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ST News

Oct 13, 2011

Singapore, not foreign, history first
IN THE past week, the local media broadcast documentaries on the role of ethnic Chinese in colonial Singapore in ending 2,000 years of feudalism in China, to commemorate the centenary of the 1911 revolution that overthrew dynastic rule.

The eight visits here by the father of modern China, Sun Yat Sen, to raise funds for the revolutionary movement were given prime prominence. The Balestier Road villa where he stayed has been transformed into a historical monument ('Historic Sun Yat Sen villa reopens'; Sunday).

Visiting politicians, prominent businessmen and academics have called on Singaporeans to remember the contributions of Nanyang (overseas) Chinese to the villa.

While I do not discount the significance of the revolution, I am uncomfortable with how our local identity and history remain subordinated to foreign history.

Although Sun was an important figure, his stay here was extremely brief and his interest in Singapore, probably peripheral.

Yet, the villa where he stayed is preserved while the graves of prominent pioneers of Singapore like Lim Nee Soon, Chew Boon Lay and Ong Sam Leong are not.

The Bukit Brown Cemetery where these sons of Singapore are buried must make way for redevelopment ('Bukit Brown to make way for housing'; May 30).

In the rush to celebrate the first milestone of modern China on Oct 10, 1911, we have forgotten a local incident of immense historical significance, especially close to the hearts of older Singaporeans, which took place on Oct 10, 1943.

This was the Double Tenth Massacre, a tragic day when the Japanese military police arrested and tortured 57 people they suspected of being involved in an allied raid that sank several ships at the Singapore harbour in World War II. Fifteen of them died later. This date does not even rate an annual mention.
In an era of nation-building where we should regard ourselves as Singaporeans first and profess loyalty exclusively to Singapore, the assertion of Chinese pride by some Chinese Singaporeans on China's 1911 revolution is disturbing.

As Singapore approaches the bicentenary of its founding in 1819, the emphasis on writing our history and preserving our heritage should not be expended disproportionately on prominent foreigners who happened to pass through.

Our emphasis should be firmly focused on Singaporeans who helped shape the history of this little red dot.
Liew Kai Khiun

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