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1299 - 2023

History of Singapore

Singapore's history as a significant trading settlement traces back to the 14th century, even though its modern founding is credited to the early 19th century. The last ruler of the Kingdom of Singapura, Parameswara, was expelled before establishing Malacca. The island subsequently came under the influence of the Malacca Sultanate and then the Johor Sultanate. The pivotal moment for Singapore came in 1819 when British statesman Stamford Raffles negotiated a treaty with Johor, leading to the creation of the Crown colony of Singapore in 1867. Singapore's strategic location, natural harbour, and status as a free port contributed to its rise.[1]

During World War II, the Japanese Empire occupied Singapore from 1942 to 1945. Post-war, the island returned to British rule, gradually attaining more self-governance. This culminated in Singapore joining the Federation of Malaya to become part of Malaysia in 1963. However, due to a myriad of issues including racial tensions and political disagreements, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, gaining independence as a republic on 9 August 1965.

By the close of the 20th century, Singapore had transformed into one of the globe's most affluent nations. Its free market economy, bolstered by robust international trade, propelled it to have Asia's highest per capita GDP and the world's 7th highest.[2] Furthermore, Singapore holds the 9th position on the UN Human Development Index, underscoring its remarkable development and prosperity.[3]

1299 Jan 1 - 1398

Kingdom of Singapura

Kingdom of Singapura
The name "Singapura" originates from Sanskrit, meaning "Lion City", inspired by a legend where Sri Tri Buana spotted a strange lion-like animal on the island of Temasek, which he then renamed Singapura. ©HistoryMaps

The Kingdom of Singapura, an Indianised Malay Hindu-Buddhist realm, was believed to be founded on Singapore's main island, Pulau Ujong (then known as Temasek), around 1299 and lasted until between 1396 and 1398.[4] Established by Sang Nila Utama, whose father, Sang Sapurba, is regarded as a semi-divine ancestor of many Malay monarchs, the kingdom's existence, especially its early years, is debated among historians. While many consider only its last ruler, Parameswara (or Sri Iskandar Shah), to be historically verified,[5] archaeological findings at Fort Canning Hill and the Singapore River confirm the presence of a flourishing settlement and trade port in the 14th century.[6]

During the 13th and 14th centuries, Singapura evolved from a modest trading post to a vibrant hub of international trade, connecting the Malay Archipelago, India, and the Yuan Dynasty. However, its strategic location made it a target, with both the Ayuthaya from the north and Majapahit from the south laying claims. The kingdom faced multiple invasions, ultimately being sacked by either the Majapahit according to Malay records or the Siamese as per Portuguese sources.[7] Following this downfall, the last monarch, Parameswara, relocated to the Malay Peninsula's west coast, founding the Malacca Sultanate in 1400.

1398 Jan 1

Fall of Singapura

Fall of Singapura

The fall of Singapura began with a personal vendetta. Iskandar Shah, the king, accused one of his concubines of adultery and humiliatingly stripped her in public. Seeking revenge, her father, Sang Rajuna Tapa, an official in Iskandar Shah's court, secretly informed the Majapahit king of his allegiance should there be an invasion on Singapura. In response, in 1398, Majapahit sent a vast fleet, leading to a siege on Singapura. While the fortress initially withstood the onslaught, deceit from within weakened its defenses. Sang Rajuna Tapa falsely claimed that food stores were empty, leading to starvation among the defenders. When the fortress gates eventually opened, Majapahit forces stormed in, resulting in a devastating massacre so intense that it's said the island's red soil stains are from the bloodshed.[8]

Portuguese records present a contrasting narrative on the last ruler of Singapura. While the Malay Annals recognize the last ruler as Iskandar Shah, who later founded Malacca, Portuguese sources name him Parameswara, also referenced in Ming annals. The prevalent belief is that Iskandar Shah and Parameswara are the same individual.[9] However, discrepancies arise as some Portuguese and Ming documents suggest that Iskandar Shah was actually Parameswara's son, who later became Malacca's second ruler.

Parameswara's backstory, as per Portuguese accounts, portrays him as a Palembang prince who contested the Javanese control over Palembang post-1360. After being ousted by the Javanese, Parameswara took refuge in Singapore and was greeted by its ruler, Sang Aji Sangesinga. However, Parameswara's ambition led him to assassinate Sang Aji just eight days later, subsequently ruling Singapura with the assistance of the Çelates or Orang Laut for five years.[10] Yet, his reign was short-lived as he was expelled, possibly due to his previous assassination of Sang Aji, whose wife might have had affiliations with the Kingdom of Patani.[11]

1819 Jan 29

Founding of Modern Singapore

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The island of Singapore, originally known as Temasek, was a notable port and settlement in the 14th century. By the end of that century, its ruler Parameswara was forced to relocate due to attacks, leading to the foundation of the Sultanate of Malacca. While the settlement at modern-day Fort Canning was deserted, a modest trading community persisted. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, European colonial powers, starting with the Portuguese and followed by the Dutch, began to dominate the Malay archipelago.

