Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

Tan Jing Quee, who passed away on 14 June 2011, was a frequent contributor to s/pores. He wrote for our inaugural issue quite by chance, when two s/pores members had just got to know him then, and learnt that he had written obituaries for his friends Linda Chen Mong Hock (1928-2002), and Usman Awang (1929-2001). He was hesitant about letting us publish them, concerned that the new e-journal would attract unwelcome attention from the authorities by associating with him, a former political detainee (1963-1966; 1977), and one who had not avoided a public profile. In 2006, Tan Jing Quee and Michael Fernandez had spoken as former political detainees who were among the more than a hundred people detained in Operation Cold Store and the subsequent Operation Pechah at the Singapore Arts Festival fringe event Detention-Writing-Healing. The event drew a good-sized audience and received press coverage. The Ministry of Home Affairs then issued a rebuke of the two men in the Straits Times Forum, in the form of the oft-repeated but never substantiated litany that they took part in communist subversion and were detained for threatening the security, stability and economic well-being of Singapore, and not for holding different political views or pursuing lawful, democratic political activities.

As it happened, Ho Piao, a former long-serving political detainee died in February 2007 in England where he lived since 1986. Jing Quee had to concede to our argument that s/pores was the most efficacious place for Singaporeans and others to read about the life of this little-known trade unionist who was detained in Operation Cold Store for eighteen and a half years. Jing Quee wrote an informed, detailed, analytical and sensitive account of the man who was in RB block in Changi Prison with him. He described Ho Piao’s house in Middlesex, which he noted looked like any of the other modest houses on the street, but the furnishing and ambience of the interior was a replica of a Singapore home. He treasured his success in becoming a friend of the family, and being asked by Ho Piao’s children to tell them about their father, on one of his trips to visit them with his wife Rose, where they were house-guests of the family. In 2007, Jing Quee organized a memorial gathering for Ho Piao. Former detainees, Ho Piao’s friends and colleagues turned out in force to remember and honour one of the most resolute of their comrades, at the first such event to be held in Singapore. When Lim Chin Siong passed away in 1996, a huge memorial gathering was organized in Kuala Lumpur, which received wide coverage in the Malaysian Chinese press. At the time, it was not possible for such an event to be held in Singapore.

Throughout his life, Jing Quee consciously made the effort to maintain the friendship of former political detainees, and their children as well, including those who lived in Malaysia, Southern Thailand, Hong Kong and China and various western countries. Aside from developing friendships and fostering group solidarity and mutual help, this was also to draw them into deliberations on the political events which they had lived through. Together with his own experience, observations and research, this also helped him piece together an intricate and uncanny understanding of the political maneuverings and machinations in particular of the 1950s and 1960s.

The first major breakthrough which charted new directions in Singapore history that Jing Quee made was Comet In Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History (2001), which he edited with Jomo K.S. This book has had wide readership, with the chapter by British historian Tim Harper ‘Lim Chin Siong and the Singapore Story’ being most popularly cited for its revealing that Special Branch reports in 1962 stated that there was no evidence that Lim was receiving orders from the Communist Party of Malaya, Peking or Moscow, and that he had consistently kept to a constitutional path. Jing Quee’s essay, ‘Lim Chin Siong—A political life’ charts the milestones in the political development of Singapore in the postwar period, challenging the wisdom that the 1950s was a decade of ‘riot and revolution’. Instead, the thread running through those years was one of mass anti-colonial struggle which was met by repression and colonial duplicity. In this piece, the key elements which were to be elaborated in Jing Quee’s subsequent work were already in place. He noted that the conjunction of two major events in 1954 set the tone and tempo of the new politics that was to emerge: the May 13 incident and the subsequent sit-in by the Chinese middle school students, and the Fajar trial. The ascendency of Lim Chin Siong as a national figure when he was elected as a PAP member of the National Assembly in 1955 galvanized the labour and mass political movement, but also made him the key target of attacks as a communist, which continued through his life. Jing Quee highlighted the fact that Lim Chin Siong and others detained by the Lim Yew Hock government in 1956 and 1957 were prohibited from contesting in Singapore’s first general election in 1959; Operation Cold Store served this purpose in 1963.

Jing Quee’s most insightful observation about Lim Chin Siong was that after he was released from detention in 1959 at the age of 26, his public addresses were more serious and analytical, as befitting the new political situation where Singapore had been given self-government. He spoke less Hokkien and more Mandarin on these occasions. He had learnt English and Malay in prison, and could fraternize with non-Chinese colleagues in the trade union movement with greater ease and confidence. He also pointed out that despite the common impression that the Barisan Socialis of which Lim Chin Siong was the secretary-general was dominated by Chinese speakers, a look at the composition of the party’s Central Executive Committee would show that it comprised predominantly English-educated leftists, including Dr Poh Soo Kai, S Woodhull, James Puthucheary and Dr Lim Hock Siew.

The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the politics of postwar Malaya and Singapore (2010) and The May 13 Generation: The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore politics in the 1950s (2011) of which Jing Quee was an editor and a chapter contributor, developed out of the framework he had built in Comet in the Sky. The Fajar Generation brought back into focus a key component of the left-wing anti-colonial movement: members of the Socialist Club in the University of Malaya (University of Singapore), which cut across ethnic boundaries. While they constituted only a small fraction of the student population in terms of numbers, their strength was in their ability to talk back directly to the colonial government on their own terms, which was particularly effective when they connected with the Chinese middle school students, led trade unions, connected with the Chinese middle school students, and came together in the Barisan Sosialis. Their ranks included individuals who withstood detention for the longest period of time. (One of the articles in our first issue was on the Fajar Trial of 1954, which Jing Quee generously gave comments on)

The counterpart of The Fajar Generation, The May 13 Generation sought to map out the colonial antipathy towards the Chinese middle schools and their students in the Cold War context, and to delineate the nature of the student movement—which was not only political in nature, but also cultural and social. Their understanding of anti-colonialism included the preservation of the Chinese schools and education system, which they saw as a progressive one, in contrast to the English stream secondary schools which to them produced only colonial subjects. It was also the Chinese middle school students who took the lead, along with the trade unionists who graduated from their ranks, in raising issues of the colonial capitalist exploitation, and who worked directly with the disadvantaged and dispossessed, whether they be flood and fire victims, exploited workers, the jobless, or children from impoverished families who had no chance of attending school. They moved towards defining a Malayan literature that addressed these conditions, derived from the tussles and debates with fellow students on the role of art and culture, the definition of the new woman, the concrete realities that they and the vast majority faced of economic survival. The May 13 Generation, as students or union and civil group leaders, were the bulk of those arrested in 1956, the biggest mass arrest of the time, and except for well-known political leaders like Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan, remained in detention despite the coming into power in 1959 of the PAP, of which they were dedicated supporters.

