Monday, 8 June 2015

The perilous anti-colonial struggle - Birth of the open leftist student and labour movements

Memorial essays collection for comrade Chiam Chong Chian.

Before the partnership with the political opportunistist Lee Kuan Yew in 1959, many circumstances led the commmunists and leftists to rethink their strategy towards the anti-colonial struggle. Instead of only opposing the hated imperialists through underground warfare, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) also opposed the British through open legal struggle as well.

After the declaration of the unlawful "Malayan Emergency" on 20 June 1948, many MCP members were removed from the city areas in Singapore and Malaya to conduct war on the imperialists from the jungle. They were drafted into military units that slept, worked and fought hard against the hated British colonialists day and night. Many of them paid the price with their lives because they hoped their children would have a brighter, freer future without the oppression of the colonialists.

A group of about 40 MCP cadres and leftist sympathisers stayed in Singapore to maintain supplies and conduct urban struggles. They organised themselves into a Singapore Town Committee (STC) structured into four districts: Bukit Timah (West District), Admiralty (North District), South Bridge Road District and North Bridge Road District, and a Students Committee that was in charge of leading the students in Singapore.

As mentioned previously, some MCP underground cadres formed the Singapore People's Anti-British League (SPABL) at the Chinese High School (CHS) in 1949. A separate group led by Eu Chooi Yip, Joseph Tan, P.V. Sarma and Lin Zanrong also formed an English speaking branch of the SPABL, which spread progressive ideas to the English speaking students at the University of Malaya.

However, after the STC failed to assassinate Singapore Governor Gimson on 28 April 1950, the British Special Branch was more aggressive in arresting STC members. They captured STC secretary Ah Jin and propaganda committee member He Sheng, who then betrayed the organisation and led to the arrests of all the other members. Only the Student Committee, the committee in charge of progressive newsletter Zi You Bao (The Freedom News), and the E Branch Assassination Squad remained.

So the heavy burden of leading MCP activities in Singapore fell to young Huang Maozong also known as Wan Fong of the Students' Committee. Unfortunately, he too was arrested on 29 January 1954. 

Thus Ng Mengqiang, also known as Comrade D, took over from him.

According to former SPABL member, Zhong Hua:

"此时的学委,在黄明强领异下,有詹忠谦,林月娥和张允伏三条线,积极发展抗盟在华校中学生当中的组织。林月娥是中正中学学生,负责领导女校和发展女盟员,在众多女成员中相当有威望,他们都称她二姐。詹忠谦和张允伏跟黄明强一样,都是1950年华中高二班同学,在校时期就是品学兼优的学生,很受同学们敬重,而詹忠谦在当年的斗争中被公认为地下组织的一支笔杆子,他的文章笔锋锐利,狠狠地打击了敌人,有力地鼓舞了群众。” [Translation: Ng Mengqiang appointed three key members, Chiam Chong Chian, Lin Yue Er and Chan Yean Fock to develop SPABL branches in Chinese high schools. Lin Yue Er was a  Chung Cheng High School student and she was in-charge of leading groups in girls' schools and recruiting new female members. She had a good reputation among her members and was called "second elder sister". Chiam Chong Chian, Chan Yean Fock and Ng Mengqiang were Form 5 students in CHS in 1950. They too were well respected for their good conduct and academic results. Chiam was an exceptional writer who hit out at enemies with critical writings and stirred up the passions of the masses.]

Around this time in 1953, the British imperialists began drafting the Rendel Constitution to deceive the population that it was interested in granting self-government to the people of Singapore and Malaya. In fact, the imperialists only wanted a lackey government that would continue to allow the British to exploit the vast riches in Malaya and Singapore.

Sensing a change, the MCP commanders in Malaya made a wise decision to conduct both underground warfare and open legal struggle against the imperialists. 

Zhong Hua continues,

"在这种新形势下,学委领导及其地下组织“星抗盟”也适时地决定调整斗争战略,要求盟员创造条件,从地下秘密活动转为公开合法斗争,许多盟员在1954年底根据上级的指示,开始积极地和大规模地筹组各种群众性组织。在这一新方针指导下,在短短的时间内,工会、农会、妇会、校友会和各种文化团体、刊物,就如雨后春笋般涌现。” [Translation: In this new situation, the leaders of the Students' Committee and SPABL decided to change strategies and carry out open and legal struggles. Many SPABL members received orders from their commanders to form organisations of the masses, such as labour unions, farmers' associations, women's federations, alumni associations and many different types of cultural organisations.]

