If you’ve been active on social media recently, you probably would have noticed the phrase “Singapore bicentennial” marked in bold on the titles of various posts and articles.

The recent budget announcement also included a $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus to be given out to Singaporeans to commemorate the bicentennial year.

You probably would have also noticed that while some have termed the bicentennial as a “celebration”, others have ascribed less than favourable descriptions to it.

So what exactly is the bicentennial, and why is the ongoing debate surrounding it significant?

How The Term “Bicentennial” Came About

In essence, 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of Singapore’s founding by the British, including Sir Stamford Raffles who is frequently touted as the “founder of modern Singapore”.

This has galvanised the Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO) to organise a slew of events including exhibitions, seminars, and even a Bicentennial Edition of the annual Light to Night Festival to commemorate this historical milestone.

While some have deemed these efforts as acceptable given the occasion, others have criticised them as glorifying colonialism and white superiority.

The Good And The Bad

For instance, in a piece for Esquire, Singapore-based writer Neil Humphreys challenged, “How can the subjugation of indigenous people, in any context, be called a celebration? … Praising Raffles acknowledges a white man’s superiority over repressed colonial subjects”.

Others who grew up during the colonial era have also labelled the British as “imperialists” who not only exploited locals and the working class, but also failed in their capacity as leaders and protectors during the Japanese occupation.

Moreover, some individuals have taken issue with the concept that a celebration of the bicentennial could indicate a lack of regard for Singapore’s history before 1819 – that is, before the arrival of Raffles.

For instance, some key events include gem trader Jacques de Coutre’s recognition of Singapore’s strategic location and proposal to the King of Spain to construct a fortress here in the 1630s, as well as Singapore’s already bustling seaport that was established in the 14th century.

Image Credit: Marketing Interactive

All of these transpired well before the arrival of the British, and a bicentennial celebration could thus be perceived as perpetuating the notion that Singapore’s history in the pre-colonial era is non-existent.

There are, however, many who view the bicentennial in a more positive light.

Some have highlighted the positive impact that the British left on Singapore’s education and legal systems, and the way in which our colonial past has helped foster our amicable relations with Britain in the present.

Given SBO’s reassurance that the commemoration “will not shy away from addressing elements in history that may not be always positive”, fears that only a selective—rather than an all-encompassing and unfiltered—version of Singapore’s history will be presented have also been allayed. This official statement has addressed concerns that the bicentennial might adopt a celebratory tone which extols the British’s economic contributions.

But perhaps the most critical contribution that commemorating the bicentennial has delivered is the fervid debate which has arisen surrounding Singapore’s history.

The average Singaporean, armed with bits of information he managed to retain from social studies lessons in primary school, would likely be able to explain the oft-cited narrative on our country’s struggle for independence. Yet, the pre-1965 period generally remains hazy and unfamiliar, let alone fervently debated on or discussed.

The forgotten founder of Singapore – Major-General William Farquhar. Image Credit: Under The Angsana Tree

Why has only been featured as a footnote in our textbooks, whilst hotels, schools and statues have been established in honour of Sir Stamford Raffles? What of the other officials and figures whose contributions have been obscured by the long shadow cast by Raffles? Does Singapore owe its lingua franca, economic and political systems and, by extension, the foundations of its society, to the British? And finally, should our colonialist past be extricated and embraced, or should it be stored away in the dusty past?

These are questions that the ongoing debate seeks to address, even if they can never truly be answered.

So, the next time you hurry past Boat Quay, perhaps stop in your tracks to consider whether the pristine white statue of Raffles blends in with the immaculate, glass-encased skyscrapers, or if it sticks out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of charcoal grey.

Featured Image Credit: Yahoo Finance

 
 
Also Read
Get your groove on: must-visit Noise Singapore events in 2019

Events include Noise Metaverse, Noise Local Motif, Noise Gif Fest, Noise Music Mentorship (NMM), Noise Invasion Festival and many more!

Singapore Bicentennial – The History And Debate Around It

So what exactly is the bicentennial, and why is the ongoing debate surrounding it significant?

McDonald’s Prosperity Burger Returns, Along With A New Breakfast Item: Hotcakes With Fried Chicken

If you love the Prosperity Burger as much as we do, great news, McDonald's is bringing back the long awaited burgers on 24 Jan 2019.

From BBT To Stinky Tofu, Get A Taste Of Taiwan At S’pore’s Very Own Shilin Night Market This April

You can save on that flight ticket to Taiwan as Shilin Night Market is coming to Singapore for the very first time this April!

10 New Bubble Tea Options In Singapore That Are Not Gong Cha Or Koi

If you're looking for to switch up your go to order, here are 10 new bubble tea brands you should totally hunt down in 2019.

Save More, Huat More – 10 Wholesale Stores In S’pore To Stock Up On CNY Goodies And Groceries

With the festive season just round the corner, there is absolutely no time to lose when it comes to shopping for goodies and groceries. 

Don Don Donki’s Third And Largest Outlet At City Square Mall Has A Food Court And Bargains Section From $2

If you find yourself humming to the addictive theme song of the famous Japanese store, Don Don Donki has opened their third at City Square Mall!

Keisuke Is Opening A New Omurice Joint At Bugis+ – Prices Start From $9.90 And You Can Upsize For Free

Keisuke Group launches 17th outlet in Singapore, Omurice Keisuke. This classic Japanese dish consists of a wrapped omelette over fried rice with ketchup.