Visitors welcome name change of WWII gallery

The revamped World War II gallery space in the Former Ford Factory, which was opened last Wednesday, was initially called Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies but has been renamed Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.
The revamped World War II gallery space in the Former Ford Factory, which was opened last Wednesday, was initially called Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies but has been renamed Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Existing signs covered or removed; new signage expected to be up in about a month

Visitors to the revamped World War II gallery space in the Former Ford Factory will see its signage changed in a month or so, said the National Library Board (NLB) yesterday.

Initially called Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies, the space was renamed Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies last Friday, following a public outcry.

Signs bearing the original name at the gallery's entrance were covered or removed by yesterday morning.

NLB, which picked the name Syonan Gallery for the revamped National Archives of Singapore museum, said there are a total of nine signboards which will be replaced.

Design and production of the new signs may take some time but visitors can look out for the sign, Former Ford Factory, on the front gate, said a spokesman.

GRATEFUL FOR FEEDBACK

Many Singaporeans have spoken up in recent days about the exhibition at the Former Ford Factory.

We initially called it 'Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies'. The name 'Syonan' was meant to evoke that dark and traumatic period in Singapore's history.

But quite a few felt that the name itself, used like this, caused them pain. Many Singaporeans of all races suffered terrible atrocities during the Japanese Occupation, or had family members who did.

My colleagues and I honour and respect these deep feelings. So we have renamed the exhibition to bear witness to these painful memories.

Thank you all who shared your thoughts and views. Such conversations bring us closer together.

I hope that Singaporeans will go and see the exhibition. We must never forget the events that so profoundly impacted our lives and shaped our society.

PM LEE, in a Facebook post yesterday

The gallery opened last Wednesday, but its initial name upset some people, who said it seemed to honour the Japanese Occupation.

In 1942, after the British surrender, Singapore was renamed Syonan-to, which means "Light of the South".

Announcing the name change last Friday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim apologised for the pain caused.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Facebook posts in Chinese and English, that he and his colleagues "honour and respect" the deep feelings of Singaporeans who went through the Occupation, and renamed the exhibition "to bear witness to these painful memories".

He also thanked people who gave their feedback on the matter and said "such conversations bring us closer together".

Visitors to the gallery called the name change an appropriate move.

Researcher James Low, 47, who was there with his family, said: "I'm actually quite impressed that there's a readiness to listen to how some people feel very strongly about this.

"When the (original) name was chosen, it reflected a factual consideration of that period of time. But deeper thought may only have been possible when people who lived through that time spoke up to share their thoughts and feelings."

Some, like retiree Tan Fong See, 79, cannot bring themselves to step into the exhibition, but he was happy to hear of the new name. "Many people did not like the Syonan name," he said.

World War II History Research Association chairman Kek Boon Leong likened the strong reaction now to Singaporeans' feelings when an Indonesian warship was named after two marines who bombed the MacDonald House in 1965. The move was called insensitive and unfriendly by some in 2014.

Others, like Ms Belinda Mock, 56, a manager in the IT industry, is supportive of the change but added that people should eventually look beyond what a place is called.

Mr Lam Phin Chong, secretary-general of a Chinese clan association, said that while he was disappointed at first with the authorities' reaction to opposing views from the public, he is glad they came round. "We should, and we can forgive (the Japanese). But we cannot forget that period of history. It hurt us and harmed us," said Mr Lam of the Char Yong (Dabu) Association.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Visitors welcome name change of WWII gallery'. Print Edition | Subscribe