic of middle- or upper middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. 5 “For his Poverty ilt/A Year in Java, Jimmy Ong collaborated with a group of nyai penjahit (“artist-seamstresses” in Javanese) to create a large quiltwork pieced together from textile scraps collected from sewing sweatshops in Yogyakarta. e work is an ode to Ong’s reflections on poverty and the impact of colonial rule on Java, as well as a tribute to his late grandmother. She became the sole breadwinner and raised seven children on earnings made by sewing buonholes for a factory when his grandfather was stranded on Java in 1948.” Taken from the ACM website: h ps://www.nhb.gov.sg/acm/whats-on/exhibitions/poverty-quilt. 6 In late July 2020, the family of Sultan Hamengkubowono II demanded a formal apology from the British, as well as the return of an estimated 57,000 tons of gold, precious manuscripts and jewellery believed to be looted from the palace during Raffles’ tenure as Lieutenant-Governor of Java. See: Kompas.com, 29 July 2020, Wisang Seto Pangaribowo, “Keluarga HB II Tuntut Pemerintah Inggris Minta Maaf

dan Kembalikan Emas Jarahan,” hps://yogyakarta.kompas.com/read/2020/07/29/134 31511/keluarga-hb-ii-tuntut-pemerintah-inggris-minta-maaf-dan-kembalikan-emas. 7 is was wrien by a Javanese aristocrat called Aryo Panular and which Peter Carey translated in his book e British in Java, 1811-1816: A Javanese Account (Oxford: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1992). 8 Some of the native names for the different species of Rafflesia are kerubut, pakma, bunga padma, padma raksasa. 9 Born in 1807, Raden Saleh is considered the pioneer of modern Indonesian painting. 10 “Organised in association with Tate Britain, the Gallery’s second international exhibition explores the different ways in which the British Empire has been represented and contested through art. It critically examines art produced for the British Empire from a contemporary perspective, and features viewpoints from Southeast Asia. e exhibition also takes a close look at the relationship between colonial experience and the rise of modern art in former colonies such as Singapore, with a special focus on Sir Stamford Raffles.” Taken from the National Gallery website; exhibition held in 2017: hps://www.nationalgallery.sg/see-do/highlights/art ist-and-empire.

“Theatre doesnʼt change anything”: Merdeka / 獨⽴ / and the Performance of the Singapore Bicentennial Joanne Leow “History is not so much fact as a performance.”—Greg Dening1 IN HIS SPEECH launching the Bicentennial of Singapore’s colonial founding, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was frank about the story he wanted to tell regarding the country’s British colonial legacy: 1819 marked the beginning of a modern, outward looking and multicultural Singapore. Without 1819, we may never have launched on the path to nationhood as we know it today. Without 1819, we would not have 1965, and we would certainly not have celebrated the success of SG50. 1819 made these possible. And this is why the Singapore Bicentennial is worth commemorating.2

Singapore may be one of the few post-colonies that credits its postcolonial status to its initial colonisation—an irony that appears to be lost on its leaders. Lee’s fixation with 1819 as the start of this national narrative is no mistake; he is simply elucidating the clear connections between colonial laws and governance and Singapore’s contemporary state. e “decisive and indelible imprint that the British le on Singapore” that he notes in “the rule of law, the parliamentary system of government, even the language [he is] speaking”3 are all discursive forms that have been used to continue to repress, control and censor dissenting views and alternate spatialisations. Tracing a legal history of other various controls in her book Authoritarian Rule of Law: Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore (2012), Jothie Rajah turns to the history of authoritarian lawmaking and legal precedents, among other methods to convincingly argue that the Singaporean state has repeatedly used legal means in order to close down material and textual spaces for dissent, artistic and political.4 Rajah explicitly ties language to this implementation of authoritarian rule:

Citizens are subordinated when the state denies the polysemantic capacity of language and aributes singular meanings to terms it defines, not within legislation, but through public discourse … the state employs its hegemonic dominance of the public domain to assign meaning to opaque legislative text. is practice inherently subordinates citizens because it unilaterally excludes other possible meanings.… is subordination encloses citizens in a discursive world in which the state is the only social actor empowered to engage in interpretation, rendering citizens silent, acquiescent receptors of state meaning-making.5 e closing down of semantic and discursive spaces here is directly linked to the ways in which the authoritarian state aempts to control the arts, official histories and narrative-making. e commemoration of the Singapore Bicentennial is a continuation of this narrative of control, now with slickly produced interactive audiovisual exhibitions, disappearing statues and the co-opting of personal and collective memories to

consolidate the power of the state. In constructing the event of the Singapore Bicentennial, the state sought to control its signification. In the official SG Bicentennial website, in a “Frequently Asked estions” section, the state aempts to explain why the Bicentennial necessitates a 700-year journey and not a 200-year one: e Singapore Bicentennial is a prequel to SG50, and is an opportunity for us to look deeply at our history within the context of a wider time and space. In terms of time, our history is a 700year journey going back 500 years before 1819, and forward 200 years to 2019. 1819 was a turning point in that journey that set us on a new trajectory.6 In response to criticism of its colonial focus, the Bicentennial steering commiee was able to make a quick pivot to alter the narrative of the commemoration—calling it a “prequel” to SG50 celebrations. e use of the word “prequel” here draws from literary, dramatic and filmic traditions, and highlights the artifice and constructed nature of the Bicentennial. e choice of “turning point” is just that, simply a narrative

choice. is choice is directly linked to narrative-creation and performance. It also privileges particular texts about Singapore. As Kenneth Tan points out, [T]he canon of books by Lee [Kuan Yew] and on Lee has formed a kind of sacred scriptural basis for a civil religion that elevates e Singapore Story into the realm of popular piety (and, as with religious piety generally, scripture is venerated but rarely read). is can have the effect of preventing a more questioning, now seen as heretical, stance towards a national history.7 e strong language surrounding this official history perpetuates neocolonial forms of power that allow for conceptions of teleological time and ordered space. is further reinforces powerful narrative structures that eschew alternate ways of understanding history and producing space. e controlled and selective performance of Singapore’s history to its populace and the world at large is thus seen as instrumental to the state’s continued existence and success. In another section of the “Frequently

Asked estions,” to explain why there is a need to commemorate the year, the state notes: We live in a rapidly changing and troubled world. Just as our past was, Singapore’s future is unchartered. It is amidst these uncertainties that we commemorate the Singapore Bicentennial. e commemoration is an opportunity for us to reflect on the traits —openness, multiculturalism and self-determination—that have evolved with us throughout history and are now embedded in the Singaporean DNA. ey could be the key to facing our challenges today, and charting our future tomorrow.8 e state’s distaste for what is “unchartered” is particularly instructive here. e words “chart” and “charter” recalling cartography, colonial laws and privileges. It would be unthinkable to have an ‘unchartered past’ or an ‘unchartered future’—in keeping with the central ideologies of the state, Singapore’s vulnerable nature in “a rapidly changing and troubled world” necessitates this planning. Paradoxically, even as the explication calls for

“openness, multiculturalism and self-determination,” it sees these traits as Darwinian—a product of evolution and ‘embedded’ in Singaporean DNA. In many ways, Alfian Sa’at and Neo Hai Bin’s play Merdeka / 獨⽴ / takes on the anxieties surrounding the idea of uncharting and further, examining the truth in Singapore’s famed “openness, multiculturalism






commemorations appear to extol. In the final scene of the play, the characters ponder their next steps now that they have spent the time doing research on episodes of minor and forgoen anti-colonial histories in Singapore: SIEW: But, now that we have all this material, what do we do? FRANCIS: Well I was thinking… we could make a show. (All react) A theatre show. NORMAN: eatre? FRANCIS: Yes—my company has just moved into our new theatre and… LIYANA: Whoaaa…

ANUSHKA: Nonononono… JARED: eatre? I can’t act! FRANCIS: You don’t have to. Just play yourselves. NORMAN: But theatre doesn’t change anything. LIYANA: Yah. What can your theatre do? JARED: Will the audience need to know who we really are? SIEW: Yeah, because my job at the Ministry…9 is short, rapid exchange at the end of the play raises the spectres of the anti-theatrical impulses in contemporary Singapore. e disbelief, fear, unease and suspicion that pervades the mainstream view of politically minded theatre spills out in the characters’ spontaneous reactions to Francis’ suggestion that they “make a show.” e characters voice their lack of confidence in their ability to act, their disbelief that one might make such a seemingly trivial ‘show’ about these serious histories, and air their fears about being implicated in something which would jeopardise their careers or reputations. ese apprehensions are testament to the fraught position of the theatre scene in Singapore. Norman, however,

points out a far more existential issue, “theatre doesn’t change anything”— which Liyana echoes in her rhetorical question, “what can your theatre do?” ese lines cut to the heart of the play’s self-reflexive nature, its awareness of the artifice and performance inherent in translating history into theatre. It is precisely this metatheatrical gesture at the play’s end, one that makes the audience doubly aware that this play is a play, that encapsulates the power of this self-querying, self-reflexive work. As the characters begin to plan a play, the audience, having just sat through the play, is aware that theatre has already ‘been done’ and is continuing ‘to do.’ In effect, the show is coming to a close and yet, it is still having an effect on how we come to perceive Singaporean history. As the characters have re-enacted the anti-colonial histories and figures that their research has unearthed, the play repeatedly reveals the theatricality of history itself. us, the seemingly powerless nature of theatre is ironically its most potent force. For if it seems that performance and ‘showing’ seem pointless in the power structures of Singapore’s official Bicentennial narratives, the official narratives are revealed to be theatrical in and of

themselves. By using archival documents, historical accounts, political speeches and other ephemera of the past, Merdeka reveals the unstable, constructed and performative nature of all historical narratives and actors. Indeed, by repeatedly using the structure of the play-within-the-play, the performance calls into question the boundaries between the fictive and the real, the actors on the stage and the historical actors in Singapore’s precolonial, colonial and (post-)colonial histories. Further, by allowing each character to choose a story to tell and then critiquing the very racial categories that define (post-)colonial Singaporean stories, the play draws aention to the limitations of both theatre and history as decolonial methods. As one character puts it, “it’s in the stories that we chose to tell.”10 e theatrical space that is constructed in Merdeka is uneven, contested and as one character laments at the end, still inextricably bound to colonial legacies. e play begins with vitrines displaying and objectifying items that were from the colonised, and ends with objects that are British, including a mannequin with a colonial police uniform, as if to flip the mirror of colonial gaze onto itself. In doing so, it challenges

the colonial gaze as it has been internalised and naturalised in Singapore. is is theatre that is highly aware of the unforgiving regime it exists in. As Alexander Feldman argues, ere is always a power imbalance between those who inhabit the stage-world and those above, beyond and outside it. Within this authoritarian structure, however, the play-within-the-play creates a potentially subversive space, permiing the assertion and enactment of truths, through the mechanism of theatre, that challenge the status quo.11 e playful, hyper-dramatic nature of the historical re-enactments of Merdeka allow it to literally ‘play’ with history, to interrogate, parody, satirise and give it a fluidity that is absent in the Singaporean context. It provides a knowing space in which the actors can challenge the orthodox histories that have been promoted and to reclaim the suppressed histories that have been deemed inconvenient. us, if the state has control over the mainstream historical narrative discourse outside the stage-world and further, within the theatre scene through censorship, the play-within-the-

play in Merdeka opens up an alternative space in the mode of the selfconscious,






Singapore’s censorious context, the actors play characters who are acting other characters and in doing so heighten the sense of theatricality, while questioning the ways in which histories are told and retold. In this way, Merdeka aligns itself with the long tradition of postcolonial theatre that through live performance critiques colonialism but also the post-colonial projects of nation-building that continue to use the structures of colonial power. Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins posit: [P]ost-colonial theatre offers the possibility of a simultaneous reading of all the visual and aural signifiers embedded in the text as performance. It lends itself particularly well to the interrogation of spatial and temporal (teleological) aspects of imperialism and facilitates the telling/showing of oppositional versions of the past that propose not only different constitutive events but different ways of constructing that past in the present.12

Merdeka allows us to hear the songs and speeches of the past, re-evaluate visual signifiers like the Raffles statue and other historical artefacts, and thus gives us an opportunity to experience these visual and aural signs in the flesh. In its curation of alternate moments of Singapore’s pre-colonial, colonial and (post-)colonial histories, it is doubly self-conscious as it performs history, quoting directly from archival and source materials, and highlighting numerous possible interpretations of these accounts. e use of metatheatre, a technique that highlights the theatricality of a piece of drama to critique the performance of history and to allow for scepticism at the framing of these narratives, stands in direct contrast to the state’s dominant narratives that brook no dissent. Unlike the state’s account, however, the play, in its historiographic metatheatrical way, remains conscious and suspicious of history’s and theatre’s biases, constructions, imperfections and lacunae. In its eleven scenes, the production eschews a linear timeline, skipping 100 years back to Singapore’s Centenary celebrations, then 65 years ahead to S Rajaratnam’s seminal speech, before moving at breakneck speed to 1812 and so on. e play continues in this vein, bypassing most of the

officially emphasised dates and years with aplomb. e conceit of a history reading group called “Raffles Must Fall” re-enacting historical scenes chosen by its members for their affective, familial, political and personal significance, forces the audience to consider an alternate historiographical method. is is a way of history-telling that suggests echoes and resonances while resisting the desire for strict structures of cause and effect. As the play tells it, it is not because of the vision and foresight of Raffles that Singapore became what it is, instead it was a series of achronological events, each shot through with its own human logic, fallibility and longing. Raffles himself is revealed to be duplicitous and inconsistent in his various iterations. First, unveiled as a statue in 1919—Merdeka emphasises that the sculptural version of the man is a wholly colonial construct, with “his foot squarely planted over what is now British Malaya.”13 What this scene in the play reveals, however, is the artificial pomp and circumstance that underpinned the unveiling of the statue. e campy replaying of the moment, with the actors dramatically assuming the roles of various notable personalities in 1919 undercuts the unquestioned natural primacy

of the colonial-era statue. e geo-political and strategic nature of the choice to retain this statue in Singapore is underlined when the characters quote a speech from Singapore’s first foreign minister S Rajaratnam who rejects “a more lengthy and eye-boggling lineage” for a “knowable past [that] began in 1819.” To choose the former, Rajaratnam cautioned, would be to “turn Singapore into a bloodly14 baleground for endless racial and communal conflicts.” Instead, Stamford Raffles was chosen as the founder of Singapore because it was “the proper use of history.”15 In the scene set in 1812 immediately following this speech, a few years before Singapore’s official ‘founding,’ the play contests the canonisation of Raffles as it enlarges the scope of Singapore’s relevant regional history. It depicts the sacking of Yogyakarta by British soldiers under Raffles’ command—linking the space of the Javanese court to the broader sweep of colonialism in the region. In this scene, Raffles is likened to “a Roman emperor”16 who humiliates the Javanese royalty and loots their treasures and manuscripts. Significantly, the scene is told through the account of a Yogyakarta aristocrat, avoiding the ubiquitous gaze of the colonial historian. From statue to invading coloniser, Raffles is further given

another depiction as a deceitful, enticing diplomat in Munshi Abdullah’s account of him. e play quotes a passage that directly contradicts the previous scene’s depiction of Raffles as a haughty conqueror. In this scene, he smiles “with charm and an open, pleasant face, bowing his head repeatedly, his words as sweet as a sea of honey.”17 Because of the preceding scenes, both past and future, we know that Raffles is play-acting here, aempting to charm and seduce Tengku Hussein into allying with the British. Indeed, later in the scene, in private conversation with his second in command, William Farquhar, Raffles plots to move against the Malay chiefs and secure Singapore as a colony. In a subsequent scene, he calls for a dead body to be paraded through Singapore and then strung up in a gibbet. Ultimately, the play asks what real and tangible truth can be remembered of this figurehead through these historical fragments and accounts. One response is to move beyond simple iconoclasm—as the character Anushka notes, “We need to elevate the other things that have been buried. So Raffles falls in relation to other things rising.”18 e rest of the play is thus devoted to reclaiming lile known histories of Eurasian,

