Contextual Notes – Singapore

In 1984 the People’s Action Party (PAP) win the election, the same party that has been in power since 1959. The party have always held a tight grip on leftist movements in an attempt to keep communism out of Singapore. In 1963, for example, under the Internal Security Act (ISA), 111 people were arrested during ‘Operation Coldstream’. The ISA is a statute enacted in 1960 that allows the govenment to ‘enforce preventative detention, prevent subversion and suppress organized violence’. The constitution of Singapore states that it is illegal to produce any form of art that is tied to a particular political party (Low Zu Boon 2011). The ISA struck again in 1976 when the playwrite Kuo Pao Kun was arrested and detained for four years and seven months for his supposed links to oppositional politics. In 1972 Kuo Pao Kun (whose daughter, Kuo Jian Hong was at the 1984 dinner), together with students from his Pracitce Performing Arts School launched their ‘Go into Life Campaign’ to experience ‘life of labouring masses’ in Singapore and Malay Peninsula which fed into their performances. In 1984 Kuo Pao Kun wrote the play The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole which engages with the absurdity of bureaucracy.

In 1983 the theatre group Third Stage was established. They wrote and performed english- language (or Singlish) plays, based on socio-political issues. While their work was subsidised by the Ministry of Community Development, in 1987, four of the ten members of Third Stage were arrested as part of the ISA’s ‘Operation Spectrum’ for being involved in a so-called ‘Marxist conspiracy’ (two of those arrested were at the 1984 dinner – Wong Souk Yee, and Chng Suan Tze). The alleged leader of this conspiracy was Tan Wah Piow, living in exile in London since the 1976. Vincent Cheng, involved in liberation theology, was also arrested in 1987 whilst working as the Justice and Peace Commission for the Catholic Church in Singapore.

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