By the early 19th century, the British sought to challenge Dutch dominance in the region. Recognizing the strategic importance of the trade route between China and British India through the Malacca Strait, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles envisioned a British port in the area. Many potential sites were either under Dutch control or had logistical challenges. Singapore, with its prime location near the Straits of Malacca, excellent harbor, and absence of Dutch occupation, emerged as the favored choice.

Raffles arrived in Singapore on 29 January 1819 and discovered a Malay settlement led by Temenggong Abdul Rahman, loyal to the Sultan of Johor. Due to a complex political situation in Johor, where the reigning Sultan was under Dutch and Bugis influence, Raffles negotiated with the rightful heir, Tengku Hussein or Tengku Long, who was then in exile. This strategic move ensured British establishment in the region, marking the foundation of modern Singapore.

1819 Feb 1 - 1826

Early Growth

Early Growth
Singapore from Mount Wallich at sunrise. ©Percy Carpenter

Despite initial challenges, Singapore quickly blossomed into a thriving port. The announcement of its status as a free port attracted traders like the Bugis, Peranakan Chinese, and Arabs, keen on avoiding Dutch trade restrictions. From a modest initial trade value of $400,000 (Spanish dollars) and a population of about a thousand in 1819, the settlement witnessed exponential growth. By 1825, Singapore boasted a population over ten thousand and a staggering trade volume of $22 million, surpassing the established port of Penang which had a trade volume of $8.5 million.[12]

Sir Stamford Raffles returned to Singapore in 1822 and expressed dissatisfaction with Major William Farquhar's administrative choices. Raffles disapproved of Farquhar's revenue-generating methods, which included issuing licenses for gambling and opium sales, and was particularly distressed by the ongoing slave trade.[13] Consequently, Farquhar was dismissed and replaced by John Crawfurd. With the reins of administration in his hands, Raffles began formulating a comprehensive set of new governance policies.[14]

Raffles introduced reforms that aimed at creating a morally upright and organized society. He abolished slavery, shut down gambling hubs, enforced a weapons ban, and levied taxes on activities he perceived as vices,[14] including excessive drinking and opium consumption. Prioritizing the settlement's structure, he meticulously crafted the Raffles Plan of Singapore,[12] delineating Singapore into functional and ethnic zones. This visionary urban planning is still evident today in Singapore's distinct ethnic neighborhoods and various locales.

1824 Mar 17

Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824

London, UK

The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 was established to address the complexities and ambiguities arising from the British occupation of Dutch colonies during the Napoleonic Wars and the longstanding trade rights in the Spice Islands. The inception of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 heightened tensions, as the Dutch challenged its legitimacy, asserting that the Sultanate of Johor, with whom Raffles had made an agreement, was under Dutch influence. Matters were further complicated by uncertainties surrounding Dutch trade rights in British India and the previously Dutch-held territories. Initial negotiations began in 1820, focusing on uncontroversial topics. However, as the strategic and commercial significance of Singapore became evident to the British, discussions were revived in 1823, emphasizing clear demarcations of influence in Southeast Asia.

By the time the treaty negotiations resumed, the Dutch recognized the unstoppable growth of Singapore. They proposed a territory exchange, relinquishing their claims north of the Strait of Malacca and their Indian colonies in return for the British ceding territories south of the strait, which included Bencoolen. The final treaty, signed in 1824, delineated two primary territories: Malaya under British control and the Dutch East Indies under Dutch rule. This demarcation later evolved into present-day borders, with Malaya's successor states being Malaysia and Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies becoming Indonesia.

The significance of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty extended beyond territorial demarcations. It played a pivotal role in shaping regional languages, leading to the evolution of Malaysian and Indonesian linguistic variants from the Malay language. The treaty also marked a shift in colonial power dynamics, with the declining influence of the British East India Company and the emergence of independent merchants. Singapore's rise as a free port, exemplifying British free-trade imperialism, was a direct outcome of its validation through this treaty.

1826 Jan 1 - 1867

Singapore becomes a Strait Settlement


In 1830, the Straits Settlements became a subdivision of the Presidency of Bengal under British India, a status it held until 1867.[15] That year, it was transformed into a distinct Crown colony managed directly by London's Colonial Office. Singapore, as part of the Straits Settlements, flourished as a crucial trading hub and saw rapid urban and population growth. It served as the capital and governmental center until World War II, when the Japanese Army invaded in February 1942, suspending British rule.

1867 Jan 1 - 1942

Crown Colony

Crown Colony
The Governor, Chief Justice, Members of Council and company of the Straits Settlements in Singapore, circa 1860–1900. ©The National Archives UK

Singapore's rapid growth highlighted the inefficiencies of the Straits Settlements' governance under British India, marked by bureaucracy and a lack of sensitivity to local issues. Consequently, Singapore's merchants advocated for the region to become a direct British colony. In response, the British government designated the Straits Settlements as a Crown colony on 1 April 1867, allowing it to receive directives straight from the Colonial Office. Under this new status, the Straits Settlements were overseen by a governor in Singapore, aided by executive and legislative councils. Over time, these councils began to include more local representatives, even though they weren't elected.