Malay, Chinese and Indian figures. All of these figures sit uncomfortably with Singapore’s official narrative as a cosmopolitan, tolerant and open society. ey reveal multilingual, messy histories that are connected to other political movements in the region and beyond—from the Japanese Occupation to the Indian war of liberation. In the final scene, the characters also note the seemingly ineluctable structures of power that enshrine the word “Raffles” with what is ‘atas’ or of a certain status, embedding the durability of colonial power in each luxury hotel, private hospital, exclusive country club and high-ranking institution. As a counterpoint to this ongoing coloniality, the final scene of the play, scene 11, recalls a moment in 1954 when student activists in Singapore who ran the publication Fajar from the University of Malaya, produced an anti-colonial editorial that evinced a clear awareness of Singapore’s position vis-à-vis the history of global imperialism. As the ensemble cast read this editorial out, alternating each sentence, the theatrical space comes alive with their thoughtful fervour. e play depicts how the Fajar 8 were acquied aer a trial that involved Lee Kuan Yew as an assistant lawyer and transitions rapidly into a re-enactment of

Lee’s speech on 31 August 1963 at a Malaysia Solidarity Day Mass Rally. e anti-colonial language in the Fajar editorial is directly echoed in Lee’s words in this rally as he speaks of “our struggle against colonial domination.”19 e language in his speech recognises the performativity of his own proclamation for the people of Singapore: We have the will to be a nation in our own right. at is the right that we the people of Singapore today proclaim. Our act follows the traditions of the great anti-colonial revolutions in Asia…. If we live up to our convictions, we will stand the test and judgment of history. On the 16th we go on with Malaysia and we will survive, and prosper and flourish. Merdeka! (Audience follows) Merdeka! (Audience follows) Merdeka! (Audience follows)20 Lee’s words here, aempt to will independent Singapore into being. It is an ‘act,’ theatrical, performative, proclamatory and political all at once.

e moment replayed here is a crucial one that blurs the lines between the aspirational dream and strategic reality of seeking decolonisation. It is a moment where the fiction and theatre of Singapore as a post-colonial nation begins as an uerance and ends as a speech act as the crowd joins in his call for freedom. But it is also an incredibly fraught moment—for all the freedom that Lee calls for, it is clear that the play Merdeka exists only because there is so lile in terms of narrating a different tale of Singapore. Just six months earlier, in an episode not included in the play, Lee had imprisoned members of the Fajar editorial board under the Internal Security Act during the controversial Operation Coldstore. Additionally, one might consider how Lee did not actually have the authority to declare Singapore’s independence on this date. In his historical memoir, the leader of the Fajar 8, Poh Soo Kai notes how Lee’s speech was mere performance, a “dramatic gesture: to make a show of defying the British so that he would not appear to be their stooge; to pressure the Tunku to stop wavering on merger… to build himself up as a vibrant and dynamic leader.”21 Elsewhere, Poh, who was imprisoned

during Operation Coldstore, calls this “Lee’s acting out the ritual of independence” (emphasis added).22 True to its metatheatrical form, the actors have already set the audience up to understand their complicity in this troubled yet compelling moment. Breaking the fourth wall, the character Siew addresses the audience directly and asks them to rehearse repeating the word “Merdeka” in preparation for their involvement in the play. Collapsing the boundaries again between past and present, Siew asserts: It is 1963. All of you, all of us, are at the Padang right now. We are aending a Malaysia Solidarity Day Mass Rally. Lee Kuan Yew is delivering a speech at the Padang. He is 39 years old.23 By switching deliberately to the present tense and to the first-person plural, Siew implicates and imbricates the audience in the play and in the country’s collective history. As the theatrical performance re-enacts Lee’s speech, so does the audience step into the shoes of the audience in the Padang—to the point that their bodies and voices are co-opted into the moment, into the uerance of Singapore’s independence. As the re-

enactment ends, the characters immediately begin analysing the significance of this 1963 scene to the construction of the Singapore Story. Unlike most post-colonies that celebrate an Independence Day, Liyana points out, Singapore commemorates a National Day (9 August 1965) that also marks the failure of its merger with Malaysia and its consequent vulnerability. e word that the audience was made to repeat so enthusiastically just a moment before, takes on a quality of even greater hollowness. Still, the play is not done in exploring the polysemous possibilities of the word “Merdeka.” Decentring Singapore’s exceptional post-colonial success, the play ends with a speech by Sukarno at the Bandung Conference in 1955. Francis, the theatre director character in the play, calls it “a gathering of the ird World when that expression meant something positive. A ird Way. An alternative voice to communism and capitalism.”24 However, he also directs the character Norman asking him to read it “as if it’s not a speech.”25 is direction from Francis seems to function as metatheatrical direction against acting itself or perhaps as a direction against the arched, self-conscious performance that the

characters have been engaged in throughout the play as they ostentatiously take on the historical roles that have been assigned to them. In this final part of the play, however, Norman does not perform as Sukarno. And as the other characters join in to share in the recitation of the speech, the polyphony of their voices is that of ordinary people and not historical actors. e play ends with each character quietly saying the word “Merdeka,” with each uerance geing soer and soer, as the stage directions call for the final word to be “almost a whisper.” is quiet reticent, reflective mode, so unlike the melodrama and high intensity of the previous scenes, seems to be an almost antitheatrical gesture, a refusal to participate in the louder, dominant strains of political theatre that it depicted minutes ago. It signals a suspicion of the performance of history through the Bicentennial and state-sanctioned historical modes. Paradoxically, this wariness of performance and a withdrawal from the theatrical opens up the space of the theatre as one of contemplation and possibility in the ongoing process of decolonisation.

1 Greg Dening, Mr Bligh’s Bad Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 292. 2 “Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on 28 January 2019,” Prime Minister’s Office, 28 January 2019, hps://www.pmo.gov.sg/New sroom/PM-Lee-Hsien-Loong-at-the-launch-of-the-Singapore-Bicentennial-Jan-2019. 3 “Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong”, 28 January 2019. 4 Rajah’s book looks specifically at the 1966 Vandalism Act, 1986 Press Act Amendment, 1986 Legal Profession Act, 1989 Religious Harmony Act, and the 2009 Public Order Act as instances where the law was changed in reaction to expressions of dissent. 5 Jothie Rajah, Authoritarian Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 283. 6 Taken from SG Bicentennial website: hps://www.bicentennial.sg/. 7 Kenneth Paul Tan, Singapore: Identity, Brand, Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 49. 8 SG Bicentennial, hps://www.bicentennial.sg/. 9 Alfian Sa’at and Neo Hai Bin, Merdeka / 獨⽴ / 2019), sc. 11. 10 Ibid., sc. 11.

(Script, unpublished,

11 Alexander Feldman, Dramas of the Past on the Twentieth-Century Stage: In History’s Wings (New York: Routledge, 2013), p. 14. 12 Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins, Post-colonial Drama: eory, practice, politics (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 109. 13 Alfian and Neo, Merdeka, sc. 2. 14 e unpublished script of Merdeka uses “bloody,” while the original speech that the play quotes from uses “bloodly.” See hps://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/ pdfdoc/sr19840428b.pdf. 15 Ibid., sc. 3. 16 Ibid., sc. 4. 17 Ibid., sc. 5. 18 Ibid., sc. 6. 19 Ibid., sc. 11. 20 Ibid., sc. 11. 21 Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception (Singapore: Function 8 and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2016), p. 284. 22 Ibid., p. 285. 23 Alfian and Neo, Merdeka, sc. 11. 24 Ibid., sc. 11.

25 Ibid., sc. 11.

Merdeka Texts 1. Excerpts from Raffles and the British Invasion of Java By Tim Hannigan Raffles, on the morning of 20 June 1811, is a man a very long way from the pedestal that was later constructed for him. Amateur botanist, gardener, gentleman scholar, liberal, visionary founding father of a multicultural city-state, and acceptable exception to the ugly rule of European imperialism, he is not. e two preceding centuries of British colonialism had been in many instances shamelessly piratical, but, as with the rival Dutch project, money, not glory had been the motivation. But with a new century opening that was all about to change. Far from standing in contrast to the arrogant and aggressive side of the British Empire, Raffles was actually one of its pioneers. Much has been made of how singularly awful the VOC [Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, abbreviated VOC] had been in their rickety Indonesian empire—and awful they oen were, as those accounts of

torture aest. But even so, Java had consumed and digested the earlier generations of Dutchmen, modified their habits and got under their skin— quite literally—in a way that Raffles and those who came aer him would find abhorrent. ere were the native consorts, and those legions of mixed-race women in sarongs and kebayas for a start. e shuddering disgust of Olivia Raffles and the other English wives at all this was symptomatic of new social aitudes towards native people and native customs that would dominate in the coming decades. e aggressive compunction to crush and humiliate the Javanese courts displayed by her husband, meanwhile, was symptomatic of the equivalent political aitudes that would drive both the British during the rise of the Raj, and the reinvigorated Hollanders once they returned to Java. Raffles, looking out from the pockmarked grey walls of the Dutch fort, across the Alun-Alun with its shot-scorched banyan trees, to the great gateway of the Yogyakarta Kraton, was a new kind of European. e Javanese, peering out across the Alun-Alun in the opposite direction, had had their first unseling, unbalancing, unnerving glimpse of such a man in the person of Daendels, but it was omas Stamford Raffles who was

about to turn their world upside-down. Nothing in Java would ever be the same again. * On Sunday 21 June the Crown Prince was officially appointed as the new British-approved Sultan of Yogyakarta. A proclamation to that effect, prepared in advance, had been pasted up all over town the previous aernoon










Homongkubuana the 2nd has by his crimes and violations of treaty, shown himself unworthy of the confidence of the British Government, and unfit to be further entrusted with the administration delegated to him,” it declared. He had reduced his country to “a state bordering upon anarchy,” and was to be replaced by his son. Any lingering doubts over who was now in charge had vanished, and the coronation ceremony seemed more like a ritual humiliation than a moment of divine royal ascendancy. It was aernoon when the princes and courtiers were ordered to gather in the main hall of the residency, across the road from the fort. Chairs had been lined up on a raised

platform, and sweaty, red-faced Englishmen—looking like demons who had just feasted on unfortunate humans, according to Arya Panular—were seated around the edge of the room. e Javanese were instructed to sit cross-legged on the floor. A proper coronation should have taken place on the Siti Inggil pavilion, the High Place at the head of the Kraton, with the smoking cone of Gunung Merapi presiding to the north and the een of the Southern Ocean in invisible aendance. But correct ceremony counted for nothing now. ere were proud statements of British military triumph and declarations of the justice and mercy of their government, read out in English and translated into Javanese, and the proclamation explaining the dethronement of the old sultan (who was still locked in the fort, and all set for an exile in Raffles’ old stomping ground, Penang) was repeated. e Crown Prince was placed on a seat on the dais beside—not above— omas Stamford Raffles. He was declared to have become Sultan Hamengkubuwono Senopati Ingalaga Ngabdurahman Sajidin Panatagama Kalipatulah the ird, and the golden items of the royal regalia—which had somehow been retrieved from the soldiers’ loot—were handed to him.

