On August 9, 1965, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia and became the only country to date to gain independence unwillingly. Malaysia had been formed on September 16, 1963, as a new political entity from the merger of the Federation of Malaya with the former British colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. This marked the end of a 144-year period of British rule in Singapore, beginning with the founding of modern Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Singapore was one of the 14 states of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.
The union, however, was unstable due to distrust and ideological differences between leaders of the State of Singapore and the federal government of Malaysia. Such issues resulted in frequent disagreements relating to economics, finance and politics. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which was the political party in power in the federal government, saw the participation of the Singapore-based People’s Action Party (PAP) in the Malaysian general election of 1964 as a threat to its Malay-based political system. There were also major racial riots that year involving the majority Chinese community and the Malay community in Singapore. During a 1965 Singaporean by-election, UMNO threw its support behind the opposition Barisan Sosialis candidate. In 1965, Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman decided upon the expulsion of Singapore from the Federation, leading to the independence of Singapore on August 9, 1965.
Racial tensions increased dramatically within a year after Singapore joined Malaysia. They were fueled by the Barisan Sosialis’s tactics of stirring up communal sentiment as the pro-Communist party sought to use means to survive against the crackdown by both the government of Singapore and the Federal Government. In particular, despite the Malaysian government conceding citizenship to the many Chinese immigrants after independence, in Singapore the Chinese disdained the Federal policies of affirmative action, which granted special privileges to the Malays guaranteed under Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia. These included financial and economic benefits that were preferentially given to Malays and the recognition of Islam as the sole official religion, although non-Muslims maintained freedom of worship.
Malays and Muslims in Singapore were being increasingly incited by the Federal Government’s accusations that the PAP was mistreating the Malays. Numerous racial riots resulted, and curfews were frequently imposed to restore order. The external political situation was also tense at the time, with Indonesia actively against the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia. President Sukarno of Indonesia declared a state of Konfrontasi (Confrontation) against Malaysia and initiated military and other actions against the new nation, including the bombing of MacDonald House in Singapore in March 1965 by Indonesian commandos which killed three people. Indonesia also conducted seditious activities to provoke the Malays against the Chinese. One of the more notorious riots was the 1964 race riots that took place on Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on 21 July, near Kallang Gasworks; twenty-three were killed and hundreds injured. More riots broke out in September 1964. The price of food skyrocketed when the transport system was disrupted during this period of unrest, causing further hardship. The Singapore Government later named 21 July each year as Racial Harmony Day.
The Federal Government of Malaysia, dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was concerned that as long as Singapore remained in the Federation, the bumiputera policy of affirmative action for Malays and the indigenous population would be undermined and therefore run counter to its agenda of addressing economic disparities between racial groups. One of the major concerns was that the PAP continued to ignore these disparities in their repeated pledges for a “Malaysian Malaysia” – the equal treatment of all races in Malaysia by the government which should serve Malaysian citizens without any regard for the economic conditions of any particular race. Another contributor was the fear that the economic dominance of Singapore’s port would inevitably shift political power away from Kuala Lumpur in time, should Singapore remain in the Federation.
The state and federal governments also had disagreements on the economic front. Despite an earlier agreement to establish a common market, Singapore continued to face restrictions when trading with the rest of Malaysia. In retaliation, Singapore did not extend to Sabah and Sarawak the full extent of the loans agreed to for economic development of the two eastern states. The situation escalated to such an intensity that talks soon broke down and abusive speeches and writing became rife on both sides. UMNO extremists called for the arrest of Lee Kuan Yew.
On August 7, 1965, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, seeing no alternative to avoid further bloodshed, advised the Parliament of Malaysia that it should vote to expel Singapore from Malaysia. Despite last-ditch attempts by PAP leaders, including Lee Kuan Yew, to keep Singapore as a state in the union, the Parliament on August 9, 1965, voted 126–0 in favor of the expulsion of Singapore, with Members of Parliament from Singapore not present. On that day, a tearful Lee announced that Singapore was a sovereign, independent nation and assumed the role of Prime Minister of the new nation. His speech included this quote: “For me it is a moment of anguish because all my life….you see the whole of my adult life…. I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know it’s a people connected by geography, economics, and ties of kinship… .”
