Stamford Raffles and the ‘Founding’ of Singapore: The Politics of Commemoration and Dilemmas of History
- Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
- Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
- Volume 91, Part 2, No.3 15, December 2018
- pp. 103-122
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- Additional Information
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826) landed on the shores of the island of Singapore in January 1819. With its growing commercial success, he was celebrated by the British colonial authorities and mercantile community as the visionary founder of an excellent entrepôt between East and West. Despite their participation in the anti-colonial struggles, Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party, which led Singapore into self-government in 1959 and independence in 1965, allowed Raffles to remain crowned as the founder of modern Singapore in school history textbooks and the public psyche. However, the recent launching of Bicentennial planning has unleashed an exceptional wave of scholarly and public interest in the tensions and contradictions embedded in such a commemoration. The spirited discussion has included issues on whether such a moment should be commemorated, the island’s state of being in the longue durée stretching back for 700 years, and comparisons of Raffles with Lee Kuan Yew. Underlying the politics and dilemmas of the Bicentennial is an on-going tussle about how the history of a young nation state should be scripted.