“尤其是在公运方面,成绩最为显著,形成一股不容忽视的力量,令人刮目相看。据统计,当时全新加坡大约有12万产业工人,其中约有8万7千人加入157个职业会,而在这些职工会当中,以后来成为明日之星的林清祥领导的“各业工厂及商店职工联合会”(简称“各业”)最为强大。”[Translation: The labour struggle achieved the most obvious results. Statistics say that there were 120,000 workers in Singapore and about 87,000 joined the 157 trade unions. The Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union (SFSWU) led by Lim Chin Siong was the strongest among the 157 trade unions.]

“各业”取得的迅猛发展,绝非偶然。除了客观形势的有利因素外,也与其领导人背景密切关系。据了解,除林清祥外,该会前后两任主席林振国和杨高锦、两位副总务蒂凡那和詹姆斯·普都遮里也都是“星抗盟”盟员。” [Translation: The rise of the SFSWU was not coincidental. It was because of the situation at that time and its leaders. Besides Lim Chin Siong, SFSWU former chairmen Lin Zhengguo and Yang Gaojin and two deputy secretary-generals Devan Nair and J. Puthucheary were all SPABL members.]"

So the roots of the glorious student movement in the 1950s can be traced back to this group of dedicated MCP cadres and their followers. 

To these SPABL comrades, Ng Mengqiang, Chiam Chong Chian, Lin Yue Er, Chan Yean Fock, Lim Chin Siong, Eu Chooi Yip, Joseph Tan, P.V. Sarma, Lin Zanrong, Lin Zhengguo, Yang Gaojin, Devan Nair, and J. Puthucheary:


Lim Chin Siong next to Lee Kuan Yew.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The birthplace of heroes and leaders - Chinese High School in Singapore

There are many pioneer leaders in Singapore history. Although Lee Kuan Yew and his PAP try their best to persuade the people that they are the reason for Singapore's "success", many in our generation know better. We are not fools.

We know we were forced to accept Lee Kuan Yew as our leader, a man without morals who used British imperialist laws like the ISA to oppress and detain his enemies, leaving us with no other options to choose from. Anyone who dared speak against him was jailed. Students, doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists, union workers. This was during the first detention called "Operation Coldstore".

We know we were forced to give up our Chinese ancestry and culture in exchange for English education and jobs for our children. Because Lee Kuan Yew wanted full control over the powerful and progressive Chinese community, he shut down our Chinese schools, jailed and tortured our young leaders, silenced our press and destroyed our languages and way of life. In just one generation, the Chinese in Singapore lost their heritage and their culture, no thanks to Lee Kuan Yew and his English-speaking lackeys.

What were the choices facing the Singapore Chinese community? Did we really have to choose this opportunistic leader Lee because we had no choice?

The answer is NO.

After WWII, Singapore had many young, passionate and bright Chinese leaders, ready and willing to break free from the hated British imperialists. These young Chinese leaders would have led Singapore and Malaysia into a prosperous and just new future, not like the current inequality under Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP.

Many of these leaders received their education from the best Chinese schools in all of South East Asia like the Chinese High School. 

Chinese High was built up in Bukit Timah by a wealthy Chinese patriot and leader, Mr Tan Kah Kee, in 1919. Many of its former students are legendary names in the history of Singapore: Lim Chin Siong, Jek Yuen Thong, Chan Sun Wing, Fu Chiao Sian, Ng Mengqiang, Fong Chong Pik, Chia Thye Poh.

Why did this school produce so many outstanding leaders? It was because the founder of the school, Tan Kah Kee, put in all his effort to ensure that Chinese students were patriotic, had high moral standards and great academic achievements. To Tan Kah Kee, education should be given to all students, regardless of their ability to pay, unlike the situation today where a few elite schools are restricted for the rich and the powerful.

