Monday, 10 December 2018

Singapore Bicentennial: Journeying back 700 years

Creative NDP veterans promise 'cinematic and engaging' Bicentennial showcase
Story of Singapore will be told through sets, live performances and multimedia
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 9 Dec 2018

They have staged four National Day Parades between them.

Now, theatre director Beatrice Chia-Richmond and media consultant and playwright Michael Chiang are hard at work putting together one of the biggest events of next year - the Bicentennial showcase at Fort Canning Centre.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, they promised a "cinematic and engaging" experience for Singaporeans as they take them on a journey beginning in 1299.

Mrs Chia-Richmond, 44, who was creative director of the 2011 and 2016 National Day Parades, said it will be unlike traditional classroom history lessons which tend to involve giant, dusty tomes and the memorisation of key dates, facts and who did what.

Instead, the story of Singapore over 700 years will be told through sets, live performances and multimedia.

All that Singaporeans have to do is turn up and enjoy the show.

"From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience @ Fort Canning" has been split into two main sections: The Time Traveller and Pathfinder.

The Time Traveller segment is divided into five acts.

The first will depict the "epicness" of the first 500 years of Singapore's history starting from 1299.

Mr Chiang, 64, who was the scriptwriter for the 2010 and 2014 National Day Parades, said one highlight is the depiction of the fierce naval battles which took place off the coast of Changi between the Portuguese and Dutch over trade in Asia in 1603.

They noted that the naval battles show that Singapore was already in the forefront of global and regional events.

Mrs Chia-Richmond said that while Singaporeans are used to the retelling of history from the Singaporean perspective, the showcase as a whole will look at the island's history from the point of view of the rest of the world.

The next act delves into the events surrounding the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

Act 3, which covers 1900 to 1930, aims to portray the dynamic city that was being built, and its underlying tensions. Visitors will get to sit in a rotating rotunda with props such as a recreated pilgrim ship. They will get to watch and experience its bustling port, cars running on the island's freshly built roads, and the arrival of the first trains running between Singapore and Malaya which transported local products.

Act 4 depicts Singapore under siege during World War II while Act 5 tackles the story of modern Singapore.

The Pathfinder segment of the show will comprise a series of pavilions designed for people to wander around on their own. The pavilions will showcase the Singapore story via the following mediums and themes: maps; artefacts; perspectives; words and reflections. Music compositions are also being created from scratch.

Both the show's creative directors, Mrs Chia-Richmond and Mr Chiang, started working on its concept in November last year.

On the difference between putting together the Bicentennial show and the National Day Parade, Mrs Chia-Richmond said the parade is a one-day event that needs to run like clockwork. The Bicentennial showcase, on the other hand, is more detail-heavy. She said: "We are dealing with 700 years of history and aiming to present it in an engaging manner for the public."

To bring the history to life, the pair looked at live shows such as Secret Cinema in London, which combines film screenings with interactive performances in purpose-built sets. They also observed audience reactions to the use of technology and multimedia presentations in museums in cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin.

Mr Chiang, who is also the scriptwriter for the Bicentennial showcase, said that while the weight of the project is rather daunting, they have a team to support them. He said: "We want to create a sense of wonder. To have Singaporeans come in and realise they never knew this about Singapore, that all of this was part of our history.

"We want them to get caught up in the moment. That's how we hope to draw them in."

Mrs Chia-Richmond cited the example of Azerbaijan.

Although the republic is just 27 years old, it has a long history of conquests and colonisation. "However, when you speak to the people of Baku, its capital city, they will tell you that their breadth of history is very wide. This is my hope for the people of Singapore."


During the Bicentennial, we will provide a wide range of opportunities for Singaporeans to learn more about our long and rich history. You might think of this as a kind of 'history quest'.

We hope to achieve this through our Fort Canning experiential showcase, the interactive history book, as well as numerous events organised by our partners. We hope these efforts will make our own history more accessible, and reach out to as many people as possible.

