A revolutionary miles from home, and the making of Chinese heritage in Singapore

Our Singapore pledge goes “… regardless of race, language or religion …”, but things on our sunny isle are anything but. Let’s me count the ways: Malays can’t be fighter pilots or tank commanders, Indians can go to SINDA for assistance but Indian-Muslims should go to MUIS, Chinese Peranakan have to learn Mandarin – and not Malay, the actual ‘mother tongue’ – in school, Malays/Indians/others cannot become Prime Minister (yet) and ‘minorities’ have to be in each GRC team, etc. etc. etc.

So it was with a huge guffaw this morning that I reacted to what was in the Straits Times (page C8) ‘Four designs for heritage museum’. An announcement has been made that some building designs for the upcoming Indian Heritage Centre have been shortlisted. Towards the end of the article, the paragraph reads “The Malay and Chinese communities have equivalent heritage museums in the Malay Heritage Centre and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall….”.

According to this National Library source (click ‘here‘), the Memorial Hall used to be a home that served as the Southeast Asian HQ for Dr Sun’s efforts to remove the Qing dynasty in China. This home is now a mini museum showing Dr Sun’s struggles in China and records his activities on his few trips to Singapore.

So the Singapore Indians have the upcoming Indian Heritage Centre; the Singapore Malays have the existing Malay Heritage Centre; and the Singapore Chinese have the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall??????

Why do the Indian and Malay Heritage Centres showcase Indian and Malay heritage in Singapore respectively, while the equivalent of the ‘Chinese Heritage Centre’ actually showcases the revolutionary struggles of a Chinese man against the last Middle-kingdom imperial dynasty far, far away??? How many Chinese in Singapore actually can identify with this very tenuous link of the local Chinese community to a wider Chinese history thousands of miles away, so much so that this is now reported in the Straits Times as part of Singapore Chinese heritage?

Perhaps with the ‘Chinese-ness’ in Singapore already being so apparent – nearly 80% of locals are Chinese; there are far more new Chinese migrants here than others; most of prominent businesses in Singapore are Chinese-owned; there can be no Malay/Indian/others prime minister, yet; Speak Mandarin campaign, but no Speak Malay/Speak Tamil equivalents’ SAP schools offering only Mandarin but not Malay/Tamil – the government did not want a rah-rah over-the-top Chinese heritage centre ‘goading’ the others with an opulent show of the culture of the majority of Singaporeans. (Conversely, that is probably why there is such an outward show of clamouring to celebrate the minority cultures of Indians and Malays as some sort of overcompensation by the majority).

But it is a joke for Straits Times to claim that Dr Sun’s activities in Singapore as documented in the Memorial Hall is THE crux of Chinese-heritage in Singapore. I understand the need for the Chinese diaspora here in Singapore to sink roots deeper than what the uneducated coastal peasants had brought here 2-3-4 generations ago, but to stake a claim that the Singapore Chinese had more than a bit-part to play in the toppling of the Qing dynasty and that this bit-part constitutes a large chunk of our ‘Chinese heritage’, is a few steps too far in ‘root-sinking’. I wonder if National Heritage Board would care to comment on the Straits Times report, seeing how it takes care of all the heritage centres mentioned in the ST report?

P.S. As a side-note, Subhas Chandra Bose is an often-forgotten Indian politician who was important in the fight for Indian independence from Great Britain (click ‘here‘ for more info about him). Bose had, in 1943, announced the formation of the “provisional Government of Free India at the Cathay Cinema Hall” in Singapore. But I doubt this event would lead to the new Indian Heritage Centre focussing its entire contents on Bose’s activities as an indelible and significant chunk of Singapore Indian heritage……

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One response to “A revolutionary miles from home, and the making of Chinese heritage in Singapore

  1. Pingback: Not quite an entry about ‘art’, but none the less interesting: Singapore’s President Nathan and Subhas Chandra Bose | 23princessroad's Blog

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