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“Riot squad brutally beats up a group of unarmed students on 13 May 1954” incident

Many would recall the National Service riot in 1954 which was taught in Singapore history textbook. The official narrative goes about like this,

“Singapore’s earliest attempt to introduce compulsory conscription in 1952 was vigorously resisted by the Chinese middle school students. On 13 May 1954, violence erupted when hundreds of students clashed with the police. As a result, 26 people were injured and 45 students arrested. The National Service Riots marked the beginning of intense communist subversion in the Chinese middle schools, which subsequently became the breeding ground for communist sympathisers in Singapore.”

In this episode of “History of Singapore”, Dr Thum Ping Tjin explains the long history of government deceit that led to this act of colonial brutality and its impact on Singapore’s decolonisation.

On 13 May 1954, the Singapore Police’s Riot Squad charged into a group of 900 unarmed students, brutally beating them, sending 30 to the hospital and arresting 48. The students were not protesting, but were quietly awaiting the outcome of a meeting at nearby Government House. This incident was a turning point in Singapore history – never before had the state conducted such unprovoked and outrageous violence against unarmed students. Worse, in the wake of the incident, the colonial government blamed the students for provoking the riot squad.

Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a Singaporean historian who is a Research Associate at the Centre for Global History and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. Planned as a series of 40 episodes, the podcast will cover Singapore’s founding as a British port in 1819 up to separation from Malaysia in 1963. Each episode is about 20 – 30 minutes long. Dr Thum has set up a Patreon page for those interested in supporting and helping him improve the podcast.

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