Call on the authorities to allow an honest appraisal of our history

The history of a nation can aim to be accurate only if various and divergent voices are heard. In recent years, books like “Escape from the Lion’s Paw”, “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore”, “We Remember”, “That We May Dream Again” and “Youth on Trial” have added other perspectives to the memory of a very significant period in Singapore’s nation-building.

Tan Pin Pin’s documentary film, “To Singapore With Love”, on Singapore’s political exiles who fled the country, some as long as 50 years ago, adds another dimension to this on-going writing of our history.

Function 8 is deeply concerned that the Media Development Authority has banned this film from being screened in Singapore. Banning of intellectual products is far from being the hallmark of a first-world country; it smacks of medieval ignorance and naivety. Where is the spirit of conversation so much hailed and lauded as our country is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her birth?

We call on the authorities to allow an honest appraisal of our history, so that we can develop as an intelligent nation, not just in hard-wire terms, but in the heart and soul of our people.

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A birthday note to Singapore

waihanBy Chan Wai Han

Singapore is a country. Singapore is not a nation. Not yet.

A country has a physical boundary, although sometimes disputed. It has a political system that governs the life of its citizens. A flag, an anthem, all these and more – trappings of a country – Singapore has.

Passion, love for the nation, with the people being ready to die for Singapore… these we do not have. Well, at least not many are ready to die for the country. Yet there are some who are passionate and care enough to try and make a difference, with or without accolades and fat pay cheques.

What brings about this scenario? My view is that the people are treated as economic digits, workers for Singapore Inc. with hard-nosed accounting taking precedence in every facet of our policy-making. When this happens, our relationship with the country is merely transactional. You try to get the most out of the country. And if it doesn’t suit you, just up and migrate if you have the ability. If you can’t, then swallow your pride and try to make a life on this little diamond.

National TheatrePeople need to share memories and pass them on for a collective identity to evolve and survive. I think of the National Library’s red-brick building at Stamford Road, the National Theatre at River Valley, my primary school at Queen Street… all gone. Soon my childhood memories at Tanglin Halt will give way to the bulldozers of SERS. So too my secondary school at Anderson Road. The unspoken truth is that some of these sites are too valuable to be left to a mere school, even one with 135 years’ history. In the surroundings of Anderson Road, more and more multi-million condominiums have sprung up. The state’s land bank probably would be silly to pass over this piece of real estate and leave it as a school.

The ever-increasing minimum sum of our CPF accounts gives the sense that we’ll never be able to use our hard-earned savings in our own lifetime. Even the Pioneer Package comes with so many strings wrapping up the gift. I’ve seen thin old folks in one-room flats who can do with better meals. Why keep the “gift” wrapped in medical benefits? Why not give outright so they can get better nutrition and hopefully won’t become so ill that they need to use the medical benefits so soon?

Politicking need not come at the end of every four or five years. When boundaries are re-drawn and new names given to electoral wards ever so often there is no opportunity for residents to develop an affinity to a place. (In 30 years, I have lived in Fengshan, Kaki Bukit, East Coast GRC… all without moving an inch from Bedok North.) Fanciful names like Rainbowville, Eunos Ville, etc crop up overnight on big structures of precincts. These do not make for community bonding.

rallyOf course, much has been done for the country by the dominant ruling party, as fair-minded people would acknowledge. But I feel great discomfort that the achievements are on the back of the injustices inflicted on many human beings, among them:

  • Political opponents of the ruling party who had been placed under detention without trial.
  • Foreign workers who do not have fair recourse to abuse by employers.
  • Home-makers who do not receive any significant economic recognition (other than the wife relief granted to taxpaying husbands).

And a very frightening divide in the us-versus-them attitude is practised in the $100 daily levy imposed on Singaporeans entering the casinos in the country. The message seems to be: it is alright for non-Singaporeans to empty their pockets… they are welcome to gamble away their fortune here. But our citizens need to be protected (the $100 levy being a futile attempt anyway in deterring the gamblers). What kind of value does this beggar-thy-neighbour policy imbue in our people?

On Singapore’s 49th birthday, an accidental political construct by the way, I wish that we be a more caring and accountable country. Both towards our citizens and towards other nations. We don’t always have to be the top dog. There is a place to progress together, not progress at the expense of others.

Too idealistic perhaps. But without ideals, is life really worth living? And without ideals, can we truly build a nation?

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60th Anniversary of May 13, 1954 Incident

Below is the speech of Dr Poh Soo Kai delivered at the lunch commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the May 13, 1954 Incident and the arrests of all the members of Editorial Board Fajar, a student publication of the University Socialist Club of Malaya. Dr. Poh Soo Kai was President of the club and Chairman of the Editorial Board. The students were charged for sedition.

Dr Poh Speech

“Comrades & friends,

Selamat petang! Zhong wu hao! Good-day! Firstly, let me take this opportunity to thank MARUAH and F8 for organizing this gathering today – 60 years after the historical event on May 13th 1954. (See photos)

May 13th 1954 marked an important watershed in reviving the people of Singapore’s struggle towards independence. We have to keep in mind that in 1954 Singapore was still a colony and the post Second World War’s cries for independence in the island as in the Malayan peninsula had been muted by the brute force unleashed by the British declaration of Emergency in 1948. The Batang Kali massacre, being litigated today, is one such grim reminder of those dark days. However, the May 13th 1954 student movement was to change all that for Singapore and lift the people’s struggle for independence from Britain. 

A month before, in April 1954, the British colonial government had introduced national service conscription for male youth of Singapore. In its commentary on it, the University Socialist Club wrote in its May 10th Fajar issue that we did not understand the meaning of the word, “national” since we were a colony; the British did not deem us fit to rule over ourselves, yet we were deemed fit to fight and die for them!

Most affected by this new regulation, since they were the majority of the youths, were the Chinese middle schools students, who logically decided to petition the British Governor in Singapore for exemption from national service. On this fateful day of May 13th 1954, eight student representatives were to hand over the petition. Many other students turned out en masse to support their representatives and lined the pavement from River Valley Road /Clemenceau Avenue to Government House. The peaceable nature of the student assembly is borne out by postings on YouTube – an alternative media. However, they were set upon by baton wielding police of colonial Britain. 

As a result, the students were beaten up and chased from Clemenceau Avenue to Stamford Road. They got a baptism in police brutality. Forty eight students were arrested on charges of obstructing police officers. Eventually, seven were found guilty and sentenced to three months’ rigorous imprisonment. 

513cThese young innocent Chinese middle schools students had been dealt a bitter lesson that politicized them. They saw clearly who the dogs were and became keenly aware of themselves as the underdogs with no rights at all; no human rights that colonial Britain needed to respect or even pretend to respect. Alas! The only way forward for the students was to unite and unite ever more firmly with all other underdogs in Singapore society to pursue justice.

513bThe momentous year of 1954 also saw on May 28th, the arrest for sedition of the Fajar editorial team for its May 10th issue. Sedition was a very serious charge to level on these youths for patriotism and editorial independence. One of the recorded reasons for the arrest was that the police had found copies of Fajar among the belongings of the Chinese middle schools students and falsely assumed that, we, the Fajar boys were behind the Chinese middle schools students’ May 13th protest. Indeed, we Fajar boys and the University Socialist Club had given full support to the Chinese middle schools students. We also turned up as members of the Pan-Malayan Students’ Federation to demonstrate our solidarity when they occupied the Chinese High School. The unity of the English and Chinese educated students was forged at these moments when the mighty force of colonial Britain rained down unreasonably upon them. 

D.N. Pritt Q.C. had defended us in the Fajar trial leading to our acquittal. This Queen’s Counsel had a reputation for strident anti-colonialism, battling imperialist Britain on behalf of her colonies. The Chinese middle schools students decided to approach Harry Lee Kuan Yew, who had been junior counsel in the Fajar case, to engage Pritt for their appeal. As expected, they lost their case. But that was how Harry Lee came to gain a foothold among the Chinese middle schools students

The Chinese middle schools students’ demand for respect of their human rights had set the example. Workers were encouraged. They too wanted their labour right to organize their own unions. This is a fundamental human right. Article 8 of the United Nations’ Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right of workers to form or join trade unions and protects the right to strike. 

On November 1, 1954, Jamit Singh had joined the Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association as a paid secretary. Jamit had hailed from the University Socialist Club. On May 1, 1955, Jamit led the Harbour Board staff association – the white collar workers – on a 67 days strike which culminated in victory. Jamit became a hero! He had stood firm in demanding just wages for union members, and brought the strike to public attention with pickets deployed at the gates of the harbour and outside key government institutions. Inspired by their white collar counterparts, the Habour Board’s blue collar workers demanded to join Jamit’s union; they did not want to be represented by unions set up and controlled by management. Jamit went on to strengthen workers’ unity by amalgamating the various small waterfront unions into a giant union of 10,000 members – the Singapore Harbour Board Workers’ Union. 

Here I want to pay tribute to this comrade: Jamit Singh fought for what was fair and what was right and paid a very heavy price for his conviction and courage. Jamit, your struggle was not in vain; your fine example will continue to inspire us.

The workers’ struggles for their human and labour rights were naturally viewed with sympathy by the Chinese middle schools students who had been through the baptism of bruised and broken bodies on May 13th. They knew what it was like to be the underdogs fighting for their human rights to be respected. Hence, the Harbour Board white and blue collar workers and Jamit Singh received expression of solidarity from the Chinese middle schools students. A good number of students turned up at the picket lines to offer sympathy and support.

