Monday, 19 May 2014

Commemorating the 60th Year of May 13, 1954 A Turning Point in Singapore’s Political History -- Speech by Lim Hock Koon

Commemorating the 60th Year of
May 13, 1954
A Turning Point in Singapore's
Political History

By LIM HOCK KOON
(One of the student leaders invited to Government House)

Translated by Tan Kok Fang

   纪念华校中学生“五•一三”
要求免役事件六十周年

林福坤在新加坡“五•一三”事件60周年纪念会上的讲话,陈国防英译

The 60th Anniversary of Singapore's May 13 incident commemoration lunch was held at Qian Xi Restaurant (Paya Lebar) with the attendance of about 800 representatives from democratic political parties and organisations and democrats from Singapore and Malaysia. The book Youth On Trial specially published for this anniversary was launched on the spot.

Photo of Lim Hock Koon, one of the important leaders in the May 13 incident, delivering his speech at the event. Lim, 79, is currently residing in Singapore.
Dear Guests and Friends,

First of all, I would like to thank Function 8 and MARUAH for organising this gathering to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the May 13, 1954 incident in which Chinese Middle School students stood up against conscription imposed by the British colonial government. I have been told that this is done as a measure of respect for all those who participated in one way or another in that historical event.I am deeply moved by this gesture. I am sure all of my old school mates and old friends present here today are just as impressed as me.

Let me now take this opportunity to recount very briefly why the May 13 incident took place and how it has influenced the path in which social and political developments in Singapore and, indeed Malaya had taken since then.

Harsh colonial times in the background

The May 13 incident took place in 1954. As you are aware, Singapore and Malaya were then under British colonial rule. In June 1948, after the colonial government outlawed the Communist Party of Malaya and declared a state of “Emergency” , it ended a brief period during which the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) enjoyed a legal status after the Second World War. A ferocious jungle war then ensued. And in aiming to wipe out the CPM, a force whom the British had a lot to thank for for having fought side by side with them behind enemy lines for several years against the Japanese invasion, the British had also introduced what was euphemistically referred to as the “new villages” — a tactic it had employed with some level of success in Africa, all over the rural areas of Malaya. Singapore was ruled directly by the British as a separate colony under a governor. It was a time in which the two territories were fully shrouded in “white terror” as freedom and human rights of the people were totally thrown out of the window as a direct result of the Emergency Regulations.

Colonialists had no right to impose conscription

Against this background, the British introduced the National Service Registration Ordinance on March 11 1954. It required all young men between the ages of 18 and 21 to register for the service between April 5 and May 12 of that year. It was clear that the act was designed to target Chinese youths because many of them had become overage as a result of the Japanese occupation between 1942 and 1945. They had only just resumed their education after a long disruption.

Feeling lucky for having survived the war years of deprivation and lost time, they were only too keen to get back to school. Like a thunder in daylight, they were now forced to face the spectre of fighting another war again. Their feeling was fully understandable as the country they lived in had not yet achieved national independence and the British colonialists were still their overlord. They had no power whatsoever to decide who was friend and who was foe. In the final analysis, there was hardly any rationale for them to risk their lives fighting for their foreign masters, whom they should be fighting to get rid of in the first place. So, the determined voice raised most decidedly to express their deepest emotions then was: “STUDENTS WANT TO STUDY, OUT WITH CONSCRIPTION”.

Rather than responding with a reasoned stance, the colonial government ignored the demand of the students entirely. It went ahead with its plan to sent officials into Chung Cheng High School and the Chinese High School (hereinafter referred to as “Chung Cheng” and “Chinese High” respectively) to carry out registration for conscription. As expected, the students in both schools boycotted the officials.

On May 8, Chinese High students of call-up age decided to petition the Governor for exemption from national service. Two days later, Chung Cheng students decided to sent 8 representatives to the Government House to submit their petition. On May 12, the police conveyed a letter from the authorities asking Chung Cheng student representatives to present themselves at 3 pm, May 13 at the Government House. The students from Chinese High greeted this message with great expectation and decided to send their representatives as well. At the same time, student action committees from both schools began organising other students for a peaceful petition at the foot of Fort Canning Park, along Clemenceau Avenue, not far from the Government House on the same day that their representatives were due to meet the Governor.