Under constitutional amendments passed in December that year, the new state became the Republic of Singapore, with Yang di-Pertuan Negara becoming President, and the Legislative Assembly becoming the Parliament of Singapore. These changes were made retroactive to the date of Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. The Malaya and British Borneo dollar remained legal tender until the introduction of the Singapore dollar in 1967. Before the currency split, there were discussions about a common currency between the Malaysian and Singaporean Governments.
Although Singapore is about a two-hour flight from my home in southern Thailand, I have only visited the city-state once and that trip was made so I could obtain a long-term visa at the Royal Thai Embassy there (the Thai government requires expatriates to leave the country in order to do such bureaucratic necessities). I found Singapore quite easy to get around, extremely clean (especially compared to Thailand), and full of history and interesting architecture. I also quite enjoyed the Singapore Philatelic Museum and that would be my primary reason for a return visit as it is a very expensive place.
In choosing to commemorate this particular anniversary, I found that I don’t have any stamps related to Singapore independence from Malaysia. A near-miss would be one from the “Story of Singapore” series of 1998 depicting “The Turbulent Years, 1955-1959”, but I found the design to be quite unattractive. I cannot recall seeing any rickshaws during my single visit in 2006 (my photo albums are full of rickshaw pictures from trips to Penang in Malaysia, however) but I still believe this to be a form of transport very representative of Singapore. On my next visit there (hopefully soon), I will make an effort to find one.
Scott #789, released on March 19, 1997, portrays a jinrickshaw– a small two-wheeled cart for one passenger pulled by one or two people. The word comes from the Japanese jinricksha (人力車, 人 jin = “man” or “person”, 力 riki = “power” or “strength”, 車 sha = “cart”, “carriage” or “vehicle”), thus literally translating to “human-powered vehicle”. Later, the word developed into “rickshaw”. Jinrickshaws were invented in Japan circa 1869 after the lifting of a ban on wheeled vehicles from the Tokugawa period (1603–1868) and at the beginning of a rapid period of technical advancement in Japan.
A rickshaw originally denoted a two or three-wheeled passenger cart, now known as a pulled rickshaw, which is generally pulled by one man carrying one passenger. The first known use of the term was in 1879. Over time, cycle rickshaws (also known as pedicabs or trishaws), auto rickshaws, and electric rickshaws were invented, and have replaced the original pulled rickshaws, with a few exceptions for their use in tourism. Here in Thailand, auto rickshaws are widely known by the term tuk tuk (ตุ๊ก ๆ), a name mimicking the sound of the small (often two-cycle) engine that they use.
Pulled rickshaws created a popular form of transportation, and a source of employment for male laborers, within Asian cities in the 19th century. Their appearance was related to newly acquired knowledge of ball-bearing systems. Their popularity declined as cars, trains and other forms of transportation became widely available.
Auto rickshaws are becoming more popular in some cities in the 21st century as an alternative to taxis because of their low cost.
There are lots of theories about the inventor of the jinrickshaw, with the most likely and widely accepted theory describing it as having been invented in Japan in 1869, by Izumi Yosuke, who formed a partnership with Suzuki Tokujiro and Takayama Kosuke to build the vehicles, having been “inspired by the horse carriages that had been introduced to the streets of Tokyo a few years earlier”.
Other theories about the inventor of the Rickshaw include:
- Jonathan Scobie (or Jonathan Goble), an American missionary to Japan, is said to have invented the rickshaw around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama.
- An American blacksmith named Albert Tolman is said to have invented the rickshaw, or “man drawn lorry” in 1846 in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a South American bound missionary.
- In New Jersey, the Burlington County Historical Society claims an 1867 invention by carriage maker James Birch, and exhibits a Birch rickshaw in its museum.
Japan historian Seidensticker wrote of the theories:
Though the origins of the rickshaw are not entirely clear, they seem to be Japanese, and of Tokyo specifically. The most widely accepted theory offers the name of three inventors, and gives 1869 as the date of invention.
The vehicle had a wooden carriage that rode on “superior Western wheels” and was a dramatic improvement over earlier modes of transportation. Whereas the earlier sedan chairs required two people, the rickshaw generally only required one. More than one person was required for hilly or mountainous areas. It also provided a smoother ride for the passenger. Other forms of vehicles at the time were drawn by animals or were wheelbarrows.