Raffles gave the new sultan a formal kiss of congratulation. To Arya Panular, siing amongst the rest of the cross-legged courtiers below the dais, the two men’s pecking at one another looked like the effete fighting of a pair of quails. e senior princes were then called up to pay their respects to the king and his English sponsor. e new sultan sat passively, drained of any visible emotion. Raffles was upright like a Roman emperor. Crawfurd was stalking the dais like some belligerent master of ceremonies, and his purpose became clear when the first of the royal uncles rose to the platform. As a brother of the deposed sultan this prince was quite correct to employ the salutation of an equal to the new ruler, but Crawfurd wanted total submission to the new British vassal. Looming over the man he ordered him to kneel and to kiss his nephew’s knees as if he were the older man. A ripple of unease flowed like a passing ghost through the batik-clad crowd on the floor of the hall, but it was what happened next that le them reeling. Having completed this inappropriate act of humility the baffled prince rose creakily to his feet and turned to Raffles. Bowing respectfully he

extended a hand for a European greeting, but Crawfurd, standing watchfully behind him, snarled angrily. He gripped the nape of the prince’s neck, forced him down onto the floor and thrust his face onto the Lieutenant-Governor’s trouser-clad knees. In two centuries no member of a royal Javanese court had ever made such a humiliating gesture of obeisance to a European, let alone been roughly manhandled into doing so. One aer another the princes of the Yogyakarta court, uncles, brothers and cousins of sultans, rose to the dais like men approaching the gibbet. Outside a nineteen-gun salute thundered from the fort (two fewer shots than the much less grand Sultan of Palembang had merited), and a military band began to play. e sun was slanting away westwards, its light turning coppery against the walls and blazing on the polished swords of the sepoys. All the regiments—foot soldiers, cavaliers, artillerymen—were lining up for a pointed and triumphal show of British military might to underscore the coronation. Inside the residency it was almost dark, but the reluctant princes were still lining up, trembling and sweating, to approach the king and the lieutenant-governor. Raffles kept

his eyes haughtily raised to the dark and dusty heights of the hall. One by one the princes shuffled before him, and one by one Crawfurd ordered them to go down on their knees for the humiliating act of homage, pushing them physically to the floor when they hesitated. Each le the stage and took his seat once more, aching to flee out into the evening, to find some private place to bury his shame. eir eyes flared and flickered in silent turmoil. In the darkness of the room, Arya Panular recalled, even above the racket of the band stomping around on the road outside, you could hear the confused, traumatised and profoundly humiliated princes panting for breath like wounded dogs. If any of them were capable of mustering a single clear thought at that mortifying moment it would have been this: the een of the Southern Ocean was not in the room. 2. Excerpt from the Hikayat Abdullah, Chapter 13: “e Treaty with Tengku Long.” (Translated by A H Hill)

Aer a day and a night at sea he reached Penyengat, Riau, at midnight. Raja Embong landed and went in to see Tengku Long. He said, “Mr Raffles and Colonel Farquhar and the Temenggong Abdul Rahman ask Your Highness kindly to go to Singapore for they wish to make Your Highness Sultan.” ey talked the maer over, just the two of them, without interruption. When Tengku Long heard the news he was surprised, and he pondered it for a while. en he sent for Enche’ Abu, a man whom Tengku Long trusted like his own minister of state. His title was Enche’ Abu Puteh. Tengku Long called him to his house where they discussed what was the best thing to do, for Tengku Long was suspicious. He feared that he was being deceived by Mr Raffles who would seize him and take him to India. en Enche’ Abu made a proposal agreeing with Raja Embong’s, saying, “Your Highness’ servant is at your service and will do whatever is Your Highness’ pleasure, but I consider that our brother Raja Embong intends no harm whatever to Your Highness.” Aer a moment Tengku Long said, “Very well, if that is so go quickly and fetch my keris. Let us leave at once. Make no mention of the maer. If anyone asks say I am going fishing.” en his foster mother came down with a box of his

clothing, and an aendant and Enche’ Abu went down into the boat. ere was no time to take any more stores on board, so Tengku Long ordered another boat to follow on the next day carrying his food; and the cuer and two other boats, a fishing boat and one with the front shaped to be rowed to Singapore. While they were sailing Tengku Long kept repeating of Mr Raffles inviting him to Singapore, for he was as I have said above. e next day the boat bearing the provisions caught up with them in the Lobam Strait. ey sailed on for two days before reaching the Temenggong’s landingstage at Singapore. e Temenggong and Colonel Farquhar came to receive Tengku Long and as they got into the boat Farquhar said, “Let us go and meet Mr. Raffles on the water, for he does not wish to come ashore until you arrive.” Tengku Long said, “Very well,” but his heart was in a fluer for he thought he would be made a prisoner. Tengku Long and Colonel Farquhar went on board together and the boat was paddled out to sea flying a yellow flag. Seeing them approach, those on board Mr Raffles’ ship prepared to receive them, and when they had come alongside the ship Mr Raffles

himself extended his hand to Tengku Long, and salutes were fired by the many ships and ketches. Mr Raffles treated Tengku Long with the greatest respect and honour. He showed all four of them to their seats. Enche’ Abu Puteh sat behind Tengku Long, and Raja Embong a lile further off. Mr Raffles then began to speak, smiling with infinite charm and bowing his head repeatedly, his words sweet as a sea of honey. Not only the hearts of men but the very stones themselves would have melted at the sound of his words, spoken in dulcet tones gentle enough to banish every anxiety and suspicion which might still linger deep down in the minds of his listeners. e waves of doubt which swept over the rocks of anxiety were calmed, the storm clouds and the darkness that presage a tempest, all vanished; until day appeared serene and gentle breezes played from the garden of friendship, and suddenly there rose the full moon shining radiantly as on the fourteenth night of the month to reveal the honesty and sincerity of Mr Raffles towards Tengku Long. In a brief moment all his sorrow turned to joy and his face brightened with relief. One glance showed Raffles the change in Tengku Long’s demeanour, and at once he rose from his chair and shook hands with him. en he led him into his private room and

shut the door. ey conversed together, the two of them, in the room, and nobody knew what secrets they were discussing. I cannot say what passed between them. If I were to know the subject of their conversation I would certainly write of it in this book. Allah alone knows. A moment later both of them came out smiling broadly, shook hands with each other and descended into the boat, where Colonel Farquhar and the Temenggong joined them. e ship’s captain and men carrying all their stores, their equipment and their weapons also went on board. Arrived at the Temenggong’s house Tengku Long put on royal garments while Mr Raffles and Colonel Farquhar together with the ship’s company and the Malacca men gathered and stood waiting in the middle of the open space. A table was placed in position with chairs on either side, and a line of sailors was drawn up to right and le . en out came Tengku Long with the Temenggong and Raja Embong, accompanied by numerous Malay followers bearing a yellow umbrella. As they approached, by the will of Allah there came a shower of rain while the sun shone, which the Malays take to be a propitious omen. Mr Raffles quickly came forward to receive Tengku Long, and together they went into the

tent. Even so Tengku Long was still afraid, thinking that Mr Raffles was deceiving him and wanted to take him off into captivity in India. As he was walking along he said to Enche’ Abu, “Do not move from your place behind me.” Mr Raffles seated Tengku Long in the middle, while he stood on the right and Colonel Farquhar on the le . All the white men raised their hats and folded their arms as they greeted the Sultan. When they were ready a young Englishman stepped forward wearing a cocked hat with bird-ofparadise plumes and the uniform of an officer, thick gold braid covered with a shoulder-cloth, and stood in the centre in front of the table. He produced two scrolls, one in English and the other in Malay. Standing to aention he saluted the Sultan. en he read the English version to the assembly. Aer he had finished reading Enche’ Yahya came forward and read the Malay version. is is what it said, “Be it known to all men that the Governor-General of India has appointed Tengku Long to be Sultan of Singapore and all the territories comprised in it, with the title of Sultan Husain Shah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Mahmud.” en all the white men saluted the Sultan and paid their respects to him, aer which the ship’s

guns fired many times. en the Temenggong, Mr Raffles and Colonel Farquhar escorted the Sultan back to the Temenggong’s house, where Mr. Raffles saluted and said goodbye, shaking hands with him and the Temenggong before returning to the ship. When Mr. Raffles had gone the Sultan said to the Temenggong, “Build me a palace for I wish to bring my wife and all the royal household from Riau.” 3. Excerpts from Tuhfat al-Nafis (e Precious Gi) (Translated by Virginia Hooker and Barbara Watson Andaya) According to the story, news of the confusion reached Singapore and Tengku Besar, son of Tengku Husain, came with Tengku Yahya to smuggle Engku Puteri to the Singapore Straits. When this happened Engku Sayid, Raja Idris, the oldest princes, the dignitaries and the Datuk Syahbandar conveyed their considered decision that Engku Puteri should not be allowed to go to Singapore, although the party was already on board. Tengku Besar then returned to Singapore, without accomplishing his plan, and Tengku Yahya dismantled the tin ridge covering from the roof of Engku Puteri’s house and took it to the Straits.

Folio 320:1 Furthermore, they discussed ways of making His Majesty Sultan Abdul Rahman’s kingdom secure, his installation by beat of drum, and the necessity of obtaining the Johor state regalia, which was in Engku Puteri’s keeping. It was time-honoured custom that if the Johor regalia was not present, the naming of the king of Johor was not legal and public. ese were maers that concerned them as the days went by. Folio 321:11 According to the story, the King of Malacca, ymmerman yssen, came to confer with the Yang Dipertuan Muda of Riau. He then took the Johor regalia from Engku Puteri in a way that did not undermine her position as a princess. e regalia was taken back to Malacca. Folio 328:11 However, there were now two kings in one kingdom, with the boundaries determined by two governments, the Dutch and English, the Yang Dipertuan Muda no longer wanted affairs to continue as before. But the Yang Dipertuan of the Straits cared nothing for these maers and still

continued to exercise his authority in the Riau sphere, in places like Pintu, Serah, Rampai, Duyung and Galah. He even ordered tin on Karimun Island to be developed for export. Several times the Yang Dipertuan Muda sent leers and envoys to the Yang Dipertuan of the Straits, explaining about the boundaries, but to no avail. is became the basis of quarrels and disputes between Yang Dipertuan Muda Raja Ja’afar and Sultan Husain. Folios 349:11-350:1 4. Excerpt from the Hikayat Abdullah, Chapter 14: “Colonel Farquhar Stabbed.” (Translated by A H Hill) I will now tell the story of how Colonel Farquhar came to bе stabbed. It happened in this way. ere was a certain Sayid, a native of Pahang, named Sayid Yasin, who journeyed doing trade between Singapore and Pahang. He had obtained goods on credit from Pengeran Sharif Omar, a native of Palembang, who was in partnership with Sayid Mohammed Junid. Sayid Yasin still owed the balance of a debt amounting to about $400. On his arrival Pengeran Sharif had asked for its payment and this

request had caused bad feeling between them. Pengeran Sharif then took out a summons against him, and the case went before Colonel Farquhar. When the charge had been examined by Colonel Farquhar it was clear that Sayid Yasin did still owe to Pangeran Sharif a further $400. So Colonel Farquhar said to him, “What offer are you prepared to make now? When will you pay the money?” Sayid Yasin replied, “At present I have no money. Wait till next year and I can pay.” But Colonel Farquhar said, “It is not for me to say. You must ask Pengeran Sharif, and if hе is willing I will grant a postponement.” Pengeran Sharif replied, “I cannot allow any further postponement for I wish to sele with my partner Sayid Mohamed Junid.” Colonel Farquhar said to Sayid Yasin, “If you can find someone who will act as surety I can release you. If not you will be locked up.” Sayid replied, “Where can I get a surety? For I am a stranger here.” Pengeran Sharif declared, “Lock him up, sir, if he does not pay the money or find a surety, for I know that he has money and that he is deliberately refusing to pay.” en Pengeran went home. Sayid Yasin was taken by Mr Bernard, the magistrate, and put in gaol at about two o’clock in the aernoon. Now

when he was admied to the gaol he was not examined to see whether or not he was carrying arms. He was in fact carrying a keris which he had secreted inside his coat. Aer he was admied to prison, at about five o’clock the same aernoon he went to find Mr Bernard and said, “Sir, I wish to go and arrange a postponement with Pengeran Sharif,” to which Mr Bernard replied, “All right then. I will tell a policeman to follow you,” and he called a constable, a Hindu, and told him to accompany Sayid Yasin. Evening was drawing on when Sayid Yasin reached the premises of Pengeran Sharif whom he intended to kill. e constable who went with him remained at the gate of Pengeran Shari’s compound while Sayid Yasin went in alone. When Pengeran Sharif saw Sayid Yasin’s determined approach he ran into his room, locked the door and descended from the back of the house to the shore. He made his way to the house of the Resident Colonel Farquhar, and told him that Sayid Yasin had been to his house brandishing a keris in his hand. By this time darkness had fallen. Meanwhile Sayid Yasin stood waiting for Pengeran Sharif who did not appear. So he then le the house. On his approach the constable said,

“Come on, quickly for it is already dark.” Hearing this Sayid Yasin stabbed him and with one blow knocked him sprawling by the gate dead. en Sayid Yasin went back again into the house to look for Pengeran Sharif whom he still meant to kill. But the Pengeran, not daring to return, was still at Colonel Farquhar’s house. At seven o’clock that evening I was walking along on my way to give a Malay lesson to Mr John Morgan. When I was halfway there I met Colonel Farquhar with his son Andrew and his son-in-law Captain Davies, accompanied by four soldiers armed with muskets moving behind them and by a man carrying a lantern in front. Pengeran Sharif was with them. When Colonel Farquhar saw me hurrying along he said, “Where are you going?” I replied, “I am making for Mr Morgan’s house.” He said, “Don’t go there. Come along with us for there is a man who has run amok in Pengeran Shari’s house.” So I went over to them and we set off together. When we arrived at the gate of Pengeran Shari’s compound we all went in and searched the house through to the back. But nobody was there. Colonel Farquhar said to Pengeran, “Where is Sayid Yasin?” He replied, “Sir, he was here but a short while ago.” Although we had all gone inside

nobody had noticed that there was a dead policeman by the side of the outer gate. We all went into the house again, then Colonel Farquhar came out to the road. He thought for a while, then returned to give another thorough search to the whole house and kitchen. Aer that he came out again. He went in and out three times but found no one. Now Sayid Yasin seeing several people approaching went and concealed himself underneath an outhouse, which stood in the centre of the yard underneath a wild mangosteen tree. When Colonel Farquhar was satisfied that a search of the house had failed to find anyone, he went outside and walked up to the bridge. I followed him, wanting to see what would happen. Immediately a thought struck him and he said, “Let us go back to Pengeran Shari’s house.” So everyone returned and went inside the compound. When we reached the centre of the yard Colonel Farquhar prodded with stick under the floor of the outhouse. I was standing close by. en suddenly a hand emerged from beneath the outhouse as Colonel Farquhar leant on his knee, and a glancing blow struck him in the breast, across the top of his coat and shirt. Blood spurted out and he cried, “I have been wounded.” I jumped forward. Blood poured out and covered my coat.