These Chinese students would serve an important role in resisting the hated British Imperialists, who were the biggest obstacles for a prosperous, equal society in Malaya.

To fight the British, the Malayan Communist Party and the local Chinese community in Singapore and Malaysia sprang into action. Local Chinese heroes from the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) took up arms against the British when they tried to destroy Chinese education and society. (Sadly, a few years later the PAP would use the same policies to silence the vibrant Chinese community in the 1970s and 1980s.)

Another group of pro-communist students looked far into the future and realised that they needed to develop young student leaders in Chinese schools to resist the British and defend Chinese education.

One senior leader from the Chinese High remembers the first group of anti-British leaders:

"在6-20之前,华中已有一些马共地下党员。不过,6-20之后,其中部分地下党并不归学委领导。我同班同学卢坚文,是华中当时的一位地下党员。为了加强党的斗争事业和扩大党的影响,他在6-20之后极端严酷的白色恐怖统治的阴霾笼罩下,便开始在校园里开展抗英同盟的活动,小心谨慎地秘密吸收盟员。我就是卢坚文发展的第一个盟员。[Translation: Before 20 June (the Malayan Emergency), there were already some underground members of the Malayan Communist Party in the Chinese High School. However, after 20 June, some of the other underground cadres did not report to the Students' Committee. My classmate Lu Jianwen was one of the members of the underground MCP. In order to strengthen the MCP's struggle and expand the party's influence, Lu started to conduct anti-British struggle in school and carefully recruited members to our cause. I was the first member Lu recruited.]

事实上,卢坚文在6-20之前就把我当作是未来发展的对象,他曾通过我在华中推销党报《民声报》。在他的领导下,我在1948年已开始在学校建立起一个几乎遍及全校各班级的进步书刊推销网,推销包括《民声报》在内的各种进步书刊,在校园内进一步传播革命思想。我还在《民声报》副刊上发表了介绍在华中推销《民声报》的经验的文章。《民声报》于6-20被禁止出版后,我在同学中转为推销新加坡市委出版的地下报《自由报》,并从《自由报》读者当中发展了一大批抗英同盟盟员,团结了全校具有进步思想的同学。 [Translation: In fact, Lu felt that I was suitable for the cause before 20 June and had previously asked me to help promote the party newsletter Min Sheng Bao in the Chinese High. Under his leadership, I had already built up a large network throughout the school to promote Min Sheng Bao and other progressive publications, and to spread revolutionary thinking. I even wrote an article in Min Sheng Bao on how I promoted the paper. After Min Sheng Bao was banned, I started promoting the Singapore Town Committee's underground newsletter Zi You Bao. By doing this, I recruited many anti-British and progressive thinking students.]

华中第一个抗英同盟小组于1949年前诞生在我们班上,其成员包括曾爱美、林使宾、卢坚文等同学们,他们都是班上出类拔萃、品学兼优的高材生。小组每周在曾爱美家开学习会,学习《自由报》上的重要文章和讨论马来亚革命问题。大家都很踊跃发表自己的意见,气氛非常热烈。 [Translation: The first Anti-British League group was set up in our class around 1949. The members included Ceng Aimei, Lim Shee Ping and Lu Jianwen, who were all outstanding and well-read students. The group held its study meetings at Ceng Aimei's home weekly and studied important articles from Zi You Bao and discussed the problems of revolution in Malaya. Everyone eagerly contributed their own opinions and created a fiery atmosphere.]"

As anti-British sentiments grew, more students, teachers, workers and other professions supported the communists and other leftist groups. The many riots that took place during the 50s shows the strength of the Chinese community's support for its young leaders and the deep anger against the British.

This same group of young Chinese students helped Lee Kuan Yew and his opportunist English-educated lackeys into power. In 1954, Lee Kuan Yew allied with the Malayan Communist Party and other leftists when he represented some students who the British were trying to charge for rioting.

In November, Lee persuaded rising stars Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan to co-found the People's Action Party with him. It was a smart and devious move by Lee Kuan Yew. He later made use of the mass support from the students and workers to help the PAP win the 1959 elections. 

The tragedy would only unfold from then on. The cunning Lee Kuan Yew would later accuse Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan of being violent terrorists out to subvert Singapore and Malaysia and detain both men without trial for many years. A period of "White Terror" in Singapore was to come...

