Monday, December 21, 2009

The Japanese occupation of Singapore

(From top left clockwise: A poster by Asahi Shinbun, Japan's major newspaper, to celebrate the occupation of Singapore; A poster with a warning against self-congratulation after the victory; A signboard for a food distribution point.

My Singaporean friends appear to agree that the National Museum of Singapore is the best place to learn the history of this city state. At the entrance to the history gallery, I'm given what they call "companion" with a headphone. This gadget with a screen plays a role of explaining the theme of each exhibition section and historical items on display. Type the number written on the floor or next to the item on display, and the companion starts the explanation either in audio or on screen. An innovative way of museum exhibition.

One interesting fact to learn is that in the early 20th century, when Singapore was thriving as a trade port and a financial center under the British rule, the authority encouraged local people to attend school in order to overcome the shortage of skilled labor forces necessary for the economic prosperity of Singapore.

My main interest in the Singaporean history lies in the Japanese occupation period (1942-1945), something Japanese people never learn at school. After defeating the British navy on 15 February 1942, the Japanese occupation authority summoned residents in Singapore, family by family. Women and children were immediately let go home. Malay and Indian men were also let go home. Chinese men, if local police collaborators told the authority that they had a record of anti-Japanese behavior, were executed. (Japan was at war with mainland China at that time.) No one knows how many Chinese people were killed by the Japanese occupation forces.

Economically, the Japanese occupation of Singapore was a disaster. Food shortage forced the authority to ration foods to local residents. There was an attempt to transfer Singaporean men to farms in Malay Peninsula to increase food production, which was a complete failure.

Those killed during the occupation period were commemorated by the Civilian War Memorial, looking like giant white chopsticks sticking upright to the sky:

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