Around the beginning of 1955, the majority of the workers in Hock Lee Bus Company decided to form a branch of the Singapore Bus Workers Union that was led by Fong Swee Suan, Chen Say Jame and Lim Teow Peng. They did not want to be represented by the yellow union set up by management. However, management refused to recognize the genuine workers’ union and would only deal with its own workers’ union. An industrial dispute ensured. It was momentarily settled when the two unions agreed to arbitration presided over by a neutral party who was Dr Gamba of the University of Malaya. His proposal to carve out bus routes was accepted by both unions. The ink was barely dry on the agreement, when under pressure from management the yellow union changed its mind. This obviously resulted in further industrial disputes. The management then sacked the striking workers and brought in scabs to forcibly drive the buses out. The sacked workers – with their livelihood gone – decided to prevent the buses from leaving the depot. Water hoses were turned on them.

Again this strike received the overwhelming support from the Chinese middle schools students. They brought food and drinks to the striking workers to reinforce their spirit. Other workers turned up too in support and solidarity. 

The police moved in to beat and arrest the resisting Hock Lee bus workers. Scuffles broke out. And then, there was a gunshot and an unarmed student was tragically killed. These were the real days of tears and righteous indignation where students and workers stood up for their basic and legitimate human rights, where the people of Singapore stood up against their white colonial masters.

Today, 60 years on, the Singapore authorities are denigrating these days of righteous indignation as days of rage with their version of destruction and mayhem instigated by the hidden hand of the MCP – the sinister bogeyman that they touted every so often. Nothing could be further from these cheap official propagandas. 

Devan Nair was – ironically now on looking back – a union leader of the left in the midst of all these happenings. It may be fitting at this moment for me to say to his son, Janadas: I hope your father had not said to you that Chin Siong had told him that the communists were behind May 13th 1954 or the Hock Lee bus workers’ strike. Lim Chin Siong is no longer alive and it is not fair to attribute statements to him that cannot be verified. 

Dr. P.J. Thum has confirmed that Special Branch reports for 1954-1955 reveal that the MCP did not instigate either the 13 May student protest or the Hock Lee Bus strike and riot.

In the mid 1990s, I went to London to look up the British archives. My main purpose was, of course, to look at the then recently declassified material on Operation Coldstore of which I had been a direct victim. I went through the files on the Hock Lee bus rioting and found NO mention of any communist complicity or manipulation in the strike or riot. Yet, 2 profiles in the files caught my attention.

Serial No. C5 Tang Thiam Meng S4T 03943 Bus driver (Communist) 1955. One of the principal agitators in the Hock Lee Bus strike. Responsible for spreading communist ideology among STC bus workers. Active in riots 1956. Released in 1958 and immediately reverted to his old union activities. Joined STC employees union, now in the Central Council. A strong supporter of Ong Eng Guan. Committee member of Aljunied branch, U.P.P. 

Serial No. C6 Na Ho alias Wong Ho alias Wong Or S2Y 6230 Taxi driver. Suspected communist sympathizer. Official of Hock Lee branch of Singapore Bus Workers Union. Active part in October 1956 riots. Detained October 1956, released on DIRECT ORDER 4 March 1957. Now CEC member UPP and chairman of Tiong Bahru branch. [Emphasis mine. Source: I.S.C. paper No. (S)(63)1; 24 January, 1963; telegram 57]

These are very interesting profiles indeed. Both men C5 Tang Thiam Meng and C6 Na Ho were allegedly communist or pro-communist; both were accused of being active or making trouble in the Hock Lee bus strikes and subsequent riots. Yet both were treated with kids’ gloves. C5 Tang received an amazingly short imprisonment not exceeding two years while the treatment of Na Ho, was even more incredible. He was released after a few months on DIRECT ORDER! 

All of us who have been detained – none had been released on Direct Order. You and I know that this option did not exist for us at all. I, therefore, suspect these men to be British agent provocateurs of the so-called Days of Rage. 

My suspicion that C5 and C6 were agent provocateurs was reinforced when, fast forward from 1956 to early 1963, I read of Lord Selkirk, (the British High Commissioner for Singapore) declaring to his boss, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, that:

… The U.K. government for its part is not prepared to agree to the inclusion in the list, of Numbers C4, C5 and C6 for which there is no security justification. [Lord Selkirk to Secretary of State for the Colonies, telegram No. 59; 29 January 1963]

Wow! Despite the profiles describing C5 and C6 as communist and pro-communist, Lord Selkirk did not find them to be security risk and opposed including them in the list to be arrested under Operation Coldstore. Apparently Lord Selkirk was privy to information that the small SB mata2 on the ground were not told. They were just reporting in the profiles what they saw with their eyes, unaware of the master-puppeteer behind the scene. 

C5 and C6 profiles came up again in early 1963 when Lee Kuan Yew, Tunku and the British were preparing the list of persons to be arrested in Operation Coldstore. Lee was “quite insistent” that C5 and C6, (together with another profile C4) be arrested under Operation Coldstore although he knew that:

… there were no grounds for saying that they were involved in the communist conspiracy and (that) … he (Lee) had stated publicly that Ong Eng Guan had taken great care to keep communists out of key positions in the U.P.P. [Lord Selkirk to Secretary of State for the Colonies; point 6; telegram No. 53; 28 January 1963]

Why did Lee Kuan Yew want members of Ong Eng Guan’s party to be arrested under Operation Coldstore in the face of British opposition that these men posed no security threat at all? Lee, in effect admitted to the British that the object of the U.P.P. arrests was to strengthen his own chances of political survival. Lee was afraid that Ong Eng Guan’s party, the U.P.P., would fill the void left by the impending arrests of Barisan Sosialis leaders in Operation Coldstore, i.e. the U.P.P. would be “the next best vehicle for wrestling power from Lee Kuan Yew.” [Lord Selkirk to Secretary of State for the Colonies; point 4; telegram No. 56; 29 January 1963] We must not forget that the P.A.P. had lost to Ong Eng Guan in the Hong Lim by-election of 1961.

So much for the motives behind these arrests. Nor do the cases (serials C4, C5 and C6) stand up to examination. These are the best cases within the U.P.P. that Singapore Special Branch could find and the security records (…) have been “written up” as much as possible. [Lord Selkirk to Secretary of State for the Colonies; point 3; telegram No. 56; 29 January 1963]

From the records, we learn that Lee Kuan Yew had read the profiles of C4, C5 and C6; he was also keenly aware that the British considered C4, C5 and C6 to be non-security threats. Hence we must assume that Lee knew that the Hock Lee bus riots of 1955 and the Chinese High School’s students’ riots of 1956 were instigated by these agent provocateurs as we also know today, thanks to the declassification of the British archive. Yet, Lee has not prevented Singapore’s public funds to be wasted by Channel News Asia in sending a team to Nepal to interview ex-gurkha policemen. The team certainly was on an ‘excellence’ joy trip! 

In 1956, trouble broke out again when union leaders were arrested, the women’s organization as well as the Singapore Chinese Middle Schools Student Union were banned. In protest, the students staged sit-ins and camped at Chinese High and Chung Cheng. Riot broke out on October 25 before the students could disperse. 

Among the more than 70 persons arrested on 26 October 1956 was Madam Wu Cai Tang, chairperson of the Singapore Chinese School Parents’ Association. Here I want to end my speech by paying homage to this revolutionary mother who had brought up a revolutionary family. Her son Fang Xiao Lang was also among those detained in 1956.

Indeed, May 13th 1954 was the watershed event that re-launched the people of Singapore’s struggle for independence. 

I should end my speech at this point. However, permit me to modify my already printed speech at this juncture, for I believe it is timely that I give a piece of advice to Lee Kuan Yew now before it is too late: Lee, apologize to the people of Singapore.

Lim Chin SiongThere is mounting evidence from the archives of Lee’s deception and lies to the people of Singapore. The latest exposure just a few days ago came from Dr. Thum’s article in The Online Citizen on the “Mai Pah Mata” (Do Not Beat the Police – in Hokkien) speech of Lim Chin Siong on 25 October 1956 which has been infamously misquoted as “Pah Mata” (Beat the Police). This misquote was used to justify Lim’s arrest two days later by the Lim Yew Hock government. This misquote has hovered over Lim Chin Siong for 60 years to paint him as an irresponsible rabble rouser that instigated the riots of 25 and 26 October 1956. 

Now that we have proof that Lim Chin Siong was willfully misquoted from the police archive that had made a recording of Lim’s speech at that rally which, for your information, was also attended by PAP big guns like Lee Kuan Yew and Toh Chin Chye, I would like to ask this question to Lee:

Why did you not defend your party’s assistant secretary general and Member of Parliament for Bukit Timah when, after his arrest, this misquote was raised in Parliament to justify his arrest by Lim Yew Hock’s government? Why did you not jump to your feet with alacrity and shout, “That is a lie, a most blatant lie. I was on the stage. Lim Chin Siong did not say that!”

Why did you not use the PETIR, your own PAP organ, to rectify this misquote? Why such an un-honorable deafening silence for 60 years?

This was sheer treachery to Lim Chin Siong!

Therefore, to Lee Kuan Yew, I would advise: Apologize to the people of Singapore before it is too late – apologize to the people of Singapore before it is too late.

Thank you once again to F8 and MARUAH for this lunch to honour all who had aspired for Singapore’s independence and sacrificed in the movements and struggles towards it. 

May we remember their days of tears and righteous indignation and carry on their work to achieve the independence they had aspired for – AN INDEPENDENCE WITH FULL RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND DIGNITY FOR ALL SINGAPOREANS. MARUAH! DIGNITY!

Terima kasih, xie xie, thank you.”

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In memory of Tan Jing Quee (18 Jan 1939 – 14 Jun 2011) by Hong Lysa

jing queeTan Jing Quee is best known for his dedication to pioneering the writing of the history of the left in Singapore. He has been acknowledged for conceiving and editing Comet in our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History (2001); Our Thoughts are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile (2009); The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya (2010); and The May 13 Generation: The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s (2011).
At the time, each was a risky enterprise, though less so with every publication.

With the success of these publications, it may be forgotten that Jing Quee’s plans for these books were not necessarily greeted with enthusiasm at the time. There was fear that he might be stirring a hornet’s nest, provoking retaliation from the state after a relatively tranquil decade of the 1990s where the former political prisoners slipped into oblivion, as they went about their daily lives, ostensibly putting the past behind them, and correspondingly the assertion that they were communists or communist sympathisers became somewhat muted.

