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Protests by Chinese middle school students 10th Oct 1956

In June 1956, Lim Yew Hock succeeded David Marshall as the chief minister of Singapore.[1] In a bid to check the growing influence of the Communist Party of Malaya in Singapore, Lim initiated a series of arrests and banning of pro-communist groups between September and November 1956. He ordered the deregistration of the Singapore Chinese Middle Schools Students’ Union (SCMSSU) on 24 September 1956, which then Minister for Education Chew Swee Kee had declared as “nothing less than a Communist front organisation”.[2]

About 5,000 Chinese middle school students responded immediately by taking over control of their schools on 25 September and threatening a sit-in until the SCMSSU was reinstated. More than 1,000 students from Chung Cheng High School and close to 2,000 students from Chinese High School turned up at protest meetings held in their respective schools. Similar meetings were also held at Nanyang Girls’ School, Nan Chiau Girls’ High School, Chung Hwa Girls’ High School and Yoke Eng High School. All the students participating in the protest left before the 7.30 pm deadline after they were warned that the assembly of “unauthorised bodies” was prohibited on school premises between 7.30 pm and 7.30 am.[3]

On 10 October, Chew ordered 11 Chinese middle schools to expel 142 students and terminate the services of two teachers, while seven other teachers were issued warnings.[4] In response, a group of about 4,000 students from Chinese High School and Chung Cheng High School took over control of their schools, putting up anti-government posters and holding meetings with resolutions passed condemning the government’s action. Students from other Chinese middle schools also turned up to show their support.[5] The students received moral and material support from pro-communist trade unions and organisations.[6] On 12 October, Chew ordered the schools to close temporarily.[7] However, the schools remained occupied, with food and other forms of support streaming in from the Singapore Farmers’ Association (SFA), bus workers and Nanyang University undergraduates.[8] On 22 and 23 October, large numbers of students from the two schools where stay-ins were held picketed other Chinese middle schools to dissuade pupils from attending classes. On 25 October, pro-communist leader Lim Chin Siong and others held a protest meeting at the marketplace in his Bukit Timah constituency near Chinese High School.[9]

The camp-in demonstration at Chinese High School and Chung Cheng High School sparked islandwide riots and a curfew was imposed.[10] The disturbances spread to Jurong where members of the SFA burned down an English school and attacked a police station.[11] In the early hours of 27 October, the police raided the premises of several pro-communist unions, including the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers’ Union and the Singapore Bus Workers’ Union. Altogether, 219 persons were arrested, including Lim and fellow pro-communist leader Fong Swee Suan. Subsequently, another 37 people were also arrested.[12] Between 25 October and 31 October, a total of 290 people were arrested for rioting, 962 for breaking the curfew, 912 detained under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance, and 55 for other offences.[13] A total of 31 vehicles were burnt and another 101 damaged. Another three buildings were set alight and two others damaged.[14] By 2 November, lessons had resumed in all the schools, except Chung Cheng High School and Chinese High School.[15] Both schools were reopened on 13 November.[16]

1. Same team – game goes on. (1956, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.The clean-up: Act two. (1956, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. 5,000 school rebels. (1956, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. 142 pupils to be expelled: Bar is permanent at all schools. (1956, October 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Students over-run two big schools. (1956, October 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore 1954–1966. (p. 128). Singapore: South Seas Society. Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE.
7. It’s ‘D (for dispersal) Day’. (1956, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Bloodworth, D. (2005). The tiger and the Trojan horse (p. 145). Singapore: Times Editions-Marshall Cavendish. Call no.: RSING 320.95957 BLO.
9. Lee, 1996, pp. 128–129
10. Island-wide curfew as mobs attack police. (1956, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lee, 1996, p. 131.
12. Lee, 1996, p. 131.
13. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official report. (1956, November 19). Singapore riots (arrests) (Vol. 2, col. 632). Singapore: [s.n.]. Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN.
14. Clutterbuck, R. L. (1973). Riot and revolution in Singapore and Malaya, 1945–1963 (p. 133). London: Faber. Call no.: RSING 959.57024 CLU.
15. No curfew today, school as usual. (1956, November 2).  Singapore Standard, p. 1. [Microfilm: NL 9028].
16. 华中中正昨以正式复课 前被政府截取教师部分尚未原璧归校 [Huazhong zhongzheng zuo yi zheng-shi fuke qian bei zhengfu jiequ jiaoshi bufen shang wei yuanbi guixiao]. (1956, November 14). 狮报 [Shi Bao], p. 1. [Microfilm: A00890644I].


The information in this article is valid as at June 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.

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