Take objective appraisal of Singapore's modern history

A view of modern Singapore's skyline on May 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

I am glad that Mr Anthony Oei pointed to the archaeological dig at the Sultan Gate last May to support his belief that Singapore was more than a sleepy fishing village in 1819 (Pre-colonial Singapore was thriving island, Sept 14, ST Online), as our modern history certainly deserves an objective account, unencumbered by the white man's burden, or rabid anti-colonialism and nativism.

Unfortunately, that dig did not yield enough evidence to conclusively prove that Singapore was a thriving island 200 years ago.

In fact, quite a few of the artefacts that were dug up at Kampong Glam, the then palace precinct of the Johor sultanate, reportedly hailed from the 19th and 20th centuries, when Singapore was for the most part, a British colony.

Give the British credit where it is due, even as we highlight the evils of its colonial oppression.

After all, Sir Stamford Raffles' decision to set up a free port in Singapore in 1819 was instrumental in reversing the fortunes of a tiny settlement that was ruled by a fast declining Johorean empire, amid the prominence of British Penang and Dutch Batavia as trading centres along the Spice Route.

By 1832, the British had designated Singapore the administrative and commercial hub of the Straits Settlements.

The events triggered a new wave of migrants from across the globe in previously unseen numbers.

These merchants, financiers and workers contributed significantly to the expansion of Singapore's global business networks and socio-economic development, particularly its role in the buoyant East-West commodities trade.

Unfortunately, while Singapore became one of the busiest ports in the world by the time the British granted us the right to self-governance in 1959, many residents continued to live in slums and villages with poor sanitation, and unemployment was high.

Few would doubt that the British colonialists were largely discriminatory in their interests, as shown by the social divide that their rule had engendered.

But these vile transgressions did not stop our founding leaders from adapting some of the empire's well-regarded institutions to suit a fledgling nation's needs upon independence, and then surpass our former colonial masters in transforming all of Singapore into a modern metropolis for Singaporeans, regardless of race, language, religion, and class.

Their comeback against colonial bigotry, whether intended or otherwise, remains far more sensible and dignified than the nationalistic vindictiveness shown by many former colonies and their leaders.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Toh Cheng Seong

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