Friday, 20 March 2015

Where "forgotten heroes" are born - Chinese schools in Singapore

This year, the PAP government celebrates the 50th year since Singapore was forced out of Malaysia. On the news and television, they say that one man Lee Kuan Yew and his People's Action Party helped the country survive against the odds. They declare loudly, "Without Lee Kuan Yew and PAP, there would be no Singapore."

The irony is that this same Lee Kuan Yew was the reason why Singapore was chased out of Malaysia in the first place. This same man would later turn against the Chinese community after they helped him and his faction of English-speaking PAP men climb to power.

After World War II, Singapore was a centre of Chinese learning and culture. Singapore's Chinese schools provided full primary, secondary and tertiary education for all. Nanyang University then was the only Chinese university in South East Asia. Even Lee admits that Chinese students back then were bright, passionate and patriotic unlike the English-educated students of their time.

A senior from Chinese High School recalls a memorable incident showing the burning patriotic spirit of the Chinese students:

"我是于1949年3、4月间来到当时东南亚华人的最高学府--新加坡华侨中学就读初一的,时年14岁多,并且是寄宿生,每天24小时学习、运动、吃饭到睡觉都在这所校园里度过。 [Translation: I came to the highest standard of Chinese education in South East Asia - Chinese High School in March or April 1949. I attended boarding school, so I spent 24 hours in school studying, exercising, eating and sleeping.]

当时学校的氛围良好,不仅环境清幽,空气清新,绿树小草,郁郁葱葱,令人心旷神怡,而且,学习风气很盛,体育和课外活动多姿多彩,宿舍区的高音喇叭课余时间不停的播放世界著名的经典乐趣,陶冶心灵,尤其是有一般进步思潮在校园里公开和秘密的传播,像磁铁般吸引着我。尽管其时英皇宣布紧急状况态令未满一年,马公和左派运动遭到残酷镇压,白色恐怖阴霾密布,但是,小小年纪的我,由于受到在小延安美称的老家--先达新思想新文化的启蒙,以及大姐毅然决然在全中国解放前夕,就瞒着父母返回他眷恋的祖国参加工作的影响,对学校这种氛围,觉得很受用,并为之倾倒。 [Translation: The school atmosphere then was not only refreshing and filled with greenery. There were many activities for students, and famous classical music from around the world played in between classes. There was a spirit of progress that attracted me like a magnet. Even though the British had declared the Emergency Ordinance less than a year ago to suppress the Malayan Communist Party and left-wing groups, I thoroughly enjoyed the air of progressive thinking in school. I had been influenced by my old home town, which was known as "Little Yan'an" for its progressive spirit, and by my eldest sister, who secretly returned to China without telling our parents on the eve of its liberation.]

还记得,1949年10月1日,中华人民共和国成立的那一天早上,当所有的寄宿生醒来齐聚操场,准备按平时习惯,跟着宿监和体育老师李异南做体操时,没料到抬头一望,在正对面小山岗一棵大树上,一面色彩鲜艳的五星红旗在迎风飘扬,令同学们热血沸腾,吐气扬眉,虽然,那一天我们不能亲耳聆听毛主席在开国大典上向全中国和全世界人民高声宣布:“中国人民从此站起来了!”的激越声调,也不能亲眼目睹中国历史上具有世界意思的一次伟大的激动人心的热烈场面。[Translation: I remember the day when the People's Republic of China was established on 1 October 1949. The boarding students gathered at the assembly point and were about to go for their exercise. To our surprise, someone had hung a five star red flag on a big tree at a small hill facing the students. Even though we were not there in person to witness Chairman Mao declare that "The Chinese have stood up!" to the world, this incident greatly raised the spirits of the students.]

