'We are never done building Singapore': PM Lee at launch of Singapore Bicentennial

'We are never done building Singapore': PM Lee at launch of Singapore Bicentennial

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicks off year-long activities to commemorate 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival.

As Singapore commemorates 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed on its shores, Singaporeans should also think of how the country can move forward together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

SINGAPORE: As Singapore commemorates 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed on its shores, Singaporeans should also think of how the country can move forward together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Jan 28).

“For we are never done building Singapore. It is every generation’s duty to keep on building, for our children, and for our future,” Mr Lee said.

“So that in another 50 or 100 years, Singaporeans not yet born will have a richer and greater Singapore Story to tell, and one that we will have helped to write together.” 

Mr Lee said this at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial where he toured the exhibits from i Light Singapore, the Light to Night Festival and try out BALIKSG, an app for an augmented-reality trail that lets users revisit historical events.

READ: Light installations, augmented reality trail to kick off Singapore Bicentennial

While the bicentennial commemorates 200 years since Raffles came to Singapore, Singapore’s history goes back hundreds of years before his arrival, Mr Lee said.

In the 14th century, the area right at the mouth of the Singapore River was a thriving seaport called Temasek. Around this period, Sang Nila Utama founded Singapura as a kingdom, Mr Lee added.

In the 16th and 17th century, the Europeans came to Southeast Asia and Singapore almost became a Spanish colony, Mr Lee said.

PM Lee at launch of Bicentennial
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching attend the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial on Jan 28, 2019. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

READ: Sang Nila Utama, pioneers join Stamford Raffles along Singapore River

“It took another 200 years before Raffles landed at a spot near here, and persuaded the Sultan of Johor to allow the British East India Company to establish a trading post in Singapore,” he said.

This became a “crucial turning point” in Singapore’s history and set Singapore on a trajectory leading to where it is today - a modern, outward-looking and multicultural society, he said.

When Raffles made Singapore a free port, the colony prospered and grew rapidly, attracting immigrants from Southeast Asia, China, India and beyond, Mr Lee said.

“Trade was our life blood. It linked us to the archipelago around us, and to the world beyond.”

Launch of Singapore Bicentennial
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong greets participating light bearers at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial. They were chosen to be represent various communities of Singapore. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

READ: Bicentennial Edition of i Light Singapore to have 5 festival hubs

Mr Lee added that the impact of important historical events such as the Singapore and Malaysia merger in 1963 and eventual separation in 1965 was also influenced by the British’s arrival in 1819.

“Throughout the colonial period, Singapore was never governed as part of Malaya. … Over the next 150 years, our political values, inter-communal relations, and worldviews had diverged from the society on the other side of the Causeway,” Mr Lee said.

“At the same time, this history since 1819 explains why after separation, Singapore not only survived but thrived,” he added.

Singapore Bicentennial i Light
The Bicentennial Edition of i Light Singapore in 2019 will have five festival hubs. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

READ: Google marks Singapore Bicentennial with special Doodle

Hence, Mr Lee said, the Singapore Bicentennial is “worth commemorating”. It is not just remembering Raffles or Singapore’s first Resident, William Farquhar, but tracing and reflecting upon Singapore’s longer history before 1965, he said.

“Without 1819, we may never have launched on the path to nationhood as we know it today. Without 1819, we would not have 1965, and we would certainly not have celebrated the success of SG50,” Mr Lee said.

Singapore Bicentennial Anderson Bridge
Time Rhythm by Xavi Bové and Onionlab from Spain shows time passing through musical rhythms and visual patterns. It is installed at the Anderson Bridge as part of a series of events celebrating the Singapore Bicentennial. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

After his speech, Mr Lee launched the festivities together with the youngest participant in the Singapore Bicentennial - St Anthony's Canossian Primary pupil Kayla Choy, who is 11.

Mr Lee also saw two bridges along the Singapore River that were lit up with light installations - Cavenagh Bridge and Anderson Bridge.

Several historical buildings in the Civic District were transformed with seven “art skins” projected onto the buildings as part of the Light to Night Festival by artists Brandon Tay and Safuan Johari.

Sands of itme
"Secrets of the sand, written in the stars snapshots in time" projected onto the facade of the National Gallery. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

For instance, “Intersections” at the Asian Civilisation Museum charts the journey of different cultures as they come together and converge at the Little Red Dot, a specific spot where Singapore’s map coordinates were first drafted.

Historical characters, such as the coolies and the Chettiars, first British resident William Farquhar and national anthem composer Zubir Said, were also featured as part of the projection artworks.

National monuments in the Civic District that have witnessed key moments in Singapore's history were lit up as part of the Light to Night urban art festival, including the Asian Civilisations Museum, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall and National Gallery Singapore.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is overseeing the bicentennial commemoration, hopes that Singaporeans will take the opportunity to understand Singapore's history.

"I think it's fascinating to understand that although Raffles arrived in 1819, so did many other people. Together, they brought their cultures and customs. Although they first landed in Singapore, what they wanted to do was to make a living. Later on, they built communities and they shaped the development of Singapore to what it is today," Mrs Teo. 

"For younger Singaporeans, we hope that it will inspire us to understand our history that the story of Singapore was written together by many communities and that is also how we will continue to write the story of Singapore."


Apart from being a light bearer and the chosen participant to kick-start the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial, Kayla's school has prepared a time capsule and she contributed an essay. 

Singapore Bicentennial launch Jan 28, 2019
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launches the Singapore Bicentennial with the youngest participant 11-year-old Kayla Choy. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

"I wrote about ... being a head prefect and how Singapore relates to me," Kayla said. 

"I have learned that we should always never give up ... When I read about the bicentennial, I did not know all the troubles Singapore had to face to come to what we are today. It's a long journey for Singapore. I'm really proud for Singapore."

Seventy-three years her senior, 84-year-old Dr S Thinnappan of the Chettiars' Temple Society is the oldest participant.

An expert in Tamil language, and the Chettiar community's history in Singapore, Dr Thinnappan is contributing his knowledge in a three-part video series. 

Using the new BALIKSG app, visitors to the Singapore River can take a step back in time using augmented reality. Gwyneth Teo finds out you can listen in to a conversation between Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar or try your hand at planning the settlement of Singapore with the app.

The first Chettiars arrived in Singapore in the 1830s, and were in the money-lending business along Market Street, he said. There are currently about 1,000 Chettiar families.

"They are all professionals. They are no longer in the money-lending business. They have contributed in various ways in economic development, business, commerce, education, development of Tamil language, law, politics, medicine. In this way, their contributions can be considered as important contributions to the development of modern Singapore," Dr Thinnappan said. 

"The bicentennial is a record of events which will provide Singaporeans with pride about the past history of 700 years," Dr Thinnappan said. 

There are activities and events planned throughout the year as part of the Bicentennial to explore Singapore’s history before 1965.

Singapore Bicentennial i Light display
View of an i Light display at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Source: CNA/hm