en he fell to the ground. I caught hold of him, and Andrew Farquhar seized his sword and struck out at Sayid Yasin, gashing him from mouth to ear. e soldiers, arriving on the scene, lunged at him with their bayonets as he ran past leaving them holding their rifles. Captain Davies, seeing all this happening, ran to the soldiers’ quarters leaving us all behind. At that time the soldiers’ quarters were on the field in front of the place where the Court now stands. Sayid Yasin died at once. Colonel Farquhar was unable to walk because he was faint from loss of blood. ose of us who had remained there with him, Andrew Farquhar, the lantern-bearer and I, supported him to Mr. Guthrie’s house opposite, where we laid him on a couch. Meanwhile a great hubbub arose, mingled with the noise of people running hither and thither. Colonel Farquhar’s daughters came and wept bierly when they saw his plight. At the same moment Dr Montgomerie arrived. I noticed that he brought a long silver needle with which he probed Colonel Farquhar’s wound. He turned to Colonel Farquhar’s children and said, “Do not cry, the wound is not serious. It is only superficial, not deep, and will heal.” He opened a small phial which he held

to Colonel Farquhar’s nose, and Colonel Farquhar revived. en he opened his clothing, washed away the blood and applied ointment. e affair having become known the house was crowded with people. All the white men came and stabbed and hacked at the corpse of Sayid Yasin until it was so disfigured as to be unrecognizable. en some three or four hundred armed soldiers came running up, not having had time even to put on their uniforms. Some were without tunics, some wearing only loincloths and others hatless. All were clutching their rifles. Some had their powder-flasks slung over their shoulders, others were carrying them in their hands. Behind them a squad of soldiers ran past pulling twelve guns already loaded. All the soldiers surrounded the fence which ran round the Temenggong’s enclosure and mounted the guns on the side facing his house. Other soldiers rushed up holding flints in their hands and stood there, only waiting for the order to touch off the guns, while Captain Davies ran hither and thither with his men. ere was no moon that evening and hundreds of candles, rushlights and lanterns were lit. ere was confusion and turmoil throughout the night. People on the further side of the river came to the scene. Not a single one

of the Malays was to be seen, all of them having been chased away by the soldiers. Mr Raffles rushed up out of breath and dismounting from his carriage ran inside to see Colonel Farquhar. When he saw that Colonel Farquhar was still alive he drove off to view the corpse. A crowd of people carrying flares accompanied him to Pengeran Shari’s compound. Suddenly Mr Raffles’ foot knocked against the corpse of the dead policeman behind the gate, and alarm spread when it was stated that it was a policeman who had been killed. en Mr Raffles carrying a candle went to see Sayid Yasin’s body. He asked the people there, “Who is this man?” None of them knew who he was. He came to me and asked, “Do you recognize this man?” I replied, “No sir.” I had been acquainted with Sayid for we had conversed together at the time of his court case with Pengeran Sharif. But the body had been so slashed that it could no longer be recognized and I did not know who it was. Mr Raffles was obviously suspicious that it might have been the Temenggong’s men who stabbed Colonel Farquhar. Two or three times Captain Davies came to Mr Raffles to ask for permission to fire the guns but Mr Raffles said, “Wait a while.” At last Mr

Bernard arrived coatless, having run across from the side of the river. As soon as he saw the dead policeman he recalled how Sayid Yasin had le on the pretext of asking for a postponement of his debt. So Mr Bernard ran to look at the corpse which he identified as that of Sayid Yasin. His face paled at the thought of his indiscretion, and he went to find Mr. Raffles and saluted him saying, “e dead man is Sayid Yasin. is aernoon he asked my permission to go and ask Pengeran Sharif for a postponement of his debt. I sent this policeman with him.” When Mr Raffles heard this his anger flared up, and he clenched his fist and made as if to strike Mr Bernard in the face, knocking his hat on the ground and saying, “Just remember this. If Colonel Farquhar dies I will have you hanged in Singapore.” Mr Bernard fell on his knees before Mr Raffles begging his pardon. Everyone now knew that the dead man was Sayid Yasin, and that it was he who had stabbed Colonel Farquhar and not the Temenggong’s men. From time to time Mr Raffles went in to see Colonel Farquhar, who was now able to speak, although the doctor had not le his side. Aer a while Mr Raffles came downstairs and ordered some men to go and find a

blacksmith. Four blacksmiths soon appeared, and Mr Raffles drew in the sand a design looking like a frame as high as a man. He said to them, “Make a frame quickly, this evening. I wish to have it by seven o’clock tomorrow morning.” e blacksmiths went back at once to do as Mr Raffles had told them. e same night Colonel Farquhar was taken home. He was helped out and into his carriage, accompanied by all the white men. Mr. Raffles told Captain Davies to order the guns and the soldiers back to their quarters. Aer that four convicts came carrying ropes with which they tied up Sayid Yasin’s body by the legs. ey dragged it to the middle of the open space where there was a guard posted, and dumped it on the ground. e next morning Mr Raffles went to Colonel Farquhar’s house. By this time Colonel Farquhar was able to sit up. Later on there was a gathering of Sultan Husain Shah and the Temenggong with their ministers and elders, and all the white merchants and thousands of the other races aended. When they were assembled Mr Raffles took the chair and said, “Your Highness the Sultan and Tengku Temenggong, what are the customs and laws of the Malay people in the event of a commoner thus

commiing treason against his ruler?” e Sultan replied, “Sir, Malay custom would require that he and his family and relations be killed to the last man, his house uprooted, roof to the ground pillars uppermost, and the soil on which it stands thrown into the sea.” When he heard the Sultan’s words Mr Raffles replied, “at is unjust. Whosoever commits an offence deserves to be punished. But why should his wife and children, who are entirely innocent, also be put to death? Now shall Your Highness and Tengku Temenggong and all of you at this meeting hear that under the laws of the English a traitor must be hanged. If he is no longer alive but dead he may still be hanged, but the Company will make his wife and children an allowance until she remarries or they are old enough to earn their living. at is the law of the white man.” en he ordered Sayid Yasin’s body to be brought and placed on a buffalo cart, and to be drummed round with a proclamation saying, “Come, all of you, and see that this is the man who commied treason against his ruler, and this is his punishment: though he is dead, his body is still condemned to be hanged.” When this had been announced all round the Selement the body was taken to Tanjong Malang, which lies at the

end of Teluk Ayer, where it was strung up on a wooden gibbet erected there, placed in the iron frame already mentioned. e body remained there for ten days or a fortnight, until only the bones were le . en the Sultan asked Mr Raffles for the corpse. It was given to him and he buried it with lustration and prayers. So it was. 5. Excerpts from “Syair Potong Gaji” (e Ballad of Cut Wages), composed by Tuan Simi in Singapore, 1841 (Translated by Faris Joraimi) Our wages are cut while the work increases Our worksite shied from place to place How will all of our hearts not grieve When one man is forced to do the work of three? […] But gloom and doom aended our thoughts We are sunken ships adri in the sea Of salt and rice all run out Not even a morsel yet remained

How cruel is the law of today Sparing no disappointment to one and all How different was the past from the present No mere trifle is this difficulty Not once was sympathy spared For any of us, one and all Sweet at first, but bier now Such is the nature of gain and loss We are fried alive without oil Grilled with the air, boiled with the wind Liver and heart both filled with pain We are paid but in sticks and stones is agony is like no other Like ships wrecked upon a reef Or so many birds without a nest Such is the fate we face today Regulations and rules from the Company—

Who dares defy them even if they wished? It is not just what happens now Even if things worsen we must endure it ese people have come from every country How can they be frightened or scared? If not on land, they sought bounty at sea We do all we can to preserve ourselves Our hopes were higher than the mountain at the Company was the chosen nation Like a great tree offering great shade Shielding us from the heat Like a great well, built of stone With waters clear without compare Deliciously sweet, exceptional indeed at every nation could drink from But all who drank from that spring Now are in great distress

Bearing sorrow and bewilderment eir minds congested and overwhelmed 6. Report on Singapore’s Centenary Day celebrations e Straits Times, 7 February 1919, page 27 CENTENARY OF SINGAPORE Celebrations Brilliantly Successful. Glorious Weather and Gorgeous Crowds. TRIBUTES TO SIR STAMFORD RAFFLES’ MEMORY Singapore passed a landmark in its history yesterday, when the Centenary was celebrated, and it passed it with a joy that was good to see. It was good to see because in it was nothing overdone, but a sense, it seemed, of deep thanksgiving. From the early morning, when representatives of all classes gathered round the statue of Singapore’s founder, till late in the evening when the crowd reluctantly le the race course the celebration seemed marked by a soberness and a dignity of thought and feeling which showed that the community recognized the day as something beer, and of deeper moment, than a mere holiday.

THE UNVEILING CEREMONY e whole of British Malaya was represented at the initial ceremony yesterday morning when H. E. the Governor of the Straits Selements and High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States unveiled a memorial tablet on the base of the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles re-created in front of the Victoria Memorial Hall. Singapore was a city on holiday to welcome him in the performance of a unique function. But apart from the huge crowd assembled from every quarter of the senior Selement’s cosmopolitan population there were also present representatives from the neighbouring Selements as well as from the neighbouring Federated and non-Federated States of Malaya. Indeed, the tribute of the founder of Singapore extended to a much wider field, the Consular body being fully represented, especial aention being directed to the presences of Mr C. H. Lechner, the Dutch Consul, by reason of a most appreciative telegram coming from the Governor General of the Netherlands Indies expressing his congratulations on the day and wishing every success and prosperity to Singapore. ite half an hour before the commencement of the day’s official programme the temporary stands erected on either side of the Ord

obelisk were well-filled and the seating accommodation in the auditoriums of the theatre and the Memorial Hall was beginning to be taxed. Had it not been for the perfect arrangements regarding the disposal of vehicle traffic serious congestion must have resulted. Motor cars, gharries and rickshaws came in from every quarter and the numerous ticket holders appeared to have no difficulty whatever in finding their alloed seats. It was a few minutes before seven o’clock that the first official intimation of animation became known when a band preceding a strong and sturdy contingent of naval men under the command of Lieut. Commander Harvey from H.M.S. Suffolk which leaves to-day for Hong Kong with H. E. Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Tudor Tudor, tramped over Andrews Bridge and formed into file on the right of the statue guarding jealously its well-coveted colour. Shortly aer came the echo of steady footsteps from the archway beneath the clock tower and a detachment of the Manchester Regiment commanded by Capt. McKelvey, with whom was Mr Granville Smith and Mr Semple, swung to the right and halted facing the statue from the le — ordered arms and stood at the “easy.” At this time among those present, including the members of the Legislative and Executive Councils, the

heads of the various Government departments and other officials, as well as representatives of the Consular service, were noticed. Sir E. L. Brockman, KCMG (Chief Secretary to Government, FMS), and Lady Brockman, H. E. Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Tudor Tudor (Naval Commander-in-Chie) and Lady Tudor, H. E. Major-General Dudley H. Ridout (General Officer Commanding the Troops, Straits Selements) and Mrs Ridout, Sir John Bucknill, KC (Chief Justice, Straits Selements), the Hon. Mr Justice Sproule, the Hon. Mr W. George Maxwell, CMG (acting Colonial Secretary), Mr F. S. James, CMG, the Ven. Archdeacon Swindell, Col. Sir Arthur Adams, Col. Fox, commanding the MSVR, Col. G. A. Derrick, VD, Mr H. R. Koek (leader of the Straits Selements Bar), Mr C. S. Lechner (Dutch Consul), Miss Buckle (representing Raffles Girls School), Mr C. M. Phillips (representing Raffles Institution), Mr E. Tessensohn, representatives of the Straits Selements Association, Dato Mahomed and Dato Ismail (representing the Government of Johore), Hadji Mahomed Said (the Sultan of Johore’s private secretary), Major Daud (representing the Sultan of Johore) and Tunku Ibrahim.

THE GOVERNOR ARRIVES Meanwhile the rustle of expectancy was increasing as the crowd swelled. e sun was shining gloriously; but not too powerfully; indeed five minutes before the appointed hour quite a lile shower of rain fell, but not sufficient to drive anyone to cover; it passed almost unnoticed, for everything was so resplendently bright and thought had never been given since an early hour to any jarring note from a climatic view point. When the chimes should have sounded the half hour—and apparently they had been put out of action—the Governor’s car drew up beneath the archway and Sir Arthur Young and the Lady Evelyn Young, aended by Mr Sherwood, the private secretary, were received by Mr Peel, President of the Municipality and Chairman of the Centenary Commiee. Mrs Peel accompanied her ladyship to a seat immediately on the right of the statue, while His Excellency, with Major General D. H. Ridout and staff, proceeded to inspect the guard of honour, the Royal Salute meanwhile having been given and acknowledged. A sharp order followed as Sir Arthur stepped from behind the ranks of the Manchesters, bayonets gliered as the rifles le their shoulders and every man came to the order

and stood at rest while His Excellency proceeded to the base of the statue accompanied by the Municipal President. Mr Peel then addressed His Excellency as follows, “I have the honour on behalf of the Commiee to ask Your Excellency to unveil the commemoration tablet on this Statue of that great Englishman to whose foresight and imagination the British Empire owes the possession of this important outpost. e original Statue on the Esplanade was unveiled by Sir Frederick Weld in 1887 on the occasion of the first Jubilee of een Victoria. I confess I was one of those who considered that the position was probably the best one for it, for it looked very well in the solemnity and Raffles stood facing over the harbour, and one feels if he were here today he would have had a greater pride in the harbour than even in the City which he founded. However there was perhaps the possibility of greater improvement, and I think it will be admied that Mr Campbell Oman, the designer, has carried out his work very creditably and in a very short time and that he is to be congratulated on the success of his efforts. (Applause.) e first hundred years of the life of this Colony have been prosperous, but naturally the last four and a half

years have been full of stress and anxiety in Singapore, as elsewhere throughout the Empire, and we were very fortunate in having your steady hand at the helm. e Empire has come through victoriously, stronger and more united than ever. It seems fit that Your Excellency should be present on this unique occasion as I believe I am correct in saying that in another week your term of office will have exceeded that of any of your predecessors, the next being Sir F. Weld who unveiled this statue. I have the honour on behalf of the commiee to ask Your Excellency to accept this small medal which has been struck in commemoration of the occasion and to unveil the commemoration tablet on this Statue.” 1819-1919 In reply, the Governor, who spoke most distinctly and without hesitation said, “Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you, Mr Peel and the members of the Centenary Commiee for giving me the honour and privilege of unveiling this tablet to the memory of Sir Stamford Raffles who one hundred years ago, with wonderful foresight founded this