1877 Jan 1

Chinese Protectorate

Chinese Protectorate
Men of various races – Chinese, Malay, and Indian – gather at a street corner in Singapore (1900). ©G.R. Lambert & Company.

In 1877, the British colonial administration established a Chinese Protectorate, headed by William Pickering, to address the pressing issues faced by the Chinese community in the Straits Settlements, especially in Singapore, Penang, and Malacca. A significant concern was the rampant abuses in the coolie trade, where Chinese laborers faced severe exploitation, and the protection of Chinese women from forced prostitution. The Protectorate aimed to regulate the coolie trade by requiring coolie agents to register, thereby improving labor conditions and reducing the need for workers to go through exploitative brokers and secret societies.

The establishment of the Chinese Protectorate brought about tangible improvements in the lives of Chinese immigrants. With the Protectorate's interventions, there was a noticeable increase in Chinese arrivals from the 1880s as labor conditions improved. The institution played a pivotal role in reshaping the labor market, ensuring that employers could directly hire Chinese workers without the interference of secret societies or brokers, which had previously dominated the labor trade.

Furthermore, the Chinese Protectorate actively worked to improve the general living conditions of the Chinese community. It frequently inspected the conditions of domestic servants, rescuing those in inhumane situations and offering shelter at Singapore's Home for Girls. The Protectorate also aimed to curtail the influence of secret societies by mandating all Chinese social organizations, including the secretive and often criminal "kongsi," to register with the government. By doing so, they offered an alternative avenue for the Chinese community to seek assistance, weakening the grip of secret societies on the populace.

1906 Jan 1


"Wan Qing Yuan", the Tongmenghui HQ in Singapore (1906 - 1909). Today, it is the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, Singapore. ©Anonymous

In 1906, the Tongmenghui, a revolutionary group led by Sun Yat-Sen aiming to overthrow the Qing dynasty, established its Southeast Asian headquarters in Singapore. This organization played a significant role in events like the Xinhai Revolution, leading to the founding of the Republic of China. The immigrant Chinese community in Singapore financially supported such revolutionary groups, which would later become the Kuomintang. The historical significance of this movement is commemorated in Singapore's Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, formerly known as the Sun Yat Sen Villa. Notably, the flag of the Kuomintang, which became the flag of the Republic of China, was crafted in this villa by Teo Eng Hock and his wife.

1915 Jan 1

1915 Singapore Mutiny

Keppel Harbour, Singapore
1915 Singapore Mutiny
The public executions of convicted sepoy mutineers at Outram Road, Singapore, c. March 1915

During World War I, Singapore remained relatively untouched by the global conflict, with the most notable local event being the 1915 mutiny by Muslim Indian sepoys stationed in the city. These sepoys, after hearing rumors of being deployed to fight against the Ottoman Empire, revolted against their British officers. This rebellion was influenced by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V. Reshad's declaration of jihad against the Allied Powers and his subsequent fatwa urging Muslims worldwide to support the Caliphate. The Sultan, considered the Caliph of Islam, held significant influence over global Muslim communities, especially those under British rule. In Singapore, the sepoys' loyalties were further swayed by Kasim Mansur, an Indian Muslim merchant, and local imam Nur Alam Shah. They encouraged the sepoys to obey the Sultan's fatwa and revolt against their British superiors, leading to the planning and execution of the mutiny.

1939 Jan 1

Gibraltar of the East

Gibraltar of the East
The troopship RMS Queen Mary in Singapore Graving Dock, August 1940. ©Anonymous

Post World War I, British influence began to wane, with powers like the United States and Japan emerging prominently in the Pacific. To counter potential threats, especially from Japan, Britain invested heavily in constructing a massive naval base in Singapore, completing it in 1939 at a cost of $500 million. This state-of-the-art base, often referred to by Winston Churchill as the "Gibraltar of the East," was equipped with advanced facilities like the world's largest dry dock at the time. However, despite its impressive defenses, it lacked an active fleet. The British strategy was to deploy the Home Fleet from Europe to Singapore if necessary, but the outbreak of World War II left the Home Fleet occupied in defending Britain, rendering the Singapore base vulnerable.

1942 Jan 1 - 1945 Sep 12

Japanese Occupation of Singapore

Japanese Occupation of Singapore
Singapore, street scene in front of import shop with Japanese flag. ©Anonymous

During World War II, Singapore was occupied by the Empire of Japan, marking a pivotal moment in the histories of Japan, Britain, and Singapore. Post the British surrender on 15 February 1942, the city was renamed "Syonan-to," translating to "Light of the South Island." The Japanese military police, the Kempeitai, took control and introduced the "Sook Ching" system, which aimed to eliminate those they perceived as threats, particularly ethnic Chinese. This led to the Sook Ching massacre, where an estimated 25,000 to 55,000 ethnic Chinese were executed. The Kempeitai also established a vast network of informants to single out anti-Japanese elements and imposed a strict regime where civilians had to show overt respect to Japanese soldiers and officials.