Peaceful petition from students met with police brutality

On May 13, about 300 students from Chinese High arrived at Fort Canning Park on Clemenceau Avenue not too long after 2 pm. They took up positions by lining up orderly on the pavement. Minutes later, about 600 students from Chung Cheng arrived to join the Chinese High boys (from the all-boy school). They waited there patiently for their leaders to come out from the Government House to deliver news about the outcome of their visit.

At two fifty, three riot squad vans suddenly appeared on the scene. Almost immediately, riot policemen emerged from their vehicles and took up positions on the road, in a stance that can only be interpreted that they were ready for great action. The peaceful atmosphere suddenly turned tense, like a monster that was about to descend to tear this composed land asunder. Momentarily, a senior police officer, a Caucasian came forward to bark at the student gathering, giving them 2 minutes to disperse. As it was impossible to communicate a message within such a short notice to a near thousand-strong body of people, student leaders approached the officer for more time. But the request was met with a blank rejection. Then the arrogant officer turned around and ordered his squad to charge at the students in a swift and surprise attack. Armed with batons, rattan shields and iron fists, riot squad members carried out what they had been famously trained for---to beat, to crush, to whack, etc. so as to overwhelm and to dislodge. In the course of this brutal attack, ropes were also used to fasten groups of student onto the wrought iron fence of the park and had them clobbered right and left, up and down. By instinct, boys began to lock their arms, and with their backs facing the attackers, they formed a wall of flesh to protect their female school mates from being hit. At this time, all they could do was to sing Unity Is Strength at the top of their voice, hoping to drown out the blows rained on them from the merciless riot police. But how could an assembly of unarmed, gentle, young students, out on a peaceful mission stand up to an army of burly, well-trained squad of riot police. In physical strength, they were no match to the riot police by any means. As a result of this bloody melee, some students ended up with bloody noses and fractured skulls, some were pushed into drains and hurt they legs, some were left with bruises all over their bodies, some had their uniforms torn and bloodied, some lost their shoes and many lost their spectacles. This incident of police brutality led to scores of students suffering from bleeding injuries and more than 40 students arrested.

On the same day, the annual All Singapore Chinese Schools Sports Meet was being held in the Jalan Besar Stadium. There, spectator stands were filled to the brim as students and members of the public joined in the fun and excitement. When police broke up the student assembly at Fort Canning, one student rushed to the stadium with the help of a driver in his delivery van to deliver the news. Almost all at once, students rushed out of the stadium with great indignation and headed toward Fort Canning. But when they reached Penang Road, they were blocked by the police. Resouceful as they were, the students quickly decided to turn to their school in Goodman Road, where, in familiar environment, they mulled over what steps to take next.

Meanwhile, some of the students had moved over from Fort Canning to Nan Chiaw Girls High School in Kim Yam Road after being forcibly dispersed. There, continued to be under police supervision, they were made to gather at the open field in front of the school. They were kept there until sometime past six, when they were allowed to leave in several lorries. They decided to go to Chung Cheng instead of going home. That night, a rousing meeting, unprecedented in terms of highly charged sentiments, was held with more than 2,000 students attending to denounce police brutality. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce (CCC) President and several of his directors visited the Chung Cheng campus to extend their sympathy and solicitude. They promised to make representations to the police the next day and to ask for the release of the detained students. The CCC also invited student representatives to the Chamber for discussions to find a solution to the situation. Next day, one CCC director stood bail for the students, and they were released, pending trial.

Delegation for All-Singapore Students Seeking Exemption from Conscription established

It was the CCC as leaders of the Chinese community in Singapore which undertook to mediate. It reiterated its full support in helping students to apply for exemption. It also expressed hope that students would end their camp-in and go home. As for the students, they felt that they need to show their good intention, so they decided to give in to their persuasion. They went home and, subsequently returned to class as usual again.

The CCC also condemned the brutality committed by the police vehemently. In an extraordinary meeting it called to discuss matters connected with the recent incidents, not only did it resolved to help students to settle their problems of conscription, but it also asked students of all eight Chinese middle schools to form a student delegation to speak with one voice on such matters. In response to that call, a 55 member Delegation Of All Singapore Chinese Middle School Students Seeking Exemption From Conscription (in short, “Delegation Seeking Exemption from Conscription”) was formed on May 18.