Selement then a mangrove swamp with some 150 inhabitants, and I thank the commiee for this graceful memento which you have presented to me. It seems incredible that anyone who was removed from school at the early age of 14 and appointed as an extra clerk in the East India Company should stand out as one of the most marvellous men the British Empire has produced. It must be remembered that in those days a man had great advantages if he belonged to a family of social importance: Sir Stamford although of good origin had not that advantage: his success was entirely due to his own personal exertions and the exceptional gis with which he was endowed. His work was not appreciated at the time; he had many enemies even in high places; he had much to contend with and it was most fortunate for the Empire that he founded Singapore, this child of his, without obtaining the views of his superiors. A week aer the founding of Singapore Raffles wrote that he had established a station here; it was an accomplished fact and the authorities were obliged to acquiesce in adding Singapore to the Empire. His child has grown as he prophesied, a free port, the emporium and pride of the East and may the word be used

when he le the Colony on June 23, 1823, never be forgoen. I must quote his words, they could be not quoted too oen, ‘at Singapore will long and always remain a free port and that no taxes on trade and industry will be established to check its rise and prosperity I can have no doubt.’ In 1882 [sic] Sir Stamford stated that the total tonnage arrived in two-anda-half years since the founding of Singapore was 161,000 tons and the estimated imports and exports £2,000,000. e tonnage that now enters this port yearly is over six million tons and the value of imports and exports in 1917 was 119 million sterling. ese figures show how Sir Stamford’s child has grown and they emphasise the extraordinary foresight of this truly great man. It is pitiful how lile those who have not been out here know of one of England’s greatest men of Singapore. He seems to be known by many at home merely as one who had something to do with the founding of the Zoological Society and Singapore is known as a hot place with a fair amount of shipping. I remember when in 1910 I was in Scotland on leave words to this effect being said to me. I stated that Sir

Stamford Raffles was the founder of the Zoological Society, England and its first President. I gave my views with regard to him. I further remarked that the tonnage of shipping that entered Singapore was double that which entered Glasgow, Leith, Aberdeen and Dundee taken together. I confess that I had a liking for the old site where this statue was unveiled 32 years ago: it was I thought in a commanding and dignified position. I have no doubt, however, that the Commiee are right in having had Sir Stamford’s statue moved to this site; they consider that he will in this place be brought more prominently to the notice of the public, and a change which will bring about a wider knowledge of one of the greatest of the sons of Great Britain is a change well conceived. I am indeed sorry that my friend His Highness e Sultan of Johore is unable to be present today. I received a telegram from him yesterday expressing his regret that, owing to an aack of fever, he was prevented from aending and he wished ‘every success to the day’s celebration.’ It was his ancestor who signed the treaty with Sir Stamford, a treaty which the British Government has never regreed, and I am sure that His Highness will say that he has never regreed it and that under British protection his State

has progressed and prospered with Singapore. Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the older the world becomes the greater will be the place assigned in history to Sir Stamford Raffles. Appreciating the honour which has devolved on me I now unveil this tablet in his memory.” His Excellency then drew a silken cord, separating a yellow and green covering of silk, which had veiled the tablet, and a round of applause consummated the interesting event. en came the presentation of the various addresses for the most part printed on silk and enclosed in suitably inscribed caskets of silver. * STATUE AND SURROUNDINGS e statue is by Mr T. Woolner, RA, and is regarded as an exceptionally fine piece of sculpture while the base also is a beautifully proportioned bit of work. e sculptor had his lile joke which was only brought to light when the statue was taken down, as it is not apparent when viewed in a normal position. On the base is depicted a map showing the Malacca Straits and islands adjoining and Sir Stamford has his foot squarely

planted over what is now British Malaya. Its removal led to the discovery that corrosion was in rapid progress on the underside of the base, where an iron support through one leg had apparently slightly dropped at the time of casting and was not entirely encased in the bronze; consequently the two distinct metals with the moisture geing in from below had set up galvanic action and corrosion. Needless to say, this defect has been put right and all further danger averted. It may be added that the opportunity was taken, whilst the statue was down, of having a plaster cast made of the head for Raffles Museum Library. e following inscription appears on a tablet fixed on the base of the statue unveiled: 1819-1919 is Tablet to the Memory of SIR STAMFORD RAFFLES To Whose Foresight and Genius Singapore Owes its Existence and Prosperity Was Unveiled on February 6, 1919,

e 100th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Selement A small tablet fixed behind is intended to be purely historical and states: e Statue Erected on the Esplanade In the Year 1887 was Removed to Its Present Site in the Year 1919 e purely utilitarian purpose of improving the flow of the traffic in Empress Place and of providing pedestrians with a safe course from pavement to pavement with a safe round the High Street corner of the Memorial Hall towards Cavenagh Bridge and at the same time keeping the statue and its seing axially with the centre of the clock tower—has governed the position, size and shape of the island on which the statue has now been placed. In its new situation the statue is no longer subjected to the indignity of being struck by footballs, nor of the base being used either as a seat of vantage by enthusiastic admirers of the game. Sir

Stamford no longer turns his back on the church but gazes at the spot where he first landed—the mouth of the Singapore River. All statuary, but personal statuary more than any other, to be effective, must have a background. In this instance it was thought desirable to place a semi-circular colonnade as a screen behind the stature, without which Sir Stamford would be lost in the mass of doors and windows of the Memorial Hall. e intention of the colonnade is to concentrate aention on the figure and to achieve the same object that a frame does to a picture; it is an Italian variation of the Doric order, which allows more embellishment than its severe prototypes the Grecian or Roman. In the front of the statue is a marble lined pool, with a couple of fountain jets. Vases and circular seats surround a couple of flower beds. On the removal of the statue from the Esplanade no bole or relics of any kind were found on the site. It may be mentioned here, however, that a bole has been buried at the new site, containing issues of the local newspapers and Government Gazee, a programme of the Centenary and current coins and paper money from one dollar downwards.

Instructions to proceed with the work were received not quite seven weeks ago. A considerable amount of preliminary work in the form of alterations and removal of water and gas mains sewers, electric cables, telephone and tramway overhead wires and posts as well as surface drains were necessary before work could actually be started; further the rainy weather, the Christmas holidays and Chinese New Year intervening naturally tended to retard the progress of the work. e entire work has been designed by and carried out under the personal supervision of Mr W. Campbell Oman, FRIBA, architect to the Singapore Municipality. 7. Excerpts from a speech by Subhas Chandra Bose at a military review of the Indian National Army, 5 July 1943 Soldiers of India’s Army of Liberation! Today is the proudest day of my life. Today it has pleased Providence to give me the unique privilege and honour of announcing to the whole world that India’s Army of Liberation has come into being. is army has now been drawn up in military formation on the balefield of Singapore, which was once the bulwark of the British Empire.

is is not only the Army that will emancipate India from the British yoke, it is also the Army that will hereaer create the future national army of Free India. Every Indian must feel proud that this Army, his own Army, has been organized entirely under Indian leadership and that when the historic moment arrives, under Indian leadership it will go to bale. ere are people who thought at one time that the Empire on which the sun did not set was an everlasting empire. No such thought ever troubled me. History had taught me that every empire has its inevitable decline and collapse. Moreover I had seen with my own eyes, cities and fortresses that were once the bulwarks but which became the graveyards of bygone empires. Standing today on the graveyard of the British empire, even a child is convinced that the almighty British empire is already a thing of the past. When France declared war on Germany in 1939 and the campaign began, there was but one cry which rose from the lips of German soldiers, “To Paris, to Paris!” When the Brave soldiers of Nippon set out on their march in December 1941 there was but one cry which rose from their lips, “To Singapore, to Singapore!” Comrades! Soldiers! Let your bale-cry be,

“To Delhi, to Delhi!” How many of us will individually survive this war of freedom, I do not know. But I do know this, that we shall ultimately win and our task will not end until our surviving heroes hold the victory parade on another graveyard of the British empire, the Lal Kila or Red Fortress of ancient Delhi. roughout my public career, I have always felt that though India is otherwise ripe for independence in every way, she has lacked one thing, namely an army of liberation. George Washington of America could fight and win freedom, because he had his army. Garibaldi could liberate Italy, because he had his armed volunteers behind him. It is your privilege and honour to be the first to come forward and organise India’s national army. By doing so, you have removed the last obstacle in our path to freedom. Be happy and proud that you are the pioneers, the vanguard, in such a noble cause. * Comrades! You have voluntarily accepted a mission that is the noblest that the human mind can conceive of. For the fulfilment of such a mission no sacrifice is too great, not even the sacrifice of one’s life. You are today

the custodians of India’s national honour and the embodiment of India’s hopes and aspirations. So conduct yourself that your countrymen may bless you and posterity may be proud of you. I have said that today is the proudest day of my life. For an enslaved people, there can be no greater pride, no higher honour, than to be the first soldier in the army of liberation. But this honour carries with it a corresponding responsibility and I am deeply conscious of it. I assure you that I shall be with you in darkness and in sunshine, in sorrow and in joy, in suffering and in victory. For the present, I can offer you nothing except hunger, thirst, privation, forced marches and death. But if you follow me in life and in death, as I am confident you will, I shall lead you to victory and freedom. It does not maer who among us will live to see India free. It is enough that India shall be free and that we shall give our all to make her free. May God now bless our Army and grant us victory in the coming fight! Inquilab Zindabad! Azad Hind Zindabad!

8. Excerpts from Oral History Interview with Dr S Lakshmi and Colonel P K Sahgal (Group Interview) by the Oral History Department, National Archives of Singapore, 21 August 1990 (Conducted by Interviewer Miss Irene Lim Ai Lin) Dr S Lakshmi was born in Madras in 1914. She graduated from Madras Medical College in 1939 and came to Singapore in 1940 to start her practice. She was asked by Subhas Chandra Bose to form and organise the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in Singapore. What about your impressions of him, Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr Lakshmi? SL: I think he was the most dynamic person. His personality was such, because can you imagine, the Indian community in Southeast Asia, Singapore, all the people who were le behind were mostly the labourers in the rubber plantations, the workers in the PWD Department [Public Works Department] and pey clerks and office assistants and things like that. And we were able to raise 1000 women to join our women’s regiment because a lot of ordinary regiments are of nurses. But fighting regiments

who are willing to go and fight on the front. So that is only due to his personality and the way that people had confidence in him. IL: at is when he came over to Singapore? SL: Yes. IL: I remember reading it somewhere that when he came over, he actually made a speech at City Hall, at the Padang, right? PKS: At the Padang, yes. IL: Were both of you there? PKS: Yes. IL: What do you recall on that day? PKS: When he finally said, “I offer you nothing else but hardship. Even that, I want blood to pay for the price of Indian Independence,” the soldiers, the civilians, everybody spontaneously pledged themselves to fight for Indian independence and died in the venture. IL: Dr Lakshmi, what do you recall on that day?

SL: e same thing. At that time he said, “is must be a truly revolutionary army. I didn’t want to have just the soldiers from the British-Indian Army who have joined. So I am appealing to all the civilian youths to come forward to join the army. And then finally I am appealing also to women because aer all, half the population of our country consists of women. And the women must be prepared to fight for their freedom, to fight for their independence. And along with the Independence they will get their own emancipation because Indian women have been kept down by social pressures for such a long time, for centuries. Now this is their chance not only to get the freedom of the country, but to get their own emancipation.” And in very simple words he said this. But it has such an effect on women, you know, many of them have small children, they started rushing towards the dais where he was speaking to say that “we will join the regiment and we will fight for the freedom of India.” IL: What was your own personal reaction when you heard that speech about him asking women to come forward to join a fighting regiment?

SL: You see, I had some background to it. Because before he gave that call, he had asked the President of the Indian Independence League in Singapore to suggest to him the name of one woman who would take charge of the regiment. So my name was suggested. And I had five to six hours interview with him where he explained everything and said that it was going to be a very difficult task, that he probably had no right to ask it of anybody, but the situation demanded because the future was bleak and most likely, we would be subjected to all sorts of difficulties during the war and finally, might even have to sacrifice our lives. So we must be prepared for that. For five hours he talked to me about that. So I was already prepared and I had made up my mind that I would join. IL: Where did this meeting take place? SL: In Singapore. Where he was staying, it was near the Sea View Hotel. ere was a house there where he used to stay. I don’t know if the Sea View Hotel is still there. IL: Is it still there? PKS: It is still there.

IL: How did you go about organising the Rani of Jhansi regiment? SL: Well, I started touring all the areas where the Indians were living. And we would have small meetings there. And then we’d have larger meetings. en we started recruiting officers. And these women wanted to join, they would come and have a strict medical examination. And then I went upcountry also. I went to Kuala Lumpur, I went to Penang, I went to Ipoh and recruited from all those places. And then we started a training camp here in October 1943 where the first batch of our new Jhansi Regiment were trained. And we also managed to select some good, smart, intelligent and well-educated girls from them. And they were also sent to the same officers’ training school. And we had some officers from the Rani Jhansi Regiment. IL: Is that the one mentioned by the colonel? SL: Yes. IL: Do they receive the same kind of training as the men? SL: Yes. IL: Were there any criteria for the selection of these women officers?

SL: Mainly physical, you know. ey should be physical, not having disease or weakness or anaemic. Physical was the main [thing]. And the age limit was between 18 [and] 28. IL: So did you get a lot of married women joining? SL: Yes, we got whole families who joined. You know, the husband joined, the wife joined and the brothers and sisters. IL: What about your own family’s reaction? SL: My own family, I mean, my mother and all that were not here. Nobody was here. And I was living with relations. ey had no control over me. ey couldn’t. And they were also in one way or other involved with it. One of my cousins was working in the broadcasting station. And somebody else was a doctor. He also volunteered as a doctor. So there was nobody to disapprove or to prevent me. * IL: Could I put it this way, that this regiment was actually part of the INA? SL: Yes, very much part of the INA [Indian National Army]. All our ranks we had the same pay as the INA, the same rations as the INA. Our food

was much beer because the women used to cook it. Sometimes, you know, some of these ladies, their brothers or husbands, on Sundays they used to come. en we were allowed to give them lunch. So they said, “Oh, there’s some partiality going on here. You’re geing beer rations.” en I took them to the store and I said, “See our rations. Is there any difference?” “en how is it your food tastes different?” I said, “Come to my kitchen and see.” You know, the kitchen we had most wonderful people. ere were some old ladies. I thought at that time they were very old. ey were over 45 or so. And they insisted, because they came first to join the regiment. And I said, “I am very sorry because you’re too old you won’t be able to join.” en they sort of sat outside my office the whole day. And I was using at the time the same building as Subhas Chandra Bose’s office. We always used to leave aer he le. Evening when he was going, he saw all these women, about 20 of them, siing there. So he came and asked me. He said, “Captain Lakshmi, why are they waiting outside?”

