Correcting why the past matters

I refer to the 13 Feb 2014 Straits Times article “Why the past matters” by Mr Barry Desker.

According to Mr Desker, people in Singapore did not see themselves as one people in 1942 and at most cared only for their families, clans or ethnic groups.

Mr Desker would be pleased to know that back in 1935, a Chinese firm was already giving out scholarships that came specifically without the race criteria while in 1937, the YWCA already represented women across 20 racial groups. These are some of the examples of people in Singapore caring beyond clan and ethnicity prior to 1942.

The Colonial Government has received, through Mr. Gaw Khek Khiam, J.P., chairman of the directors of the Ho Ho Biscuit Factory, Limited, of 33, Chin Swee Road, Singapore, a cheque for $10,000 from his company for the foundation of a scholarship or scholarships at the Singapore Trade School … The donors have also expressed the desire that no racial criterion shall be applied to the selection of scholars, the only suggested qualification being that they should have been educated at Malayan (preferably Colony) schools and be the children of parents who have resided in Malay for a number of years.
[The Straits Times, 30 April 1935, Page 11]

The Y.W.C.A. was not a charity; it was just a woman’s club which developed character and gave younger women opportunities to enjoy a fuller life. Although it was a Christian organisation the membership was not restricted to Christians. The officers and voting members were, of course, Christians. The work in Singapore was of an international character, no fewer than 20 different racial groups being represented in the membership. Besides finding work for those girls who are unemployed, the Y.W.C.A. also looked after women who were strangers to Singapore.
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 22 April 1937, Page 3]

According to Mr Desker, Singapore society only came together gradually over the last 50 years to create a sense of nationhood and identity that goes beyond clan, race, language or religion and of emerging ties linking Singaporeans based on Singlish and eating roti prata or satay. 50 years ago is 1964. Is Mr Desker saying the Chinese and Malays only started eating roti prata after 1964 or the Chinese and Indians only started eating satay after 1964? That would be most silly indeed. Mr Desker would be pleased to know that Singapore society was already coming together beyond clan, race, language or religion prior to 1964.

• Racial Harmony In Malaya
To those who know their Malaya from one end to the other, no less than to the casual visitor, it is a constant source of wonder how so many different races and communities live and work together in the utmost harmony … we repeat, that the different communities live and work in harmony because the British system of justice and administration enables them to obtain fair play. There are no discriminatory or repressive laws, there are few, if any race prejudices in the bazaars and counting houses, there is nothing to prevent the humblest coolie from rising to great wealth – many indeed have done so …
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 26 July 1935, Page 8]

“It is a pleasing feature of life in Malaya that there is not merely a complete absence of friction but much cordiality in the relations between the different races inhabiting it. It is quite common to find Malays, Chinese and Indian all living the same street in perfect harmony and apparently, with some degree of intimacy.” The Mui-Tsai Commission Report Chapter VIII.
[The Straits Times, 1 March 1937, Page 13]

It makes me happy to see the Chinese and other peoples here co-operating so well with each other.
[The Straits Times, 15 November 1940, Page 11]

• The Malayan Melting-Pot
The Sultan of Perak … “I wish to say to you that Chinese and Malay in the past eighty years before the coming of the Japanese lived side by side in absolute peace. The Chinese lived in the midst of Malays without any trace of fear, and the Chinese also fearlessly and peacefully pursued his vocation in any Malay settlement … Here in Singapore we are constantly impressed by the easy, natural and friendly relationships existing between Eurasians, Straits Chinese, Straits-born Indians and others who went to school together and now meet each other in adult life … Boys – and girls – of the local-born communities who sit side by side in the classrooms of Raffles Institution and St. Joseph’s and St. Andrew’s and the A.C.S., learn to become unconscious of racial differences, to meet on common ground, and to accept each other simply as Singaporeans – not as members of this racial community or that. Naturally this process is more penetrating in the secondary schools than in the elementary ones, because the influence of the school is exerted for a longer period and in years of higher mental awakening …
[The Straits Times, 25 May 1946, Page 4]

• S’pore an ‘example’ of race harmony
Singapore has set an example to the world of racial harmony, said Mr. T. P. F. McNeice, President, in reply to Mr. C. F. J. Ess, at the meeting of the City Council yesterday.
[The Straits Times, 29 September 1951, Page 5]

• Duchess praises ‘one people’ idea
The Duchess of Kent, the first Royal Freeman of the City of Singapore, said yesterday that its people were engaged upon a project of far-reaching significance – the casting into one mould of elements derived from many different cultures.
“This plan in itself testifies to the good will and good sense so characteristic of the people of this island,’ she said.
[The Straits Times, 2 October 1952, Page 1]

