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Raffles’ Little Child
The Accidental Nation
Lion City, Asian Tiger
The written history of Singapore dates back to the third century. Later, the Kingdom of Singapura rose in importance during the 14th century under the rule of Srivijayan prince Parameswara and Singapore became an important port, until it was destroyed by Acehnese raiders in 1613. The modern history of Singapore began in 1819 when Englishman Sir Stamford Raffles established a British port on the island. Under British colonial rule, Singapore grew in importance as a centre for both the India-China trade and the entrepôt trade in Southeast Asia, rapidly becoming a major port city.
During World War II, Singapore was conquered and occupied by the Japanese Empire from 1942 to 1945. When the war ended, Singapore reverted to British control, with increasing levels of self-government being granted, culminating in Singapore’s merger with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963. However, social unrest and disputes between Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party and Malaysia’s Alliance Party resulted in Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. Singapore became an independent republic on 9 August 1965.
Facing severe unemployment and a housing crisis, Singapore embarked on a modernization programme beginning in the late 1960s through the 1970s that focused on establishing a manufacturing industry, developing large public housing estates and investing heavily on public education. Since independence, Singapore’s economy has grown by an average of nine percent each year. By the 1990s, the country had become one of the world’s most prosperous nations, with a highly developed free market economy, strong international trading links, and the highest per capita gross domestic product in Asia outside of Japan.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Malay Archipelago was gradually taken over by the European colonial powers, beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese at Malacca in 1509. The early dominance of the Portuguese was challenged during the 17th century by the Dutch, who came to control most of the ports in the region. The Dutch established a monopoly over trade within the archipelago, particularly in spices, then the region’s most important product. Other colonial powers, including the British, were limited to a relatively minor presence.
In 1818, Sir Stamford Raffles was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of the British colony at Bencoolen. He was determined that Great Britain should replace the Netherlands as the dominant power in the archipelago, since the trade route between China and British India, which had become vitally important with the institution of the opium trade with China, passed through the archipelago. The Dutch had been stifling British trade in the region by prohibiting the British from operating in Dutch-controlled ports or by subjecting them to a high tariff. Raffles hoped to challenge the Dutch by establishing a new port along the Straits of Malacca, the main ship passageway for the India-China trade. He convinced Lord Hastings, the Governor-General of India and his superior at the British East India Company, to fund an expedition to seek a new British base in the region.
Before Raffles arrived, there were around 1,000 people living in Singapore, mostly Malays and a few dozen Chinese. By 1869, due to migration from Malaya and other parts of Asia, Singapore’s population had reached 100,000. Many Chinese and Indian immigrants came to Singapore to work in the rubber plantations and tin mines, and their descendents later formed the bulk of Singapore’s population.
From a humble beginning to a booming trading post: it is a story of how Singapore went through turbulent years and emerged a modern, cosmopolitan city state. Discovery Channel’s “History of Singapore” will piece together the dynamics of the Singapore identity. Footages never seen before and interviews with key figures like Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew –
The Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of World War Two in a room in City Hall. And in 1965, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was also sworn in there at the City Hall chamber. So it was a fitting venue to launch the new documentary series. From Singapore’s beginnings as a mangrove swamp to the Asian economic metropolis it is today, the history of Singapore over the past two centuries is showcased to viewers in a three-hour special. Besides rare historical footage such as the first known map of Singapore after Raffles landed, the documentary also has real-life re-enactments. There will also be interviews with key historical figures recounting turning points in Singapore’s past.