However, the school textbooks on Singapore history had from 1984 been teaching that the ‘communists and pro-communists’ within the PAP were against merger as the Federation government would crack down on the communists in Singapore. The confidence that the state-sanctioned narrative would not be challenged grew. In 1997, the PAP government launched the National Education exhibition, a full-blown narrative of the anti-colonial movement in Singapore as being riddled with communists from the strikes and riots of the 1950s to the merger issue of the early 60s.

It seemed as if the former political prisoners were determined to ignore all this, and suppress their past. A good number did not even tell their children about what they had been through.
Indeed, Jing Quee was not unaware of the concern that he might be courting trouble, and not just for himself when he embarked on his books.

He accordingly planned his moves carefully. Comet in Our Sky was launched in Kuala Lumpur, but not in Singapore. When he accepted the invitation to speak at the Detention-Writing-Healing fringe arts festival in 2006, becoming with Michael Fernandez the first former political prisoners to narrate their experiences at a public event, they both stuck strictly to the fact of their prison days, but still earned a rebuke from the Ministry of Home Affairs about how ‘the government had allowed the detainees to put their past behind, and enabled them and their families to enjoy the prosperity of Singapore, but it would not allow them to re-write history’ and ‘take advantage of young Singaporeans who had not lived through the period.’

This statement did cause anxiety that there would be repercussions on any further attempts to push the issue. Some were concerned that he was rocking the boat. Others held the view that should there be a backlash, younger Singaporeans involved in civil society work who had no links or knowledge of Operation Coldstore and the other detentions, would become fearful and discouraged. It was better not to burden them with the past.

Jing Quee did not share this view, but he was mindful of it.
There were certainly indications that his pursuits were not to be encouraged. A regional branch of the National Library had initially agreed to provide the venue for the book launch in February 2009, but was to change its mind. In the end, the launch was held at a private gallery.

For the launch of the Fajar Generation at the end of that year, Jing Quee and Rose kept the venue secret until a day or two before the event, and only those who had registered were informed of it. There was concern that pressure would be put on the venue hosts to back out. The launch for the translation of Ju Lang and the May 13 Generation two years later on May 14, 2011 turned out to be exactly one week after the landmark 2011 GE. But even before that, he had already discerned that this time, it was fine to advertise the book launch widely.

Jing Quee had been taking calculated risks.

The above account would be familiar to those who know Jing Quee’s work. His vision, perseverance and the quality of the publications have all been acknowledged.

But it is Jing Quee’s courage manifested in his posthumous publication that I would argue may have the most profound impact. In writing about his life for the book on Operation Coldstore (2013), Tan Jing Quee laid bare the fact that he had signed a confession and made a television ‘confession’ to obtain release 2 years and 7 months after being imprisoned in October 1963. He gave a detailed account of how he made up his mind to seek release, and how he tried to negotiate on the wordings of the signed statement, and the conduct of the television appearance. ISD started with sounding open-minded, allowing him to write the first draft of the statement, but slowly wore him down to accepting humiliating terms after raising his hopes of release and then dashing them. Jing Quee also described how he had to brace himself to face his friends when he was released. Indeed, TT Rajah expressed his disappointment, and asked why he gave in. Jing Quee’s reply was that it was a matter that he had to answer to himself.

Rightly do we reserve the greatest respect for the political prisoners who did not capitulate, who spurned all offers and threats to get them to sign for their release, which as Dr Lim Hock Siew pointed out, would be used by the state to legitimize their arrests and imprisonment (for two decades, and more in the case of Chia Thye Poh). Theirs is a moral and political victory achieved at the highest cost to their personal lives.

Jing Quee’s story in contrast is the more common and mundane one. It is one that has by and large been avoided in personal narratives. He knew that the chapter for the Coldstore book would be the last chapter that he would write, given his failing health, and decided to speak plainly of his decision to sign the ‘confession’ after a relatively short period in prison. It was not a story to be proud of, and it took courage to write it. It is also about the high price that the ISA exacted from those who chose this path. At the most extreme, such individuals would be scorned for their weakness, and even accused of falsely implicating friends just to get out (the latter did not apply in Jing Quee’s case).

What Jing Quee had done is to demonstrate that the defeat and setback that he and the others met need not be a permanent one. He faced up to his deed, and thus freed himself from the ignominy that it entailed. He patiently, humbly and sincerely rallied the former political prisoners, winning back their friendship, organising social occasions for get-togethers and rebuilding solidarity among comrades.

And he wrote his history of the left, which in the end they could embrace if they chose to, and proudly reclaim their historical role.


The Mid-fifties

I first met Jing Quee in 1954, 60 years ago, when we both entered Raffles Institution. Its campus was where Raffles City now stands. Entry into RI was based on the results of the state-wide entrance examination, the predecessor of the present PSLE. The best were admitted to RI. Jing Quee had already displayed brilliance at an early age.

We are products of our age. The social and political forces at play determine our values and attitudes. 1955 was the year of the protest by Chinese middle school students against conscription for national service. The French had been defeated by the brave Vietnamese people at the Battle of Diem Phien Phu under General Vo Nguyen Giap.

Barely five years earlier, Mao Tse-tung had stood on the parapet at Tiananmen Square calling upon the Chinese people to “stand up”. One-fourth of humanity heeded his call and stood up.

Though the Korean War had ended dividing the nation into two, the Cold War was raging. Russia and China were ring-fenced by military treaties stretching from the North Atlantic (NATO) through the Middle East (METO) to East Asia (SEATO). Russia and China were experimenting with a new social order to establish a more equal and egalitarian system. Russia had succeeded to a certain extent and China was adopting the socialist model of economic and social development.

Anti-colonial and liberation movements were raging from the Caribbean to Asia through Africa. The UN had launched a de-colonisation programme and the metropolitan powers were against the wall trying frantically to retain a foothold in their former colonies through proxies.

The clamour for independence and democracy had created political groups in Singapore. One of the organisations among the English speaking activists was the Malayan Democratic Union a gathering of liberals – lawyers, doctors, journalists and teachers. The Chinese educated had their own organisations Like the Old Boys’ Association which joined other like minded groups struggling for independence with Singapore as an integral part. Singapore was a crown colony ruled autonomously by the British after the Straits Settlements comprising Malacca, Penang and Singapore was dismantled in 1948. “Merdeka” was in the air.

1954 was also the year PAP was formed. It had among its members, lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, workers and businessmen. It published two slim brochures containing its manifesto and policies. The policies were enunciated by authors covering different areas like education, the trade unions, multi-racial unity and multilingualism. It stood for an independent, democratic, socialist Malaya including Singapore. Singapore was treated as an integral part of Malaya by everyone.

1954 was also the year that the British government proposed a Constitution for Singapore to grant self-government and for holding of island-wide election. The Randell Constitution as it was called, paved the way for the election of 25 members to the Legislative Assembly.

This was the political milieu during Jing Quee’s RI days. I remember him attending the Legislative Assembly meetings and PAP rallies. Most students were politically conscious at that time and they formed Literary and Debating Societies in their schools. They discussed the political issues of the day. Jing Quee became the President of the RI Literary and Debating Society.

Not only did Jing Quee have brain power, he also had brawn power. He played football and was the striker for the RI 1st XI. He was known for his speed in the field which matched his oratorical speed.
Days in the Varsity

Jing Quee joined the University of Malaya in 1960 and read for an Arts degree. Political talks, forums and debates were the order of the day. There was no restriction as we have now on political matters. There was no requirement that a political club should be registered before students can embark on political activities. There was no rush to complete the courses in time to make up for lost time on national service. Jing Quee became the President of the University Socialist Club and the editor of its thought-provoking publication, Fajar (Dawn).

The University in 1960 was truly an intellectual hub. The PAP had captured 43 of the 51 seats in parliament at the 1959 election. Many of the undergraduates joined the campaign in support of the PAP as it was then the vanguard of the progressive forces in Singapore. Its Secretary General was the champion of freedom at that time but he was soon to jettison all the ideals that he and his party stood for.

Jing Quee’s articles and editorials in Fajar were known for their depth and literary flair. After graduation he did not look for a highly paid job in the private sector or in the civil service. With his mastery of the English language he could have got a teaching job in the Ministry of Education with security of tenure and the perks that go with a government appointment. He shunned these and joined the trade union for a small pay of $500 per month. To him, living up to his ideals were more paramount than amassing material wealth.

Entering Politics

The PAP has been a monolith for a long time but not in the early years after its formation. One of the senior members of the PAP, Ong Eng Guan even challenged Lee Kuan Yew for the post of prime minister. The cadres had to vote on who they wanted as the PM. The voting took a surprising turn. The result was a tie. The chairman of the party, Toh Chin Chye cam to Lee’s rescue by giving him th casting vote. Jing Quee watched all these with disdain. He knew the meaning of the words “treachery” and “aggrandizement.”

The inevitable split within the PAP between the progressive forces and the reactionary (anti-people) forces took place in 1961. The breakaway group of intellectuals and political activists formed the Barisan Sosialis with Lim Chin Siong as its secretary general. Though not organisationally linked with the Barisan at that time, Jing Quee stood as its candidate for Kampong Glam. Jing Quee lost by only around 100 votes. The votes for candidates opposing Rajaratnam weresplit with the unprincipled Harban Singh of the United PeoplesParty polling around 1000 votes which should have gone to Jing Quee if Harns had not entered the fray.

Detention in 1963

Jing Quee’s detention was part of Lee Kuan Yew’s p[lot to eliminate all those who dissented against his policies. The label that was fixed on them was that they were subversive and being members of the communist united front out to destroy Singapore! Was there any evidence to support this allegation? This was the same label that was pasted against more than 200 activists during Operation Coldstore of February 1963 when Lim Chin Siong and a host of others were detained. In February 1963 Singapore was still a crown colony whose members were Singapore, Malaya and Britain. Lee tried to distance himself from the Internal Security Council’s decision on the detentions but records show that he was actively involved in it.

