A Brief History of Singapore

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Located on the tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore was founded in the 13th century by a Sumatran prince. He named it Singa Pur (Sanskrit for "city of the lion"). Evidently he mistook a tiger for a lion, because lions have never existed there. However, the city eventually took the Merlion, half lion, half ocean creature, as their symbol. (Author: An accurate representation. A city full of wannabe lions with no real substance of their own. A shadow world based in money that takes itself to be real.)

To indicate Singapore's early importance, Marco Polo even visited me on his way home from China in the late 1200s. In the 14th century I was sacked by the Javanese, at which time port trade shifted to Malacca a hundred miles away on the Western side of the peninsula. (Author: So that’s how Malacca became an important city.)

Singapore's modern history began in January of 1819 when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, visited. With a vision of the city's strategic potential he convinced Great Britain to purchase the territory, which they did in 1824. To stimulate development Raffles turned Singapore into a free port - no tariffs or duties. To indicate his commitment to the city, he was also know as Raffles of Singapore. The city quickly became a major British trading port in Southeast Asia.

Singapore became a British crown colony, along with Malacca, George Town and Sabah in 1867. These 4 port cities were called the Straits Settlement as a group. Excluding Sabah, these port cities are located on the Straits of Malacca, a major trading route between the Malay peninsula and Sumatra. The Straits of Malacca has been the connection by sea between the East and West. These straits connected the cultures of Southeast Asia, China and Japan in the East with the cultures of India, Ceylon, Arabia, Northern Africa, and Europe in the West. The last port city of the group, Sabah, is located on the tip of Borneo in the South China Sea. The British East India Trading Company administered these properties. The ports of the Straits Settlement were the cities through which Britain wielded her power in Southeast Asia.

With the increased prosperity due to the British influence, Chinese, Indian and Malays began immigrating to Singapore in large numbers. The Chinese quickly outnumbered the rest. Despite the fact that the British were a minority, they continued to run Singapore as a colony for the next 100 years. The Japanese occupied all of Southeast Asia during World War II. After the end of the war, Singapore was returned to the British. International business dominated by Americans merged with and took over the strictly British run company. America is now Singapore's largest trading partner - with 40% of my business.

In 1959 - due to widespread revolt, Britain finally granted her colonies self rule. In 1963, Singapore became a semiautonomous state within the Federation of Malaysia. Then in 1965 this properous port city was asked to leave the federation to become an independent republic.

Lee Kuan Yew - founding father of modern Singapore

To understand why Singapore was asked to leave the federation, let us examine the life of Lee Kuan Yew - the undisputed founding father of this modern nation. He was prime minister from Singapore's inception in 1959 to 1990 - 31 years. Further his political party, the People's Action Party (PAP), which he led, has completely dominated the country's politics since birth.

Educated at Cambridge in England, Lee Kuan Yew was exposed to the British Labor Party. This introduced him to the ideas of worker rights, the liberation of women, and self-determination. He returned to Singapore to work for these ideals. His efforts were cut short by World War II when the Japanese conquered Singapore. He was a witness to their atrocities against the Chinese - almost akin to genocide. The Japanese occupation, while brief, exposed the vulnerability of the British.

After the war the Singaporians, with Lee Kuan Yew as their leader, began demanding independence. The left leaning members of Lee’s party, including some Communists, broke off presumably because Lee didn’t go far enough in terms of workers’ rights. This led to permanent animosity between his party and theirs.

He and his pro-business party, the PAP, won the first elections in 1959. After his party assumed control, he began censoring dissenting newspapers and suppressing political opposition. A law was even passed giving the government the right to imprison anyone suspected of sedition. In Lee's defense, Communism was being actively propagated from China. Further their extreme social experiments, i.e. eliminating families and religion, the purging of professionals, and the elimination of dissent, were well known and feared.

Because his country was so small, he joined the Malaysian league in 1963 for protection. However, when he entered his party in Malaysian politics in 1965. The Malays began rioting.

Possibly the Malays feared Lee Kuan Yew as a popular demagogue - or maybe they were afraid that his primarily Chinese state would align with populist interests of Communist China or the business interests of Nationalist China, Taiwan - or perhaps they were nervous that the Chinese from Singapore would form an unhealthy alliance with the Chinese business leaders of Malaysia itself. Whatever the specifics the Malays were afraid of the powerful Chinese business community. The result was that Singapore was asked to leave the Federation. Lee Kuan Yew tearfully withdrew.

Still anxious because of Singapore’s tiny size, Lee Kuan Yew then turned to the international business community for protection.

Lee: “Give Singapore relative political autonomy and I’ll give you a secure place to do business. Using the dictatorial powers that you grant me, I will eliminate corruption and turn Singapore into the safest city-state in the world. To accomplish this task I must unfortunately sanitize the nation. No more prostitution, no more drugs, no more obvious black market, no more drinking, no more spitting, and while we’re at it no more chewing gum. I’ve always hated that habit.”

On the positive side, Lee was committed to increasing women’s rights, ethnic harmony, universal education and economic modernization. On the negative side, this meant restricting personal freedoms, including political dissent. He ruled autocratically - pathologically suppressing any opposition to his policies. In attempting to clean up Singapore’s slums, he also eliminated some traditional neighborhoods, because they didn’t pass the test of modernity. They weren’t attractive enough for the businesses he was trying to attract.

However his pro-business strategy has led to an eco-disaster for the island. The construction of modern highways with skyscrapers has denuded the island of its tropical forests. Today only 5% of the land area is covered with trees and the traditional mangroves.

His strategy of pursuing stability at all costs was undeniably successful in attracting international business. Although just a tiny country, Singapore has survived and thrived. This island city state, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, are known as Asia's four ‘Little Tigers’.

Note that Taiwan and South Korea are also dictatorships with Western connections. The method is straightforward: Suppress freedom and liberty in the name of business.

These judgments may be a bit harsh. Did Lee Kuan Yew really have any choice? Could he have pursued a balance of culture and business? Who knows? Under the political climate of the time, he may have done the only thing possible to retain political autonomy for Singapore, his tiny country.

It's evident that the Singaporians, who supposedly ‘enjoy one of the highest standards of living in Asia’, have had to pay some heavy costs - including the destruction of traditional culture, eco-destruction, and the limitation of personal liberties.

Was there any other way?

No one will every know.

Initial Exploration leads to Southeast Asian Prehistory

Southeast Asia: "After this initial foray into my modern history, the Author was hooked. The Universe's plan seemed to be working. The many unexplained references that he had uncovered fanned his mild interest into a voracious curiosity. One question led to another and …

Author: “Hmmm? Thai, Khmer, Hindu, Malay, Chinese? So many cultures mixing together in this part of the world. How did they arrive here? To understand modern times I must explore the past. I wonder: which collection of humans were the first to inhabit this part of our planet? The peaceful ones, who developed rice and bronze technology? There are no written sources, as script developed thousands of years later. No eyewitnesses either. Any revelations must be from indirect sources. Hmmm?”

Leading my Author by his curiosity, the Universe revealed some clues about my prehistory from a map in a book he read called Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. This map inspired him to undertake a linguistic investigation into my prehistory. Check out the next chapter to see what he learned.


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