I am planning to go National Museum of Singapore to see ‘A life of practice: Kuo Pao Kun’ (click here for exhibition info). So I have been doing some online snooping on the man and his life. This is one illustrious man, not just known for his plays, but also hi run-ins with authority. Kuo was imprisoned by Singapore’s Internal Security Act between 1976 – 1980 for his ‘political work’ (click here for a quick summary of the man and his works in a foreign book). From local sources, you find out more about Kuo’s problems with the State: he was alleged to have taken part in “communist activities and had his citizenship taken away in 1977… The restrictions were withdrawn in 1983 and his citizenship reinstated in 1992” (which is a quote from here, from the National Library of Singapore).
I came across a write-up on the exhibition in Bemuse (a National Heritage Board publication; click here and scroll to page 59). This written by Assistant Curator Lynn Lee. In the article, she wrote that ‘Kuo was detained under the Internal Security Act in March 1976 for four years and seven months”. No mention was made of the reason for his detention, or the revoking/reinstating of his citizenship.
I know this article in Bemuse is not meant to an ‘academic’ work (since the journal is not refereed nor does the article contain proper references). But for an article dedicated to Kou’s works, it seems completely baffling that his political past was not featured prominently, especially since it appears to have shaped his thinking and influenced his works. One of his works I’ve watched on stage – The coffin is too big for the hole – is a brilliant piece on the dilemmas of filial piety and adherence to State rules. But what is more illuminating is that watching it as a Singaporean, you can just sense the mastery of Kuo in using the play to poke fun at the sometimes stifling bureaucracy in Singapore. Reading Lee’s article, you would not understand how Kuo’s past had fueled his cunning ability to weave complex nuances in what appear to be ‘simple’ plays. I hope the exhibition is not as lacking as this article appears to be.
(On a side note: I wonder if Bemuse has ‘over-controlled’ itself in playing down Kou’s past in the article. It is after all part of the National Heritage Board, a stat board funded by the Singapore government. Maybe it did not want to over glorify someone who was once declared an ‘enemy’ of the state and then made persona-non-grata. But then again, the link above from the National Library states clearly his communist-leanings; the Library, too, is part of the government. I wonder…).