So I told him. en he went out and I went with him. en they all went to him and said, “Please tell her that we volunteer. We know that we are old and we probably can’t do strenuous work. We’ll do the cooking.” And they volunteered as cooks. ey put on the uniform and all that. And many of them came with us from Singapore. ey came to Burma. ey went with us in the jungles and till the end, they stayed with us. * IL: Overall, how effective was this Provisional Government of Free India? SL: As far as we were concerned, it was very effective because we were fighting now under the orders of our Government. And later, when the British tried certain INA officers for treason, that was what saved them because they could prove that they were not fighting as deserters or traitors, but they were fighting at the insistence of a newly formed legal Government. IL: How about you, Colonel? How do you see the Provisional Government?

PKS: You see, it was a very important step. Unless the army is part of an organised Government, you’re mere rebels. But once it’s under the international law, the regular army properly organised, properly trained, with a proper code of conduct, proper military law and under a Government recognised by Japan, Germany, Italy, China, part of Czechoslovakia, Burma and other states. So it was a Government which had an international standing. In fact, when we were tried by Court Martial in Delhi, we pleaded that we were an organised army under the auspices of a Provisional Government recognised by other Governments and therefore, we were fighting a civilised war for the freedom of the country. IL: How was it received locally here in Singapore? PKS: ey all welcomed it. SL: Lots of Malay and Chinese girls came up to me. ey wanted to join the Regiment. IL: Did they?

SL: We couldn’t take them naturally because they were not [our nationals]. IL: Dr Lakshmi, how was it that the regiment was called Rani of Jhansi? SL: Because, you know, in 1857, there was what the British called the Indian Mutiny which we feel was also a war of independence. at time the fight was different. You see, the British were swallowing all these small princely states. ey were puing their own puppets to rule and then gradually annexing them. So there was one state of Jhansi where a woman was the ruler because the Rajah died without any heir. And he adopted a small boy who was only a child and his wife was made the Regent. So the British thought this was a very good place to annex because this was a woman ruler. So they aacked her. And she led the army and fought very bravely against the British., In fact, many British historians are saying that very few of the other Indian chiefs and Heads of States fought as bravely as the Rani of Jhansi. And if there’d been more like her, then they would not have been able to take over so easily. So she was a very,

very brave woman. In India, among even the smallest village and all that, they know about her. So Subhas Chandra Bose thought it would be very symbolic to give the regiment her name. 9. “Subh Sukh Chain” Anthem of the Provisional Government of Free India (Azad Hind) Good luck, happiness, peace rains upon us India’s fortune has awakened. e Punjab, Sindhi, Gujarat, the Maratha realm Dravida, Utkal, Bengal e playful oceans, the Vindhyas and the Himalayas, the blue Yamuna and the Ganges— Sing of your righteous qualities, from you derive life From you every being receives hope. India’s blessed name shines as the sun upon the world Victory be upon us! Victory be upon us! Victory be upon us!

(Translated by Devyani Nighoskar and Sravya Darbhamulla)

10. Dr Paglar’s speech and resolution of 2 January 1945, Syonan Shimbun e year 2604,1 just ended, has been a most memorable one, for did it not prove to the Anglo-American enemies that Nippon is capable of dealing crushing and stunning blows wherever and whenever required? Take the air bales fought recently off Taiwan and Philippines for example, where the enemy lost more than half his main naval strength in aircra carriers, baleships, cruises and other war vessels. It has been memorable also for another reason: the people of East Asia more than ever today, fully realise that this war must be won by them, for an Asiatic victory is the only means to world peace.

As we step into the new year, I would like all my Eurasian brothers and sisters of Syonan in one solid body to resolve to work harder and cooperate with the Nippon Administration in every way possible. Let our new year moo be: “Work with a will and work unceasingly for the day of final Victory”. It is true that in the Anglo-American camp today the lives of millions of people there have been made more and more unbearable with the passage of time. ere are strikes, demonstrations, food shortages, sicknesses and disease prevalent in all the areas so-called ‘liberated’ by the Anglo-American forces, both on the European continent and England and America. East Asia, on the other hand, stands firmly united in one solid body. Under the able leadership and brilliant example set us by Nippon, we Asiatics, one billion strong, are solidly united to see that this war will be carried out till final victory is achieved. e task set ahead of each and every one of us is not easy, but are not sacrifices worthy of being made if we realise what Nippon is waging this war form acting as the liberator of all races in Asia? e Nippon people

realise they must and will win this war. We Asiatics also realise that victory must come to us and are determined that this year shall be one which will bring about a turning point in the situation thereby enabling Nippon to secure final victory. Resplendent under the brilliant rays of the sun, warring Nippon is also warring East Asia, greets the new year with surging confidence, unswerving determination and well-founded hope in complete and final victory this year. Let every citizen of Syonan whether he be Chinese, Malay, Indian or Eurasian resolve to go all-out during this year so that the day of final victory can be hastened. In offices, factories, schools, workshops, and out in the fields and farms, each and every one of you can be a soldier on the Home Front. Do your work conscientiously and honestly. Face whatever trials and hardships that may be ahead with a firm spirit and be ready to sacrifice yourselves for the happiness and wellbeing of others and the generations to come. I now ask all of you, ladies and gentlemen, to stand up while I move this resolution:

at we Eurasians in Syonan assembled here firmly resolve to fight shoulder to shoulder with Nippon on the home front and never give up till final victory is achieved. We further resolve to re-double efforts in the New Year, to be good law-abiding citizens of Syonan and to make every sacrifice necessary for the aainment of victory so that the principle of ‘Asia for Asiatics’ may be brought to complete fruition and peace and prosperity reigns once again all over East Asia. 11. I Love My Malaya (1954) I love my Malaya, Malaya is my home. It wasn’t free in Japanese times, today its pain is greater. Who knew dogs would leave and monkeys return To turn Malaya into an ocean of suffering! Oh brothers and sisters, we can wait no more. Who knew dogs would leave and monkeys return To turn Malaya into an ocean of suffering, Oh comrades, quick, arise, we can wait no more! 我爱我的马来亚, 马来亚是我的家乡。

⽇本时期不⾃由, 如今更苦难。 谁知狗去猴⼦来, 马来亚成苦海! 兄弟们呀姐妹呀, 不能再等待。 我爱我的马来亚, 马来亚是我的家乡。 ⽇本时期不⾃由, 如今更苦难。 谁知狗去猴⼦来, 马来亚成苦海, 同胞们呀快起来, 不能再等待。

12. Petition to the Colonial Governor for National Service Exemption (Reproduced in Sin Pao on 11 May 1954) Chinese High School Bukit Timah Road Singapore 8 May 1954 His Excellency Sir John Nicoll Governor of Singapore Government House

Colony of Singapore Your Excellency, We are writing to make a solemn request for exemption from national service. We understand that based on the practice normally applied by democratic states around the world, young students who are still aending schools are given exemption from military service even during wartime as they deserve special treatment, even though there may be no wrien rules to that effect. For example, during China’s war of resistance against the Japanese, while the Nationalist government was engaged in an all-out war, it continued the measure of exempting students from military service because of the importance aached to the preservation of secondary school education. Democratic countries around the world invariably aach great importance to their national secondary education. We only have to look at what is taking place in the education scene in the United States, Australia, and Canada to find proof of this. During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, merciless and heinous as they were, even our enemy did not insist

on carrying out conscription in the country. e British Empire is known to be a democratic country with a long history. It is the country that provides the rest of the world with the blueprint for democratic and legislative governance. erefore, extending exemption to us will surely not diminish its standing in the eyes of the world. Moreover, students who are now of call-up age had actually tasted that bier life as we were forced to go through those very dark days that stretched for three years and eight months during the Japanese occupation. We suffered the ill fate of disruption to our studies as well as all sorts of deprivation. Now, we feel that it is just opportune for us to make up for our losses. Secondary school education represents the very foundation of a country. As Malaya moves towards self-governing status with the help of an enlightened government, it should be encouraging secondary education rather than clipping it. Exempting students from conscription is a critical measure of the moment. If students are conscripted, our studies will be severely jeopardised. As an example, we would not be able to pay full aention to our studies if we go for training. We would not be able to study in peace. Our parents send

us to secondary schools to nurture us with much painstaking efforts. ey entertain no other wish except for us to be equipped with the capability of making a living. Most of us come from poor families. We need to work in order to be able to supplement the family income. Any negative impact that affects our studies and academic achievement would inevitably dash the hopes our parents have placed in us. Secondary school education produces students essential to fill the rank and file of numerous trades and industries. No doubt, we carry on our shoulders the hopes and expectations of society at large. From this perspective, society would stand to lose greatly if we were to be conscripted. Your Excellency, may we therefore request that you show your kind concern for your people and the society in which they live by exempting us from this national service regulation that has been introduced. Yours very respectfully, All students from Chinese High School (signatures)

13. Singapore Chinese Middle School Students’ Union Manifesto on “May 13 Incident” Published in Sin Pao on 18 May 1954 (Translated by Neo Hai Bin) On 13 May, the police beat up students who had gathered for a petition. e truth of the incident was as such: since the government authorities implemented the National Service Registration Ordinance, we were deeply worried that this would affect our school work and our health. Hence, aer seeking advice from our parents, we collectively signed a petition, requesting for exemption from National Service. However, the Governor did not give any verbal or wrien reply even on the deadline for our registration on 12 May. Hence, it was decided that the next day, we would follow the representatives to the outside of the Government House together, to meet the Governor, and to receive the Governor’s reply. On that day, at 2pm in the aernoon, the students gathered and were lining up in an orderly manner on the pavement near the basketball court of Rui Meng School,2 when unexpectedly the Police employed riot squads against

us, and ordered all of us to leave immediately. When our representative approached the senior police officer to request for five minutes to consider our dispersal, the senior officer immediately gave order to aack the students, to use thick ropes and to strangle us against the metal railing, to forcefully pull the students away, to beat the students with batons, leaving many students injured. e students at Jalan Besar Stadium heard about the unreasonable use of force against the students, and so went forth to investigate, but on their way over they were beaten by the police with batons, and even the female students were not spared. At the same time, the police arrested forty-eight students without providing any reason. We were simply waiting for information, without any intention of protesting, and yet the police assaulted the students and humiliated the female students. ere were even some police officers who took the chance to snatch watches and pens from the students. Obviously, we had no intention of holding any processions or demonstrations. Just as the Fajar magazine reported, “…According to the witnesses at the scene, the martial force employed by the police was unnecessary, and except for the events that happened much later, the

students did not display any acts of retaliation.” Can this be called a demonstration? We know that in any democratic country, the petition from the people is a sacred human right. Yet the authorities ignored any human rights, cruelly beating up orderly and unarmed students who had no ill intentions. Is this ‘democracy’? We believe that our actions were absolutely reasonable, and the acts of the police were unreasonable, barbaric, and a blasphemy. We do not understand how the people who live under the laws of such an ancient democratic country as Great Britain can be subjected to such barbaric aacks, and how the authorities can actually ignore such brutality. Obviously, the police were trying to shirk their responsibility for this bloodshed, even when the media and every righteous person harshly scrutinised them. For example, the police spokesman gave a wrien account aer the incident, aempting to brand us, the innocent and humiliated students, as having been “instigated by the Communists,” in order to cover up the bloodied truth. is clumsy aempt by the police can never fool anyone who has common sense. e vice chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Yap Pheng Geck,3 mentioned, “e way the police criminalised the Chinese students as

‘Communists’ is akin to witch doctors using the treatment for a sexually transmied disease on all kinds of sickness.” e authorities seem to think that all righteous acts are instigated by the Communists. If that is so, how do we safeguard our lives and properties? Aer the incident, the authorities did not immediately investigate the officer-in-charge, release the innocent students who were arrested, nor comfort the students who were beaten up. Instead, they released a statement to smear and mislead the public, while we, the innocent students who were arrested, were aacked with groundless accusations. We believe that this is not what a democratic government should be doing. We will stand in front of all members of society, and strongly protest against the government. We stand in front of all members of society, and hereby reiterate our demand to be ‘exempted from national service.’ is ‘demand’ is absolutely reasonable, and we will strive to achieve this ‘demand.’ Aer this bloodshed, we believe that our blood should not be shed for nothing, and unless the government agrees to exempt the students from national service, we will not relent. We will strongly reiterate the eight reasons from Chung Cheng students, and the two reasons from Chinese High

students, and we hope all righteous members of the society will give us their moral support. We hope that the Chinese Chamber of Commerce will support us in our fight for exemption from national service. We believe that the bloodshed on 13 May was an intentional act from the police. As what the Fajar magazine stated, “Without a doubt, on Wednesday (12 May), the police received the order from their high-level superiors to unleash their might and power on the students who petitioned.” Henceforth, the police must take full responsibility for this incident. Also, we will like to state our demands in front of all righteous members of society: 1) at the authorities shall immediately agree to exempt students from national service. is demand shall be our ultimate goal. 2) at the authorities shall immediately investigate the officer-incharge who instigated the bloodshed on 13th May. 3) at the authorities shall compensate all losses incurred by the students, and to punish the police officers who had beaten and humiliated the students.

