On 8 June 1959, the government led by the newly elected People’s Action Party (PAP) launched a campaign against yellow culture. The term “yellow culture” is a direct translation of the Chinese phrase huangse wenhua, which refers to decadent behaviour such as gambling, opium-smoking, pornography, prostitution, corruption and nepotism that plagued much of China in the 19th century. Although there were earlier attempts to eradicate yellow culture, the campaign launched by the government in 1959 was a sustained and extensive enterprise, easing only in the 1980s.
Spearheaded by then Minister for Home Affairs Ong Pang Boon and supported by the Ministry of Culture, the government launched a nationwide clamp-down on various aspects of Western popular culture that were seen as promoting a decadent or antisocial lifestyle. The government banned items and activities such as pornographic publications and films, striptease shows, jukebox dens, pin-table saloons, rock ’n’ roll music as well as long hair on men; at the same time, it sought to promote healthy cultural activities that focused on forging a common Malayan culture.
The local Chinese schools, which were influenced by the revolutionary events that were taking place in communist China at the time, had first promulgated the anti-yellow movement; the movement aimed to purge from the city-state hedonistic foreign influences deemed to be corrupting Malayan youths and undermining the moral fabric of society. When the PAP came into power, it established, among its aims, a goal to create a wholesome Malayan culture and to eliminate yellow culture that threatened social discipline in Singapore. The campaign against yellow culture was part of a social revolution to build a new Malayan nation.
As part of the anti-yellow drive, obscene publications and films that depicted crime, violence, sex, nudity, racial prejudice as well as those glorifying colonialism were banned under the Undesirable Publications Ordinance and the Cinematograph Film Ordinance respectively. Jukebox and pin-table saloons were outlawed because they were gathering places for gangsters and youths. Chinese mutual aid associations and social clubs, where secret society members operated gambling dens, were also shut down. The prohibitions extended to music: Radio Singapura pulled rock ‘n’ roll music off the air to feature more serious programmes with a Malayan emphasis. The government also frowned on the hippy movement and men with long hair, as these were associated with the drug culture, as well as permissive and deviant behaviour. In addition, several discothèques were closed and had their liquor permits revoked.
An anti-long hair drive, named Operation Snip Snip, was launched on 1 November 1974. With this campaign, men with long hair were served last at government offices as well as denied entry into the country. Companies were also discouraged from hiring men with long hair, and employees who defied the hair rule had their employment terminated. The restriction on long hair was gradually relaxed in the 1980s, while the ban on jukeboxes was lifted only in 1990.
1. Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (p. 326). Singapore: Times Editions: Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS]; Permits of 8 papers withdrawn. (1959, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lee, 1998, p. 326; Yao, S. (2007). ‘Yellow culture’, white peril (pp. 54–59). In Singapore: The state and the culture of excess. London, New York: Routledge. Call no.: RSING 306.2095957 YEO; Holden, P. (2004). At home in the worlds: Community and consumption in urban Singapore (p. 82). In R. Bishop, J. Phillips & W. W. Yeo (Eds.), Beyond description: Singapore space historicity. London: Routledge. Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 BEY; Moral fall: ‘We’re all to blame’. (1956, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Lee, S. H. (1986, March 9). Less ado about men with long hair: Officialdom closes half an eye to Seventies ban. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lee, 1998, p. 326; Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong (pp. 142–143). In P. E. Lam & K. Y. L. Tan (Eds.), Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard. St. Leonards, N. S. W.: Allen & Unwin. Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE; Koh, T. A. (1989). Culture and the arts (p. 719). In K. S. Sandhu & P. Wheatley (Eds.), Management of success: The moulding of modern Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAN-[HIS].
5. Lee, 1998, p. 326; Yao, 2007, pp. 54-59; Holden, 2004, p. 82; The Straits Times, 9 Jun 1959, p. 1; One Malayan nation – the No. 1 task of the Government. (1959, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 2; If social revolution is to have full meaning… (1959, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 4; Lim warns of flower people, yellow culture. (1968, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. S’pore Govt. bans 18 pin-up magazines. (1959, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 9; Magazine ban: Now 65 publications may not circulate in Singapore. (1960, January 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; Ban on books: Minister names 54 publishers. (1960, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7; Chain story picture ban gets a welcome. (1960, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 12; Govt. bans four more U.S. magazines. (1961, June 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; Banned! Morality sleuths seize 30 novels. (1963, January 19). The Straits Times, p. 6; Now culture clean-up may move on films, warns minister. (1959, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 9; Seven films banned. (1959, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 7; 78 films on banned list. (1961, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Soh, H. (1959, June 13). Culture clean-up hits jukes. The Straits Times, p. 1; Peril of pin-table culture – by home minister. (1959, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 1, Wong, M. K. (1977, April 28). Pinball tables banned. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Govt. closes eight clubs: ‘They were used by gamblers’. (1959, August 14). The Straits Times, p. 1; Swanky club is shut down in Singapore. (1959, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2; Four clubs are closed by the govt. (1959, November 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The rock music goes off the air. (1959, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 9; Ministry silent on ‘banned song’ mystery. (1970, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The Straits Times, 13 Jan 1968, p. 4; de Silva, G. (1970, April 4). Police ‘hit’ the hippy trail and the message gets through…The Straits Times, p. 8; Long hair ‘mark of a rebel’. (1974, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Raman, P. M., & Pereira, G. (1973, October 23). Discos tighten up entry rules after warning by minister. The Straits Times, p. 13; Chandran, R., & Pereira, G. (1973, November 2). Govt shuts down 6 discos. The Straits Times, p. 1; Ahmad, Osman. (1973, November 18). Discos lose liquor permits. The Straits Times, p. 1; Cheang, C. (1973, November 13). Discos must pay up to $25,000 deposit. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Anti-long hair drive from Nov 1. (1974, October 2). The Straits Times, p. 23; Kutty, N. G. (1972, January 11). Flexible policy in long-hair clamps. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Long hair means a long, long wait… (1972, June 23). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. The Straits Times, 11 Jan 1972, p. 1; Long hair: Action taken against 348 govt workers. (1978, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Govt to bosses: Don’t employ the long haired. (1973, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. ‘Shaggy look doesn’t pay’ message driven home. (1975, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. The Straits Times, 9 Mar 1986, p. 12.
18. Jukebox ban off. (1991, July 15). The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.