Rag and Flag Day
by Loh, Pei Ying
Rag and Flag Day is an annual fundraising charity event organised by the National University of Singapore Students’ Union (NUSSU) and held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus. The event involves students from the various faculties, hostels and societies who participate by building and parading thematic floats in a procession. “Rag” refers to the scrap materials used for decorating the floats, while “Flag” refers to the flags that are sold to raise funds for charity. Song fights between participants have become a long-standing tradition of Rag and Flag Day. The event is regarded as one of the main highlights in the university calendar and has also evolved into a competition between student clubs, societies, faculties and university halls.
Origins and early years (1957–1966)
Rag and Flag Day started out in 1957 as part of the then University of Singapore’s Welfare Week programme. It later evolved to become part of the university’s Welfare Month. The University of Singapore Students’ Union (USSU) was in charge of organising the annual procession. There were many other events held in conjunction with Welfare Month, including food and fun fairs, dances, fashion shows, plays as well as a welfare ball. Students would travel around Singapore in a procession of floats they had designed while selling flags to raise funds. The procession would pass through major city areas in Singapore, including Orchard Road, Stamford Road, Cantonment Road, Neil Road and Hospital Road.
In the event’s first few years, students would also sell copies of Yakkity Yak, a campus publication, to raise funds. The amounts raised through such activities ranged from S$12,000 to S$30,000. Beneficiaries of the charity drive were also limited to one or two organisations.
In 1965, the event became more politicised due to the publicity and wide outreach that it had garnered. As a result, the procession was banned that year to prevent students from building protest floats to make political statements.
Rag and Flag resumed in 1966, but several floats were still banned as they carried political messages. For example, the university’s Socialist Club built a float that carried a picture of a Vietnamese fighter with the caption “Stop the war in Vietnam”. Another float also promoted the reunification of Singapore and Malaysia. The police banned the floats from participating in the procession as they believed that they failed to accurately depict university life.
Development and growth (1967–1988)
In 1976, the Rag and Flag Day became incorporated into USSU’s Freshman Orientation programme. This practice continued after the university was officially inaugurated as the National University of Singapore and USSU became the National University of Singapore Students’ Union in 1980.
The number of event participants expanded over the years together with an increase in the amount raised for charity. In 1988, the target for the fundraising event went up to S$250,000. The procession also grew to cover more areas in Singapore, including Dunearn Road, Scotts Road, Bras Basah Road, North Bridge Road, High Street, Raffles Quay and Maxwell Road.
The tradition of inviting the president of Singapore as guest-of-honour for Rag and Flag Day also started during this period.
Major changes (1989–1991)
In 1989, the president of NUSSU, Anand Arumugam, announced that the Rag and Flag Day competition would be removed from the Freshman Orientation programme as it was causing hostels to spend up to S$6000 each. The organisers felt that this money could have been donated directly to charity instead. Moreover, the competition was fuelling animosity between the hostels as a dispute over competition results had broken out earlier that year. However, as a result of his unpopular decision and poor management of the issue, Arumugam was ousted from NUSSU following the resignation of 16 executive committee members.
In December 1990, NUSSU announced that the Rag and Flag Day competition would return in 1991, but with new rules and regulations. Floats would be judged not by their presentation, but by the amount that they raised for charity. Six hostels withdrew from the Rag and Flag competition in protest of these new changes.
Since the 1991 boycott by the hostels, the Rag and Flag Day competition has returned to normalcy. However, since the 1990s, the Rag and Flag procession no longer tours areas outside the university. Fundraising efforts have also grown during this period, with some S$500,000 raised each year for 10 to 20 beneficiaries.
The “rag” and “flag” components of the event have been increasingly separated. While students used to accompany their floats on the streets to canvas for donations, the float procession is now held separately from the flag-selling activity.
In 1999, new rules were introduced to make the Rag and Flag event more environmentally friendly. Participants were assessed on their ability to reuse materials and keep costs low while designing their floats.
The Rag and Flag Day floats were put on static display for the first time at Bras Basah Park in 2001. This was done to thank the public for their donations. The winning float from the 2006 Rag and Flag Day competition also joined the 2007 Chingay parade.
Rag and Flag Day was also incorporated into the National Day Celebrations that took place at the Padang in 2007 and the Promontory@Marina Bay in 2011.
Youth Olympic Games (2010)
In 2010, the welcoming of the Youth Olympic Flame for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) was held in conjunction with Rag and Flag Day at the NUS football field. The Olympic flame had travelled through Berlin, Dakar, Mexico City, Auckland and Seoul before arriving in Singapore. President S. R. Nathan was the event’s guest-of-honour.
Loh Pei Ying
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16 floats usher in varsity welfare month. (1962, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
A flag and rag day at Varsity. (1969, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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Cut the rag out of orientation. (1989, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Decorated floats to tour city Saturday. (1967, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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Float ban: Students to protest to Lee. (1966, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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Orientation plans for freshman drawn up. (1976, June 28). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Procession of 800 Varsity Students. (1960, June 24). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
NUS Rag and Flag Day floats to make comeback. (1990, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
NUS Rag and Flag floats to be displayed at Bras Basah Park. (2001, July 25). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
NUS Rag and Flag Day raises record high of $501,612. (2007, August 11). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
Siow, M.W.S. (Ed.). (1990). The Souvenir Magazine: 10th Rag and Flag Day. Singapore: National University of Singapore Students’ Union.
(Call no.: RSING English 378.59757 SOU year 1980-1990)
Some campus activities to go. (1989, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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Tessensohn, J.A. (1999, July 5). How floats have evolved. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Their Target: $30,000. (1961, July 13). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Tommy Koh. (1966, June 8). Banning the Rag Day floats. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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What a ball. (2007, February 26). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
What’s up this weekend…and the week ahead. (2007, August 10). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
What’s up this week. (2011, August 5). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Yaw, Y.C. (1989, December 23). NUS students’ union chief ousted. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 6 June 2013 and correct as far as we can 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.