4) at the authorities shall promise never to employ such methods towards students, and never to arbitrarily issue any derogatory statements. 5) at the authorities shall release all students unconditionally, and to destroy all their fingerprints and photographs etc. 6) at the authorities shall promise not to threaten any member of the society who showed us sympathy, and never to blame the school administration. Henceforth, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all the people, school organisations, labour institutions, unions, and all righteous members of the society who supported us. Finally, due to the severity of the ‘13 May Incident,’ and because our demand for the ‘exemption from national service’ has not been met, we would like to appeal to all students in Malaya, all members of the society, as well as all nations, to give their aention to the ‘13 May Incident,’ and to support our demands. —17 May 1954

14. Aggression in Asia By Poh Soo Kai and M K Rajakumar (1954) Looming large in Asia once again is the threat of Western aggression. e West has been the aggressor in modern history and Asia has suffered bierly from Western barbarity. e bierness of these memories is not easily removed. ey will greatly influence Asian thinking for a long time, until the West proves itself worthy of trust and friendship. is day is yet to come and vigilance is needed to prevent any form of Western imperialism geing a foothold in Asia again. Recent events in Asia give great cause for alarm. We see signs all over Asia that the West is still a menace. In IndoChina the French, backed by American arms, are striving to suppress the Vietminh Nationalists in their struggle for freedom. Republican China is being denied her rightful place in the United Nations, whilst an émigré government is being maintained in Taiwan under the protection of the US navy. Republican India is being dragged into the theatre of war by the purchase of American military bases in Pakistan. Now we are told that

Asia is to be defended, whether she likes it or not. A military pact is being formed against Asian objections and without Asian participation. We view this as being, in Mr A. Bevan’s words, “for the purpose of imposing European colonial rule.” Lile aempt is made to maintain more than a pretence of consulting Asian opinion. e time is past, however, when European nations could make decisions binding on Asia. But this is still not recognized. e South East Asian ‘defence’ pact is the latest example of Western interference. Its immediate object is to stamp out the freedom movement in Indo-China. Its long-term object is to prevent the development of any movement in Asia that will stand up against the West. Asian nationalists must take a firm stand now before it is too late. We must warn the West to “Hands off Asia.” Clearly Asian friendship cannot be won under such hostile conditions. Asia needs Western technical knowledge and we welcome Western friendship. But there can be no compromise with colonialism in any form. “e dramatic change, the psychological revolution” that Jennie Lee

speaks of is needed. Anti-communism is not a substitute for this. Yet apparently this negative philosophy is all that the West can offer. e prospect of Asia ‘going communism’ has been responsible in a large measure for every major Western concession ranging from Indian Independence to land for the Chinese squaer in Malaya. Is it therefore surprising that the spectre of Communism haunting the West should leave Asia unperturbed? Is it any wonder that Asia will have nothing to do with anti-communist fronts? For that is not our problem. We need peace and freedom. e solidarity of Asia is the solidarity of the suppressed. is alone is our fight and we will fight our fight and we will be dragged into no other. Our sympathies are with all people like us who are thirsting for peace and freedom. We are therefore comrades of the African struggling for the most elementary human rights, of the Indo-Chinese fighting for his freedom. Our enemies are those who would deny us these rights. Malaya, however, cannot choose. It is one more pimple on the face of Asia where a Colonial Power rules with the help of quislings. As such our interests will always be sacrificed to imperial expediency. us we see our country being commied into a military alliance, the SEATO [Southeast

Asia Treaty Organisation], without the sanction of its people. Our young men are being conscripted; our land is being turned into a military base. Our country is to fight in wars over whose making it will not have any say. We must collaborate in crushing the Indo-Chinese people. We are to be the allies of petite fascists like Syngman Rhee, Chiang Kai Chek and Phibun Songgram who stand for totalitarian tyranny. We would rather stand with Republican India, Republican China, Republican Burma and their allies in Asia and Africa. e people of this country do not identify themselves with the actions of the Colonial government. 15. Excerpts from opening address of the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung by Sukarno, first President of the Republic of Indonesia, 1955 Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Sisters and Brothers. It is my great honour and privilege on this historic day to bid you welcome to Indonesia. On behalf of the people and government of Indonesia—your hosts—I beg your understanding and forbearance if some

circumstances in our country do not meet your expectation. We have, I assure you, done our best to make your stay amongst us memorable for both our guests and your hosts. We hope that the warmth of our welcome will compensate for whatever material shortcomings there may be. As I survey this hall and the distinguished guests gathered here, my heart is filled with emotion. is is the first intercontinental conference of coloured peoples in the history of mankind! I am proud that my country is your host. I am happy that you were able to accept the invitations extended by the Five Sponsoring Countries. But also I cannot restrain feelings of sadness when I recall the tribulations through which many of our peoples have so recently passed, tribulations which have exacted a heavy toll in life, in material things, and in the things of the spirit. I recognise that we are gathered here today as a result of sacrifices. Sacrifices made by our forefathers and by the people of our own and younger generations. For me, this hall is filled not only by the leaders of the nations of Asia and Africa; it also contains within its walls the undying, the indomitable, the invincible spirit of those who went before us. eir struggle and sacrifice paved the way for this meeting of the

highest representatives of independent and sovereign nations from two of the biggest continents of the globe. It is a new departure in the history of the world that leaders of Asian and African peoples can meet together in their own countries to discuss and deliberate upon maers of common concern. Only a few decades ago it was frequently necessary to travel to other countries and even other continents before the spokesmen of our peoples could confer. I recall in this connection the Conference of the ‘League Against Imperialism and Colonialism’ which was held in Brussels almost thirty years ago. At that Conference many distinguished Delegates who are present here today met each other and found new strength in their fight for independence. But that was a meeting place thousands of miles away, amidst foreign people, in a foreign country, in a foreign continent. It was not assembled there by choice, but by necessity. Today the contrast is great. Our nations and countries are colonies no more. Now we are free, sovereign and independent. We are again masters in our own house. We do not need to go to other continents to confer. Already there have been important meetings of Asian States in Asia itself. If we look for the forerunner of this

our great gathering, we must look to Colombo, capital of independent Sri Lanka, and to the Conference of the five Prime Ministers which was held there in 1954. And the Bogor Conference in December 1954 showed that the road ahead was clear for Asian-African solidarity, and the Conference to which I have the honour of welcoming you today is the realisation of that solidarity. Indeed, I am proud that my country is your host. But my thoughts are not wholly of the honour which is Indonesia’s today. No. My mind is for a part darkened by other considerations. You have not gathered together in a world of peace and unity and cooperation. Great chasms yawn between nations and groups of nations. Our unhappy world is torn and tortured, and the peoples of all countries walk in fear lest, through no fault of theirs, the dogs of war are unchained once again. * All of us, I am certain, are united by more important things than those which superficially divide us. We are united, for instance, by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism. And we are united by a common

determination to preserve and stabilise peace in the world. Are not these aims mentioned in the leer of invitation to which you responded? I freely confess it—in these aims I am not disinterested or driven by purely impersonal motives. How is it possible to be disinterested about colonialism? For us, colonialism is not something far and distant. We have known it in all its ruthlessness. We have seen the immense human wastage it causes, the poverty it causes, and the heritage it leaves behind when, eventually and reluctantly, it is driven out by the inevitable march of history. My people, and the peoples of many nations of Asia and Africa know these things, for we have experienced them. Indeed, we cannot yet say that all parts of our countries are free already. Some parts still labour under the lash. And some parts of Asia and Africa which are not represented here still suffer from the same condition. Yes, some parts of our nations are not yet free. at is why all of us cannot yet feel that journey’s end has been reached. No people can feel themselves free, so long as part of their motherland is unfree. Like peace, freedom is indivisible. ere is no such thing as being half free, as there is no such thing as being half alive.

We are oen told, “Colonialism is dead.” Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. I say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree. And, I beg of you do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation. It is a skilful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises. It does not give up its loot easily. Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and one which must be eradicated from the earth. e bale against colonialism has been a long one, and do you know that today is a famous anniversary in that bale? On the eighteenth day of April, 1775, just 180 years ago, Paul Revere rode at midnight through the New England countryside, warning of the approach of British troops and of the opening of the American War of Independence, the first successful anti-colonial war in history. About this midnight ride the poet Longfellow wrote,

“A cry of defiance and not of fear, a voice in the darkness, a knock at the door, and a word that shall echo for evermore.” Yes, it shall echo for evermore, just as the other anti-colonial words which gave us comfort and reassurance during the darkest days of our struggle shall echo for evermore. But remember, that bale which began 180 years ago is not yet completely won, and it will not have been completely won until we can survey this our own world, and can say that colonialism is dead. So, I am not disinterested when I speak of the fight against colonialism. Nor am I disinterested when I speak of the bale for peace. * What can we do? e peoples of Asia and Africa wield lile physical power. Even their economic strength is dispersed and slight. We cannot indulge in power politics. Diplomacy for us is not a maer of the big stick. Our statesmen, by and large, are not backed up with serried ranks of jet bombers. What can we do? We can do much! We can inject the voice of reason into world affairs. We can mobilise all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace. Yes, we!

We, the peoples of Asia and Africa, 1,400,000,000 strong, far more than half the human population of the world, we can mobilise what I have called the Moral Violence of Nations in favour of peace. We can demonstrate to the minority of the world which lives on the other continents that we, the majority, are for peace, not for war, and that whatever strength we have will always be thrown on to the side of peace. * We have so much in common. Relatively speaking, all of us gathered here today are neighbours. Almost all of us have ties of common experience, the experience of colonialism. Many of us have a common religion. Many of us have common cultural roots. Many of us, the so-called ‘underdeveloped’ nations, have more or less similar economic problems, so that each can profit from the others’ experience and help. And I think I may say that we all hold dear the ideals of national independence and freedom. Yes, we have so much in common. And yet we know so lile of each other. If this Conference succeeds in making the peoples of the East whose representatives are gathered here understand each other a lile

more, appreciate each other a lile more, sympathise with each other’s problems a lile more—if those things happen, then this Conference, of course, will have been worthwhile, whatever else it may achieve. But I hope that this Conference will give more than understanding only and goodwill only—I hope that it will falsify and give the lie to the saying of one diplomat from far abroad, “We will turn this Asian-African Conference into an aernoon-tea meeting.” I hope that it will give evidence of the fact that we Asian and African leaders understand that Asia and Africa can prosper only when they are united, and that even the safety of the World at large cannot be safeguarded without a united AsiaAfrica. I hope that this Conference will give guidance to mankind, will point out to mankind the way which it must take to aain safety and peace. I hope that it will give evidence that Asia and Africa have been reborn, nay, that a New Asia and a New Africa have been born! Our task is first to seek an understanding of each other, and out of that understanding will come a greater appreciation of each other, and out of that appreciation will come collective action. Bear in mind the words of one of Asia’s greatest sons, “To speak is easy. To act is hard. To

understand is hardest. Once one understands, action is easy.” I have come to the end. Under God, may your deliberations be fruitful, and may your wisdom strike sparks of light from the hard flints of today’s circumstances. Let us not be bier about the past, but let us keep our eyes firmly on the future. Let us remember that no blessing of God is so sweet as life and liberty. Let us remember that the stature of all mankind is diminished so long as nations or parts of nations are still unfree. Let us remember that the highest purpose of man is the liberation of man from his bonds of fear, his bonds of human degradation, his bonds of poverty— the liberation of man from the physical, spiritual and intellectual bonds which have for too long stunted the development of humanity’s majority. And let us remember, Sisters and Brothers, that for the sake of all that, we Asians and Africans must be united. As President of the Republic of Indonesia, and on behalf of the eighty million people of Indonesia, I bid you welcome to this country. I declare the Asian-African Conference opened, and I pray that the Blessing of God will be upon it, and that its discussions will be profitable to the peoples of Asia and Africa, and to the peoples of all nations! Bismillah! God speed!

16. Excerpts from a speech by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at Malaysia Solidarity Day Mass Rally and March Past on the Padang, 31 August 1963 In the history of a nation, there are moments when great decisions have to be made. Today is such a moment in our history. Had we wavered in a moment of stress, then we would have lost our place in history, and Malaysia would be just another name for a collection of ten million Malays, Dyaks, Dusuns, Muruts, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Ceylonese and others, brought together by an accident of British colonial domination of this part of the world. We have shown in our struggle against colonial domination that we are not merely a conglomeration, an inarticulate and inchoate conglomeration, of just so many races. We have the will and the wherewithal to be a nation in our own right. at is the right that we the people of Singapore today proclaim. But for a twist of history, we would be proclaiming Malaysia today together with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. Now Malaysia is to be

proclaimed formally on 16 September. Nevertheless 31 August has been made a significant date in the history of Malaysia. All Federal powers in Sabah and Sarawak will be reposed in the Governors. In Singapore on the same principle, all Federal powers over defence and external affairs will, as from today till September 16, be reposed in our Yang di-Pertuan Negara. We look upon ourselves as trustees for the Central Government of Malaysia in these 15 days. * Our act follows the traditions of the great anti-colonial revolutions in Asia. e only difference is, I hope, that unlike the French or worse, the Dutch, the British are a more pragmatic people. So they concede the inexorable, and hope that by withdrawing from an already untenable position, they can become friends with those over whom they once were masters. But let us not deceive ourselves, and believe that they do this for reasons of altruistic charity. But their enlightened self-interest makes our transition to freedom that much easier.

On our part we welcome friends from this, and indeed, from any other part of the world. We have proclaimed our inalienable right to be free—free from colonial domination, in a manner of our choice. We have a right to say to the world that we do not wish to change masters. * We have witnessed the end of an era, an era where we had lived sheltered from the change, chaos and revolutions of South East Asia. A period of great trial lies ahead. But the future also holds great promise, promise of peace, stability and prosperity if we have the resolve, the stamina and the wisdom to meet the challenge that lies ahead. How we the people of Singapore and the rest of Malaysia conduct ourselves, and what the leaders of the four territories decide in the crucial months ahead will determine the shape of things to come. Never let our future generations look back at this moment of history and say that their forbears and their leaders when tried were found wanting.