Life under Japanese rule was marked by significant changes and hardships. To counter Western influence, the Japanese introduced their educational system, compelling locals to learn the Japanese language and culture. Resources became scarce, leading to hyperinflation and making basic necessities like food and medicine hard to come by. The Japanese introduced "Banana Money" as the primary currency, but its value plummeted due to rampant printing, leading to a thriving black market. With rice becoming a luxury, locals relied on sweet potatoes, tapiocas, and yams as staples, leading to innovative dishes to break the monotony. Residents were encouraged to grow their own food, akin to "Victory Gardens" in Europe.

After enduring years of occupation, Singapore was formally returned to British colonial rule on 12 September 1945. The British resumed administration, but the occupation had left a lasting impact on the Singaporean psyche. Confidence in British governance was deeply shaken, with many believing that the British were no longer capable of effectively administering and defending the colony. This sentiment sowed the seeds for a rising nationalist fervor and the eventual push for independence.

1942 Feb 8 - Feb 15

Battle of Singapore

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In the interwar period, Britain established a naval base in Singapore, a key element of its defence planning for the region. However, shifting geopolitical scenarios and limited resources affected its actual effectiveness. Tensions grew when Japan eyed Southeast Asian territories for their resources. In 1940, the capture of the British steamer Automedon revealed the vulnerability of Singapore to the Japanese. This intelligence, combined with the breaking of British Army codes, confirmed Japanese plans to target Singapore.

Japan's aggressive expansionist policies were driven by a dwindling oil supply and an ambition to dominate Southeast Asia. In the latter part of 1941, Japan strategized a series of simultaneous attacks on Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. This included the invasion of Malaya, targeting Singapore, and the seizure of oil-rich regions in the Dutch East Indies. The broader Japanese strategy was to solidify its captured territories, creating a defensive perimeter against Allied counter-movements.

The Japanese 25th Army launched its invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941, coordinating with the Pearl Harbor attack. They progressed swiftly, with Thailand capitulating and allowing passage to the Japanese forces. With the invasion of Malaya underway, Singapore, the crown jewel of British defence in the region, came under direct threat. Despite its formidable defences and a larger Allied force, strategic mistakes, and underestimations, including the British overlooking the possibility of a land-based invasion through the Malayan jungle, led to rapid Japanese advances.

General Tomoyuki Yamashita's troops swiftly advanced through Malaya, catching the British-led Allied forces off-guard. Although Singapore had a larger defending force under Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, a series of tactical errors, communication breakdowns, and dwindling supplies weakened the island's defence. The situation was exacerbated by the destruction of the causeway linking Singapore to the mainland, and by 15 February, the Allies were cornered in a small portion of Singapore, with essential utilities like water on the brink of running out. Yamashita, keen to avoid urban warfare, pressed for an unconditional surrender.

Percival capitulated on 15 February, marking one of the largest surrenders in British military history. Around 80,000 Allied troops became prisoners of war, facing severe neglect and forced labour. In the days following the British surrender, the Japanese initiated the Sook Ching purge, resulting in the massacre of thousands of civilians. Japan held Singapore until the war's conclusion. The fall of Singapore, coupled with other defeats in 1942, severely dented British prestige, ultimately accelerating the end of British colonial rule in Southeast Asia post-war.

1945 Jan 1 - 1955

Post-War Singapore

Post-War Singapore
Chinese community in Singapore carrying the Flag of the Republic of China (written Long live the motherland) to celebrate the victory, also reflected the Chinese identity issues at that time. ©Anonymous

Post the Japanese surrender in 1945, Singapore experienced a brief period of chaos marked by violence, looting, and revenge killings. The British, led by Lord Louis Mountbatten, soon returned and took control, but Singapore's infrastructure was heavily damaged, with vital services like electricity, water supply, and harbor facilities in ruins. The island grappled with food shortages, disease, and rampant crime. Economic recovery began around 1947, helped by a global demand for tin and rubber. However, the British's inability to defend Singapore during the war had deeply eroded their credibility among the Singaporeans, sparking a rise in anti-colonial and nationalist sentiments. In the years following the war, there was a surge of political consciousness among the local people, marked by a growing anti-colonial and nationalist spirit, symbolized by the Malay word "Merdeka," which means "independence."

In 1946, the Straits Settlements were dissolved, making Singapore a separate Crown Colony with its own civil administration. The first local elections took place in 1948, but only six out of twenty-five seats in the Legislative Council were elected, and voting rights were limited. The Singapore Progressive Party (SPP) emerged as a significant force, but the eruption of the Malayan Emergency, an armed communist insurgency, the same year, led the British to enact severe security measures, halting progress towards self-governance.

