Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Syonan Gallery flap: Singapore cannot bury the past, says PM Lee

SINGAPORE — The decision by the National Library Board’s (NLB) to pick Syonan Gallery as the name of a revamped exhibition at the Former Ford Factory has “understandably caused strong reactions”, but Singapore cannot “bury the past”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) & Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim and other MPs take a tour during the official opening of Syonan Gallery: War And Its Legacies, at the Old Ford Factory. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) & Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim and other MPs take a tour during the official opening of Syonan Gallery: War And Its Legacies, at the Old Ford Factory. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

SINGAPORE — The decision by the National Library Board’s (NLB) to pick Syonan Gallery as the name of a revamped exhibition at the Former Ford Factory has “understandably caused strong reactions”, but Singapore cannot “bury the past”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name,” said Mr Lee, in a Facebook post last night sharing photos of the gallery’s official opening.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to — which means “Light of the South” — following the British surrender in 1942, and the naming of the gallery has provoked public outcry. 

At the gallery’s official opening on Wednesday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim stressed that the naming “does not express approval of the Japanese Occupation”. “Far from it. It remembers what our forefathers went through, commemorates the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Occupation, and reaffirms our collective commitment never to let this happen again,” said Dr Yaacob. 

Still, Dr Yaacob felt that the “strong reactions” were understandable. “Some among older Singaporeans who lived through that dark period feel that the name legitimises the Occupation. Others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and we should call it what it was. The reactions show us how indelible an imprint those three-and-a-half years had left on their lives and on Singapore.”

In his post, Mr Lee noted the gallery documents the “horror and viciousness of the Japanese Occupation, and the suffering and bravery of our pioneers”. “They know what it means for Singapore to lose its freedom and even its name. They emerged from that period determined never to let this happen again,” he said.

Previously called Memories at Old Ford Factory, the permanent gallery is operated by the National Archives of Singapore, which comes under the NLB. Wednesday's launch came after a year-long revamp, and coincided with the commemoration of Total Defence Day and the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore. The name of the Former Ford Factory, which was closed for a year to prepare for the revamp of the gallery, remains unchanged. 

Admission to Syonan Gallery: War And Its Legacies is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents, as well as children under the age of six. Foreigners will have to pay S$3 each. 
In his speech, Dr Yaacob expressed appreciation for donors who responded to a public call for archival materials last year. More than 400 public donations were received, with items ranging from personal letters, diaries and photographs to war artefacts and maps. 

Reiterating that the gallery “reminds us how precious our sovereignty is”, Dr Yaacob said: “During the Japanese Occupation, Singapore lost not only our freedom, but also our name. For those of us who lived through this period, this brings back many raw and painful memories. For our young, it is a sombre reminder that we must never forget.”

Speaking to reporters later, Dr Yaacob noted that this was not the first time the name “Syonan” had been used in an exhibition. “In 1992, on the 50th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, we held an exhibition at the National Museum titled When Singapore was Syonan-to,” he said. 

A Total Defence Day commemoration event was also held on Wednesday, where recruits from the 2nd Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment were presented their weapons in a ceremony. Other initiatives for the Total Defence campaign this year include a Total Defence exhibition, held from now until March 19 at the Singapore Discovery Centre, and a card game designed to help youth recognise the complexities of terror threats.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.