On 28 January 2019, the media reported that PM Lee launched the Singapore Bicentennial at the Singapore River. Wait a minute! Didn’t we just celebrate SG50 a few years ago? Why are we suddenly celebrating a bicentennial (i.e. 200 years)? How did this number come about? Is it the Government’s math fail? If you are as confused as I am, read on.
What are we celebrating?
In short, the Singapore Bicentennial is the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Raffles’ landing in Singapore (which some believe is one of the key turning points in Singapore’s history). The scale of the Singapore Bicentennial will not be as large as the SG50 celebrations. Instead, it will ride on existing events organised by its partners throughout the year, ending with a major exhibition at the Fort Canning Centre. Sadly, there will be no public holiday 😦
If that hasn’t interest (or confused) you enough, PM Lee also shared some of these interesting history facts in his speech at the launch:
Fact 1: Singapore has a history of 700 years
If you are like me (i.e. a person with limited history knowledge), you would think that Singapore is just a country with a 53-year independent history. However, we are wrong! Singapore has a long history which goes back 700 years, starting from the 14th century where the Singapore River was a thriving seaport called Temasek. Around that the period, a prince (Sang Nila Utama) founded a kingdom here and named it Singapura after seeing a lion. Luckily he never see a pig hor.
Fact 2: Singapore was almost a Spanish Colony
When the Europeans came to Southeast Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries, they knew about Singapore. Around 1630, Jacques de Coutre, a Flemish gem trader who knew the region well, proposed to the King of Spain to build a fortress in Singapore because of its strategic location. However, his proposal was rejected. Had the King accepted de Coutre’s proposal, Singapore might have become a Spanish colony, and we would all be having Croquettes and Tortillas for breakfast.
Fact 3: Stamford Raffles did not “discover” Singapore
One of the misconceptions that many of us have is that we think that Stamford Raffles was the one who discovered Singapore. However, this could not be possible as he only arrived in 1819. Nevertheless, he played a key role in our history by persuading the Sultan of Johor to allow the British East India Company to establish a trading post in Singapore. This resulted in Singapore becoming a free port, and the prospering if our economy which continues today. Although 1819 was not the beginning of Singapore’s history, it is an important year for us as it marked the start of a modern, open and multicultural Singapore.
In my opinion, the Singapore Bicentennial should not be about remembering Raffles, but understanding the history of Singapore before 1965 and appreciating the various stories which shaped Singapore today. While this commemoration may mean different things to different Singaporeans, let perhaps look at this event with an open mind and reflect how we can go forward together. Not a bad idea hor?