Picture taken in Bangkok, March 2009. The trip was to meet up with He Jin, the author of Ju Lang to seek his permission to translate his roman a clef, into English. The protagonists of the novel are students leaders of the May 13 1954 event, where the Chinese middle school students petitioning the colonial government for exemption from national service were set on by the riot police. This event led to their unprecedented their unity and the middle school students became the vanguards of the anti-colonial movement in Singapore. The Mighty Wave, translated by Tan Jing Quee, Loh Miaw Gong and Hong Lysa was published in May 2011.
Back, from left: Rosemary Tan, Tan Jing Quee
Front, from left: Hong Lysa, Loh Miaw Gong, Su Shi Hua (He Jin's wife) and He Jin.

Jing Quee’s writings arose out of his drive to write the history of the left in Singapore of which he was a part and to call the dominant narrative into account. His writings have not been directly challenged by historians, journalists and other writers who have conveniently ignored them. Yet, it is not inconceivable that the works that he had relentlessly spearheaded may explain the spate of tomes reiterating the authorized position. His writings constitute an inextricable and powerful blend of autobiography, collective biography and history. He made sure that there is a Chinese edition of the books as well, for theirs was a joint mission and a shared legacy. It remains to be seen whether his books will enter the reading lists of Singapore history courses taught in Singapore universities.

Jing Quee’s approach was always to look at the long term, never to rush into things. He once recalled that when he narrowly lost as a Barisan candidate in the 1963 election, his branch workers were upset and bitter, and at their post-mortem meeting repeatedly accused the PAP of resorting to unfair and underhand means. When he was finally asked to make a speech, he told them that the fate of Singapore did not depend on one election result, and that certainly the election had been stacked against them unfairly from the very start. But they should accept the result, and plan to take the next move which would not gain immediate results, but was targeted at the long term. This meant working to build relations with the progressive parties in Malaysia, among other things. This was not what they wanted to hear at the time, and they gave him the cold shoulder.

With his writings, he bid his time, in order to gather sufficient materials, think carefully through his analysis, and await the appropriate time to go public. This was an on-going process in his life. The stream of publications that Jing Quee produced belied the physical challenges that he faced. The deterioration, and eventually the loss of his eyesight meant that he could not read or use the keyboard at all. He would have materials read to him, and would ask for specific points and paragraphs to be keyed in. After mulling through the issues in his head, he would then dictate what he wanted to say in complete sentences (with the word ‘accordingly’ regularly featured at the beginning of a paragraph he was dictating, it was pointed out to him, to his amusement.) He had such intense focus that he could with seeming ease ask for a word to be changed, knowing exactly where it was in the piece after having it read back to him. This could well be a day or two later, or even longer. He also wrote poetry (Love’s Travelogue [2004]; coeditor and contributor, Our Thoughts are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile [2009]) and wrote short stories (The Chempaka Tree [2009]). His poems have been included in Singapore anthologies (man/born/free: Writings on the Human spirit from Singapore [2011]). It is fitting that as it turned out this issue of s/pores features Alvin Pang’s essay ‘Reclaiming Literature for Singapore’, commissioned by Tan Tarn How and written in 2010, which discusses Jing Quee’s poem, ‘Afternoon’ published in the Rafflesian in 1957.

Jing Quee was above all a warm and thoughtful person. He loved company, young and old. He enjoyed discussing issues related to politics, but was open to any substantive subject of conversation, be it travel, books or BBC radio reports, his regular window to the world. He was generous in sharing what he knew, and supportive of the endeavours of others, especially the younger generation. He had students who had just finished their A levels do bits of research, reading and typing for him, and when he felt that they had interest, would open his world to them, without imposing his views. He readily invited his visitors to share a meal, which his wife Rose would expertly whip up. He was good company, full of life and good cheer. Anyone who knew Rose and Jing Quee would have been impressed by the deep bond between them, which Jing Quee expressed in his poem, ‘Love’s Travelogue’.

Jing Quee once said half-jokingly that he hoped he would not be remembered, if at all, only as the person who lost by 200-odd votes to S Rajaratnam in the 1963 elections. A number of books that mention his name in passing have made reference to this fact.

His own writings reveal a sensitive and bold intellectual dedicated to producing sound, critical history which are devastating to the self-serving narratives that pass off as Singapore’s history.

s/pores remembers our friend, Jing Quee for this and so much more.


Read Full Post »

Tan Jing Quee

Originally published in FAJAR: ORGAN OF THE UNIVERSITY SOCIALIST CLUB 1961, volume 3, number 8.

Transcribed by Karen Goh

The statement by Tengku Abdul Rahman, Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, on 16th October in the Federal Parliament during the debate on the “merger” proposals and the subsequent turn of events had thrown into bold relief the motivations long ago suspected of those who are now negotiating for a “merger”. The Federation Parliament had given its “mandate” to the Tengku for carrying out the proposals. In Singapore, the White Paper for “merger” has been published, and the Singapore Legislative is likely to endorse the Government’s “plan”. The way is thus clear, as far as the two governments are concerned, for the arrangement. The British has also given the green light to the proposals.

From the whole series of events we can gleam certain definite conclusions:

(1) That the Prime Minister of the Federation does not want a real re-unification between the two territories, in the sense of complete merger with Singapore entering into the Federation as the 12th constituent state. The Tengku has stated this in clear, categorical terms:

“But one thing is certain, and that is that we cannot take Singapore with us in complete merger without a great deal of unhappiness and trouble and so we must find a middle course” (Straits Times, 17/10/61).

(2) That the Tengku favours some sort of constitutional arrangement in a larger Federation of Malaysia, in which Singapore is to be reduced to a mere “partner”:

“What I have in mind is to call such an association or Federation of states the Federation of Malaysia, i.e. all the Federation of Malaya states, the Borneo territories and the Sates of the Federation of Malaya, join in together as a Federation of Malaysia and Singapore is joined in partnership on a footing something like that which exists between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.” (Straits Times 17/10/61).

(3) That the real reason which motivates this move was not a genuine desire for reunification, but to control Singapore’s internal security, and from this to deny Singapore’s citizens the same rights and privileges as other Federal citizens.

Singapore is being treated as a “problem child” (Straits Times 17/11/61, Tengku’s speech). The White Paper, which sets out the heads of agreement for a “merger” speaks of “Equal duties and responsibilities under the Constitution of the larger Federations, “but “Singapore citizens will continue to enjoy their State rights and privileges within Singapore.”

Firstly, on entry into the proposed “merger” Singapore citizens will be asked to shoulder the duties and responsibilities of Federal citizens, but they would have no corresponding rights. They “will continue to enjoy their State rights and privileges within Singapore.” This is untrue. Many of the existing rights which Singapore citizens enjoy, e.g. finance, broadcasting, press and publication, will be placed on the Federal or Concurrent lists (which give the Federal Government the overriding authority). And even those so-called “autonomy” of labour and education are subject to the overall supervisions of “internal security.”Are not the examples of Lim Lian Geok and Said Zahari blatant admissions enough to the mockery of such “autonomy”?

