Singapore was first mentioned as early as the 3rd century where it was referred to as Puluozhong, a Chinese translation of Pulau Ujong, literally ‘island at the end' (of the Malay Peninsula). When a Chinese trader named Wang Dayuan visited the island around 1330 he described a small settlement with Chinese and Malay inhabitants. He calls it ‘Dan Ma Xi ', again a Chinese translation of the Malay ‘Tamasek', or water town . It makes an appearance soon after in 1365 when the Javanese poem ‘Nagarakretagama' also refers to it by the same name. However, it is in the ‘Sejarah Melayu ‘ or Malay Annals that we learn that Sri Tri Buana, the ruler of Palembang (now known as Indonesia) gave Singapore its name. One day, while seeking shelter from a storm, he landed in Tamasek and saw a creature he thought was a lion, an omen he considered auspicious (although the animal he saw was probably a tiger). He decided to establish a settlement he named ‘Singapura', or lion city .
The Malay archipelago was under European colonial rule for much of the period between the 16th and 19th centuries, starting with the Portuguese in Malacca which than gave way to the Dutch, who developed a stronghold in the region. All this changed with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 when he signed a formal treaty with the Sultan of Johor to establish a trading post on the island. However, Singapore did not become a full British colony until 1824.
It was Raffles who decided that Singapore should become a free port, and as word of this spread traders flocked to the island rather than having to comply with Dutch trade regulations. Singapore has operated as a free port ever since.
Expansion continued until World War II when, despite the courageous efforts of both the armed forces (such as the Malayan Regiment and the Singapore Volunteer Corps) and local civilians, Malaya fell to the Japanese with the surrender by Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival to General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army on Chinese New Year, the 15 th of February 1942. The fall of Singapore, once known by the British as Fortress Singapore, or even vaunted by Winston Churchill as the ‘Gibraltar of the East', was the biggest ever surrender by British-led troops in history, and the fallout was catastrophic.
130 000 troops were taken prisoner-of-war, many of whom died on the infamous Siam-Burma railway or were used as slave labour on what were known as ‘hell ships'. The Japanese occupation saw Singapore renamed ‘Syon-to' ( Light of the South Island in Japanese). Countless atrocities were committed by the Japanese military police, who carried out mass executions which claimed between 25 000 and 50 000 civilian lives in both Malaya and Singapore . This, the darkest period in Singapore 's history, only ended when the Japanese surrendered to the British on the 12 th of September 1945. On this day, Lord Louis Mountbatten watched General Itagaki Seishiro sign the formal surrender. The Japanese Occupation had lasted three and a half long years.
By the time Singapore gained full self-government in 1959, there had been many riots by various unions and factions, and the newly-elected PAP (People's Action Party), under Cambridge-educated leader Lee Kuan Yew, had started to address these issues as well as erecting high-rise, low-cost housing and promoting English as the language of instruction in Singapore schools.
In 1963 Singapore, along with Sabah and Sarawak, merged with Malaya which was subsequently renamed Malaysia. This partnership did not last long, however, and in 1965 Lee Kuan Yew unhappily announced that Singapore was an independent nation. His words “ For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories” live on in the memories of many. Thus the Republic of Singapore was born.
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