In 15 days we will raise officially the new flag of the nation. ree points have been added to the star of Malaysia. Let us resolve that the one point representing Singapore will always add lustre and strength to Malaysia. If we live up to our convictions, we will stand the test and judgment of history. ere are moments in the life of a people when what is required is firmness and certainty. To dither is to invite disaster. Now firmness and certainty have been restored. Today, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore take one step forward towards freedom. On the 16th we go on with Malaysia and we will survive, and prosper and flourish. If we are friendly to our neighbours, fair in our dealings with them and firm on our right to live in peace, unmolested in our own country. 17. Excerpt from a speech by Mr S Rajaratnam, Second Deputy prime Minister (Foreign Affairs), at a seminar on “Adaptive Reuse: Integrating Traditional Areas Into the Modern Urban Fabric,” 28 April 1984

I do not propose this morning to touch directly on the topic prescribed for this seminar, “Adaptive Reuse: Integrating traditional areas into the modern urban fabric.” is self-denial is in part prompted by the fact that people more qualified and beer prepared than me will discourse with erudition and greater reliability on various aspects of the topic during the next few days. erefore any aempt on my part to compete with the experts can only be a source of confusion, embarrassment and possibly irritation for all concerned. What I propose to do instead is to discourse on a different though not unrelated topic, “e uses and abuses of the past” with particular reference to the Singapore situation. * Creating an awareness of the past poses peculiar and unique problems for Singapore. e island of Singapore as such has no long past. When Raffles founded Singapore in 1819 it was the home of a few hundred fishing folk. All we know of its past prior to this are vague hints that it was used as a halting place by mariners, traders and pirates before they moved on to

more congenial places. What happened before 1819—if anything worthwhile happened at all—has been irretrievably lost in the mists of time. Singapore’s knowable past began in 1819—exactly 165 years ago. As pasts go, I confess, this is not much of a past in a world when countries can boast of histories dating back thousands of years. Some nations claim direct descent from sun goddesses, moon goddesses, from sexy gods in Mt. Olympus, the Garden of Eden, Aryans, and Adam and Eve. Some lighthearted tribes have claimed honourable descent from owls, eagles, lions, and wolves and I believe in one instance from a pig. Singapore’s genealogical table, alas, ends as abruptly as it begins. However we could have contrived a more lengthy and eye-boggling lineage by tracing our ancestry back to the lands from which our forefathers emigrated—China, India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Indonesia. e price we would have to pay for this more impressive genealogical table would be to turn Singapore into a bloodly baleground for endless

racial and communal conflicts and interventionist politics by the more powerful and bigger nations from which Singaporeans had emigrated. So from our point of view to push a Singaporean’s historic awareness beyond 1819 would have been a misuse of history; to plunge Singapore into the kind of genocidal madness that racial, communal and religious imperialism is today devastating so many underdeveloped and even developed countries. e present government, much to the dismay of local racial and cultural chauvinists, has been careful about the kind of awareness of the past it should inculcate in a multicultural society. Towards this end Singapore took a step unprecedented in the history of anti-imperialist nationalism. Aer aaining independence in 1965 there was debate as to who should be declared the founding fathers of Singapore. e debate was brought to an abrupt end when the government fixed responsibility for this on Sir Stamford Raffles and officially declared him the founder of Singapore. Many of our ird World friends are completely mystified that contrary to usual practice a dyed-inthe-wool British imperialist should have been named the founder of modern Singapore. In fact there were some well-meaning patriots in

Singapore who were all for casting the Raffles statue situated in front of Victoria Memorial Hall into what was then the revoltingly filthy and smelly Singapore River. It was a touch and go then whether Raffles ended in our improbable river. To cut a long story short there was a reprieve and Raffles was saved. Today there is not only a Raffles statue brooding in front of Victoria Memorial Hall but there is also a less grimy replica of Raffles brooding alongside the Singapore River which, but for the intervention of the stars, was to have been its grave. Our decision to name Raffles the founder of Singapore is an example of the proper use of history: the proper approach to the preservation of historic monuments. First in nominating Raffles as the founder of modern Singapore we are accepting a fact of history. To pretend otherwise is to falsify history— about as honest as claiming descent from the sun or the moon or wolves or licentious Greek gods.

Raffles founded Singapore. is is a fact. It is also a fact that the British ruled Singapore for 146 years. We may detest imperial rule but, as with Roman imperial rule in Britain, British imperial rule had both positive and negative aspects. It was both oppressive and liberationist. e intelligent and responsible anti-imperialist should, once the bale is won, retain and improve upon what is positive in imperialism while discarding its reactionary and oppressive features. * at is why in Singapore we have not tried to deny our imperial past by blindly eradicating both its constructive and destructive elements. We have not gone around renaming streets simply because they remind us of our imperialist past. is is to deny history. In fact as we renew our aging city I hope our planners will not try to falsify history by eliminating all reminders of our imperial past. Imperialism has been a part of our history. In fact Singapore’s history began as an imperial outpost and but for this fact most of us will not be here today and the Singapore we know today would not have come into being.

1 Dr Paglar is using the Japanese Imperial Calendar, that counts the years from the start of Emperor Jimmu’s reign in 660BC. Kōki 2604 is equivalent to the year 1944. 2 e Chinese name for this school is 端蒙学校, which is not in operation anymore. 3 e Chinese name is 叶平⽟.

About the Editors Alfian Sa’at is the Resident Playwright of Wild Rice. His plays with Wild Rice include Hotel (with Marcia Vanderstraaten), e Asian Boys Trilogy, Cooling-Off Day, e Optic Trilogy, Homesick and Merdeka / 獨 ⽴ / (with Neo Hai Bin). He was the winner of the Golden Point Award for Poetry and the National Arts Council Young Artist Award for Literature in 2001. His publications include Collected Plays One, Two, and ree; poetry collections One Fierce Hour, A History of Amnesia and e Invisible Manuscript; and short-story collections Corridor and Malay Sketches. Faris Joraimi is pursuing his BA(Hons) in History at the Yale-NUS College. His research interests lie in the narrative traditions, cultural politics and intellectual history of the Malay world. He hopes to pursue graduate studies and explore ways in which texts and their materiality reflect broader processes of exchange, circulation and consumption in the early modern Nusantara. He has wrien for a number of platforms,

including s/pores, Mynah Magazine, New Naratif, Karyawan, Passage, Budi Kritik and 天下 (Commonwealth Magazine, Taiwan). Sai Siew Min is a Taipei-based Singaporean historian who researches Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia with a focus on imperial formation in Southeast Asia, the cultural politics of colonialism and nationalism, language, race and Chineseness. She is a founder member of the s/pores collective. Her essays on historiography in Singapore have appeared online in s/pores: new directions in Singapore Studies. Her academic writings have appeared in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Journal of Chinese Overseas, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. She is also co-editor of the book Reassessing Chinese Indonesians: History, Religion and Belonging.

About the Contributors Azhar Ibrahim (PhD) is a Lecturer at the Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS). He teaches Malay-Indonesian literature and ideologies of development at the Department. His research interest includes sociology of religion, sociology of literature, critical literacy and the Malay-Indonesian intellectual development. Amongst his published books are Emancipated Education (2020), Historical Imagination and Cultural Responses to Colonialism and Nationalism: A Critical Malay(sian) Perspective (2017), Menyanggah Belenggu Kerancuan Fikiran Masakini (2016), Contemporary Islamic Discourse in the Malay-Indonesia World: Critical Perspectives (2014) and Narrating Presence: Awakening from Cultural Amnesia (2014). Hong Lysa, a historian, is co-author of e Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (2008), and co-editor of e 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore (2013); e May 13 Generation: e Chinese Middle Schools Student movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s (2011) and Poh Soo Kai, Living in a Time of Deception (2016). She is a founder member of

the electronic journal s/pores: New Directions in Singapore Studies which commenced publication in 2007. Huang Jianli is Associate Professor at the Department of History of the National University of Singapore and concurrently Research Associate at the university’s East Asian Institute. His research straddles two related fields—the history of Republican China from the 1910s to 1940s and Chinese diaspora studies. His book, e Politics of Depoliticization in Republican China (1996, 2nd edition 1999), was translated into Chinese in 2010. He is also the author of e Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (2008, with Hong Lysa). His co-edited volumes include Power and Identity in the Chinese World Order (2003) and Macro Perspectives and New Directions in the Studies of Chinese Overseas (Chinese, 2002). He has also published in a range of international-refereed journals, such as Frontiers of History in China, Modern Asian Studies, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Journal of Chinese Overseas, and Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. Joanne Leow lives as a guest on Treaty Six Territory and the homeland of the Métis. She is Assistant Professor of decolonising, diasporic, and

transnational literatures at the University of Saskatchewan. Her most recent research on transnational Asian literature and film, and diasporic Canadian literature can be found in positions: asia critique, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, University of Toronto arterly and Journal of Asian American Studies. Her first book manuscript theorises the intersections between cultural dissidence and urban planning in Singapore. Her essays, fiction and poetry have been published in Brick, Catapult, e Goose, Isle, e Kindling, e Town Crier, QLRS and Ricepaper Magazine. She received funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to







(intertidal.usask.ca). Nicholas Lua is an MA student in Nanyang Technological University’s History programme and recently graduated from Yale-NUS College with a BA(Hons) in History and minor in Global Antiquity. He studies the Tantric Religions in Ancient Southeast Asia (600-1400 CE) and their connections to the broader Sanskrit Cosmopolis. More broadly, Nicholas is interested in how later cultures interpret, relate to and deploy their distant

“Classical” pasts. Nicholas has been inspired by ideas from across the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Literature and Philosophy in particular. Neo Hai Bin is currently a writer and a theatre practitioner. His literary practice involves research works in social issues and the human condition, which then translates into different forms of literary expressions: scripts, prose, critiques or short stories. His literary works can be found at thethoughtspavilion.wordpress.com. Some of his plays include 招 : When e Cold Wind Blows (Singapore eatre Festival 2018), Cut Kaa! (Esplanade Huayi Festival Commission 2018), Merdeka / 獨 ⽴


(Wild Rice, with Alfian Sa’at, 2019) and Tanah•Air ⽔•⼟: A Play In Two Parts (Devised with Drama Box, 2019). He is part of the theatre reviewers team “ 劇 讀 : thea.preter” since 2017. He co-founded “ 微 .Wei Collective” with lighting designer Liu Yong Huay. He is a founding and core member of Nine Years eatre Ensemble. Jimmy Ong (b. 1964) is a Singaporean artist best known for his large scale, figurative charcoal drawings on paper, marked by a distinctive fleshy quality. He came into prominence in the 1980s, with early works

that focused on sexuality, identity and gender roles in the context of the traditional Chinese family. Based in Yogyakarta, Jimmy’s projects interrogate the colonial figure of Stamford Raffles within Javanese history. His key exhibitions include From Bukit Larangan to Borobudor (FOST Gallery, 2016), SGD (Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2010) and Sitayana (Tyler Rollins Fine Art, 2010).

Index Symbols 700 years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

A A Frame in Time 1, 2 Ahmad Boestamam 1, 2, 3, 4 Albatross file 1, 2 alibis of empire 1, 2 and colonialism 1, 2, 3, 4 Anson 1 as not a point of origin 1 ASAS50 1

B Barisan Sosialis 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Bicentennial 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138 Bicentennial event 1 Black Lives Maer 1, 2 British colonial rule 1, 2, 3, 4 Brunei Revolt 1, 2 Bukit Ho Swee 1, 2, 3, 4

C Centenary 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 Chinese Heritage Centre 1

Chinese language 1 Chinese middle school students 1, 2, 3 Chinese migrant community 1 Chinese Protectorate 1, 2 Chua Mia Tee 1, 2, 3 Civilised 1, 2 Cold War 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 colonial capitalism 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 colonial enlightenment 1 colonial government 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 colonial history 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 colonial inheritance 1, 2 colonial legacy 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 colonial repression 1 cosmopolitanism 1, 2, 3, 4

D decolonial history 1 decolonisation 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Dutch 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

E Emergency 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Eurocentric modernity 1, 2, 3 Experience 1, 2

F family history 1 feudalism 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 First Storeys 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

G Goh Keng Swee 1, 2, 3

Greater Malaysia plan 1

H Han Yongmei 1, 2 Hang Tuah 1 Harun Aminurrashid 1, 2, 3, 4 historians 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 historical amnesia 1, 2 historiography 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Hong Lim 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

I Imran Tajudeen 1 indigeneity 1, 2, 3, 4 intelligentsia 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 Isa Kamari 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Izat Arif 1

J Japanese Occupation 1, 2, 3

K kampung 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Kassim Ahmad 1, 2, 3, 4 Keris Mas 1, 2, 3 Khatijah Sidek 1, 2, 3 Koh Poh Koon 1, 2

L Lee Hsien Loong 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 Lee Kuan Yew 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 Lily Zubaidah Rahim 1, 2

Lim Chin Siong 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Lim Yew Hock 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 literati 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 Loh Kah Seng 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

M Malay language 1, 2 Malay nationalists 1, 2, 3 Malay perspective 1 Malay world 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 Malayanisation 1, 2, 3, 4 Malaysia 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68 Men in White 1, 2

Merdeka 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143 Merger 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 metatheatre 1 Migrant Number One 1 Miss British 1, 2 Mohamed Latiff Mohamed 1, 2 multiculturalism 1, 2, 3 multilingualism 1


National Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 National Education 1 National Heritage Board 1, 2 National Language 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 National Language Class 1, 2, 3, 4 national narrative 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

O Ong Eng Guan 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Operation Coldstore 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 Operation Pechah 1 Operation Spectrum 1 Orang Seletar 1, 2, 3

P Pelayaran Abdullah 1, 2, 3 personal and family history 1

Poh Soo Kai 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Portuguese 1, 2, 3 prequel 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Progressive Party 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

R racialised history 1 racialised myths 1 Raffles College 1, 2, 3 Raffles in Southeast Asia 1 Raffles Institution 1, 2, 3, 4 Raffles Must Fall 1, 2 Raffles Revisited 1 Rampogan Macan 1, 2 Rendel Constitution 1 revisionist 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

S s/pores 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Said Zahari 1, 2, 3 Samad Ismail 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Samsudin Said 1, 2 Sang Nila Utama 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 Separation 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 SG50 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 Singapore Bicentennial Office 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Singapore Chamber of Commerce 1, 2 Singapore International Chamber of Commerce 1, 2, 3, 4 Singapura 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 Sleeping with Raffles 1 Special Branch 1, 2

Sulalatus Salatin 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Suratman Markasan 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

T Tan Tai Yong 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 Tan Tock Seng 1, 2, 3 Tanah.Air 1, 2 Teng Kai Wei 1, 2 e Arrivals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 e First 150 Years of Singapore 1, 2 e History of Java 1, 2 um Ping Tjin 1, 2, 3, 4 Toh Chin Chye 1, 2, 3, 4 Treaty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

U Usman Awang 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Y Yaacob Ibrahim 1, 2 Yatiman Yusof 1, 2, 3, 4 Yeoh Ghim Seng 1, 2 Yesteryears 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 Yogyakarta 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Z Zhang Liangwo 1, 2

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