Why does the Tengku reject a re-unification?

To understand this, we must view the curious volte-face on the part of those who had always been antagonistic even at the very mention of “merger.” Had this development been a genuine change of attitude, and is based on a sincere desire to reunify our territories and our people, it would have been widely acclaimed. But the basic motivation is to mount up anti-communist hysteria with the purpose to rush through a freak arrangement whereby socialist strength would be excluded from the constitutional arena in the larger Federation. The way to achieve this is to restrict the democratic rights of the people of Singapore so that they may not be in a position to exert an influence on political trends in the Federation. The Federal Government at the same time can utilities its control over “internal security” to curb tendencies (in the name of anti-communism) which may be detrimental to their interest.

This present “change” in attitude, is merely an admission of the growing threat of Singapore towards the future of the Alliance and not a threat to the security of the Federation, In the first place, how could Singapore be a security risk to the Federation? Why should Singapore seek to be hostile towards our very relatives?

Tengku’s words as regards the apparent change in attitude are revealing and self-explanatory.

“The division of the two territories might be all right at a moment when Singapore was still under the control of Great Britain, as the security of the islands was in the hands of the UK Government, in other words, in safe hands …”

The intention is thus clear: as long as security is in “safe hands” all would be well, but the moment the people west the internal security into their own hands, we must do something about it.

A way must be found, a “middle course” as the Tengku himself puts in. In this he was aided by the “Socialist” PAP. In fact it was the PAP who first made the approach:

“… the Prime Minister of Singapore felt rather concerned and approached me with some of his problems and difficulties. We made a careful study of the situation and came to the conclusion that the only salvation for Singapore would be in some form of closer economic and constitutional association with the Federation.”

So a freak arrangement was effected.

Why did the PAP fear real re-unification?

The political fortune of the PAP is hinged on anti-colonialism. That was the prime purpose for its formation, and the basic reason for its growth. But once the PAP leadership seeks to ignore the anti- colonial struggle when the task is still incomplete, the leadership of the people went out from its hands. The Hong Lim and Anson by-elections further sealed its fate. From then on its future lies in proscribing the growth of the left which forms the most base of the party. The way out for the PAP is thus not the anti-colonial struggle, but the suppression of the left wing. The PAP as such has no fear of the right – its truculent arrogance against the right in Singapore is well-known. Their concept of a “pan-Malayan base for the socialist movement” in actual fact boils down to the total expulsion of the left which gives it its strength and popularity. Thus we are the alliance with the Right in Malaya, and the fear of the left.

Changes in the objective conditions within the region as a whole have also a part to play in the scheme of things. In this context, the interplay of foreign interests must not be ruled out. British interests within this region are well known. But in recent years, with their decline of British colonialism, American capital in collaboration with German and Japanese capital, are making great headway in undermining traditional British interests within the region.

The developments of objective conditions — the rising mood of anti-colonialism, spell danger to these various interests. In the Borneo territories, it is apparent that the anti-colonisation struggle is gaining momentum. The signs of these are obvious: the traditional British colonial policies of “concessions” by stages, the intensified whipping up of the “communist” bogey. In Laos, a neutralist government is in the helm, and this appears to be totally unacceptable to the East. A vituperative campaign is now being waged through Radio Bangkok against Laos. The rising “trouble” in South Vietnam, where Ngoh Dinh Diem rules with an iron hand and American aid is hardly welcome prospect. The visit of General Taylor to the region was followed up by promise of more aid to check “communist subversion, and aggression.” Further south of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia is fighting to regain her lost territory, West Irian.

The West viewed all these developments — “trouble spots” as they are called in the Pentagon’s military jargon — with great apprehension. America, in particular has assumed for itself the role of the “champion of freedom” for this region. They schemed to involve whatever countries who would listen to them into the cold war through membership of SEATO, etc. The cardinal feature of the American foreign policy is revolved round “anti-communism”. No one can seriously quarrel with her if she restricts her fanaticism to her own shores and does not attempt to export this fanaticism to other countries. The fact that she cannot do so is precisely because of the economic stakes involved, in the world order which she represents.

Ostensibly, the Federation is not in SEATO, although the Tengku himself is personally well-disposed towards it. He had publicly stated this more than once. The fact that he takes into consideration the feelings of the people towards this is praise-worthy. It is also a clear indication that the people wish to remain non-aligned in this cold war conflict. In actual practice however, Alliance policy has tended towards involvement in the cold war. “We are with the West”, “We belong to the Free World” — the Tengku had said this on several occasions. Urgent trips to theatres of “War” and promises of “moral and material aid” are hardly gestures of a neutralist country.

Merger and Malaysia: a brief overview:

In view of the actual practice of the Alliance’s foreign policy, in the context of these carious developments, not only in Singapore and the Federation, but also within the whole region, the Tengku was forced to make a reassessment of the whole situation.

It must be pointed out that from the very beginning when this “change” of attitude takes place, the two separate issues of merger and Malaysia were never kept distinctly apart. The intention was obviously to cloud the real motivations behind the scheme. The overwhelming desire of our people for real reunification was capitalized upon in order to push forward a freak arrangement.

In the editorial in June-July issue (Vol 3 No. 4) called “Trap of Super Merger” FAJAR had set out to postulate, as a first hypothesis, the probable intentions underlying the sudden reversal of the Alliance’s attitude towards the whole question of reunification. The whole approach was to prolong colonial domination within the “whole” region.

“Merger” (“the right kind”) was not longer objectionable, indeed desirable. Long, involved arguments were propounded as to the desirability of merger. Attempts were made to put up an economic case for merger, Singapore cannot survive without merger, Our unemployment problem will worse unless we merge. Industrialization is not feasible in the limited market we have, and we have no raw materials. We depend on the Federation even on our water supply.

On the political front, the spectre of a Communist Singapore was played up — a Singapore hostile to the Federation — Israel in the East, Little China, and now West Irian. If we do not merge, either Singapore or the Federation will be conquered, Racial strife will be the order of the day.

All these arguments were propounded, and they are still being propounded, with the prime purpose to support the general thesis that the left is anti- merger, and to push through a freak arrangement in the name of “merger.”

The left had never at any time been anti-merger, Right from the time of the division, the left had always fought for the realization of reunification. It was the right wing which had been anti-merger, because reunification was opposed to their interests. There is then no need for a fool-proof case to be put up against the left. The fact that the arguments are being put forth, with such compelling and inflated earnestness presupposes certain things. Might it not the prelude to a freak arrangement to be passed off as merger? In actual fact, the economic care for merger is not as rosy as the PAP would have it. The Federation has its own problems, and merger will not usher in an economic paradise. The political case for argument is based principally on the use of threats. The underlying assumption is of a hostile Singapore. Why should Singapore seek to be hostile one does not know? Why should she have to be hostile for, when especially many of the people across the causeway are our relatives?

