The Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Decline of the Left in Singapore

in Journal of Chinese Overseas
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Abstract

Represented by the Barisan party and mainly participated in by ethnic Chinese, the leftist movement in Singapore was the thrust behind the island’s independence (1965) and the major political opposition to the ruling PAP (People’s Action Party). But within several years after independence, the movement disappeared as the PAP’s one-party regime grew in strength. Based on the leftist publications of that period, this article argues that Maoist China’s influence, the Cultural Revolution in particular, significantly contributed to the decline of the movement. The radicalization and dissolution of Singapore’s leftist movement was one example of the destructive impact of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution on overseas Chinese politics in the 1960s.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Decline of the Left in Singapore

in Journal of Chinese Overseas

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    Only the Barrel of a Gun can Liberate Malaya! Front.
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    “Voice of the Malayan Revolution.” Lee Kuan Yew on the far left, Rahman on the far right; in between the two are the Soviet revisionist and US imperialist. The four Chinese characters coming out of the loudspeaker read “Voice of the Revolution” (Front, November 16, 1969).

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    “China has successfully tested the hydrogen bomb!” (in Chinese characters written across the mushroom cloud). Mao’s image suggests his thought is as powerful as nuclear weapons. Two figures shocked by the test represent Washington and Moscow. Chinese characters on one of their bodies read “Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” indicating that China had broken the Soviet-US nuclear monopoly. Front, January 1, 1969.

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    “Two different propaganda pictures.” As part of its commitment to the Maoist revolution, the Left in Singapore toed the Maoist “anti-revisionist line” and condemned “Soviet revisionism,” although “revisionism” had nothing to do with Singapore’s post-colonial reality. These cartoons and the photo reflect the anti-Soviet rhetoric. The upper two images show that in China Maoism was an inspiration for the people and the revolution drove everything; by contrast, in the USSR money (the Rouble) dominated (the lower two images).

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    “A Moderate Increase in Tax? What a wonderful idea!” This cartoon demonstrated the Left’s attitude toward the PAP’s domestic policies: a greedy Lee Kuan Yew wearing a traditional Chinese tax collector’s hat with two dollar signs attached to it, and decks himself out with labels of various new taxes. The letters “U.S.” and the emblem of the Union Jack on the soles of his boots indicated support from the West. The lightening sign inside the circle on his belly is the PAP emblem. The Chinese characters on his belt read “anti-communist, anti-Chinese, anti-people” (People’s Forum, December 31, 1968). Barisan’s Front published many similar cartoons and articles.

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    “Helping Comrades Study Mao’s Works.” The horizontal banner at the top bears the words: “Strive for the Liberation of Malaya!” The two vertical couplets read (from right to left): “Sailing the Sea Depends on the Helmsman, Making Revolution Depends on Mao Zedong Thoughts,” an epigram by Lin Biao ubiquitous in China during the CR. Young men and women poured over the Selected Works of Chairman Mao (People’s Forum, December 31, 1968). There were also numerous similar illustrations in Front.

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    Impact of CR language on Barisan politics: Titles of articles that attack political enemies within and without the Left. They read (from top): “Ox ghosts and snake demons are having an emergency meeting!”; “Expose Chen Ruidong, head of the black gang, and knock him down!”; “To make revolution is not a crime; to rebel is justified” (Mao’s quotation made famous in the CR); “Denounce Zhuo Zhenjia, the son of a bitch”; “Distinguish fragrant flowers from poisonous weeds; smash the black gang!”; “The true face of Hua Zhong (name of a famous Chinese middle school) leaders” — A statement by the Hua Zhong revolutionary rebels; and “Reactionary teachers: get the hell out of the school!” — from a group of students” (Front, 1966-1967).

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    This stage show of woman soldiers used as its title, “They love their battle array, not silks and satins” from a poem by Mao (Front, July 21, 1968).

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    “Life in the kindergarten.” This group of photos shows activities in kindergartens run by the Barisan. The three at the top show pupils learning in the classroom, an excursion, and a sports event. The three at the bottom show children participating in CR-style stage performances. The Chinese characters on the photo in the left hand corner reads, “The Red Star illuminates our rough road.” Note that the children were dressed in revolutionary military uniforms. The photo in the right hand corner is that of a stage show telling a story of two children giving shelter to a wounded guerrilla soldier at the risk of their own lives, presumably a scene set in the Malay-Thai border regions. The photo in the center shows a dance with children wearing the red scarf, a symbol of the Communist Pioneers (Front, July 2, 1970). The “ideological indoctrination” of children by the Barisan had become an issue as early as 1963, when the PAP government accused the Barisan of brainwashing children in its kindergartens and Lee Siew Choh had to quickly deny the allegation as “not only completely untrue, but also malicious. . . . The classes have never been used to indoctrinate children in foreign ideologies” (Mutalib 2003: 103). But at least after 1966, such indoctrination was not uncommon in Barisan’s kindergartens.

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    “Terms on the Release from Jail.” The figure on the left was a Barisan prisoner who was about to sign an agreement for his release; the figure on the right was waiting for him to do so. On his pants, a Chinese character “Liu” alluded to Singapore’s “Liu Shaoqi,” his hair style and facial features resembling those of Liu’s (People’s Forum, October 15, 1969).

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