Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Fajar Generation

It is quite something to write a book about the history of Singapore. It is quite something else to be in a room full of white-haired men and women who were there for some of that history.

Launch of "The Fajar Generation"

Two Saturdays ago, I was at the book launch of The Fajar Generation. Fajar (which means 'dawn' in Malay) was the title of a publication by the University of Malaya Socialist Club in the 1950s. The British charged some Club members (that is, university students) with sedition because of the anti-colonial sentiments they expressed in the publication. While they were acquitted, the incident was arguably a seminal moment in the nascent development of political consciousness and direction in post-war Singapore.

(If you need a crash course in the Fajar trial, flip to pages 353-354 of our book. There also a handy chronology of events in Lim Cheng Tju's essay in s/pores, 'A Personal Journey In Search Of Fajar'.)

From the blurb on the back cover of The Fajar Generation:
The two decades from 1945 to 1965 was an extraordinary era of political turmoil in the modern histories of Malaya/Malaysia and Singapore. The end of the war unleashed concerted demands for greater political representation, self-rule and eventual independence in the face of British attempts to manage the decolonisation process. The character and direction of this struggle were deeply contested. Different strands of nationalist thinking and competing political formations battled to define and shape the character of the future nation states. The Fajar Generation tells the hitherto neglected story of a remarkable group of men and women who advanced a radical agenda of anti-colonialism, democracy, multiculturalism and social justice through the agency of the University of Malaya Socialist Club. Through personal memoirs and analytical essays the contributors to this collection illuminate their own roles in that struggle – the hopes and despairs, the triumphs and defeats. At the same time they remind us of just how much of that progressive political agenda is still to be won in contemporary Malaysia and Singapore.
The book comprises 13 essays by members of the University of Malaya Socialist Club, as well as Edwin Thumboo's poem 'May 1954', which was written in response to the Fajar trial. The volume was edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee and Koh Kay Yew, who were all formerly in leading positions in the Club; Poh and Tan were later detained under the Internal Security Act in Operation Coldstore in 1963.

The Temasek Review has a more thorough account of the book launch and on YouTube there's a video of Dr Lim Hock Siew's speech at the event (he too was detained under Operation Coldstore --- for 19 years). Suffice to say that it's quite moving to hear the Fajar generation speak in person, yet it's difficult to imagine that these first-person accounts of 1950s and 1960s could have been published and/or distributed in Singapore 20 years ago (that would've been just after another Internal Security Department action, Operation Spectrum). Looking around the room at the book launch, it's clear that there's no shortage of eyewitnesses and voices to add to the multiplicity of how we view Singapore's recent history. It's just whether the conditions are right for them to speak (and for what it's worth, The Fajar Generation is published by the Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, an independent publishing house in Malaysia).

The Fajar Generation is available in English or Chinese. Pick it up at Select Books in Singapore, or contact the publisher: sird [at]

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Anonymous Isrizal said...

"Poh and Tan were later detained under the Internal Security Act in Operation Coldstore in 1963."

Tan Jing Quee was arrested in Operation Pechah in early October 1963. In September 1963, he joined forces with a group of trade union leaders in SATU and graduates of Nanyang University to take part in the general elections as candidates for Barisan Sosialis. He stood in historic Kampong Glam and polled 42.5% of the votes in a three-cornered fight. He was one of the 'new faces' in that election.

Later, SATU's leadership called a 48-hour general strike in protest against the government's deregistration of four federations of trade unions. Almost the entire leadership of SATU including Jing Quee were detained.

December 26, 2009 9:54 PM  

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