The Real Nature of Merger and Malaysia.

It is clear that this sudden “enthusiasm” for merger is not based on a genuine desire for reunification but on finding ways and means to contain the growth of the progressive forces in Singapore, and to deny the people their basic democratic rights. This finds manifestation in the concrete form of the proposed “merger.

Under the proposed arrangement, Singapore is to give up everything she now enjoys, except for labour and education. External defence, internal security, and external affairs, will also go to the Federal Government. There would be two separate citizenships, namely Singapore citizens and Federal citizens. A Singapore citizen who enters into the Federation will be to all intents and purposes an alien. The distinction between the two citizenships will be extended to discriminations in various spheres of activities, e.g. employment opportunities, business undertakings, Since not all Singapore citizens are eligible for Federal citizenship, Singapore’s representation in Parliament would be 15 seats, taking into consideration as well the “autonomy” on labour and education.

Under this arrangement, the first essential of a real reunification is absent: namely political integration. Singapore is to remain a separate political entity from the mainland, with the right solely to send a stipulated number of representatives to the Federal Parliament. Her citizens cannot partake of the normal activities of the country on the same level as Federal Government which finds expression in the ultimate control of “internal security.”

Under Malaysia, this arrangement between the Singapore and the Federation will still apply. The three Borneo states will enter as constituent states to the Federation. Singapore is to enter merely as a “partner.”

One probable fear of the people as regards the Malaysia plan is the likely involvement of the whole area into the cold war. Alliance’s foreign policy has tended to make this more than just a mere possibility. In recent years, Alliance policy on this score had tended to isolate Malaya from the main stream of Asian thinking. Our geographical and political reality remind us that our rightful place belongs to Afro-Asia — with Indonesia, Burma, India, and the newly independent African countries likely Ghanna, Guinea and other countries like Algeria which are struggling to achieve freedom. We are united as President Sukarno said in Bandung in 1955 by the “common destestation of colonialism and racialism.”

This present move will strike at the very root of our associations with these countries, if its basic motivation is involvement in the cold war. It may antagonize our nearest neighbor, Indonesia, We remember too well the period of the Sumatran Revolt when a hostile Singapore gave sanctuary to the rebel leaders. A larger territorial unit, advancing in a different direction, may pose a greater threat to the Indonesian people.

Such a development is against the interests of our peoples who do not seek to involve ourselves into the cold war struggle, and who wish to remain friendly and united with our African and Asian neighbours.

The Tengku said that he wanted to bring freedom to the Borneo territories. This is a laudable aim. If the Tengku is really sincere on this score, he should support the movement for self determination and then let the people decide whether they would like to come in or not.

What should be our attitude?

We should always fight for the realization of a genuine merger, because that is the long standing desires of our people, and also because it is in the long term interests of the people, but we should be wary of any attempt to deny us our democratic rights and to be used as a pawn to fight against our neighbours. In any arrangement for real reunification, it is therefore essential that the colonial power be totally excluded from the decision. The people must make the last decision. It the arrangements we seek are not based on temporary expediency, or depending on the reasonableness” of certain political leaders, then we should have no feat to refer the matter to the people. We should seek to expose any false scheme to be passed off as “merger” — and at the same time, pressed forward to set the basic conditions for a real reunification. These revolve round the question of the eradication of colonialism. The greater the measure of freedom we enjoy, the greater is the colonial influence isolated from the decision. The greater is the likelihood for a real reunification based on equality, progress and democracy.

Read Full Post »

Clarissa Oon

In the half-century from the 1920s to the mid-1970s, Chinese-language drama was a major cultural force and part of the lifeblood of the Chinese community in Singapore. Numerous amateur theatre and cultural groups were formed; their members came from all walks of life, including teachers, shopkeepers, businessmen, hawkers, artists, musicians and writers. Many of these drama enthusiasts already had exposure to theatre through drama groups in nearly all of the Chinese-medium high schools and their alumni associations. Plays were read and performed on Rediffusion and radio, and faithfully publicised and reviewed in the Chinese newspapers. From the outset, it was not just the scripts from China that were prized; equally important, if not more so, was the creation of original scripts reflecting Nanyang, Malayan and later Singaporean realities.

During this period, there was no consciousness of a theatre apart from politics. Chinese drama was tied, by an umbilical cord, to various socio-political movements in China, beginning with the May Fourth movement in 1919 which planted the idea in intellectuals and artists that the purpose of art was for the betterment of the people and the nation. There were other movements which galvanised Singapore’s Chinese language theatre at different points in its history – the anti-Japanese resistance during the Second World War, when dramas were put up to rally people and raise funds to help China fight the Japanese; and the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, when art and politics were so closely intertwined in China that artists who did not reflect the “correct” leftist values and ideology were seen as a threat to society’s moral fibre. As Singapore lurched from a tense merger with Malaysia to finding itself unexpectedly on its own as a new nation, the birth pangs of development added to the concerns of Chinese-language theatre. The economy’s strategic dependence on foreign multi-national corporations, the resettlement of villagers to make way for factories and the struggles of the working poor were seen by some as new signs of social inequality, barely a decade after being freed from the yoke of colonialism. The left-leaning views of many Chinese language theatre practitioners were not dissimilar to those expressed by the opposition Barisan Sosialis political party, student activists and more radical trade unionists. Many of them were Chinese-educated, as opposed to the minority English-educated elite. It was in this political and intellectual ferment that Chinese-language drama found its voice and its audience.

As a sign of how politically influential Chinese drama was as a medium during the early years of independence, the ruling People’s Action Party’s Central Cultural Bureau formed its own drama group in 1965 to produce Chinese plays. This was presumably to counter the largely leftist output of the Chinese theatre scene. There were frequent bans on performances by the authorities, and not a few theatre groups were ordered to shut down.

In 1976, several Chinese-language theatre practitioners, including Kuo Pao Kun and his dancer-choreographer wife Goh Lay Kuan, were detained in a major security sweep against 50 alleged members of Malayan Communist Party splinter and front organisations. Kuo spent four years behind bars under the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial. In those four years, a seismic change took place, quietly but with wide-ranging implications. The thriving Chinese-language theatre was nipped in the bud, and when it recovered in the 1980s, was a pale shadow of its former vitality. Suddenly, the English language theatre which had previously languished was now on the ascendant, as a major shift in education policy in the late 1970s established English as the first language and main language of instruction in all schools. The Chinese language, like the other mother tongues, was reduced to a second language. Vernacular schools, which taught in the mother tongue, had been facing declining enrolment for many years now due to the growing economic importance of the English language, and by 1987, were either shut down, or converted to English-medium schools. The young writers and drama enthusiasts were now expressing themselves in English, and this theatre scene that took off in the 1980s was a very different animal from the Chinese theatre of the past. Influenced primarily by the individualism of theatre-making in the contemporary Western tradition, theatre practitioners were now speaking for themselves and did not seek to reflect a larger collective consciousness. They were a vital part of independent civil society, but no longer as anti-government as before. Indeed, funded by state monies, they became part of the global capitalist circuit of art production and consumption. In comparison to the Chinese-language drama a decade before, this new theatre did not have the baggage of ideology and history, but conversely, its roots in the wider society were not as deep.

