The island city state of Singapore boasts of its first world economy, fine universities, think tanks, and the genius of its peoples–its only resource. Yet, during almost a half century of independence, its universities have produced little in the way noteworthy of its past, other than endless boasting of the PAP.
Unearthing Singapore’s forgotten history is seemingly left to amateur history buffs. ‘Light on the Lotus Hill’ is one notable example. Originally published as a book by Chan Cha Wah, holder of a master’s in anthropology from the London School of Economics, in 2009, it follows the life of the Venerable Pu Liang, the eight about of the Shang Lin monastery, who gave aid to and support of Nanyang Volunteers who left Singapore to work on the Burma Road, the only link to the outside world to supply the land locked Chinese resistance to the Japanese armies.
The good abbot was a living example of the virtues of his religious calling and worked closely with the China Relief Fund during the Sino Japanese war that began in 1937. He opened the monastery to fleeing Singaporeans from the Japanese bombing of Singapore in year end 1941, as well as using its large grounds then on Ballestier Road as a school for drivers and mechanics of trucks that they would use in maintaining and services and transporting supplies in American made trucks on the Burma Road.
From 1937 to the entry of Japanese troops in Singapore in 1942, Chinese in Nanyang [Singapore] raised funds, educated the public to advancing imperial Japan’s designs on China and beyond, recruited volunteers notably for the Burma Road, through the China Relief Fund.
The Venerable Pu Liang played his part. During the infamous ‘Sook Ching’, the Japanese occupiers arrested him and two monks; they were executed in Changi beach.
It is to Chan’s credited that he not only documented the eight abbot of the Shang Lin monastery’s life but also his support of aiding and comforting the victims of Japanese aggression, raising money–donation of the faithfuls’ contributions at Vesak day–and opening the monastery grounds as a school and training ground of Nanyang Volunteers for the Burma Road, he has written, produced, and directed a riveting documentary on the life of Pu Liang–the light on the lotus hill.
Chan’s documentary is currently entered in the Imperial War Museums competition.
Were it not for the intellectual curiosity of Singaporeans like Chan Cha Wah, the hidden history of Singapore would remain for too many years more under the morass of time.
‘Light on the Lotus Hill’ reclaims its rightful spot in Singapore’s history. It is only hoped that others follow Chan’s inclinations. It is a sad commentary that the Merlion island’s history is left fallow.