The British have opened their archives after the passage of 30 years. None of the minutes, exchange of correspondence and documents show any proof of the existence of a communist united front or that Lim was a communist (see the very informative books, “Comet in our Sky” and “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore – Commemorating 50 Years. The detentions were to satisfy Lee’s lust for power.

Trip to London

Jing Quee came out of prison in 1966. He headed for London to read law and to escape the stifling atmosphere in Singapore. London in the mid-60s was a hothouse of political activities. One could read any book, attend any forum and meet any social activist from whichever part of the world he came.

Jing Quee was a voracious reader. His regular haunts were the bookshops and libraries. There were no computers or internet. He attended talks, seminars and workshops shoring up his intellectual arsenal.

Return to Singapore and Law Pratice

Jing Quee returned to Singapore overland. He travelled through Europe and Asia with his wife to be, Rose. The trip was to satisfy this curiosity and discover new horizons. Jing Quee’s quest for knowledge knew no bounds. One can talk to him on any topic and he will haveto say something on it. He was a polymath.

Jing Quee joined J B Jeyaretnam’s practice for a while before setting up a partnership with Lim Chin Joo. Jing Quee and Chin Joo as the firm was styled, flourished. The firm expanded and made a mark for itself. Jing Quee handled the litigation work and enjoyed practice. He once told me how he succeeded in a case involving complex questions on company law against a lawyer who was a top notch in corporate law. But Jing Quee remained humble despite such successes and the accompanying monetary rewards. He was looking forward to retirement soon after he touched 60 so that he could spend more time with his first love – books and writing.
Jing Quee wrote extensively – essays, short stories, poems and books. These contain a wealth of information and edifying prose and poetry.

The 1977 Detention

In February 1977 Jing Quee was detained together with about 16others accused once again of being subversive and promoting the cause of the communist unite front. I was the first in this group to be detained and anther label was fixed, that of being “Euro-communists”, a creature hitherto unknown. There was international outcry against these repressive actions but the PAP government paid no heed to them. After a few months, most of us were released after making the usual template “confessions” or “admissions”. Alas, truth was a major casualty in all the detentions including the arrests of 22 social workers, lawyers and professionals in the 1987 Operation Spectrum.

Jing Quee the Man of Letters

He was a man of letters in both senses of the word. He not only read widely. He also wrote extensively and edited books on history and politics. He gave expression to his ideals in poetry some of which were light-hearted but stimulating. His poem on his detention stirs the soul.

Jing Quee the Man

Jing Quee was an icon. He is an exemplar of what an intellectual should be – erudite, humble and a champion of the rights of every person. He evokes all those ideals that we yearn for and want to see realized. I shall forever cherish his contributions towards the cause of freedom.

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In Memory of Dr Lim Hock Siew by Teo Soh Lung

ImageDr Lim Hock Siew (21 February 1931 – 4 June 2012)


“I am not interested in saving Lee Kuan Yew’s face. This is not a question of pride but one of principle. My detention is completely unjustifiable and I will not lift a single finger to help Lee Kuan Yew to justify the unjustifiable.”

Dr Lim Hock Siew minced no words when he responded with the above to two high ranking special branch agents who had asked him to accept two conditions for his release in order to “preserve” the face of Lee Kuan Yew. His defiant and angry reply must have made the agents feel sheepish and small. He had already spent more than nine years in prison for no reason. It was an outrageous suggestion that he should help preserve Lee Kuan Yew’s face. Dr Lim not only rejected the offer outright, he issued a public statement through his lawyer, Mr T T Rajah.

I admire the courage of Dr Lim for issuing that statement. I admire the courage and sacrifice of his wife, Dr Beatrice Chen for allowing the statement to be issued, knowing full well that it would diminish the prospect of a release for Dr Lim. Their only son who was five months old when Dr Lim was arrested had just turned nine. It was an enormous sacrifice.

Anyone who has been imprisoned under the ISA would know that Dr Lim’s statement could only meant continued imprisonment for a very long time accompanied by harsher prison conditions and deprivations. Dr Lim would have to be psychologically prepared for those consequences because no one will be able to secure his release. No cabinet minister or president would risk losing their careers by contradicting instructions for the renewal of detention orders.

At a forum organised by Function 8 in 2011, a member of the audience asked if Dr Lim anticipated being incarcerated for 20 years. His response was “No.” He continued, “When I said goodbye to my wife, I said: “See you in eight years’ time.” The longest serving detainee then was Ahmad Boestamam who was imprisoned by the British for eight years. I did not expect my imprisonment to be so long. I thought Singapore would merge with Malaysia, and I would not be detained for so long. But at the end of ten years, I decided to make another ten-year plan. I wanted to be realistic. If you are not psychologically prepared, you would surely break down. As leaders of the movement, we could not betray our followers, we had to stay firm.”

Dr Lim Hock Siew was a man of steel. In the history of Singapore, thousands have been arrested and imprisoned without trial under the ISA. Many have been banished or went into involuntary exile. They remain political exiles even till today. Loh Miao Gong in “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore, Commemorating 50 Years” edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa listed 1190 prisoners. The number according to the Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, was 2460 as at 1990. Since Ms Loh’s list was published, more names have emerged. Many of those 1190 have been imprisoned for more than a decade and several close to two decades. Singapore boasts of Dr Chia Thye Poh, an elected legislative assemblyman and a Physics lecturer who lost 32 of his best years under prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. Dr Lim Hock Siew was the second longest serving prisoner of conscience in our history. It behoves us to remember the huge sacrifices they and so many others have made for us.

Why did Singaporeans allow people like Dr Lim Hock Siew to be imprisoned for such horrendous length of time? How did the PAP government succeed in imprisoning him for 20 years without any murmur of protest from Singaporeans?

In the earlier published post on Dr Lim Hock Siew one Hoh Jin Wei asked: “Was he a commie?” In another post, Hoh Jin Wei asked: “Did he mention that Lim Chin Siong was communist sympathiser?” I don’t know Hoh Jin Wei. If he is a young person who grew up with the staple of PAP history books, it explains why Lee’s government has been so successful in its brutal and unconscionable ways. Using labels on innocent people to create fear among the population is its hallmark. It is a method learnt from our British colonial master. Labels such as Communists, Reds, Pro communists, Euro communists, Marxists, Terrorists are freely used on ISA prisoners. These labels allowed the PAP to manipulate our thoughts. One recent example is the Hock Lee bus riot made into a million dollar film “Days of Rage”. The PAP propagandists, including Janadas Devan, the son of former president C V Devan Nair who wrote a very impressive and heart wrenching foreword for Francis T Seow’s “To Catch a Tartar, A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison”, harped on the falsehood that the communists were behind the riot. So anyone who is a communist or alleged to be a communist or communist sympathiser would be rioters by implication. The film failed to inform us that the riot was the work of agent provocateurs planted by the British and not the work of communists. It did not reveal that the bus workers’ strike came about because the trade union set up by the employer reneged on a settlement that was agreed upon in the presence of an arbitrator, an academic called Dr Charles Gamba.

Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP ministers proclaim their abhorrence for words that remotely hint of character flaws. Singaporeans and foreigners have been sued and bankrupted. Lee and his ministers have received millions as compensation. But have Lee and his colleagues ever think of the damage they have caused to the reputation of the thousands who they accused as communists, pro-communists, Euro-communists, Marxists and terrorists and being involved in “communist united front activities to violently overthrow the elected government?” They were incarcerated without trial for years under the ISA? Not a shred of evidence has ever been produced to prove such alleged subversive activities. They have never been given the opportunity to rebut the government’s false allegations in a court of law. All of them have lost their best years in prison. They have been scarred for life. Their good names sullied a million times more that Lee Kuan Yew and his ministers. Their families suffered immensely, many deprived of sole bread winners. Only a minority manage to make good their ruined lives. Should they not be compensated for such character assassinations?

In 2011 at the memorial gathering of the Late Mr Tan Jinq Quee, Dr Lim Hock Siew called for the setting up of an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate into the allegations against all ISA prisoners. See It took nearly 50 years for this call to be made.

The PAP government ignored the call. In the same year, Dr Lim Hock Siew and 15 former ISA prisoners again called upon the PAP government to abolish the ISA and set up an independent commission of inquiry. The PAP government not only refused to do so, it reiterated its baseless allegations.

On 2 June 2012, Function 8 and MARUAH commemorated the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum at Hong Lim Park. The event was supposed to have taken place on 19 May 2012 but it was postponed because of the Hougang by election. The public event was attended by several hundred people. A letter calling for the abolition of the ISA and the return of political exiles was signed by 13 survivors of Operation Spectrum together with 17 of their relatives and 90 friends and members of the public. It was submitted to the prime minister of Singapore. The prime minister did not even acknowledge receipt of the letter.

Dr Lim Hock Siew would have attended the commemoration on 2 June 2012 had he been well. Regrettably, he was too ill. But he managed to send a message to me at 4.42 am that day: “Please don’t be Disappointed. I am still feeling very tired n giddy on getting up.” He passed away two days later, on 4 June 2012. He passed away peacefully knowing that the call for the abolition of the ISA and the return of political exiles as well as the setting up of an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate ISA cases will continue.

On 2 February 2013, survivors of Operation Coldstore commemorated its 50th anniversary at Hong Lim Park. The crowd was even larger than that for Operation Spectrum. Again there was a call for the abolition of the ISA.

It is crucial and urgent that the ISA which legitimizes state terrorism be repealed. As Dr Lim Hock Siew reminded us repeatedly, this law is a “reserve weapon to safeguard the PAP’s interests”.

