A mass rally attended by more than 120,000 people was held at City Hall on 25 August 1963. Dubbed as the “blood debt” rally, it was organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) and supported by the Singapore government. The purpose of the rally was to press the Japanese government for a compensation or “blood debt” amount of no less than M$50 million to atone for the wartime atrocities committed by its army during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–1945). The call for compensation came in March 1962 after a number of mass war graves containing the bones of massacred civilians were discovered in various parts of the island, including Siglap and its surrounding area. These massacres were linked to Operation Sook Ching (a Chinese term which means “purging through cleansing”), which was an exercise carried out by the Japanese army to eliminate anti-Japanese elements among the Chinese community in Singapore.
Among the speakers at the mass rally, which had begun in the evening, were then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, then SCCC Chairman Ko Teck Kin as well as community leaders representing the Malay, Indian and Eurasian
communities. In his speech, Lee explained to the crowd that the government chose to back the “blood debt” demand even though it might have a negative effect on attracting investments from Japan. He also shared that he was nearly made a victim of Sook Ching. At the end of the rally, three resolutions were adopted. First, there would be a unified effort by the people of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore to press for compensation from the Japanese government for the atrocities committed against the civilian population. Second, a non-cooperation campaign against the Japanese would be carried out if Japan failed to respond. Third, the Singapore government would stop issuing new entry permits to Japanese nationals until a settlement was reached.
The Japanese government did not react favourably to the “blood debt” rally. Instead, the Japanese Foreign Office issued a statement stating that it would not address the issue as long as Singapore adopted a threatening attitude on its claim for compensation. It also stated that the Japanese government would only negotiate with then Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman after the formation of Malaysia in September 1963. In response, the SCCC started a campaign to boycott Japanese goods on 16 September 1963 as well as block the export of goods to Japan. The campaign was suspended after the Tunku agreed take up the issue with the Japanese government on 28 September 1963. However, a proper settlement was not reached until October 1966, by which time Singapore was already an independent nation. The negotiations between the Singapore and Japanese governments resulted in compensation in the form of a M$25-million grant and another M$25 million in loans on special terms.
1. Chandran. R., et al. (1963, August 26). Lee foils bid to spark off trouble at rally. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chandran. R., et al. (1963, August 26). The 'blood debt' rally. The Straits Times, p. 5; Lim, B. T. (1963, August 10). Atonement will cost $50 mil: Chamber. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. War massacre of civilians: Compensation demand. (1962, March 1). The Straits Times, p. 18; Mass war graves found in Siglap’s ‘valley of death’. (1962, February 24). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (pp. 57–59). Singapore: Times Editions: Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE.
5. The Straits Times, 26 Aug 1963, p. 1; Community leaders all back the demand for proper atonement. (1963, August 26). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Josey, A. (2012). Lee Kuan Yew: The crucial years (pp. 179–181). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 JOS.
7. Govt backing for giant 'blood debt' rally on Padang. (1963, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Japan's reply to 'blood debt' rally. (1963, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Boycott of Japan starts today. (1963, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tengku to take up 'blood debt'. (1963, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. $25m grant, $25m loans settle Singapore’s blood debt. (1966, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 20. 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.