By 1951, a second Legislative Council election took place, with the number of elected seats increased to nine. The SPP continued to hold influence but was overshadowed by the Labour Front in the 1955 Legislative Assembly elections. The Labour Front formed a coalition government, and a newly established party, the People's Action Party (PAP), also secured some seats.

In 1953, after the worst phase of the Malayan Emergency had passed, a British Commission, led by Sir George Rendel, proposed a limited self-governance model for Singapore. This model would introduce a new Legislative Assembly with a majority of its seats elected by the public. The British would, however, retain control over crucial areas like internal security and foreign affairs and have the power to veto legislation.

In the midst of these political changes, the Fajar trial in 1953-1954 stood out as a significant event. Members of the Fajar editorial board, associated with the University Socialist Club, were arrested for publishing an allegedly seditious article. The trial garnered significant attention, with the members being defended by notable lawyers including the future Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. The members were ultimately acquitted, marking an essential step in the region's move towards decolonization.

1956 Jan 1

Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, at a Mayoral reception. ©A.K. Bristow

David Marshall became Singapore's first Chief Minister, leading an unstable government that faced social unrest, exemplified by events like the Hock Lee bus riots. In 1956, he led negotiations in London for full self-rule, but the talks failed due to British security concerns, leading to his resignation. His successor, Lim Yew Hock, took a hard stance against communist and leftist groups, paving the way for the British to grant Singapore full internal self-governance in 1958.

In the 1959 elections, the People's Action Party (PAP), led by Lee Kuan Yew, emerged victorious, and Lee became the first Prime Minister of Singapore. His government faced initial skepticism due to the party's pro-communist faction, leading to business relocations to Kuala Lumpur. However, under Lee's leadership, Singapore saw economic growth, educational reforms, and an aggressive public housing program. The government also took measures to curb labor unrest and promote the English language.

Despite these achievements, PAP leaders believed Singapore's future lay with a merger with Malaya. The idea was fraught with challenges, particularly opposition from pro-communists within the PAP and concerns from Malaya's United Malays National Organisation about the balance of racial power. However, the prospect of a communist takeover in Singapore shifted sentiments in favor of the merger. In 1961, Malaya's Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, proposed a Federation of Malaysia, which would include Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, North Borneo, and Sarawak. A subsequent referendum in Singapore in 1962 showed strong support for the merger under specific terms of autonomy.

1963 Sep 16 - 1965 Aug 9

Singapore in Malaysia

Singapore in Malaysia
First Malaysia National Day, 1963, after Singapore merged with Malaysia. ©Anonymous

Singapore, once under 144 years of British rule since its establishment by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, became a part of Malaysia in 1963. This union came about after the merger of the Federation of Malaya with former British colonies, including Singapore, marking the end of British colonial rule in the island state. However, Singapore's inclusion was controversial due to its large Chinese population, which threatened the racial balance in Malaysia. Politicians from Singapore, such as David Marshall, had previously sought a merger, but concerns about maintaining Malay political dominance kept it from realization. The idea of merger gained traction, largely due to fears of an independent Singapore potentially falling under hostile influence and the rising nationalistic tendencies of neighboring Indonesia.

Despite initial hopes, political and economic disagreements between Singapore and the federal government of Malaysia began to surface. The Malaysian government, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) had conflicting views on racial policies. UMNO emphasized special privileges for Malays and indigenous populations, while the PAP advocated for equal treatment of all races. Economic disputes also arose, particularly over Singapore's financial contributions to the federal government and the establishment of a common market.

Racial tensions escalated within the union, culminating in the 1964 race riots. The Chinese in Singapore were discontented with the Malaysian government's affirmative action policies favoring Malays. This discontent was further inflamed by provocations from the Malaysian government, accusing the PAP of mistreating Malays. Major riots broke out in July and September of 1964, disrupting daily life and causing significant casualties.

Externally, Indonesia's President Sukarno was vehemently against the formation of the Federation of Malaysia. He initiated a state of "Konfrontasi" or Confrontation against Malaysia, involving both military actions and subversive activities. This included an attack on MacDonald House in Singapore by Indonesian commandos in 1965, which resulted in three deaths.

The combination of internal discord and external threats made Singapore's position within Malaysia untenable. This series of events and challenges eventually led to Singapore's exit from Malaysia in 1965, allowing it to become an independent nation.

1964 Jul 21 - Sep 3

1964 Race Riots in Singapore

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In 1964, Singapore witnessed racial riots that erupted during the Mawlid procession, celebrating the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The procession, attended by 25,000 Malay-Muslims, saw confrontations between Malays and Chinese, which spiraled into widespread unrest. While initially perceived as spontaneous, the official narrative suggests that UMNO and the Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, played a role in inciting tensions. This was exacerbated by the newspaper's portrayal of the eviction of Malays for urban redevelopment, omitting that Chinese residents were also evicted. Meetings led by Lee Kuan Yew with Malay organizations, aiming to address their concerns, further fueled tensions. Leaflets spread rumors of Chinese attempting to harm Malays, further inflaming the situation and culminating in the riots on 21 July 1964.