Will the Singapore government abolish the ISA? Will it welcome exiles home without conditions? It will take a very long time before this happens. Meanwhile, ISA survivors and the people of Singapore have to continue to work towards these goals. For the present, no parliamentarian (opposition and PAP backbenchers) has ever called for the repeal of this unjust law or asked about the status of the 11 Muslims who are still unjustly imprisoned under the ISA. Two of the 11 people have been imprisoned for more than twelve years. The parliamentarians appear to accept the government’s allegations as gospel truth. They have failed to discharge their duty as elected representatives of the people who should speak up against injustice, no matter how unpopular the cause may be. Their inaction may result in the 11 Muslims being imprisoned for many more decades as had happened to Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Chia Thye Poh and many others.

As a survivor of Operation Spectrum, I will continue to keep this issue alive. Hoh Jin Wei is wrong to tell us that “Lee Kuan Yew have moved on n built Singapore to what it is today all while [sic] these folks are still crying away. They got out if [sic] jail but never left it. I say move on”.
The journey has only just begun. A nation that does not know her ugly past is bound to fail for it will permit the government to repeat and inflict the harm that it has done so successfully for decades.

May the memory and spirit of Dr Lim Hock Siew inspire and unite us to fight for what is right and just and to reclaim our human rights.

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Speech of Dr Poh Soo Kai delivered at the lunch commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the May 13, 1954 Student Movement


Translation of speech by Mr Lim Pai



Selamat petang。中午好。Good-day。首先,让我借这个机会,感谢今天筹办这个聚会的两个公民团体,“尊严”(Maruah)和“第八功能”(Function 8)。1954年5月13日,这个深具历史意义的日子,今天正好满六十周年。

1954年5月13日,是一个标志性的日子。它是激发新加坡人民重新投身争取祖国独立运动的一个分水岭。我们应该记得,1954年新加坡还是个殖民地;二 战后新加坡和马来亚半岛人民争取独立的呐喊,随着英殖民当局在1948年宣布紧急状态进而采取蛮横镇压措施,被强力压抑下来。目前针对巴东卡里英军屠杀平 民恶行的控诉,是那一段黑暗岁月的一个严酷的提醒。然而,1954年5月13日的学生运动,改变了这一切,改变了新加坡。人民重新奋起,开展要求摆脱英殖 民统治,争取独立的斗争。

1954年4月,也就是这一天的一个月前,英殖民政府宣布对新加坡男性青年实行国民服役征召制(national service conscription )。马来亚大学(即后来的新加坡大学)社会主义俱乐部在当年5月10日出版的会刊《华惹》(Fajar)上发表评论文章,指出我们不明白“国民” (national)到底是什么意思,因为我们还是个殖民地;英国当局既然不认为我们有足够条件可以管理自己,为什么却认为我们可以为他们参战,为他们牺 牲性命。

新加坡华校中学生,是受这条新法规影响最大的一群,因为他们绝大多数都是相关年龄层的青年。他们作出合于情理、合乎逻辑的决定,向英国派驻新加坡的总督请 愿,要求豁免国民服役。在1954年5月13日这决定性的当天,八名学生代表到总督府去递交请愿书。众多其他学生为支持他们的代表,也集体上街。学生们沿 着里峇峇利路和克里门梭道(River Valley Road /Clemenceau Avenue)两旁列队,队伍一直排到总督府。上载到网上影像媒体YouTube的视频,可以证明学生集会的和平性质。尽管如此,他们却面对持警棍、拿盾 牌的英殖民地警察的攻击。

学生遭到警察殴打,从克里门梭道被追赶到史丹佛路(Stamford Road)。他们亲身体验了警察暴力是怎么回事。四十八名学生在妨碍警务人员执行公务罪名下被逮捕。其中七名后来被判罪名成立,判处三个月监禁。

这些年轻、无辜的华校中学生,从这个冷酷的教训中认识了政治。他们认清了谁是卑鄙小人,意识到他们自己是毫无权利可言的被迫害者;他们没有英殖民当局必须 尊重,或者至少假装尊重的人权。真叫人遗憾,学生们唯一的出路就是团结起来,并且和新加坡社会所有其他受迫害的人紧紧团结在一起,致力于追求正义。

1954年这重要的年头,还发生《华惹》编辑因5月10日出版的刊物获罪,5月28日在煽动罪名下被捕的事件。煽动是非常严重的罪行,竟被用来指控这些强 调爱国主义和坚持编辑自主立场的青年。一个记录在案的原因是,警方在搜查华校中学生的物品时,发现了好几本《华惹》,因此错误推断我们这些《华惹》同人是 华文中学学生513抗议行动的幕后黑手。我们不是幕后黑手,但我们《华惹》同人和马大社会主义俱乐部确实全力支持华校中学生的行动。当他们在华侨中学校园 集中时,我们也以泛马学联会员的身份到现场去,公开展示学生们的团结一致。英殖民当局依仗统治强势无理对付学生,恰恰促成了英校和华校学生的大团结。

在煽动罪的诉讼中,英女皇律师布里特(D.N. Pritt)为我们辩护,我们最终被判无罪释放。这位英女皇律师素以严厉批判殖民主义,代表殖民地人民在法庭上和英帝国主义者斗争而享有盛誉。华文中学学 生因此决定通过在《华惹》案中担任助理律师的哈里李光耀,接洽布里特为他们辩护。如事前预料般,官司没有打赢。然而,哈里李却因此利用这个机会和华校中学 生建立了联系。


1954年11月1日,詹密星(Jamit Singh)参加新加坡海港局雇员联合会,成为它的受薪秘书。詹密星也是马大社会主义俱乐部的会员。1955年5月1日,詹密星领导新加坡海港局雇员联合 会的白领工人罢工,为期67天的工业行动最终取得胜利。詹密星成了英雄。他立场坚定地为工会会员要求合理工资,在海港局闸门前和重要政府机关外面部署了纠 察队,以争取社会公众的关注。海港局白领工人的行动与胜利,鼓舞了该局的蓝领工友,纷纷要求参加詹密星的工会。他们不肯再要一个由资方设立和控制的工会来 代表他们。詹密星后来把海港局相关的若干小型工会合并,组成会员达一万名之众的新加坡海港工友联合会(Singapore Harbour Board Workers’Union),进一步巩固、增强工人的团结。


工人争取人权与劳工权利的斗争,自然赢得了在5月13日被殴打得伤痕累累、头破血流,经历惨痛教训洗礼的华校中学生们的同情。他们对被压迫者为了争取别人 尊重自己的人权而开展斗争是怎么回事是有亲身体会的。华文中学学生公开表示支持海港局的白领与蓝领工人,支持詹密星。许多学生出现在工人纠察队的现场,以 行动给予工人同情和支持。

进入1955年不久,又发生了一件事。福利巴士公司的多数工人决定加入方水双、陈世鉴、林兆明领导的新加坡巴士工友联合会,并在该公司成立支会。他们不要 资方设立的黄色工会代表他们。工人的决定引发了工业纠纷。两个工会后来同意接受由马来亚大学加穆巴博士(Dr Gamba)的第三方仲裁,纠纷因此得以暂时平息。仲裁方关于划分巴士路线的建议,也获得了两个工会同意。然而,协议书上的签名墨迹方干,黄色工会在资方 的压力下马上又反悔了,这才导致工业纠纷进一步扩大。资方接着开除罢工的工人,叫来流氓想强硬把巴士开出车厂。这可是影响工人生计的大事,工人因此决定加 以阻止。于是,警察来了,持着巨大水力的水喉朝他们喷射,企图驱散工人。


下来警察进一步介入,开队到现场殴打并拘捕福利巴士工人。这下乱套了。然后,有人开枪,一个赤手空拳的学生就这么悲惨地被打死了。在那段充满泪水和义愤的 岁月里,学生和工人就是这样义无反顾地站出来,为自己争取基本和合法人权的。新加坡人民就是这样义无反顾地站出来,和白皮肤的殖民地主人对抗的。

今天,六十年过去了。新加坡当局把这段义愤的岁月称为“狂暴岁月”(days of rage),诬蔑学生和工人的正当抗争是万恶的马来亚共产党躲在幕后挑动的破坏与残暴行为。这就是他们经常使用的伎俩。再没有什么能比这种廉价的官方宣传更加远离事实真相的了。

回顾过去,有时真是讽刺。在上述这些事件发生时,蒂凡那(Devan Nair)还是个左翼工会的领袖。在今天这样的时刻,我想该向他的长子加纳达斯(Janadas)说:真希望你的父亲没和你说,林清祥告诉他1954年5 月13日学运和福利巴士工人罢工,是共产党在背后搞的鬼。林清祥已经不在人世,这样把再也无从证实的话塞到他的嘴里,未免太不公平,太欠厚道了。


1990年代中,我到伦敦去看英国的档案。主要的目的,当然是去看新近解禁的关于冷藏行动的保密材料。在那个行动中,我是直接的受害人。我也浏览了福利巴 士暴动的档案,我没看到有任何一处提到罢工或暴动是由共产党合谋发动或者操纵的。在翻阅过程中,有两份文件引起了我的注意。

编号C5:邓添明(Tang Thiam Meng),S4T 03943,1955年是巴士司机(共产党)。福利巴士罢工的主要煽动者之一。负责向新加坡电车公司(STC)巴士工人宣传共产主义思想。参与1956年 暴动。1958年获释后即刻恢复过去的工会活动。加入新加坡电车公司雇员联合会,目前为中委。王永元的忠实支持者。人民统一党阿裕尼支部委员会成员。

编号C6:那河,别名黄河,又名黄爾(Na Ho alias Wong Ho alias Wong Or),S2Y 6230。出租车的司机。嫌疑是共产党同情者。新加坡巴士工友联合会福利支会职员。参与1956年10月暴动。1956年10月被拘留,1957年3月4 日在“直接指令”(DIRECT ORDER)下获释。目前是人民统一党党员,中峇鲁支部主席。[来源:情报与安全委员会报告,编号(S)(63)1;1963年;电报编号57]



