Parliament: Representation of Singapore's history is objective, says Grace Fu

The National Heritage Boatrd is "consultative and objective" in its curation of history, says Minister Grace Fu.
The National Heritage Boatrd is "consultative and objective" in its curation of history, says Minister Grace Fu. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's history is objectively presented, and there is no "standard" or "official" account imposed on visitors, said Minister of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Grace Fu.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday (April 14) during the debate on her ministry's budget, Ms Fu said the National Heritage Board (NHB) is "consultative and objective" in its curation of history, and invites visitors "to examine different perspectives and engage in critical thinking".

She was responding to MP Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), who had called for NHB exhibitions to present different interpretations of history to encourage critical thinking and educate the citizenry.

"It is time we move away from representations of a 'standard' or 'official' history," Mr Low said.

The Workers' Party chief had said that while learning Singapore history contributes to having a stronger national identity, this could only be achieved if history is presented in a manner that encourages students to consider multiple perspectives and think critically.

"This will also reduce students' and parents' perceptions of using history as Government propaganda," he said.

 

Citing the recent Parliament in Singapore History exhibition at The Arts House, Mr Low said it could have presented different interpretations from the perspectives of pioneer statesmen, ruling party backbenchers, opposition party members, women

 

members, and minority members.

 

In response, Ms Fu said that these groups were represented in the visuals and text of the exhibition. She gave the example of

 

how opposition veteran Chiam See Tong's quote on being an opposition party member in Parliament was prominently highlighted.

She also brought up examples from the National Museum's Singapore History Gallery, which has a showcase displaying published political material leading up to the 1962 Referendum on Merger.

This showcase presents two alternative political perspectives published at the time, Ms Fu said.

One was a booklet "The Truth Behind Merger?" written by Felice Leon-Soh, who was then secretary-general of the Liberal Socialist Party. In the booklet, she had urged the public to question the People's Action Party's (PAP) campaign for merger, and to make an informed decision when casting their votes.

The other was "Merger, Phony Merger And Confederation", a booklet published by the Barisan Sosialis, in which the party disagreed with the merger terms set out by the PAP, and instead championed full and complete merger.

Ms Fu added that NHB does not dictate content. She said the board "draws widely on local and international experts in curating exhibitions".

She said: "In particular on Singapore history, the National Museum is advised by senior historians from our universities who are acknowledged in their fields."

Mr Low also proposed that an independent commission of professional historians and heritage specialists be established to oversee the grants disbursed by the board with the aim to encourage critical thinking.

This would signal to the public that the Government "is not here to control and censor history", he said.

Ms Fu replied that the board already taps on the expertise of independent external panels to evaluate its grants.

These panels comprise representatives from different sectors, including academics and civic society groups such as the Singapore Heritage Society, to ensure a wide range of opinions and views, she said.