Posts Tagged ‘S’pore: A Biography’

Were the Coldstore detainees communists, progressives or leftists?

In Uncategorized on 28/02/2014 at 4:31 am

The publication of a book on the 50th anniversary and the MediaCorp documentary (funded by MDA) got TOC activists pretty emotional about whether we were told to the truth about these two events.

They were not the only ones. When TRE republished my piece on Dr Lee Siew Choh, this post appeared

Lim Chin Siong:

with so many books and videos banned, Sporeans not getting the true history of Spore, I hope somehow, TRE or any social media can dedicate a section of their website to tell the true story of Spore.
I am sick and tired of watching NDP after NDP depicting the same story of how Spore turned to a modern city (by the monkeys in white) from an island with a lion spotted a certain man!
I searched and nothing much was told about the man Lim Chin Siong, who was accused as a communist but never proven!

“What is the truth?” and “What is history?”. These are eternal questions for philosophers not for mere mortals.  So what about settling for a narrative of Lim Chin Siong and allies that is objective, balanced, non-judgemental and entertaining?

There is a book, that though, published by a govt agency (National Museum), that does these things: “S’pore: A Biography”*

The writers avoid the term “communists” in describing Lim Chin Siong and friends. When they are called “communists”, it’s LKY, the British etc who are using the term. Lim Chin Siong’s denials are given extensive coverage. Unlike  TOC’s favourite “historian”  Dr Ping Tjin Thum (P.J. Thum), there is no romaticising of Lim and friends by calling them “progressives’. They are described as “radical anti-colonialist leftists”. This, I think, is a pretty fair, neutral description that avoids the emotional laden terms used by LKY or Dr Thum.

The authors go on to say that they got the impression (based on Fong Swee Suan’s recollections)  that the views of people like Lim and Fong on the best political model for S’pore (and Malaya) were evolving, they were “experimenting, weighing up the options”. They tell us that Lim said he was “not [yet] anti-communist”.

They also give the context within which the words and actions of Lim and Fong were viewed. There were demonstrations, violence (girls from Nanyang Girls’ School threw acid at their principal’s face), and the memory of the Malayan Emergency was ever-present. These are things that Dr Thum glides over when he talks of the Malayan Communist Party saying it had given up violence in liberating S’pore (google him up or search the TOC website for articles containing his tots). These were things my parents talked about when they told me of the period (I was born in 1955).

BTW, one of these days I’ll muse about the three narratives of Coldstore: the Hard Truth version propagated by the constructive, nation-buildingl media, Dr Thum’s version propagated by TOC, and the conventional academic narrative (which I largely accept), and which sadly not propagated by anyone, even though this narrative is not banned by the govt. History may be written by the victors, but thank god for academics who poke holes in the official narrative.


*The authors, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (a name that itself would seem to encapsulate much of Singapore’s history) have carefully tread a narrow path between a definitive (i.e. worthy but dull) history and a popular (i.e. readable but light) treatment of Asia’s only city-state…. But Frost and Balasingamchow have, through a judicious selection of anecdote and primary sources, tied together with just the right amount of analysis and a judicious application of drama, teased out a narrative that both interests and flows, complemented by beautifully-rendered and a propos illustrations.!

Update at 5.05am: Another link describing the book