我在伦敦查找资料,从1956年往下翻阅到1963年初的档案。我关于这两人是内奸的猜疑,在读了英国驻新加坡最高专员塞尔扣克勋爵(Lord Selkirk)向他的上司殖民地大臣所作陈述后,进一步得到印证:


哇塞。尽管上引档案资料说编号C5和C6两人是共产党和亲共分子,塞尔扣克勋爵却不认为他们对安全有威胁,反对将他们列入冷藏行动的逮捕名单。塞尔扣克勋 爵显然掌握了为政治部小探员所不知道的机密情报。这些跑腿的小探员只是将他们看见的写进报告,没有觉察到事件背后还有个操弄木偶的主人。



明知道英殖民当局认为这两人对安全没有威胁,而且反对逮捕他们。既然如此,为什么李光耀却非要将这两个王永元政党的党员列入冷藏行动逮捕名单呢?实际上, 李光耀曾向英殖民当局承认,逮捕人民统一党党员,是为了增强他在政治上胜出的机会。利用冷藏行动扫荡社会主义阵线领导人后,李光耀害怕王永元的人民统一党 乘机填补社阵留出来的政治版图,成为“和李光耀争夺权势的下一个最强的政治对手”。[塞尔扣克勋爵向殖民地大臣汇报;第4点;电报编号56;1963年1 月29日]我们不要忘记,人民行动党刚刚才在1961年芳林补选中败给了王永元。


根据这些记录,我们知道李光耀调阅过编号C4、C5和C6三人的材料。他其实非常清楚,英殖民当局认为编号C4、C5和C6三人对安全没有威胁。因此,我 们可以推测,李光耀早就知道,1955年福利巴士暴动和1956年华文中学学生暴动有这些英国坐探在煽风点火。感谢英国的解密档案,我们今天也知道了。尽 管如此,李光耀最近却没有阻止亚洲新闻台(Channel News Asia)浪费公帑,派遣制作队到尼泊尔去采访当年的辜加警察。制作队想必有一个“很棒”的愉快旅程。





李光耀如何欺瞒与诈骗新加坡人民,档案里翻出来的证据已经多如牛毛。几天前覃炳鑫博士在网络媒体《网上公民》(The Online Citizen)发表的文章,又作了最新的揭露。这是关于1956年10月25日林清祥在群众大会上说的“Mai Pah Mata”(闽南话,“别打警察”的意思),可耻地被歪曲引述为“Pah Mata”(“打警察”)。这个被歪曲的引述,成了林有福政府两天后逮捕林清祥的理据。这个被歪曲的引述,纠缠了林清祥六十年,把他抹黑成一个教唆群众在 1956年10月25日和26日暴动的不负责任的煽动者。








Terima kasih,谢谢大家,thank you。


Singing their hearts out at the lunch. Photo credit: Ho Choon Hiong

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60th Anniversary of May 13, 1954 Student Movement

Speech of Mr Lim Hock Koon delivered at the lunch commemorating the 60th anniversary of May 13, 1954 Student Movement.




首先,我要感谢人权组织 Function8和MARUAH举办这个盛大的集会,纪念新加坡华校中学生“五一三”运动60周年。主办方对我说,这是为了向那一代参与该项学生运动的诸多同学表示的一种敬意!





在这样的背景下,殖民地政府竟然于1954年3月17日宣布要实行所谓“国民服役法”,强行向18至20岁的青年男生征招入伍。很明显,这个措施正是冲着 大部分华校学生而来。道理很简单,当时许多华校中学生因为日本军国主义三年八个月的统治而中断了学业,他们现在才刚刚庆幸有机会返校复课。但他们大多数都 成了超龄生。而这正好也落得成为英国统治者的征兵对象。

这批同学经过二战的洗礼,本来就已经荒废了宝贵的青春,正想回校把书读好,为社会尽点绵力的时候,却又面对征兵的凶兆。再者,当时国家又还没独立,人民大 众又还没当家做主,为什么“国”,哪一“国”去当兵呢?没有参政权的殖民地子民又从何来决定哪一国是友国,那一国是敌国呢?归根究底是没有理由去为一个外 来统治者去当它的兵,为它卖命的!因此,当时学生们提出了一个强有力的口号,那就是:“学生要读书,不要当兵”。

殖民地政府不但把学生的诉求置之不理,反而于1954年4月21日与22日,派官员到中正总校和华侨中学去进行登记。可以预期,这项举措遭到了两校学生的 坚决抵制。于是在5月8日,华中全体适龄学生,正式联名致函总督,要求准予免役。5月10日,中正的同学也决定选派8名代表,准备前往总督府,亲自呈函总 督请求免役。到了5月12日,警方传来一函,约定中正学生代表于隔天,也就是5月13日,下午3时,前往总督府会见。这个消息传来,华中的同学也决定派代 表前往会见。与此同时,两校的“学生行动委员会”也着手组织同学,到时前往总督府外的皇家山脚下,列队进行和平请愿。



到了2时50分,只见三辆红色镇暴车突然奔驰而至。紧接着,大批镇压暴动队警员浩浩荡荡地从车里出现,并在路边摆出咄咄逼人的阵势。本来平和的氛围,骤然 紧张了起来。此刻,一名高级英籍警官领头,命令学生们在两分钟内必须解散。可是,在场的学生代表鉴于近千人的队伍,要在两分钟内把通知清晰无误地传达给每 一个成员是不可能办到的事,只好向他要求给予5分钟时间,好让负责同学进行磋商,然后把决定传达下去。那里知道那位高傲横蛮的警官对学生的合理要求理都不 理,悍然在许多市民众目睽睽之下,命令镇暴队员上前对付手无寸铁的学生。一时,手持警棍,藤盾,铁拳的警员毫不留情地冲向学生。同时还用一条粗绳把学生队 伍勒住,把一伙人固定在公园的铁栏杆上,施展拳打脚踢。这时,男同学为了保护女同学,群起手钩手,背向警察,权当肉墙,接受警察势如雨下的猛烈打击。这时 同学们能够做的,就是放大嗓子,从内心本能地唱出“团结就是力量”来回应。可是,文质彬彬,手无寸铁,原本就是要进行和平诉求的青年学生,还是挡不住精炼 彪悍,全副武装的镇暴队的残忍打压。在一片血腥混乱中,有的学生被打到头破血流,有的被推倒进水沟伤了脚腿,有的被打得遍体瘀伤,有的被撕破了校服,跌破 了眼镜,丢失了鞋履。这一场警方暴力演出的结果,导致数十名学生受伤流血,四十余人被无辜逮捕。

当天,正是一年一度的全星华校学生运动会在惹兰勿刹体育场举行的日子,前去观看的学生与公众填满了整个观众席。当皇家山这边进行和平请愿的学生被警察殴 打,队伍被驱散之后。就有一名华中学生,在一名开着货车的司机的帮助下,把他載去惹兰勿刹体育场,向在那里的同学报告同学们被殴打的消息。一时之下,义愤 填膺的同学群起离开体育场,奔向皇家山。可是,就在皇家山附近的滨城路一带,他们被警方人马挡住了去路。急智的同学于是决定改道,奔向中正中学,在自己熟 悉的环境内,商讨对策。

在皇家山这边被驱散的同学,也退到金炎路南桥女中对面的空地上,不过仍然在警方的包围与监视之下,直至六点多,才被允许坐上数辆啰哩离去。车队把同学们载 到中正中学总校,与先前已经退到哪里的同学会合。当晚,二千余同学在那里召开情绪空前激昂的控诉大会,对警方的野蛮暴行表示强烈抗议与高度愤慨!中华总商 会会长与多名董事这时也闻声前来中正总校慰问学生,并答应隔天前往警局进行交涉,要求警方释放被捕的学生。与此同时,商会也邀请学生代表前往商会洽谈,以 便在免役的事情上给予协助。第二天,商会一名董事前往警局把被捕的学生保释了出来。在外等候审判。

此次商会居中斡旋,并重申会全力协助学生申请免役,还表示希望学生不再集中抗议。为了显示学生的善意,他们决定接受劝告,解散回家,并照常返校上课。针对 此次警察殴打学生的事件,中华总商会开过会议,认为学生的要求合情合理,对警方采取暴力手段对付和平请愿的学生表示谴责。它也议决为适龄的学生解决困难, 协助申请免役。商会还建议全星八间华文中学学生选派代表组成一个学生代表团。于是,在5月18日这一天,由55名各校代表组成的

中学生虽然未完成五一三当日的请愿计划,但是他们的惨痛遭遇却博得了社会的广泛同情与关注。英殖民地政府罔顾人民的安全与福祉的丑恶嘴脸也再次暴露无遗。 社会人士对它的诡异用心与不良目的也有了更深一层的认识。可以说,这次事件的总体效果是导致新加坡的反殖运动浪潮推向另一个高峰。新加坡首任首席部长马绍 尔就严厉批评警察对年轻学生所采取的暴力手段。当时担任英文虎报主编的拉惹乐南也在该报社论中极力谴责警方的无理行为。许多工会和社团也纷纷发表声明,指 出学生为了学业而申请免役的动机是纯正和完全可以理解的,而且强烈批评警方没有丝毫理由对学生动武。马来亚大学(现国大的前身)学生会与泛马学生联合会不 但强烈谴责警方的暴行,而且还要求总督对“五一三”学生流血事件进行公开调查。马大社会主义俱乐部也在其喉舌《华惹报》中,揭露英国如何想要利用“东南亚 条约组织”来对付反殖运动,论述中号召马来亚人民站起来反对该条约。该报的这一篇一针见血的评论,马上引起了殖民地总督的不悦,认为受英文教育的马大学生 已经和华校生窜连起来反对政府。这个讯号,对于目光敏锐的政治观察家来说,一定非常有意思。但它所反映的是:反殖的队伍,确实在壮大!该报编辑部的8名大 学生就因为刊登该文章,于5月28日被捕,并被控以煽动罪。