• Police help island troop to learn sailing
Singapore’s 84th Pulau Tekong Sea-Scout Troop is certainly helping to strengthen the bonds of friendship among Malays and Chinese on the island. It is undoubtedly a Sino-Malay affair for half of its 20 members are drawn from each race. Even the four patrol leaders in the troop are equally divided on a communal basis. Members of each patrol, however, are mixed.
[The Singapore Free Press, 17 July 1953, Page 12]

• Our racial harmony inspiration to bishop
An American Negro bishop said in Singapore yesterday that complete racial harmony among students and teachers in Colony schools was an inspiration to him. He said it proved his theory that if you get people of all races close enough together for them to smile at each other racial pride and prejudices will vanish quickly
[The Straits Times, 30 September 1954, Page 4]

• A Chinese bank to train Malay
The Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation has awarded a one-year scholarship to Inche Mohamed Yasin bin Abdul Rahman, a member of the Johore State Council, to study general banking with its head office in Singapore. This is the first time the bank has awarded such a scholarship to a Malay.
[The Straits Times, 3 February 1955, Page 4]

• ‘See yourselves as just one people’ Governor’s advice to teachers
The people of Singapore must not think of themselves in terms of their racial and language loyalties, but as Singaporeans, the Governor, Sir William Goode, said yesterday. Schools must be Singapore schools, not English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil schools … In 1953, he said, English was the only medium of instruction at the college, but today they worked in English, Malay and Chinese. “In this way too the different races in the Colony can be welded into a united people with a common loyalty and a common pride in Singapore and a united determination to work for the good of Singapore.”
[The Straits Times, 12 October 1958, Page 7]

Eighteen American teachers (above) from 11 states left for Bangkok by CPA this morning after a four-day stay here … Prof. Mulder said they were impressed by the racial harmony they had observed in Singapore and had come to know the state much better.
[The Singapore Free Press, 16 July 1959, Page 10]

So many races, but one nation
If a world list were compiled of countries enjoying high degree of inter-racial harmony Singapore would undoubtedly occupy a leading position. Here people of various races work, play and live together happily as one nation. They help each other in time of difficulty. They rejoice in each other’s happiness. And they share each other’s grief. Such is the respect, understanding and goodwill between the Malay, Chinese, Indian, European and other races living here that visitors in Singapore have often praised the State as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The latest visitor to express this view is Mrs. A. Qugley, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, who passed through the State during a tour of the Far East. She said that “the people here must be extremely proud of themselves for the “really great” racial harmony that was evident
[The Singapore Free Press, 6 July 1961, Page 6]

Mr Desker wrote of our vulnerability as a city state despite our prosperity and enviable standard of living now. But city states like Rome and Venice have outlived the empires to which they belonged to. Larger nations like Japan and Ukraine are also susceptible to feeling threatened by even larger nations like China and Russia. Vulnerability is thus not a function of being or not being a city state but a function of our military capability vis-à-vis those of our neighbors as well as the prevailing political climate. In both military and political terms, Singapore is not as vulnerable as our city state status suggests.

Mr Desker urged Singaporeans to remember the Japanese invasion, communist subversion and communal riots that undermined our stability and well being and tested the unity of our forefathers. Mr Desker can also urge Singaporeans to distinguish those who resisted the Japanese and those who worked for them. He can explain that the great majority of the Leftists were not communists but were true patriots and nationalists who fought British colonialism and agitated for our independence. Mr Desker can also add reasons to our communal riots like the one below:

• That PAP appeal: ‘It is political trickery’
Until the PAP and its supporters came into the political arena, the Chinese as a whole had worked and co-operated not only with the Malays, but also with other racial groups. For the PAP, after planting the seeds of dissension and distrust, now to call for tolerance is political trickery of the highest order. There can be no racial harmony based on political double talk, of tolerance in word and intolerance in deed. Racial harmony can only be built on goodwill, co-operation, good faith and mutual trust.
[The Straits Times, 2 February 1959, Page 5]


One Response to “Correcting why the past matters”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I cannot say often enough that your courage and determination in dealing with these revisionists of history is to be commended. Like Soviet history in the Stalinist era the plot is the same in every version( with a few variations of course) i.e. to glorify Stalin. That it is happening here in this day and age is a testimony to the fact that human nature remains the same. Our local version is to glorify LKY. Thus he is the “founder” of modern Singapore; Singapore was a fishing village before the sage arrived in 1959;and now, racial harmony developed only in the last 50 years. What these hacks do not understand is that in this new technological age such revisionist histories are quite easily exposed. Just like what you and others are doing.

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