Lim Hock Koon recounts the May 13 incident and its influence on the social political development in Singapore

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

纪念华校中学生“五一三”
要求免役事件六十周年

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各位来宾,各位朋友:
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!

这令我非常感动。我想,在座的老同学老朋友也一定跟我一样感动与感恩。现在,就让我简略地回顾一下那一段难忘的历史,跟大家分享一下为什么会发生“五一三”事件,它的前因后果,和它给新加坡,乃至马来亚的社会与政治发展带来怎样的影响。
深刻的时代背景

“五一三”事件发生在1954年5月13日。当时,新加坡还是英国殖民地统治者所管辖。具体的说,当时殖民地政府已于1948年宣布马来亚和新加坡进入所谓的“紧急状态”。

英国政府动用军警,一边在马来亚进行一场残暴的森林战争,另一边又动用它在非洲镇压非洲人民反抗殖民地统治的野蛮手段把乡村人民关进集中营一样的所谓”新村”当中。在一片白色恐怖的氛围中,包括新加坡在内的人民被剥夺了各种应有的自由与人权。

殖民地统治者没有权利要殖民地子民去当它的炮灰

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。

近千名学生和平请愿被警方暴力打压

5月13日,华中学生约300人于下午两点多抵达克里门梭路皇家山公园外,整齐列队在路旁的人行道上。不久,来自中正中学的约600名同学也乘车抵达。他们秩序井然,有条不紊地列队在那里,静候代表们进入总督府呈递请愿书后出来报告消息。

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。
全星学生免役代表正式成立

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
“全星华文中学学生请求学生免役代表团”(简称“免役代表团”)正式成立。
学生的遭遇博得社会的广泛同情与关注

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。

鉴于学生的抗争队伍日渐强大,殖民地政府不得不将服役登记日期延长至5月22日。同时也同意英校的9号生和华校的高中会考生可以缓役。但不能改变的是学生一定要先登记,之后才可申请缓役。至此,学生的免役诉求,获得了初步成果。

“五二二”中正总校大集会

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。

“六二”大集中

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!

学生展开绝食斗争

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。

免役代表团对此最新发展进行了详尽的研究后,认为鉴于总商会和董教联所做的口头承诺与保证,要协助学生登记后申请缓役,并敦促当局批准申请,说明同学们的诉求已经有了长足的进展。于是,在6月21日召开的同学大会上,一致通过于6月24日解散回家。

“五一三”事件给我们的启示

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。

就像林福寿医生说过的:在新加坡的政治史上,1954年

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。

今天,我们在这里纪念这个血与泪的日子,如果要我来总结我们一路走来的经验感触的话,就让我简单的说:命运掌握在我们自己手里,要争取,不怕牺牲,才能实现我们的梦想!
谢谢大家!

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

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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.

Image

Ms Kirsten Han interviewing Mr Lim Hock Koon

Photo credit: Ho Choon Hiong

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About fn8org

For computers, it means to start again in safe mode. For us, we hope we can also start again in safe mode. But it's more like re-booting our systems and starting from much needed basics for democracy in Singapore.
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