但摆在面前的,还有许多不确定性因素与障碍。5月21日,教育部突然召集八间学校的董事,校长和总商会的代表去开会。提学司在会上重申隔天就是适龄学生登 记的最后一天,要学校提前从5月22日起放假至6月28日,并且禁止学生游行或集会。政府还借助电台在当晚把其决定向全民广播。其目的无非是要分散学生的 力量,挫败学生的斗志。学生行动委员会识破了政府的这项阴谋,决定召集三千名学生于5月22日早上到中正总校开会,提出复课要求,并促请商会尽快协助学生 请求免役。为了表示诚意与谋求合理的解决方案,免役代表团主动将要求调低,把原来的“要求学生免役”改为“准许学生缓役”。
5月22日一大清早,大批学生便进入中正总校。不过,很快地便被政府人员发现,在上午9点钟的时候学校已被警方团团包围。其实,智勇双全的学生早在前一个 晚上便已经陆续进校,显现出在正义与邪恶之间的博弈中,正义的一方常常是会高出一筹的!这次集中的人数多达三千人,比任何一次集中都多。殖民地政府除了包 围之外,还扬言要断水断电断粮,意图制造紧张与恐怖气氛来吓人。后来,学生还是听从商会诸贤达,学校董事们,以及莊竹林校长的爱心劝告,于隔日解散回家, 静候商会斡旋的结果。


可是,在等待了一个多星期后,商会的斡旋工作仍未见有什么进展。6月1日,商会转达来一个消息,说当局已把6月3日的登记截止日期展延到6月11日,同时 还催促适龄生快快前往登记,然后才申请缓役。免役代表团把这看成是英殖民当局在耍弄的一种手段,想借此拖延时间来消磨学生的斗争意志。于是,决定再发动集 体力量,给它再一次痛击,以争取胜利。

学生代表团选择6月2日到华中集中。这次,有近千人参与,在那里过着组织完善,纪律严明的集体生活。学生们做好了准备,要展开长期的斗争。这次集中获得社 会广泛的支持,各阶层人士与学生家长络绎不绝前来慰问,他们送来米粮,干粮,日用品,药品,被单,衣物等等各种必需品,在物质上与精神上给学生极大的支 持。学生们受到无限鼓舞,斗争的意志与信心增强了百倍!


集中行动进入十多天,仍然不见半点缓解的迹象。于是,于6月15日晚在华中大礼堂举行的全体同学大会上,大家一致决定采取48小时的绝食行动,以迫使当局 重视并答应学生的正当要求。与此同时,大会亦吁请家长联名致函总商会要求继续协助适龄学生完成缓役的申请工作。对此,总商会毫不犹疑地表示应允,同时还召 开了特别会议,重申保证会继续为学生们效劳尽力。6月17日下午,李光前先生在全星七所华文中学校长及董事代表共二十余人的陪同下到华中向正在绝食中的学 生慰问。在那里,双方代表洽谈了约五个小时之久。最后双方达至谅解,董教诸先生保证会鼎力为学生申请缓役。基于这个共识,免役代表团便于当晚召开全体同学 大会,除了报告会谈的详细经过之外,与会同学也议决当晚十一时起结束绝食行动。

接着,有媒体报导,说总商会会长与防务司就缓役问题的最近一次洽谈中,防务司已经答应,如果高中一至高中三的学生提出缓役申请,他们都会获得批准。而其他 年级的学生如有机会参加毕业会考者也都会获准。同一日,李光前先生与总商会,董教联等代表亦向学生宣布了上述消息。他们接着吁请同学们为了华文教育的安危 与华校的前途着想,应解散回家。此外,他们也宣布学校决定于6月28日开学,并勉励大家如期复课,专心向学。



1954年,华校中学生所展开的要求免服兵役斗争,从该年3月底开始酝酿,一直到6月24日结束,前后拉了三个月之久。参与此次斗争的同学,付出了血与泪 的沉重代价,最后以胜利收场。我们怎么不会以此感到无比的骄傲与自豪呢?六十年过去了,我们不会忘记“五一三”这场斗争所带给这个地区的社会与政治领域的 影响。


5月13日这个日子突显了我们人民争取政治自由与社会公正的斗争中的一个转捩点。这是星星之火可以燎原的最佳体现。它掀起了一股强大的政治热潮,于 1959年把人民行动党拥戴上政治权利的宝座。当时,学生与工人冀望这个政党能为人民带来政治自由于社会公正。可是,他们却没有料到后来的发展竟事与愿 违,人民行动党在取得政权之后,便对这一代学运与政治活动份子进行毫不留情的迫害,其惨烈的程度,竟比殖民地统治者有过之而无不及。在新加坡的政治史上, 不能不等同于最严厉的政治背叛。


Mr Lim Hock Koon at the podium with Mr Tan Kok Fang.  Photo credit: Ho Choon Hiong


Translation of speech by Mr Tan Kok Fang

Dear Guests and Friends,

First of all, I would like to thank Function 8 and MARUAH for organising this gathering to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the May 13, 1954 incident in which Chinese Middle School students stood up against conscription imposed by the British colonial government. I have been told that this is done as a measure of respect for all those who participated in one way or another in that historical event. I am deeply moved by this gesture. I am sure all of my old school mates and old friends present here today are just as impressed as me.

Let me now take this opportunity to recount very briefly why the May 13 incident took place and how it has influenced the path in which social and political developments in Singapore and, indeed Malaya had taken since then.

Harsh colonial times in the background

The May 13 incident took place in 1954. As you are aware, Singapore and Malaya were then under British colonial rule. In June 1948, after the colonial government outlawed the Communist Party of Malaya and declared a state of “Emergency”, it ended a brief period during which the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) enjoyed a legal status after the Second World War. A ferocious jungle war then ensued. And in aiming to wipe out the CPM, a force whom the British had a lot to thank for having fought side by side with them behind enemy lines for several years against the Japanese invasion, the British had also introduced what was euphemistically referred to as the “new villages” — a tactic it had employed with some level of success in Africa and all over the rural areas of Malaya. Singapore was ruled directly by the British as a separate colony under a governor. It was a time in which the two territories were fully shrouded in “white terror” as freedom and human rights of the people were totally thrown out of the window as a direct result of the Emergency Regulations.

Colonialists had no right to impose conscription

Against this background, the British introduced the National Service Registration Ordinance on March 11 1954. It required all young men between the ages of 18 and 21 to register for the service between April 5 and May 12 of that year. It was clear that the act was designed to target Chinese youths because many of them had become overage as a result of the Japanese occupation between 1942 and 1945. They had only just resumed their education after a long disruption.

Feeling lucky for having survived the war years of deprivation and lost time, they were only too keen to get back to school. Like a thunder in daylight, they were now forced to face the spectre of fighting another war. Their feeling was fully understandable as the country they lived in had not yet achieved national independence and the British colonialists were still their overlord. They had no power whatsoever to decide who was friend and who was foe. In the final analysis, there was hardly any rationale for them to risk their lives fighting for their foreign masters, whom they should be fighting to get rid of in the first place. So, the determined voice raised most decidedly to express their deepest emotions then was: “STUDENTS WANT TO STUDY, OUT WITH CONSCRIPTION”.

Rather than responding with a reasoned stance, the colonial government ignored the demand of the students entirely. It went ahead with its plan to send officials into Chung Cheng High School and the Chinese High School (hereinafter referred to as “Chung Cheng” and “Chinese High” respectively) to carry out registration for conscription. As expected, the students in both schools boycotted the officials.

On May 8, Chinese High students of call-up age decided to petition the Governor for exemption from national service. Two days later, Chung Cheng students decided to send 8 representatives to the Government House to submit their petition. On May 12, the police conveyed a letter from the authorities asking Chung Cheng student representatives to present themselves at 3 pm, May 13 at the Government House. The students from Chinese High greeted this message with great expectation and decided to send their representatives as well. At the same time, student action committees from both schools began organising other students for a peaceful petition at the foot of Fort Canning Park, along Clemenceau Avenue, not far from the Government House on the same day that their representatives were due to meet the Governor.

Peaceful petition from students met with police brutality

On May 13, about 300 students from Chinese High arrived at Fort Canning Park on Clemenceau Avenue not too long after 2 pm. They took up positions by lining up peacefully on the pavement. Minutes later, about 600 students from Chung Cheng arrived to join the Chinese High boys (from the all-boy school). They waited patiently for their leaders to come out from the Government House to deliver news about the outcome of their visit.

At two fifty, three riot squad vans suddenly appeared on the scene. Almost immediately, riot policemen emerged from their vehicles and took up positions on the road, in a stance that can only be interpreted that they were ready for great action. The peaceful atmosphere suddenly turned tense, like a monster that was about to descend to tear this composed land asunder. Momentarily, a senior police officer, a Caucasian came forward to bark at the student gathering, giving them 2 minutes to disperse. As it was impossible to communicate a message within such a short notice to a near thousand-strong body of people, student leaders approached the officer for more time. But the request was met with a blank rejection. Then the arrogant officer turned around and ordered his squad to charge at the students in a swift and surprise attack. Armed with batons, rattan shields and iron fists, riot squad members carried out what they had been famously trained for—to beat, to crush, to whack, etc. so as to overwhelm and to dislodge. In the course of this brutal attack, ropes were also used to fasten groups of student onto the wrought iron fence of the park and had them clobbered right and left, up and down. By instinct, boys began to lock their arms, and with their backs facing the attackers, they formed a wall of flesh to protect their female school mates from being hit. At this time, all they could do was to sing Unity Is Strength at the top of their voice, hoping to drown out the blows rained on them from the merciless riot police. But how could an assembly of unarmed, gentle, young students, out on a peaceful mission stand up to an army of burly, well-trained squad of riot police. In physical strength, they were no match to the riot police by any means. As a result of this bloody melee, some students ended up with bloody noses and fractured skulls, some were pushed into drains and hurt their legs, some were left with bruises all over their bodies, some had their uniforms torn and bloodied, some lost their shoes and many lost their spectacles. This incident of police brutality led to scores of students suffering from bleeding injuries and more than 40 students arrested.