Kuo bridged those two worlds, as a playwright, director, educator and thinker who would also start writing in English from 1983. In a playwriting forum held at The Substation in 1996, he described his work from the 1980s onwards as “reflecting (on) and criticising life through drama and theatre, rather than using theatre as part of a socio-political movement” (9 Lives 1997 p. 70). Reoriented towards Singapore’s changing society and his own rethinking of his art, his rich body of work and his pioneering role in theatre training have established him as the most influential figure in Singapore theatre, a position which still stands despite his untimely death in September 2002.

And yet, remarkably little is known today about his early leftist plays. They have never been translated into English and have not been restaged in the last 35 years. The original Chinese scripts, written and staged between 1968 and 1975, were collected and published a few years ago for the first time. In one sense, they are products of their time that read somewhat anachronistically today. At the same time, they are integral to understanding Kuo as a person, activist and artist. If we take the earlier quote from Kuo, what he added after that is significant: “But I don’t think I could ever sort of cut politics away from my work – it just works in a different way.” (9 Lives 1997 p. 70)

The history of the forgotten Chinese theatre of the last century has been the subject of two recent exhibitions, one at the National Library in 2009, and another from February 2 to 28 in 2010 at the Esplanade, produced by Drama Box and curated by theatre academic Quah Sy Ren. Lately, the leftists’ role in Singapore history has also moved from the margins towards the mainstream of public discourse, beginning with Singapore Press Holdings’ publishing of the “untold” history of the PAP in Men In White (leaders of the left were among the PAP’s founding members, and later broke away to form the Barisan). Subsequently, a group of former leftists and political detainees told their side of the story in The Fajar Generation, a book of essays on the University Socialist Club and politics in postwar Malaya and Singapore. Kuo’s early plays help to flesh out the cultural and not just political history of the left. Through the medium of theatre, they shed light on what the Chinese-educated leftists stood for and believed in during that shadowy period in Singapore’s history, which for subsequent generations, has been filled out largely by the official narrative.

The leftist movement and the Singapore Performing Arts School

It was an uneasy dawn after Singapore was forced to split from Malaysia in 1965. While the PAP pushed for integration with global markets, injection of foreign capital into the economy and rapid industrialisation to spur growth and create jobs, the leftists hit out against what they saw as exploitation of the working classes. There were sharp rifts in politics and economics, and over other issues like education, language policy and the fate of the Chinese-language Nanyang University in a multi-racial society. As Quah noted in his introduction to Volume One of The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun, “Singapore’s formation was like that of many newly-independent, developing nations at that time; each individual, organisation, community had constructed different versions of the imagined homeland”. (2005, p. xv) The leftist movement in Singapore was a multi-racial one, but the Chinese-educated Chinese made up the biggest group.

By the 1960s, socialist and even pro-communist ideas were ingrained in the Chinese-language theatre here. This can be traced back to the influence of left-leaning China writers and intellectuals, who sought refuge in this part of the world at critical junctures during the civil war with the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government, before the Communists finally seized power in 1949. Chairman Mao Zedong’s dictum that art must be close to the common people (the workers, peasants and soldiers) participate in their struggles, and serve political ends, caught on here, though not without some debate over the extent to which art should be politicised (Zhan 2001, p. 39-41).

The start of Cultural Revolution in 1966 gave further impetus to the notion of theatre as agitprop, to rally the working masses in a class struggle. Kuo’s contribution, according to Malaysian drama doyen Krishen Jit in a 1989 essay, was to “inject strong doses of professionalism and artistic responsibility to the doctrinaire of revolutionary theatre”.

The modern Chinese-language theatre was a naturalistic one, with realistic dialogue, well-defined characters and scenography that represented local settings as faithfully as resources allowed. China had embraced Stanislavskian realism via the Soviet Union and the Moscow Arts Theatre. As an example of how this tradition had filtered over to Singapore, the founders of one of the most established and active groups at the time, the Singapore Amateur Players (inaugurated in 1955), had received drama training from visiting China instructors while they were in school and members of the Chung Cheng High School Drama Research Society. Kuo was born in Hebei, China, and his early background was in Chinese theatre. However, he was also proficient in the English language, having received formal training at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art in his early 20s. Among his first works in the theatre were translations and adaptations of English-language plays. However he stuck to the naturalistic Chinese tradition for his original Chinese dramas, though he would sometimes throw in a Brechtian chorus during intervals; they recited their commentary in the Chinese oratorical style, instead of singing it as the German playwright and pioneer of “alienation” techniques in the theatre envisioned.

Kuo came to Singapore at the age of 10. He had a turbulent education, going through five different schools. One of them was Chinese High School, where he participated in the 1956 student strikes against the ban on pro-left organisations connected with the Chinese schools. After a brief stint as a reporter at Radio Singapore, he left for further studies in Australia with his wife-to-be, Goh Lay Kuan.

Upon their return to Singapore in 1965, Kuo and Goh wanted to do full-time theatre and dance, but there were no professional theatre and dance companies they could join, as the groups were all amateur. They decided to start a performing arts school, to train students who could eventually perform and produce works with them. (Hu and Lin 2000) That was how the Singapore Performing Arts School (renamed Practice Performing Arts School in the 1980s) was founded.

The school began by performing modern Western dramas translated by Kuo into Chinese, such as Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, but later devoted its energies entirely to creating original plays and dance performances. As was typical of other Chinese drama groups of the time, most of the plays were created collectively and Kuo was credited simply as “the one who does the actual writing” (执笔者; zhibi zhe), rather than as “playwright”. The creative process is documented by Quah as follows: the group members would first gather to brainstorm ideas for a script; Kuo then wrote a first draft; members would break into small groups to discuss the draft and present their ideas, consulting seniors outside the group; Kuo produced a second draft with the input; another round of discussion followed; then a third draft was produced. This was the version of the script that was used in rehearsals. (2005, p. xviii-xix)

The plays by the SPAS had a strong following, particularly among blue-collar workers. From the late 1960s, Kuo and Goh started “Going Into Life” campaigns where they and their group members went to live and work alongside farmers, rubber tappers, construction workers and fishermen. This was so that their dramas and dance performances could be closer to the lives of the working masses. Kuo recalled the symbiotic relationship with the workers:

I remember at the time when we had new plays performed, written by us – sometimes collectively, sometimes individually – you would have busloads of students and workers coming to see the play. And sometimes they came from as far as Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh or even Penang. At the time, it was still very much a peninsular kind of Singapore and Malaysia. The bridge was still very fluid in traffic. And people from my school, other groups and theatre companies fanned out into the working masses – the factories, the construction sites, even fishing villages, padi fields and plantations on the Peninsula to, so to speak, experience life and bring their experiences from what they found back for creative production. And very often workers and students come to the first rehearsals, or previews, to chip in comments about what they liked, what they didn’t like. (9 Lives, p. 68-69)

The “worker friend” (工友; gongyou) was their audience, inspiration and foremost critic. By the early 1970s, a Singaporean technocratic elite as well as mid-level bureaucrats and executives had emerged alongside the foreign bosses, with a mass of workers at the bottom employed as cheap labour. Costs were rising as the economy picked up, but the wages of these workers remained low. Not only was their employment in flux amidst the ups and downs of the business cycle, they were also very vulnerable to industrial accidents, as sociologist Noeleen Heyzer noted in a 1983 essay. From the 1970s, the once-militant trade union movement was largely tamed by the Singapore government, but dissent and strikes among workers still broke out occasionally. Kuo’s leftist plays did not attack the government directly, but targeted industrialists, technocrats and supervisors, portraying them as emblems of an oppressive capitalist class.

From “Hey, Wake Up!” to “Growing Up”

From 1968 to 1975, Kuo wrote three full-length plays. The first two, “Hey, Wake Up!” 《喂,醒醒!》and “The Struggle” 《挣扎》were produced by his own group, Singapore Performing Arts School (SPAS). The third play, “Growing Up” 《成长》, was produced by a younger group, Selatan Arts Ensemble, whose members had been trained by Kuo and Goh at the SPAS. It was Kuo’s revised version of an earlier play he had done with SPAS that was banned and never saw the light of day, titled “The Sparks of Youth” 《青春的火花》. “Hey, Wake Up!”, “The Struggle” and “Growing Up” are published in volume one of The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun.

“Hey, Wake Up!”, which premiered on December 27, 1968 at Victoria Theatre, centers around a headstrong high-school graduate, Xiao Mei, who answers a job advertisement for a “ladies tour agency” despite the reservations of her working-class neighbours and washerwoman mother. The play follows Xiao Mei as she tries to safeguard her integrity in her new job. She rationalises that she is simply making a living and trying to make enough money so her mother does not have to wash clothes anymore. It ends, somewhat inevitably, with a rape scene, but her neighbours in her crowded tenement block rally around her and she finally “wakes up”, so to speak, to the reality of her exploitation.

The play received extremely good reviews in the Chinese press. One critic, Zhong Shi, writing in the Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau on January 5, 1969, hailed it as “an utterly though-provoking play. It did not resort to sloganeering or lectures, and there was not a scene out of place… It is the most successful locally-written play we have experienced”. To a contemporary reader, the script would seem a tad melodramatic, but Singapore had a flourishing sex trade in the 1960s and 1970s. Upscale escort agencies took off along with the economy, catering to foreign and local businessmen and recruiting young women looking for a way out of poverty. In Zhong Shi’s view, the story told by “Hey, Wake Up!” is “one we are familiar with” and the play would have “definite educational and instructional value for our young audiences”.

The next full-length play by SPAS, “The Struggle”, was scheduled for production in December 1969, but was banned two weeks before it could go on stage. In that short two weeks, the SPAS members managed to rustle up a series of poetry recitals and one-act playlets to take the place of the banned play. “The Struggle” opens with the forced eviction of villagers from their land by an unscrupulous landowner who wants to build factories. Some of the younger villagers go on to work in the factories, where they face the dilemma of whether to cooperate with factory bosses, take on longer hours and be compensated for it, or band together with other workers to fight for better terms and conditions of work.

As an ideological statement, “The Struggle” is more hard-hitting than “Hey, Wake Up!”, one of its key messages being that unity among workers is more important than the filial piety so valued in traditional Chinese culture. This is clearly seen in its confrontation between an elderly and ailing mother and her daughter, a factory supervisor. The mother is aggrieved that her daughter, Ya Long, has not aligned herself with the other workers. As she says accusingly: “Everyone is saying that my child is standing together with the bosses and opposing the workers (工友)!” When a hurt Ya Long says that all her actions stem from putting her mother first, so that they can pay her medical bills and put food on the table, her mother counters: “Before you stopped school to work and we had debts to pay, who helped us through that time? Friends! Now, just for the sake of earning a few more dollars, you are not acknowledging your friends? How are you ever going to become a person of dignity?” (The Complete Works p. 97-98)

Kuo’s third original full-length production, “Growing Up”, was staged in January 1975 and is perhaps the fullest expression of his leftist ideals. It traces the journey of three young women who become labour activists. There is Li Mei, who has slogged to earn enough money to help her boyfriend finance his studies overseas, only to be betrayed when he returns and marries someone else. There is Gui Yu, who comes from a wealthy but estranged family; her father is a philanderer and her mother, a second wife. And then there is Zhou Xia, their friend who helps them find a spiritual calling in looking out for the disenfranchised and educating workers about their rights. The play portrays their inner conflicts in casting aside the bondage of romantic love and empty family ties. As they take up jobs on the factory floor to serve other workers, they learn how to do so not just in words but in action, and to pay willingly the price for taking a stand against injustice.

Kuo and SPAS also created several short plays, dramatic poems and xiangsheng (相声; cross-talk) skits in a similar pro-labour, anti-capitalist vein. For example, “Sister Luo’s New Year Eve” tells of a woman who has no choice but to work on Chinese New Year’s Eve, even though her daughter is seriously ill at home. If she does not work, she will not get the bonus that she needs in order to send her daughter to hospital, and her unfeeling boss refuses to cut her some slack by releasing her earlier, despite her plaintive explanations of her daughter’s plight. By the time she gets home with the money, it is too late; her daughter has already died.

There are several common themes in all these works. One is the distinction between the “yellow culture” of sexual debauchery and “healthy culture”. The “anti-yellow movement” had begun in the Chinese-medium schools from the early 1950s, when the British colonial government was perceived to be turning a blind eye to the growing number of brothels, hostess bars and girlie shows as well as the influx of pornographic magazines (Zhan 2001 p. 28-30). Pop music tunes which sang of freewheeling love, parties and gambling were also seen as unhealthy. The campaign to stop “yellow culture” from corrupting youths and society at large took the form of school talks, public rallies, dramas and newspaper articles. In this, activists were influenced by May Fourth intellectuals who regarded women as equal to men, breaking with a feudal Chinese tradition of seeing them as sex objects and having only a secondary role in a patriarchal society.