The aftermath of the July riots revealed conflicting viewpoints on its origins. While the Malaysian government blamed Lee Kuan Yew and PAP for fomenting Malay discontent, the PAP leadership believed that UMNO was purposefully stoking anti-PAP sentiments among Malays. The riots significantly strained relations between UMNO and PAP, with Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's Prime Minister, repeatedly criticizing the PAP's non-communal politics and accusing them of interfering in UMNO's affairs. These ideological clashes and the racial riots played a pivotal role in the eventual separation of Singapore from Malaysia, leading to Singapore's declaration of independence on 9 August 1965.

The 1964 race riots have had a profound impact on Singapore's national consciousness and policies. While the official narrative often emphasizes the political rift between UMNO and PAP, many Singaporeans recall the riots as stemming from religious and racial tensions. Following the riots, Singapore, after gaining independence, emphasized multiculturalism and multiracialism, enshrining non-discriminatory policies in the Singapore Constitution. The government also introduced educational programs and commemorations, like Racial Harmony Day, to educate younger generations on the importance of racial and religious harmony, drawing lessons from the tumultuous events of 1964.

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In 1965, facing escalating tensions and to prevent further conflict, Malaysia's Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia. This recommendation was subsequently approved by the Malaysian Parliament on 9 August 1965, with a unanimous vote in favor of Singapore's separation. On the same day, an emotional Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's Prime Minister, announced the city-state's newfound independence. Contrary to the popular belief that Singapore was unilaterally expelled, recent documents reveal that discussions between the People's Action Party (PAP) of Singapore and Malaysia's Alliance had been ongoing since July 1964. Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Keng Swee, a senior PAP leader, orchestrated the separation in a manner that presented it as an irrevocable decision to the public, aiming to benefit both politically and economically.[16]

Following the separation, Singapore underwent constitutional amendments which transitioned the city-state into the Republic of Singapore. Yusof Ishak, previously the Yang di-Pertuan Negara or vice-regal representative, was inaugurated as the first President of Singapore. While the Malaya and British Borneo dollar continued as the legal currency for a brief period, discussions about a shared currency between Singapore and Malaysia were held before the eventual introduction of the Singapore dollar in 1967.[17] In Malaysia, the parliamentary seats previously held by Singapore were reallocated to Malaya, which altered the balance of power and influence held by the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

The decision to separate Singapore from Malaysia was met with strong reactions, particularly from leaders in Sabah and Sarawak. These leaders expressed feelings of betrayal and frustration for not being consulted during the separation process.Chief Minister of Sabah, Fuad Stephens, expressed profound grief in a letter to Lee Kuan Yew, while leaders like Ong Kee Hui of the Sarawak United Peoples' Party questioned the very rationale for Malaysia's existence post-separation. Despite these concerns, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein defended the decision, attributing the secrecy and urgency of the move to the ongoing Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation.[18]

1965 Aug 9 00:01

Republic of Singapore

Republic of Singapore
Singapore in the. 1960s. ©Anonymous

After achieving sudden independence, Singapore urgently sought international recognition amid regional and global tensions. With threats from the Indonesian military and factions within Malaysia, the newly-formed nation navigated a precarious diplomatic landscape. Assisted by Malaysia, the Republic of China, and India, Singapore achieved membership in the United Nations in September 1965 and the Commonwealth in October. Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, the head of the newly established foreign ministry, played a pivotal role in asserting Singapore's sovereignty and forming diplomatic ties globally.

With a focus on global cooperation and recognition, Singapore co-founded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967. The nation further expanded its international presence by joining the Non-Aligned Movement in 1970 and the World Trade Organization later on. The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) in 1971, involving Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Britain, further solidified its international standing.

Despite its growing international presence, Singapore's viability as an independent nation was met with skepticism. The country grappled with numerous challenges, including high unemployment rates, housing and education issues, and a lack of natural resources and land.[19] The media frequently questioned Singapore's long-term survival prospects due to these pressing concerns.

The threat of terrorism loomed large over Singapore in the 1970s. Splintered factions of the Malayan Communist Party and other extremist groups carried out violent attacks, including bombings and assassinations. The most significant act of international terrorism occurred in 1974 when foreign terrorists hijacked the ferry boat Laju. After tense negotiations, the crisis concluded with Singaporean officials, including S.R. Nathan, ensuring the safe passage of the hijackers to Kuwait in exchange for the hostages' release.

Singapore's early economic challenges were underscored by an unemployment rate hovering between 10 and 12%, posing risks of civil unrest. The loss of the Malaysian market and the absence of natural resources presented significant hurdles. The majority of the population lacked formal education, and the traditional entrepot trade, once the backbone of Singapore's economy in the 19th century, was insufficient to sustain its growing populace.