Students’ predicament won them boundless sympathy and focus of attention

Although the middle school students were not able to accomplish all of what they set out to realise on May 13, their painful and sorry condition had won them widespread sympathy from all quarters of society. They became the centre of attention. On the other hand, the hideous features of the colonialists, shown in its total disregard for the safety and interest of the students, were exposed once again. Now people have a deeper understanding of its sinister intent. It could be said therefore that this vicious act of the police has helped to advance the anti-colonial movement to a much higher plane.

Singapore’s first chief minister, David Marshall was highly critical of the police action. S. Rajaratnam, then editor of the The Singapore Standard, condemned the unreasonable way taken by the colonial police. Many trade unions and social organisations issued statements expressing the views that the motivation of the students in refusing to go for conscription was plain and simple and that it was something which was easily understandable. University of Malaya (in Singappore) Students Union and Pan Malayan Students’ Federation not only denounced the cruel police action, but they also called for an open inquiry into the incident. The University Socialist Club, in its May 10 edition of its organ Fajar, carried an editorial pointing to the attempt by Britain to use the Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation to fight the anti-colonial movement and calling on the Malayan people to stand up against the Treaty. Besides, the USC also publicly condemned the colonial government on its use of force against students. This had incurred the displeasure of the Governor, who commented that in his view, the English-educated students in the University of Malaya(in Singapore) had colluded with the Chinese-educated students to oppose the government. This message must seem interesting and significant to political observers at the time, because what the Governor had actually acknowledged, unwittingly as it might seem, was that the anti-colonial movement had indeed grown very much in strength!

In view of this, the colonial goverment was compelled to extend the registration dateline further to May 22. At the same time, it also agreed to allow Standard 9 students from the English stream and Senior Middle 3 students from the Chinese stream who were due to sit for the graduation exams postponement of conscription. What had not changed was that they must register first, then apply for postponement. Up to this point, it could be said that initial results of our campaign had been achieved.

May 22 large gathering at Chung Cheng High School

However, the students were to encounter more uncertainties and obstacles ahead of them . On May 21, the Director of Education suddenly summoned management committee members and principals of all 8 middle schools, as well as CCC representatives for a meeting. He reminded them that the next day, May 22 was the last day of registration. He said he wanted the schools to bring forward the scheduled school holidays to start from May 22 and ended on June 28, as well as to ban student demonstration and gathering. The government even resorted to the use of radio broadcast to announce that decision that very night.

Students looked upon that as a ploy to spread their might thin, so as to cripple their fighting spirit. As a result, the Student Action Committee took immediately steps to call for an emergency meeting on May 22 in Chung Cheng. It was attended by more than 3,000 students. The meeting resolved to call for the resumption of classes as well as to remind the CCC of its promise to the students. One of the more important outcomes of this meeting was the decision to scale down the student demand, from “full exemption of conscription” to “permission to postpone conscription.”

On the wee hours of May 22, a large number of students had entered the school. But this was soon detected by police informants. As a result, the school was totally surrounded by 9 am. But what really happened was that smart as they were, students had already made their entry into the school compound quietly in droves the night before. People are inclined to believe that in the tussle between good and evil, good will always prevail, in the end. As it was displayed ceremoniously here.

The meeting of 3, 000 students was unprecedented in numbers, more than at any other meetings ever held during the series of camp-ins. The colonial authorities threatened to cut off water, electricity and even food supply in order to create tension and terrorised the students, but to no avail. It was only after earnest and persistent persuasions from leaders of CCC, respected members of the various school management committees and principal Chuang Chu Lin that students finally yielded. They went home to eagerly await the outcome of CCC’s mediation efforts.

June 2 camp-in

However, after waiting for more than a week , there did not seem to be any sign of progress. The CCC made clear that the authorities had extended the dateline for registration from June 3 to June 11. Besides, it also called upon the students to hurry up their registration, to be followed by application for postponement. However, this was again interpreted by the student delegation as another maneuver of the British colonial rulers to outwit the students, dragged on so as to break their fighting spirit. They quickly decided that collective strength must be mobilised once again to deal the British rulers a severe blow.

They chose June 2 to be the date to start a camp-in in Chinese High. This time, nearly a thousand students took part. There, collective living was practiced in a well organised and highly disciplined manner.To be sure, they were prepared for a long, extended struggle to achieve their stated aim. Again, public support was rife and sustaining. People donated rice, noodles, dried goods, groceries, utensils, medicines, blankets, mats, rubbersheets, daily necessities, etc. There was no scarcity of supplies. Parents came to visit as if their offsprings were housed in boarding schools. Public concern and sympathy played in no small part in giving the students encouragement and much confidence in continuing their struggle, which they believed was right and just.