Another trope running through Kuo’s early plays is the leftist revisioning of the classic coming-of-age plot, redefining the notion of what youths should aspire to have and to be. One unnamed Nanyang Siang Pau writer, reviewing “Growing Up” on January 6, 1975, concurred with the play’s perspective: “In this age, what kind of ideals should young people have? What kind of lives should they live? Born into different families and different life experiences, the three young ladies in the (play) grapple with these questions in different ways; however, they finally uphold the interests of the masses in a righteous resistance, continuing a resolute struggle on behalf of the majority.”

Clearly, the most distinguishing feature of the plays is their binary treatment of issues and black-and-white dichotomies of good and evil. Those who are capitalists, or align themselves with the forces of capital, will invariably set out to exploit the working class, regardless of the background or initial intentions of these businessmen and industrialists. This is because the system is inherently unjust. In turn, workers must lock arms, seek power in numbers and not compromise their integrity by falling in line with what bosses demand of them, in exchange for limited material gain.

The 1980s and the utopian imagination

In the second half of the 1970s, Kuo and other left-leaning intellectuals were put to sleep.

In subsequent interviews and writings on his four years in detention, Kuo would regard it as a constructive period of reflection, during which he began to see the limitations of the kind of theatre he had been pursuing. By this point, leftists across Asia had become aware of the ruthless extremes of the Cultural Revolution in China, including its persecution of many artists, writers and intellectuals. Many became disillusioned with the ideals of socialism, as Kuo’s compatriot, veteran Chinese newspaper journalist Han Tan Juan revealed in a 2003 interview with the Tangent journal. Kuo speaks of his own break with ideology in an interview with Alvin Tan and Sanjay Krishnan:

It is a good thing that Chinese theatre in the 80s cut itself off from active party politics because only then could it begin to exist on its own as an art form… The great Chinese writer, Lu Xun, wrote an article in the ’30s entitled, “The Diverging Path of Politics and Art”. I read it before I went to prison but it never really registered until I read it again under detention… Suddenly, it sort of jumped off the pages. Lu Xun said that progressive politics and progressive art very often seem to be fellow travellers, partners in struggle, but once that political movement assumes power, their paths begin to part because it is the nature of every political movement or party to hold on and perpetuate its rules; and it is in the nature of art to always pursue truth, even to the extent of incurring the hostility of the ruling powers. (9 Lives 1997, p. 132)

Some have argued that from the 1980s onwards, like many others who had been against the PAP, Kuo was co-opted by the government. But anyone who has watched or studied his plays after 1980 would know that he did not lose his critical voice. Nonetheless it was a different voice. These plays questioned policies such as relentless urbanisation (The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree), the utilitarian abandonment of Chinese dialects (Mama Looking For Her Cat) and the pervasive, humourless and soul-destroying rigidity of the bureaucracy (The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole and No Parking On Odd Days), but were not really issue-based plays as such. While various elements were clearly rooted in the contemporary Singaporean reality, their mix of realism and allegory also made them less socially-specific than his earlier plays. The later plays were an attempt to cultivate an “independent cultural space”, as he himself put it (9 Lives 1997, p. 133), a space for the imagination, story-telling, art and philosophising that could not be ascribed to any particular brand of politics. They were more about the human condition than anything else, striving for a deeper understanding of life and society, without offering easy answers.

According to Kuo, another reason for the change in direction of his works was his move into bilingual theatre practice. In 1984, he wrote his first English-language play, the monodrama The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole, and translated it into Chinese himself the following year. Subsequently, he would create both Chinese and English versions of many of his plays. From 1985, he began conducting some of his drama workshops in English; these workshops would be attended by many of the future leaders of the English-language theatre scene, including TheatreWorks’ Ong Keng Sen and The Necessary Stage’s Alvin Tan. He was moved to start working in the English-language theatre because he knew the ground had shifted, and with it, the outlook and values of a whole new generation. Chinese-language education was no more. In 1980, Nanyang University (Nantah) was merged with the University of Singapore to become the National University of Singapore, putting an end to Chinese-medium university education. Serious discourse in Chinese was severely weakened. In 1983, citing declining circulation of the two Chinese broadsheets Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh, the government merged them into one newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao.

From 1984 onwards, Kuo’s plays would still be broadly rooted in the socially-conscious Chinese intellectual and dramatic tradition, driven by the May Fourth ideal of art-making as something for the greater good of society. Yet influences from other theatre traditions were much more palpable than in his pre-detention Chinese plays. These included Polish director Jerzy Grotowski’s concept of the “poor theatre”, emphasising an actor’s physical and spiritual development above other elements such as text or scenography. Kuo introduced Grotowski’s techniques to a new generation of young actors when he wrote The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree in 1987 and invited the Grotowski-trained Taiwanese director Liu Jing-min to co-direct the production. The European theatre of the absurd was another influence that could be felt in Kuo’s plays such as The Coffin, perhaps his most enduring work which has been frequently restaged and reinterpreted by younger theatre practitioners. In the monodrama, a man vividly narrates how his late grandfather’s huge and ornate coffin could not fit into the standard-sized plot at the cemetery, resulting in the protagonist’s tragicomic clash with bureaucrats who have trouble bending the rules for him. Reading The Coffin as an expression of the dilemma of modern man – caught between the living and the dead, family and society – the renowned contemporary Chinese playwright and novelist Gao Xingjian noted that Kuo had transcended the social specificities of Chinese culture by borrowing from the Western absurdist tradition and making it his own (Gao 2000 p. 73-74).

What is the relevance today of his forgotten leftist plays? Why is it worth understanding them and the context in which they were created, even if their moment in the sun has passed?

One, Kuo is acknowledged to have pioneered the technique here of devising plays with a group of actors, known as “workshopping”. Many younger practitioners became exposed to this method of creating theatre through The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree and 1988’s Mama Looking For Her Cat, a ground-breaking multi-lingual play. Like theatre groups elsewhere, Singapore theatre companies now routinely create productions through workshops, in which the kernel of a script is improvised by actors in rehearsals to create new performance riffs, fragments of dialogue, and subsequently entire scenes. A study of Kuo’s earlier works reveals why this method of creating theatre came so naturally to Kuo – because of its antecedents, for him, in the collective mode of script-writing in the left-leaning Chinese-language theatre of the 1960s and 1970s.

The difference between the two forms of collaboration, I would argue, is that earlier process was more intellectual and literary, centering on analysis and discussion of the script and how it could be improved. The later process of workshopping, however, was and is more theatrical and performative in nature. The director and actors improvise and play around with ideas while “in the moment” of a particular scene, and the work evolves more organically as a result. This methodology was instrumental in the creation of Mama, involving a multi-racial cast of actors. The story of a dialect-speaking old lady, who grows increasingly alienated from her brood of adult children but finds a connection with a cat and a Tamil-speaking old man, resonated with the all the linguistic complexity of everyday Singaporean reality, yet also turned it on its head as social commentary, in a way that was quite instinctive and unforced.

