Excerpt of my piece on Singapore’s bicentennial, i.e. commemoration of the arrival of Raffles and The British Empire in 1819, first published on Nikkei Asian Review
From Cape Town to San Francisco, cities have been toppling monuments to historical figures with troubling legacies. In Singapore, authorities have opted for a more genteel way of dealing with the statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British colonialist who in 1819 chose the tiny island as the East India Co.’s new regional base.
They are diluting the imperialist’s prominence by erecting for the year four new statues of Asian pioneers near Raffles.
The government is commemorating the bicentennial of Raffles’ landing with a yearlong pageantry of exhibitions, essays and events (there may even be a national election).
It is a means to interrogate Singapore’s rich but oft-overlooked pre-independence history. Yet the process involves risks — it exposes some inherent contradictions about a global city’s identity, as interpreted by a heavy-handed state.
Compared with India and most other former British colonies, independent Singapore has always had a romantic view of colonialism.