Hunger strike

As the camp-in progressed for more than ten days, there was still no sign of solution. Then, on the night of June 15, a meeting of all the participants was held in Chinese High’s big hall. A solemn decision was taken to go on a 48 hour hunger strike. The aim was to compel the authorities to take us more seriously as well as to meet our demand. The meeting also called upon all our parents to send a joint letter to the CCC, asking them to continue with their efforts in helping the students as they had earlier promised. Mr Lee Kong Chian, the respected community leader, then came to Chinese High with some twenty other school principals and school management committee members to meet the striking students. They had a meeting with student representatives that lasted some 5 hours. This led to an understanding, under which an assurance was given that they would go all out to help the students in applying for postponement of service. Many came out of the meeting in tears. Based on this understanding, the student delegation called a meeting of all participants that very night, and resolved that the hunger strike would cease at eleven o’clock.

Following this, a media report indicated that in a recent meeting between the CCC President and the Secretary of Defence, the latter had promised that if students from senior middle 1 to 3 applied for postponement, they would all be approved. Further, students from other levels who had the chance to take the graduation exams would also get the same treatment. On the same day, Lee Kong Chian and representatives of CCC, school management committees as well as school principals met with the press and confirmed the above report. They pleaded with the students to go home in the interest of the survival of Chinese education as a whole and the future of Chinese schools. They also announced that schools would re-open on June 28 and that all should return to school and work hard on their studies. Students felt that since their demand had now been basically secured, they decided to go home on June 24.

What the May 13 incident reveals to us

The struggle of the Chinese school students to seek exemption from conscription in 1954 started to ferment in March that year. It ended on June 24, thereby stretching for a good three months. Students who participated in the struggle paid a heavy price with blood and tears. In the end, we triumphed. Should’nt we be feeling a sence of pride and accomplishment? 60 years have passed by, we will not forget how this saga has affected us and the marks that it left on the society in which we live — political or otherwise.

Just as the late Dr Lim Hock Siew had observed and concluded: In the political history of Singapore, May 13, 1954 stands out as a turning point in our peoples’ struggle for political freedom and social justice. It was a spark that started a prairie fire! It served to arouse the political awareness of students of that generation in Singapore which, hitherto,had stayed latent. Like a gigantic tidal wave, these activists swept the PAP into power in 1959, hoping that the newly formed political party would bring about political freedom and social justice to our people. But it was not to be. Subsequent repressions conducted by the PAP after it came to power proved to be more ruthless and relentless than those carried out by the colonial rulers and they have to be seen through and through as a massive political betrayal in Singapore history.

Today, as we gather here to commemorate that day of blood and tears, if I have to summerise my experience and feeling gathered from then till now, let me briefly put it this way: Destiny is in our own hands, we must struggle and be prepared to sacrifice if we want to realise our dreams.

Do not forget the history of "May 13", Advocate the spirit of "May 13"

——Teo Soh Lung, leader of Function 8, enthusiastically introduced to the attendees (especially the youths) the book specially published to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the May 13 incident.

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作为坚守“独立自主”和“与民同在”的立场的一个民间组织,人民之友在上个月对即将来临的第14届全国大选投票,发表了一篇以华文书写的意见书,题为:投票支持"反对国家伊斯兰化的候选人": 反对巫统霸权统治!莫让马哈迪帮派"复辟"!。

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The English and Malay renditions of Sahabat Rakyat’s opinions about next election will be published here consecutively

As an NGO which upholds “independent and autonomous” position and "always be with the people" principle, Sahabat Rakyat had released a Chinese-written statement of views with regard to the voting in the upcoming 14th General Election, entitled “Vote for candidates who are against State Islamisation: Oppose UMNO hegemonic rule! Prevent the return to power of Mahathir’s faction!”

The English rendition of this statement will be published in our blog in the near future whereas the Malay rendition will be published next month (November). Please stay tuned!

We hope that our position and views pertaining to the next General Election expressed in the statement will be accurately and widely disseminated and also examined by the popular masses of various ethnicities and social strata through their involvement in the struggle of the next General Election carried out by various political parties and their practices in all fields in future.


Akan datang: Penerbitan penterjemahan pendapat Sahabat Rakyat mengenai pilihan raya ke-14 dalam Bahasa Inggeris dan Bahasa Melayu

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