Two, throughout his life, Kuo remained passionately concerned about justice. His later plays were, at heart, about little people and the larger forces they are enmeshed in, as much as those that he wrote as a card-carrying socialist. The difference was that, this time, he knew that the enemy could not be so easily defined, and that the seeds of impotency and betrayal lay in one’s own heart. He learned how to inject humour – and black humour – into his plays.

Finally, the early works put one indelible trait of Kuo’s in sharp relief – his utopian imagination. His leftist plays reflect an idealistic hunger for a world where the disenfranchised are no longer oppressed. Post-1984, his hopes for humanity increasingly found expression in the ideal of multiculturalism. Again, such leanings were not new and harked back to the Malayan consciousness of his works with the SPAS from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s – not so much the plays, which were written in Chinese for Chinese-speaking audiences, but the dance-dramas he created with his partner Goh, which incorporated Malay and Indian dance as well as Western classical ballet (Quah 2004).

From the 1980s onwards, however, multiculturalism would form a greater part of what he stood for as an artist and intellectual. This trajectory began with the multilingualism of Mama. With later plays like 1995’s Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral – an allegory of the castrated condition of contemporary Chinese and Singaporean life – a deeper understanding of the ancestral cultures of Singapore and their respective connections became for him a way out of the mind-numbing corporatisation, a form of salvation for the decultured urban nomad.

This belief found its ultimate fruition in his setting up of an intensive programme to train actors in Asian and Western performance cultures, known as the Theatre Training and Research Programme. As he said in his interview with Tan and Krishnan, he likened the cultures of the world to trees in a densely-packed forest. In his words, “the higher you reach into the respective cultures, the more you see all the branches and leaves touching each other. But the stalk, the stem, the trunk are very separated” (9 Lives 1997, p. 134).

In his journey from socialist to multiculturalist, the one constant was his desire to make the world a better place, and his belief in the transformative powers of theatre to do so. And we are richer for it.


Gao Xingjian. 2000. “The Coffin Is Too Big For the Hole: Dilemma of the Modern Man.” trans. Kong Kam Yoke. Images at the Margins: A Collection of Kuo Pao Kun’s Plays. Singapore: Times Books International.

Heyzer, Noeleen. 1983. “International Production and Social Change: An Analysis of the State, Employment and Trade Unions in Singapore”. Understanding Singapore Society, eds. Ong Jin Hui, Tong Chee Kiong and Tan Ern Ser. Singapore: Times Academic Press.

Hu Wen Yan and Lin Ren Yu. 2000. “郭宝崑谈实践新课程‘剧场训练与研究’60岁让梦想成真”(“Kuo Pao Kun discusses Practice’s new course, Theatre Training and Research Programme – at 60 his dream has become reality”) Lianhe Zaobao, 1 March 2000. Singapore.

The Necessary Stage. 1997. “Playwright’s Voice: A Forum on Playwriting” and “Between Two Worlds: A Conversation with Kuo Pao Kun”. 9 Lives: 10 Years of Singapore Theatre, 1987-1997. Singapore: The Necessary Stage

Quah Sy Ren. 2004. “Form as Ideology: Representing the Multicultural in Singapore Theatre”. Ask Not: The Necessary Stage in Singapore Theatre, eds. Tan Chong Kee and Tisa Ng. Singapore: Times Editions.

Quah Sy Ren. 2005. “导论: 另一种理想家园的图像” (“Introduction: Another Representation of the Imagined Homeland”) in The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun, Volume One: Plays in Chinese – The 1960s and the 1970s.

Quah Sy Ren and Pan Cheng Lui, eds. 2005. The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun, Volume One: Plays in Chinese – The 1960s and the 1970s. Singapore: Practice Performing Arts School and Global Publishing.

Rowland, Kathy, ed. 2003. Krishen Jit: An Uncommon Position. Selected Writings. Singapore: Contemporary Asian Arts Centre.

Tangent. 2003. “Riding the Tide of Idealism: An Interview with Han Tan Juan.” Tangent: Special Bilingual Issue: Voices of History. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.

Zhan Dao Yu. 2001. 《战后初期的新加坡华文戏剧 1945-1959》 (Singapore Chinese-language Drama in the Early Post-war Years, 1945-1959). Singapore: Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore and Global Publishing.

Clarissa Oon is a former Beijing-based correspondent and the author of a book on the history of English-language theatre in Singapore. She has written about theatre, politics and Chinese culture for The Straits Times.

Read Full Post »

Michael Fernandez and Tan Jing Quee at the ‘Detention-Writing-Healing’ Forum

Transcribed by Seet Wen Hao and Ong Pei Chey, edited by Loh Kah Seng

On 26 February 2006, an idea mooted by history teacher Lim Cheng Tju to his friends in the arts scene came to fruition: to have former political detainees break the silence and speak of their experiences at a public forum. (more…)

Read Full Post »

M.K. Rajakumar and Poh Soo Kai

Originally published in FAJAR: ORGAN OF THE UNIVERSITY SOCIALIST CLUB, Issue No. 7, Monday, 10th May 1954. Transcribed by Karen Goh

Looming large in Asia once again is the threat of Western aggression. The West has been the aggressor in modern history and Asia has suffered bitterly from Western barbarity. The bitterness of these memories is not easily removed. They will greatly influence Asian thinking for a long time, until the West proves itself worthy of trust and friendship. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Tan Jing Quee

M.K. Rajakumar is a genuine Malaysian hero, a socialist and a patriot. He belongs to that generation who had initiated the struggle for national independence from colonial rule. Quite appropriately perhaps, he was born and grew up in Malacca, the birthplace of modern Malaysia. He completed his secondary education in Malacca High School before proceeding to Singapore in 1950 to enter the medical faculty of the newly established University of Malaya. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Tan Jing Quee

Part 1 (written in November 1999)

Samad Ismail’s career spans three countries over half a century, the breadth and durability of which is stunning. The scope of his activities covers diverse fields as politics, journalism and literature. If it is politics that forms the core of these activities, then journalism has woven them into one composite unity. He was a political journalist par excellence, the best in the country as many of his colleagues readily concede. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Lim Cheng Tju

Let me begin with my personal journey. I was teaching Singapore history at a junior college a few years back. It was a source-based paper, using primary and secondary materials to teach the history of Singapore from 1945 to 1965 – from the end of the Japanese Occupation to independence. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Tan Jing Quee
with a poem by Usman Awang and extracts from Said Zahari‘s memoirs

Photograph of Linda Chen, December 1996, courtesy of Loh Miaw Ping

Linda Chen passed away peacefully on 29th December 2002, four days after she suffered a stroke at her home at Hua Guan Avenue on Christmas Day. She was cremated at Mount Vernon on New Year’s Day. A large crowd of friends and relatives attended the simple ceremony in which her husband Professor Dr Tan Seng Huat and their three children spoke with emotion on Linda the idealist, mother and friend. (more…)

Read Full Post »