也是在1949年10月6日的中秋节,南洋女中和华侨中学的寄宿生打破男女界限,联合举行了一次庆中秋联欢晚会。在这个为时约2小时,别开生面,兴味盎然,精彩纷呈,高潮迭起的晚会上,两校百多名男女宿舍生完全沉潜在热烈欢快的气氛当中,忘却了“举头望明月,低头思故乡”的思乡情怀,也没有古人那种“人生得意须尽欢,莫使金罇空对月,天生我材必有用······”的豪情壮志,但是,在尽欢而散之前,全体同学在高班同学引领下引吭高歌:“你是灯塔,照耀着黎明前的海洋,你是舵手,掌握着航行的方向。英勇的中国共产党,你就是核心,你就是方向,我们永远跟着你走,人类一定解放。我们永远跟着你走,人类一定解放。”这句激奋人心的歌声,响彻校园的夜空,悠悠岁月六十多个春秋过去,依然清晰地索绕耳际;此情此景,依然深刻地印在我的脑海里,永世难忘! [Translation: Also on 6 October 1949, Nanyang Girls and Chinese High boarding students held a 2 hour combined Mid-Autumn festival dinner. Although the students did not recite poems, the senior students led us to sing this song at the end of the dinner: "You are the lighthouse shining on the ocean before dawn. You are the oarsman controlling our direction. Courageous Communist Party of China, you are the core and the direction. We will follow you forever. Mankind will surely be free. We will follow you forever. Mankind will surely be free." Although more than 60 spring and autumn festivals have passed, I remember clearly the sounds of our voices filling the night air and the touching scene that night.]

Indeed many "forgotten" pioneer leaders came from the Chinese schools of that time, especially Chinese High School and Chung Cheng High School. Selfless, fiery, dedicated men like Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Chiam Chong Chian, Ng Mengqiang, Fong Chong Pik, and Chia Thye Poh were the rising political stars of their time. Many of these leaders would later suffer detention under the ISA because they posed a threat to Lee Kuan Yew and his PAP.

Still, Lee knew that the PAP would need the help of the Chinese community who formed 75% of the Singapore population and at least 45% of Malaysia at the time. They allied themselves with the Malayan Communist Party and left-wing groups during the 1959 elections, who were in control of the biggest grassroots movements of that time - the students and workers movements.

Even though the students and the workers helped the PAP win the 1959 elections, the PAP saw the bright, spirited Chinese students as a threat to them. So the PAP decided to destroy the flourishing Chinese education and Chinese culture in Singapore. They did this by continuing the hated education policies of the British imperialists, which slowly poisoned the minds of the Singapore people and led them astray from their proud heritage and culture.

In the 70s and 80s, the PAP warned Chinese parents that there was no future in Chinese schools and convinced them that only an English education would give their children a bright future. They also set up government vernacular schools like Dunman High to steal students away from Chinese schools. They wanted to cripple Chinese education by stripping Chinese teachers of their jobs and denying good paying positions to Chinese students in government. All this so that desperate and poor Singaporeans would send their children to English schools instead.

The PAP later arrested many journalists working for local Chinese newspapers and Chinese school students whose only crimes were to perform their patriotic duty by opposing the PAP's hated policies. Then in 1980, Lee Kuan Yew closed down Nanyang University with the excuse that its education quality was too low. In his memoirs, Lee even said he regretted not closing down the university earlier! By 1987, the last of the Chinese schools closed its gates for good. 

Within 28 years, the PAP had succeeded in killing Chinese education and culture in Singapore. Today, even the physical buildings of the Chinese schools in Singapore have been torn down in the name of "progress". The death of Chinese schools and the persecution of Chinese community leaders in Singapore is evidence of the cunning and opportunistic nature of Lee Kuan Yew, a man who Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia said cannot be "trusted as politician".

If we are to truly celebrate SG50 this year, may we all remember the sacrifices made by the Chinese community and its fiery leaders, even as the PAP leaders desperately want us to "forget".

Sunday, 4 January 2015

This blog

The old year is gone, the new must come in. But some things are always in our memory. Old friends, comrades, stories and places. They remain at the back of my mind like yesterday.

This blog is created because of a challenge from a friend. In the spirit of the new year, I also felt it time to make a new resolution. I want to speak the truth after so many years staying quiet.

In this blog, I want to tell the stories of old men. Old men who struggled hard to change the world as young men. Old places and times when the world was a difficult place, full of excitement and betrayals.

At the end of the day, I want to account to the old men who walked with me in life. Come with me and I will tell you my stories.