On the same day, the annual All Singapore Chinese Schools Sports Meet was being held in the Jalan Besar Stadium. There, spectator stands were filled to the brim as students and members of the public joined in the fun and excitement. When police broke up the student assembly at Fort Canning, one student rushed to the stadium with the help of a driver in his delivery van to deliver the news. Almost all at once, students rushed out of the stadium with great indignation and headed toward Fort Canning. But when they reached Penang Road, they were blocked by the police. Resourceful as they were, the students quickly decided to turn to their school in Goodman Road, where, in familiar environment, they mulled over what steps to take next.

Meanwhile, some of the students had moved over from Fort Canning to Nan Chiaw Girls High School in Kim Yam Road after being forcibly dispersed. There, continued to be under police supervision, they were made to gather at the open field in front of the school. They were kept there until sometime past six, when they were allowed to leave in several lorries. They decided to go to Chung Cheng instead of going home. That night, a rousing meeting, unprecedented in terms of highly charged sentiments, was held with more than 2,000 students attending to denounce police brutality. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce (CCC) President and several of his directors visited the Chung Cheng campus to extend their sympathy and solicitude. They promised to make representations to the police the next day and to ask for the release of the detained students. The CCC also invited student representatives to the Chamber for discussions to find a solution to the situation. Next day, one CCC director stood bail for the students, and they were released, pending trial.

Delegation for All-Singapore Students Seeking Exemption from Conscription established

It was the CCC as leaders of the Chinese community in Singapore which undertook to mediate. It reiterated its full support in helping students to apply for exemption. It also expressed hope that students would end their camp-in and go home. As for the students, they felt that they needed to show their good intention, so they decided to give in to their persuasion. They went home and, subsequently returned to class as usual again.
The CCC also condemned the brutality committed by the police vehemently. In an extraordinary meeting it called to discuss matters connected with the recent incidents, not only did it resolved to help students to settle their problems of conscription, but it also asked students of all eight Chinese middle schools to form a student delegation to speak with one voice on such matters. In response to that call, a 55 member Delegation Of All Singapore Chinese Middle School Students Seeking Exemption From Conscription (in short, “Delegation Seeking Exemption from Conscription”) was formed on May 18.

Students’ predicament won them boundless sympathy and focus of attention

Although the middle school students were not able to accomplish all of what they set out to realise on May 13, their painful and sorry condition had won them widespread sympathy from all quarters of society. They became the centre of attention. On the other hand, the hideous features of the colonialists, shown in its total disregard for the safety and interest of the students, were exposed once again. Now people have a deeper understanding of its sinister intent. It could be said therefore that this vicious act of the police has helped to advance the anti-colonial movement to a much higher plane.

Singapore’s first chief minister, David Marshall was highly critical of the police action. S. Rajaratnam, then editor of The Singapore Standard, condemned the unreasonable way taken by the colonial police. Many trade unions and social organisations issued statements expressing the views that the motivation of the students in refusing to go for conscription was plain and simple and that it was something which was easily understandable. University of Malaya (in Singapore) Students’ Union and Pan Malayan Students’ Federation not only denounced the cruel police action, but they also called for an open inquiry into the incident. The University Socialist Club, in its May 10 edition of its organ Fajar, carried an editorial pointing to the attempt by Britain to use the Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation to fight the anti-colonial movement and calling on the Malayan people to stand up against the Treaty. Besides, the USC also publicly condemned the colonial government on its use of force against students. This had incurred the displeasure of the Governor, who commented that in his view, the English-educated students in the University of Malaya (in Singapore) had colluded with the Chinese-educated students to oppose the government. This message must seem interesting and significant to political observers at the time, because what the Governor had actually acknowledged, unwittingly as it might seem, was that the anti-colonial movement had indeed grown very much in strength!

In view of this, the colonial government was compelled to extend the registration dateline further to May 22. At the same time, it also agreed to allow Standard 9 students from the English stream and Senior Middle 3 students from the Chinese stream who were due to sit for the graduation exams postponement of conscription. What had not changed was that they must register first, then apply for postponement. Up to this point, it could be said that initial results of our campaign had been achieved.

May 22 large gathering at Chung Cheng High School

However, the students were to encounter more uncertainties and obstacles ahead of them. On May 21, the Director of Education suddenly summoned management committee members and principals of all 8 middle schools, as well as CCC representatives for a meeting. He reminded them that the next day, May 22 was the last day of registration. He said he wanted the schools to bring forward the scheduled school holidays to start from May 22 and ended on June 28, as well as to ban student demonstration and gathering. The government even resorted to the use of radio broadcast to announce that decision that very night.

Students looked upon that as a ploy to spread their might thin, so as to cripple their fighting spirit. As a result, the Student Action Committee took immediately steps to call for an emergency meeting on May 22 in Chung Cheng. It was attended by more than 3,000 students. The meeting resolved to call for the resumption of classes as well as to remind the CCC of its promise to the students. One of the more important outcomes of this meeting was the decision to scale down the student demand, from “full exemption of conscription” to “permission to postpone conscription.”

On the wee hours of May 22, a large number of students had entered the school. But this was soon detected by police informants. As a result, the school was totally surrounded by 9 am. But what really happened was that smart as they were, students had already made their entry into the school compound quietly in droves the night before. People are inclined to believe that in the tussle between good and evil, good will always prevail, in the end as it was displayed ceremoniously here.

The meeting of 3,000 students was unprecedented in numbers, more than at any other meetings ever held during the series of camp-ins. The colonial authorities threatened to cut off water, electricity and even food supply in order to create tension and terrorise the students, but to no avail. It was only after earnest and persistent persuasions from leaders of CCC, respected members of the various school management committees and principal Chuang Chu Lin that students finally yielded. They went home to eagerly await the outcome of CCC’s mediation efforts.

June 2 camp-in

However, after waiting for more than a week, there did not seem to be any sign of progress. The CCC made clear that the authorities had extended the dateline for registration from June 3 to June 11. Besides, it also called upon the students to hurry up their registration, to be followed by application for postponement. However, this was again interpreted by the student delegation as another manoeuver of the British colonial rulers to outwit the students, dragged on so as to break their fighting spirit. They quickly decided that collective strength must be mobilised once again to deal the British rulers a severe blow.

They chose June 2 to be the date to start a camp-in in Chinese High. This time, nearly a thousand students took part. There, collective living was practised in a well organised and highly disciplined manner. To be sure, they were prepared for a long, extended struggle to achieve their stated aim. Again, public support was rife and sustaining. People donated rice, noodles, dried goods, groceries, utensils, medicines, blankets, mats, rubber sheets, daily necessities, etc. There was no scarcity of supplies. Parents came to visit as if their offsprings were housed in boarding schools. Public concern and sympathy played in no small part in giving the students encouragement and much confidence in continuing their struggle, which they believed was right and just.

Hunger strike

As the camp-in progressed for more than ten days, there was still no sign of a solution. Then, on the night of June 15, a meeting of all the participants was held in Chinese High’s big hall. A solemn decision was taken to go on a 48 hour hunger strike. The aim was to compel the authorities to take us more seriously as well as to meet our demand. The meeting also called upon all our parents to send a joint letter to the CCC, asking them to continue with their efforts in helping the students as they had earlier promised. Mr Lee Kong Chian, the respected community leader, then came to Chinese High with some twenty other school principals and school management committee members to meet the striking students. They had a meeting with student representatives that lasted some 5 hours. This led to an understanding, under which an assurance was given that they would go all out to help the students in applying for postponement of service. Many came out of the meeting in tears. Based on this understanding, the student delegation called a meeting of all participants that very night, and resolved that the hunger strike would cease at eleven o’clock.
Following this, a media report indicated that in a recent meeting between the CCC President and the Secretary of Defence, the latter had promised that if students from senior middle 1 to 3 applied for postponement, they would all be approved. Further, students from other levels who had the chance to take the graduation exams would also get the same treatment. On the same day, Lee Kong Chian and representatives of CCC, school management committees as well as school principals met with the press and confirmed the above report. They pleaded with the students to go home in the interest of the survival of Chinese education as a whole and the future of Chinese schools. They also announced that schools would re-open on June 28 and that all should return to school and work hard on their studies. Students felt that since their demand had now been basically secured, they decided to go home on June 24.

What the May 13 incident reveals to us

The struggle of the Chinese school students to seek exemption from conscription in 1954 started to ferment in March that year. It ended on June 24, thereby stretching for a good three months. Students who participated in the struggle paid a heavy price with blood and tears. In the end, we triumphed. Should’nt we be feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment? 60 years have passed by, we will not forget how this saga has affected us and the marks that it left on the society in which we live — political or otherwise.

Just as the late Dr Lim Hock Siew had observed and concluded: In the political history of Singapore, May 13, 1954 stands out as a turning point in our peoples’ struggle for political freedom and social justice. It was a spark that started a prairie fire! It served to arouse the political awareness of students of that generation in Singapore which, hitherto, had stayed latent. Like a gigantic tidal wave, these activists swept the PAP into power in 1959, hoping that the newly formed political party would bring about political freedom and social justice to our people. But it was not to be. Subsequent repressions conducted by the PAP after it came to power proved to be more ruthless and relentless than those carried out by the colonial rulers and they have to be seen through and through as a massive political betrayal in Singapore history.
Today, as we gather here to commemorate that day of blood and tears, if I have to summarise my experience and feeling gathered from then till now, let me briefly put it this way: Destiny is in our own hands, we must struggle and be prepared to sacrifice if we want to realise our dreams.


Ms Kirsten Han interviewing Mr Lim Hock Koon

Photo credit: Ho Choon Hiong

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