In this episode, PJ Thum takes listener questions. Questions include issues of nomenclature, on nationalism and national identity, on historiography, and why the MCP’s brand of anti-colonial nationalism was not more widely embraced by Malayans. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions. The podcast will be on hiatus for the next two weeks and return on 27 November 2015 – coincidentally, Bruce Lee’s 75th birthday. Till then, remember, history must have emotional content. Don’t just think. Feel!
The Spartans and Athenians vs the Persians. The Wildlings and Night’s Watch vs. the Others. The Autobots and Decepticons vs the Quintessons. This week’s episode is all about enemies joining up to defeat a common foe. The right wing capitalists and the Kuomintang; the left-wing anti-colonial working class, intellectuals, and the Malayan Communist Party; and the colonial British joined hands to fight the Japanese in 1941. How did this happen? In this episode, PJ Thum traces how the barriers towards cooperation between these three existential enemies slowly fell throughout 1937-1941, leading to the creation of their unlikely alliance just as the Japanese arrived at Malaya’s gates, and how this set the stage for Malaya’s independence movements after the war. Also, a brief word on what the Malay nationalists were doing while all this was going on. Please send questions, comments, and feedback email@example.com or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
Highly influenced by the nationalist movements of China, Indonesia, and elsewhere, nationalist demands and aspirations for self-determination grew in Singapore throughout the first third of the 20th century. These demands threatened British rule, and the colonial government sought to repress the growing nationalist movement. They saw the Asian nationalist movements and their values of democracy, justice, and self-determination as subversive and alien to Singapore; Instead, colonial policies valued stability, harmony, the community above the self, and an emphasis on socio-economic development above political development. In this episode, PJ Thum explains how this position was backed up by the aggressive use of repression and regulation, aimed at choking the life out of a nationalist movement the British barely understood, and how this had long term repercussions on the colonial government’s relationship with the Chinese community in Singapore. Please send questions, comments, and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
The “Left” is a broad term that we apply to a wide range of anti-colonial movements that originated in Malaya in the first third of the 20th century, who would go on to have a major influence on the decolonisation movements of both Singapore and the Federation after the war. They are the defining forces of Malayan history, but despite their massive importance, we know relatively little about them. In this episode, PJ Thum discusses their origins, sketches out broad patterns by which we can define the “Left”, and discusses the two pre-WWIImain strands of the “Left”: The Chinese/Indonesian Malayan Communist Party, and the Malay Kesatuan Melayu Muda. Please send questions, comments, and feedback to email@example.com or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
One of the most well studied aspects of Singapore’s history is the Chinese immigrant story, and the influence of the Chinese revolution. It overshadows the other, equally important, aspects which I’ve been talking about in the past few weeks, and is also used to create strong associations where only weak ones existed, or not at all. So instead of covering the really well-trodden ground, I’ve tried to focus on two important points this week: that Sun Yat Sen was a left-wing revolutionary socialist (the Chinese Communist Party reveres Sun for a reason!) and one of the progenitors of left-wing revolutionary socialism in Malaya; and that Chinese politics in Malaya in the 1920s was just as much about Malaya as it was about China, part of a process of transformation of Malaya’s Chinese into Chinese Malayans.
China’s response to the events and forces of the late 19th and early 20th century took the form of royalist, reformist, and revolutionary movements. The leaders of the latter two, Kang Youwei and Sun Yat Sen, came to Singapore to rally support and funding for their movements. They brought with them new ideas, built new structures and organisations, and left behind a changed political landscape. In this episode, PJ Thum explains how this combined with local demographic, economic, and social change; how it challenged the identity and beliefs of Malaya’s Chinese; how it interacted with local circumstances to begin transforming Malaya’s Chinese into Chinese Malayans, beginning Malayan nationalism among the Chinese; and how the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in Balestier, Singapore, is actually a shrine to left-wing revolutionary socialism. Please send questions, comments, and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
The greatest force in Singapore’s decolonisation movement in the 1950s was organised labour. Workers coming together to fight to be treated as human beings provided the main impetus for change. But the colonial capitalist system was built on oppressing, abusing, overworking, and exploiting workers, and so the only way to gain workers’ rights was to change the government. But where did the political labour movement come from? In this episode, PJ Thum goes back to the origins of the labour movement in Singapore in the early 1900s. He explains how traditional forms of labour organisation were also explicitly political; how modern trade unionism arrived from Britain, China, India, and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia); and the impact of political labour on Singapore in the first quarter of the 20th century. Please send questions, comments, and feedback to email@example.com or visit http://thehistoryofsingapore.com.
One of the most powerful threads of Malayan nationalism was of Islamic modernism. Originating in the Middle East – particularly at Al-Azhar University in Cairo – the movement attempted to reconcile Islamic faith with the forces of nationalism, democracy, civil rights, rationality, equality and progress that were sweeping the world. Entering Southeast Asia through Singapore (the hub of regional communications), it would not only provide a response to nationalism and self-determination, but would also challenge and undermine traditional forms of Islamic identity in Malaya, driving conflict within the Malay/Muslim community and bringing forth new forms of identity and organisation. In this episode of “The History of Singapore”, PJ Thum sits down with Dr Nurfadzilah Yahaya, expert on the history of the Arab and Muslim community in colonial Singapore, to discuss Malay, Muslim, and Malayan identity in Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th century.
From the early 20th century, global and local forces of historical change were being unleashed. Singapore was open, and wealthy, and cosmopolitan, a centre for regional and global communications, and hence a magnet for the agents of these forces. These new political, cultural, economic forces of change would disrupt the lives of Singapore’s residents in very fundamental ways. This is the age of nationalism and revolution; of industrialisation and changing economic relationships; of reform and transformation. People responded by asking fundamental questions about the nature of their societies, their economies, their political units. In this episode, PJ Thum describes the wealth but also inequality of Singapore in the 1930s, and gives a broad overview of the forces from which the different threads of Malayan nationalism would spring. Please send questions, comments, and feedback firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
Machiavelli’s Prince noted that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it. Singapore is no different. In a special edition of “The History of Singapore,” entitled “A Short History of Elections in Singapore”, PJ Thum discusses how elections in Singapore have been shaped by two opposing forces: the will of the people to have a voice, and the desire of those in power to deny them that voice. He traces two major turning periods in Singapore history in the 1950s and 1980s to show how, even as Singaporeans fought and won the right to vote, their ability to vote for candidates of their choice and the fairness of elections has been constrained. Please send questions, comments, and feedback to email@example.com or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
Remember to VOTE!
Nationalism is what gives nation-states their power. It’s like a belief created by all members of the nation. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the nation together. It has a light side, which inspires and liberates. It has a dark side, which oppresses and destroys. In this week’s episode of “The History of Singapore”, PJ Thum heads to a long time ago in a country far, far away to illustrate nationalism, its significance to decolonisation, how nationalism and decolonisation are double-edged swords which have defined Singapore and Malaysia, and why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance against tyranny. Please send questions, comments, and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thehistoryofsingapore.com.
This episode took by far the longest to write, but might have been the most fun. After I started writing about nationalism in Singapore, I felt that I then had to explain what nationalism was, but more importantly, why it matters so much to Singapore. So I started writing an explanation of nationalism, and this grew and grew until it became an episode of its own. Then I felt it was much too dry and theoretical. So I rewrote it several times, and got very frustrated trying to make nationalism relatable. Then I hit upon a metaphor, from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
This might be the riskiest episode of the series in terms of the writing and structure. I’m not sure it will work. But it might end up being the most fun to write and record. I hope you enjoy it.