Modern Singapore

In 1919, on the centenary of the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, two books were commissioned to commemorate the occasion. They were One Hundred Years of Singapore edited by Walter Makepeace, Gilbert Brooke and Roland St John Braddell and One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore by Sir Song Ong Siang. The books were published in 1921 and 1923 respectively and both have appeared in our series of featured write ups.

Just recently, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore by Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Peter Borschberg and Tan Tai Yong, four distinguished scholars of Singapore and Southeast Asia, was launched in celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of Singapore. But few would remember that in 1969 a commemorative volume was published by the University of Singapore to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Singapore. The volume was planned in 1966 by the then Vice-Chancellor Prof Lim Tay Boh, who would have been the editor-in-chief had it not been for his untimely passing in 1967. The mantle of bringing the volume to print fell to the editors, Prof Ooi Jin Bee, then the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Dr Chiang Hai Ding, then the acting head of the History Department.

Modern Singapore, as the volume was entitled, comprised 15 essays chiefly by academics with contributions from administrators on a range of diverse topics. The essays touched on history, geography, population, manpower, political parties, pressure groups, housing, urban renewal and the social framework. Amongst the essays is one by Goh Chok Tong, then serving with the Economic Development Division of the Ministry of Finance, on the industrial sector. His essay illustrated the main economic dilemma of an island devoid of physical resources with an agriculture sector that employed only 3% of its labour force. The prospect of a British military withdrawal only heightened the sense of insecurity.

All told, the essays constitute a useful review of the social, economic and political challenges faced by the fledgling Republic of Singapore.

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