1966 Jan 1

Housing and Development Board

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In the wake of its independence, Singapore grappled with numerous housing challenges characterized by sprawling squatter settlements, leading to issues like crime, unrest, and a diminished quality of life. These settlements, often built from flammable materials, posed significant fire hazards, exemplified by events such as the Bukit Ho Swee Squatter Fire in 1961. Additionally, the poor sanitation within these areas contributed to the spread of infectious diseases.

The Housing Development Board, initially established before independence, made significant strides under Lim Kim San's leadership. Ambitious construction projects were launched to provide affordable public housing, effectively resettling squatters and addressing a major social concern. In just two years, 25,000 apartments were constructed. By the end of the decade, a majority of the population resided in these HDB apartments, a feat made possible by the government's determination, generous budget allocations, and efforts to eradicate bureaucracy and corruption. The introduction of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Housing Scheme in 1968 further facilitated home ownership by allowing residents to use their CPF savings to buy HDB flats.

A significant challenge Singapore faced post-independence was the absence of a cohesive national identity. Many residents, having been born abroad, identified more with their countries of origin than with Singapore. This lack of allegiance and potential for racial tensions necessitated the implementation of policies promoting national unity. Schools emphasized national identity, and practices like flag ceremonies became commonplace. The Singapore National Pledge, penned by Sinnathamby Rajaratnam in 1966, underscored the importance of unity, transcending race, language, or religion.[20]

The government also embarked on a comprehensive reform of the country's justice and legal systems. Stringent labor legislation was enacted, providing enhanced protection for workers while also promoting productivity by allowing extended work hours and minimizing holidays. The labor movement was streamlined under the National Trades Union Congress, operating under the close scrutiny of the government. As a result, by the close of the 1960s, labor strikes had considerably declined.[19]

To bolster the nation's economic landscape, Singapore nationalized certain companies, especially those that were integral to public services or infrastructure, such as Singapore Power, Public Utilities Board, SingTel, and Singapore Airlines. These nationalized entities primarily served as facilitators for other businesses, with initiatives like power infrastructure expansion attracting foreign investments. Over time, the government began privatizing some of these entities, with SingTel and Singapore Airlines transitioning into publicly listed companies, albeit with the government retaining significant shares.

Port, Petroleum, and Progress: Singapore's Economic Reforms
The Jurong Industrial Estate was developed in the 1960s to industrialise the economy. ©Calvin Teo

Upon achieving independence, Singapore strategically focused on economic development, establishing the Economic Development Board in 1961 under Goh Keng Swee. With guidance from Dutch advisor Albert Winsemius, the nation prioritized its manufacturing sector, setting up industrial zones like Jurong and wooing foreign investment with tax incentives. Singapore's strategic port location proved advantageous, facilitating efficient exports and imports, which bolstered its industrialization. As a result, Singapore transitioned from entrepot trade to processing raw materials into high-value finished products, positioning itself as an alternative market hub to the Malaysian hinterland. This shift was further solidified with the formation of ASEAN.[19]

The service industry also witnessed substantial growth, driven by the demand from ships docking at the port and increased commerce. With Albert Winsemius's assistance, Singapore successfully attracted major oil companies such as Shell and Esso, propelling the nation to become the third-largest oil-refining hub globally by the mid-1970s.[19] This economic pivot demanded a skilled workforce proficient in refining raw materials, contrasting with the resource extraction industries prevalent in neighboring countries.

Recognizing the need for a workforce adept in global communication, Singapore's leaders emphasized English language proficiency, making it the primary medium for education. The educational framework was meticulously crafted to be intensive and practical, focusing on technical sciences over abstract discussions. To ensure the populace was well-equipped for the evolving economic landscape, a significant portion of the national budget, approximately one-fifth, was allocated to education, a commitment the government continues to uphold.

1967 Jan 1

Independent Defence Force

Independent Defence Force
National Service Program ©Anonymous

Singapore faced significant concerns regarding national defense after gaining independence. While the British initially defended Singapore, their announced withdrawal by 1971 prompted urgent discussions on security. Memories of the Japanese occupation during World War II weighed heavily on the nation, leading to the introduction of National Service in 1967. This move rapidly bolstered the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), conscripting thousands of men for a minimum of two years. These conscripts would also be responsible for reservist duties, undergoing periodic military training and being prepared to defend the nation in emergencies.

In 1965, Goh Keng Swee assumed the role of Minister for the Interior and Defence, championing the need for a robust Singapore Armed Forces. With the impending British departure, Dr. Goh emphasized the vulnerability of Singapore and the pressing need for a capable defense force. His speech in December 1965 underscored Singapore's reliance on British military support and the challenges the nation would face post their withdrawal.

To build a formidable defense force, Singapore sought expertise from international partners, notably West Germany and Israel. Recognizing the geopolitical challenges of being a smaller nation surrounded by larger neighbors, Singapore allocated a significant portion of its budget to defense. The country's commitment is evident in its ranking as one of the top spenders globally on military expenses per capita, trailing only Israel, the United States, and Kuwait.