The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, has had a rickshaw in its collection for over 120 years. It was made about 1880 and is described as:
A rickshaw, or Jinrikisha, is a light, two-wheeled cart consisting of a doorless, chairlike body, mounted on springs with a collapsible hood and two shafts. Finished in black lacquer-ware over timber, it was drawn by a single rickshaw runner.
In the Late 19th century, hand-pulled rickshaws became an inexpensive, popular mode of transportation across Asia. Peasants who migrated to large Asian cities often worked first as a rickshaw runner. It was “the deadliest occupation in the East, [and] the most degrading for human beings to pursue.”
Starting in 1870, the Tokyo government issued a permit to build and sell 人力車 (jinrikisha) to the trio that are believed in Asia to be the rickshaw’s inventors: Izumi Yosuke, Takayama Kosuke, and Suzuki Tokujiro. In order to operate a rickshaw in Tokyo, a seal was required from these men. By 1872, they replaced the kago and norimono, becoming the main mode of transportation in Japan, with about 40,000 rickshaws in service. At that time man-power was much cheaper than horse-power; horses were generally only used by the military. Some of the rickshaws were artistically decorated with paintings and rear elevations. In this time, the more exuberant styles of decorations were banned. If the families were well-off financially they might have their own rickshaw runner. Generally, runners covered 20 to 30 miiles (32 to 48 kilometers) in a day, at an average traveling speed of 5 miles per hour (8 km/h) per hour.
Japanese rickshaw manufacturers produced and exported rickshaws to Asian countries and South Africa.
Singapore received its first rickshaws in 1880 and soon after they were prolific, making a “noticeable change in the traffic on Singapore’s streets.” Bullock carts and gharries were used before rickshaws were introduced. Fares were cheap and the rickshaw’s popularity grew rapidly.
Many of the poorest individuals in Singapore in the late nineteenth century were poverty-stricken, unskilled people of Chinese ancestry. Sometimes called coolies, the hardworking men found that pulling a rickshaw was a new opportunity for employment. Normal day attire for rickshaw pullers included long sleeves and straw hat to keep out the sun, shorts and unbuttoned shirt to keep cool, a towel around the neck for wiping off sweat and dust, and pullers went barefooted for a better feel of the road, In 1897, martial law was declared to end a four-day rickshaw workers’ strike.
With the increasing number of rickshaws plying the roads in Singapore, a separate department was set up in 1899 to register and inspect the rickshaws. In 1903, the Jinrickshaw Station at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road was built to house this rickshaw registry and inspection center. The building currently houses a restaurant and nightclub. According to a plaque at the Jinrickshaw Station,
Early rickshaws were small, lightweight, hooded carts with large wheels, pulled by a single man. Hoods that were easily erected provided protection against the rain or strong sun, and, in some cases, prying eyes. A hood up in fair weather often meant that the passenger was a call girl or some character of disrepute. For three cents, one could go half a mile (0.8 km), or for 20 cents, have the rickshaw at one’s disposal for an hour. Most rickshaw pullers were coolies, who laboured in the hope of saving enough money to return to China after their sojourn. So popular was the rickshaw that it edged out its competitor, the steam tram.
With their low wages, rickshaw pullers could afford only the cheapest of meals. One of their meals consisted of three (or more) bowls of plain yellow noodles cooked with green vegetables and dried shrimps. As this dish was popular with the rickshaw pullers, it became known as “rickshaw noodles”. It is still possible to find food stalls in Singapore that sell rickshaw noodles. One such stall is located in the Maxwell Road Food Centre just across the road from the old Jinrickshaw Station.
The rickshaw was phased out in Singapore between 1946 and 1947. In the Indian city of Calcutta (Kolkata), it was in use till 2006 when a law to ban rickshaws from its roads was passed.
Singapore Post released a set of nine adhesive stamps on March 19, 1997, under the theme of “Ground Transportation” (Scott #780-788). These were printed by lithography and perforated 14½. Scott #782, portraying the Jinrickshaw, was inscribed For Local Addresses Only and was sold for 22 cents. A souvenir sheet (Scott #788A) was also issued including all of the stamps in the set but with the Jinrickshaw stamp denominated 22 cents (Scott #788Ab). The Jinrickshaw was also released in a self-adhesive booklet stamp (again with the For Local Addresses Only inscription) with serpentine die-cut perforations measuring 11½ (Scott #789). The booklet panes consisted of ten stamps.