Kreta Ayer incident (1927)

On 12 March 1927, a clash in the Kreta Ayer neighbourhood between police and Kuomintang (KMT) supporters revealed the strength of leftist influence on the local Chinese population. A memorial service to mark Sun Yat Sen’s death was followed by a procession of Chinese, many of whom were young Hainanese KMT members.1 They made their way to the Kreta Ayer Police Station and a confrontation with the police ensued. The police fired into the crowd, killing six people.2 In the days that followed, incendiary reports by the Chinese led to further riots and agitation until late May 1927.3

In the 1920s, the rise of Chinese nationalism and the development of overseas KMT branches impacted the ideological thinking of local Chinese, particularly the working-class Hainanese. In early March 1927, moderate KMT supporters – comprising Cantonese leaders from the Thong Yan Club and representatives from the Hokkien community – made requests to the secretary of Chinese Affairs to hold a memorial service on the occasion of Sun’s second death anniversary. Noting the potentially volatile nature of such an event, permission was granted on condition that there would be no processions or speeches. The police was also put on alert, although only five constables were dispatched to the site in order to avoid provocation.4

The memorial service began in the afternoon of 12 March 1927 at Happy Valley Amusement Park in Tanjong Pagar. About 20,000 Chinese, mainly from the Hainanese and Cantonese communities, with a few Teochews and Hokkiens, filed past a portrait of Sun placed in the memorial hall.5

However, a group of about 2,000 Hainanese arrived and began to make speeches. The crowd soon became unruly. A policeman attempted to handcuff one of them but was instead assaulted. An approximately 1,000-strong procession then began from Happy Valley, marching down Anson Road and Maxwell Road towards South Bridge Road. The participants carried the KMT flag and distributed anti-imperialist pamphlets.6 Although it had started out “quite orderly”, the procession turned violent when a trolley bus drove into the crowd. Steered by Oliver Thompson, traffic superintendent of the Singapore Traction Company, the bus headed towards the Kreta Ayer Police Station with the crowd following and attacking the vehicle. A violent confrontation erupted outside the police station, which led to the police firing shots. The clash resulted in six fatalities and injured 14 others.7

Pamphlets and rumours believed to be started by KMT supporters circulated thereafter, leading to a boycott of the British-owned Singapore Traction Company. The boycott resulted in empty trolley buses for a couple of months until it petered out around May that same year. Riots also occurred in the People’s Park and the military had to be called in.8

Consequently, the incident led the colonial authorities to harden their stance against the KMT movement in Malaya.9 Night schools were raided and at least five of these schools declared unlawful.10


Bonny Tan

1. Ku Hung-Ting, Kuomintang’s Mass Movement and the Kreta Ayer Incident (1927) in Malaya (Singapore: Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Graduate Studies, Nanyang University, 1976), 14. (Call no. RCLOS 322.4209595 KU)
2. K. Mulliner and Lian The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore (NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991), 82. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 MUL)
3. Ku, Kreta Ayer Incident (1927), 15.
4. Ching Fatt Yong and R. B. McKenna, The Kuomintang Movement in British Malaya, 1912–1949 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990), 88. (Call no. RSING 322.4095951 YON)
5. Ku, Kreta Ayer Incident (1927), 14.
6. Yong and McKenna, Kuomintang Movement in British Malaya, 88.
7. “The Kreta Ayer Affair,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 19 March 1927, 11 (From NewspaperSG); Ku, Kreta Ayer Incident (1927), 14.
8. Ku, Kreta Ayer Incident (1927), 16.
9. Yong and McKenna, Kuomintang Movement in British Malaya, 88.
10. Ku, Kreta Ayer Incident (1927), 17.

Further resource
Tanjong Pagar Citizens’ Consultative Committee, Tanjong Pagar: Singapore’s Cradle of Development (Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Citizens’ Consultative Committee, 1989), 99–103. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TAN-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.


Kreta Ayer Incident, Singapore, 1927
Civil unrests
National security