Put spotlight on the 200 years of Singapore's modern development

Singaporeans are increasingly confused as to why our upcoming bicentennial commemoration is focusing more on the island's 700-year history with greater emphasis placed on the 500 years of history preceding 1819, instead of primarily focusing on modern Singapore's 200-year existence.

Recent statements about the bicentennial have conspicuously stopped referring to 1819 as modern Singapore's founding - a firmly established narrative of history long used by the authorities (Bicentennial showcase by creative NDP veterans; Dec 9).

Instead, 1819 is now often described as the year Stamford Raffles arrived. Are we ceasing to acknowledge 1819 as our modern founding year?

I understand it would be odd to celebrate colonialism in this day and age. But the ultimate significance of 1819 is not colonialism but, rather, the creation of modern Singapore.

The defining aspects of modern Singapore's identity were forged by our immigrant forefathers. Our multiracial population and culture, and the establishment of the rule of law and its institutions led to our status as one of the world's greatest ports - none of these were to be found in pre-1819 Singapore.

There are also many forgotten achievements of our 200-year modern history. In 1903, Singapore was already the world's seventh-largest port in tonnage of shipping handled. By 1960, Singapore had even surpassed a Western nation like Portugal in life expectancy and GDP per capita. There were, of course, also other achievements besides the economic ones.

Just as the SG50 celebrations in 2015 focused on Singapore's 50 years of nationhood, our bicentenary should justly be about Singapore's 200 years of modern development that shaped our society as we know it.

Loke Hoe Kit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2018, with the headline 'Put spotlight on the 200 years of Singapore's modern development'. Print Edition | Subscribe