MINISTER FOR SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT DESMOND LEE, who co-chairs the Ministerial Steering Committee for the Singapore Bicentennial.


Singapore's journey goes back as far as the 1300s. Communities from around the world interacted and settled here. Over these years, how our communities responded to events around the world, be it rivalries of major or regional powers, economic, social or technological advances, shaped our growth and evolution.

The Singapore Bicentennial marks the 200th year of the arrival of Raffles and the British. It marked a major turning point in our history, by plugging us into a global network of trade and exchange.

I encourage our people to explore how each of our diverse communities interact with one another and with peoples around the world, how they responded to changes, and the values and principles that enable us to succeed and to come to where we are today. There are many stories, told and untold, of courage, grit, determination and bonds that shape our home today.

The Singapore Bicentennial is a timely opportunity for Singaporeans to learn more deeply about our past, so that we may chart our future with greater confidence.

FINANCE MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT, who is adviser to the Singapore Bicentennial Ministerial Steering Committee.

Bicentennial logo launched, design reflects 700 years of history
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2018

As efforts ramp up to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore, the office in charge of next year's activities has launched the bicentennial logo.

It signifies the evolution of Singapore not only in the last 200 years, but 700 years.

Its designers worked backwards from the idea of Singapore as a little red dot - depicted in the SG50 logo - and came up with seven red polygon-like outlines.

Each has its own distinct look to represent one century of Singapore's 700 years of history.

These outlines form a circle to symbolise the island's transformation through time, adapting and evolving to become present-day Singapore, said the Singapore Bicentennial Office in a media statement.

It said the logo - created by local branding and creative design studio Roots - expresses both change and continuity, "conveying the sense that this is an ever-evolving journey for the better".

"The commemoration is an occasion for us to reflect on our history before and after Raffles, and how we've evolved from a place with a geographically strategic location to a people with a unique Singaporean DNA.

"Throughout the year, we will look at the impact powers around the region and the world have had on us; the huge cast of characters who've contributed to our evolution and more," said the office.

The commemoration will be marked by a year-long calendar of events, kicking off on Jan 28. Anchor events will look at not only Singapore's history after the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, but also the 500 years prior to that.

This could help to raise awareness among Singaporeans that the period between the 1300s and 1819 was not bereft of activity.

For instance, in the 1330s, Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, who had visited Singapore, noted that the island had foreign traders living alongside the local populace. He also described two local settlements, Banzu and Long Ya Men.

The dominant group living in Singapore during the 1400s was the Orang Laut who were expert fishermen and fierce warriors.

In the 1500s, Singapore's port impressed gem trader Jacques de Coutre, who described it as one of the best in the East Indies.

Mr Lim Chen Sian, an associate fellow at the archaeology unit of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute's Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, said looking back at 700 years of history can benefit the people of Singapore as it provides a "sense of depth and time".

Mr Lim, who is also on the advisory panel for the bicentennial, said it will be an opportunity to explore what happened to Singapore's port and settlements over the centuries - in particular why the port succeeded and failed at different junctures of history before it was revived by the British East India Company.

He said: "The study of the past can help us chart our future, where we want to be or where we don't, based on what worked or did not work in the past. Port cities have flashes of brilliance and then disappear as another port can rise and take prominence any time."

Historian Peter Borschberg of the National University of Singapore (NUS) noted that Singapore's early history has been acknowledged for some time at the official level, and has been taught in higher education institutions such as NUS.

The book Singapore: A 700-Year History by historians Kwa Chong Guan, Tan Tai Yong and Derek Heng was based on a Singapore history module taught at NUS, he added.

Dr Borschberg said that what is new or at least unfamiliar to many Singaporeans is the way this history is being framed and some of the events or landmarks in Singapore's pre-1800 history.

He said: "One of the accomplishments of the bicentennial commemorations next year will be to relativise the founding of the British trading post in 1819 within the context of Singapore's history across the longue duree (long duration)."

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