The success of Israel's national service model, particularly highlighted by its triumph in the Six-Day War in 1967, resonated with Singaporean leaders. Drawing inspiration, Singapore launched its version of the national service program in 1967. Under this mandate, all 18-year-old males underwent rigorous training for two and a half years, with periodic refresher courses to ensure swift and effective mobilization when needed. This policy aimed to deter potential invasions, especially in the backdrop of tensions with neighboring Indonesia.

While the national service policy bolstered defense capabilities, it also fostered unity among the nation's diverse racial groups. However, exempting females from the service stirred debates on gender equity. Proponents argued that in times of conflict, women would play essential roles in supporting the economy. The discourse on this policy's gender dynamics and the duration of training continues, but the broader impact of the national service in fostering solidarity and racial cohesion remains unquestioned.

1980 Jan 1 - 1999

From Changi to MRT

From Changi to MRT
Top view of Bukit Batok West. Large scale public housing development programme has created high housing ownership among the population. ©Anonymous

From the 1980s through to 1999, Singapore experienced sustained economic growth, with unemployment rates dropping to 3% and real GDP growth averaging about 8%. To stay competitive and differentiate from its neighbors, Singapore shifted from traditional manufacturing, like textiles, to higher-tech industries. This transition was facilitated by a skilled workforce adaptable to new sectors, such as the burgeoning wafer fabrication industry. Concurrently, the inauguration of Singapore Changi Airport in 1981 bolstered entrepot trade and tourism, synergizing with entities like Singapore Airlines to amplify the hospitality sector.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) played a pivotal role in urban planning, introducing new towns with enhanced amenities and higher-quality apartments, like those in Ang Mo Kio. Today, 80–90% of Singaporeans reside in HDB apartments. To foster national unity and racial harmony, the government strategically integrated different racial groups within these housing estates. Moreover, the defense sector saw advancements, with the army upgrading its standard weaponry and the implementation of the Total Defence policy in 1984, aiming to prepare the populace to safeguard Singapore on multiple fronts.

Singapore's consistent economic achievements positioned it as one of the globe's wealthiest nations, characterized by a bustling port and a per capita GDP surpassing many Western European countries. While the national budget for education remained substantial, policies promoting racial harmony persisted. However, rapid development led to traffic congestion, prompting the establishment of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in 1987. This system, which would become emblematic of efficient public transport, revolutionized intra-island travel, connecting distant parts of Singapore seamlessly.

2000 Jan 1

Singapore in the 21st Century

Singapore in the 21st Century
The Marina Bay Sands integrated resort. Opened in 2010, it has become a key feature of Singapore's modern skyline. ©Anonymous

In the early 21st century, Singapore confronted several significant challenges, most notably the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the rising threat of terrorism. In 2001, an alarming plot targeting embassies and key infrastructure was thwarted, leading to the arrest of 15 members of the Jemaah Islamiyah. This incident spurred the introduction of comprehensive counter-terrorism measures aimed at detection, prevention, and damage mitigation. Concurrently, the nation's economy remained relatively stable, with the average monthly household income in 2003 reported at SGD$4,870.

In 2004, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son, ascended to the position of Singapore's third prime minister. Under his leadership, several transformative national policies were proposed and implemented. Notably, the duration of National Service training was shortened from two and a half years to two in 2005. The government also initiated a "Cutting Red Tape" program, actively seeking citizen feedback on a range of issues, from legal frameworks to societal concerns.

The 2006 general election marked a significant turning point in Singapore's political landscape, primarily due to the unprecedented influence of the internet and blogging, which remained unregulated by the government. In a strategic move just before the election, the government distributed a "progress package" cash bonus to all adult citizens, totaling SGD $2.6 billion. Despite large turnouts at opposition rallies, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) retained its stronghold, securing 82 of the 84 seats and garnering 66% of the votes.

Singapore's post-independence relationship with Malaysia has been intricate, often characterized by disagreements yet underscored by mutual reliance. As members of ASEAN, both nations recognize their shared regional interests. This interdependency is further highlighted by Singapore's dependence on Malaysia for a significant portion of its water supply. While both countries have occasionally engaged in verbal sparring due to their divergent post-independence trajectories, they have fortunately steered clear of severe conflicts or hostilities.

2015 Mar 23

Death of Lee Kuan Yew

Death of Lee Kuan Yew
Memorial service for Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew. ©Anonymous

On 23 March 2015, Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, passed away at the age of 91, having been hospitalized with severe pneumonia since 5 February. His death was officially announced on national channels by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In response to his passing, numerous global leaders and entities expressed their condolences. The Singaporean government declared a week-long national mourning period from 23 to 29 March, during which all flags in Singapore were flown at half-mast. Lee Kuan Yew was cremated at Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium on 29 March.



How Did Singapore Become So Rich?

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How Did Singapore Become So Rich? ©Economics AltSimplified


How Colonial Singapore got to be so Chinese

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How Colonial Singapore got to be so Chinese ©Asianometry


How Tiny Singapore Became a Petro-Giant

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How Tiny Singapore Became a Petro-Giant ©Asianometry


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