Friday, June 19, 2009

The Sook Ching Massacre

“Sook Ching” is actually Chinese for “a purge through cleansing”. And that’s exactly what it was—a purge. Sook Ching took place from February 18 to March 4 1942, and was carried out at many places, one of them being the Punggol beach.
Soon after occupying Singapore, the Japanese realized that the ethnic Chinese were very loyal to either the United Kingdom or China, and wealthy Chinese in Singapore were even financing China to help their home country to resist the Japanese after they had invaded China in July 1937. The military authorities, led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, decided they had to get rid of the anti-Japanese elements.
Sook Ching was the systematic killing of Chinese in Singapore whom the Japanese believed to be “hostile” or “undesirables”. Such people included people who had been actively contributing to the China Relief Fund, which was used to help China’s war effort against the Japanese, and the Hainanese, whom the Japanese believed to be Communist. The Japanese also targeted men with tattoos, whom the Japanese believed to be members of secret societies, and people who had fought against the Japanese alongside the British. People who were likely to be pro-British and those who possessed guns were also singled out. Basically, all whom the Japanese believed to be a threat to them were taken to be exterminated.
The Kempeitai, the Japanese military police, played a key role in the massacre. Singapore was separated into different sections, each controlled by a Kempeitai officer. “Screening centres” were established all over the island, to gather and “examine” the Chinese men aged 18 to 50. Sometimes, women and children were sent to be screened. The people who passed the “screening” would be given a slip of paper with the word “Examined” stamped on it, or they would have a square mark of ink stamped on their arms or their shirts. But as for those who did not pass the screening, they would be given a triangular stamp. Then, they would be sent by truck to remote places like Changi and Punggol, where they would be executed—they were thrown off boats to drown, stabbed with bayonets, or simply shot to death. The executions at this particular site—Punggol Beach—took place on the 28th of February, 1942, and 300 to 400 Chinese were killed. The screenings were unfair and non-selective, and thus many innocent people’s lives were wasted for no reason at all.
But there were still survivors of this atrocity. One such man is none other than the founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. At the time, he was just a young man, still in his early twenties. He was singled out and asked to join a group of people that had been “selected” to be taken to one of the killing sites, though he was obviously not told this. He instinctively felt he was in trouble, and thus asked to go back to the collection centre to retrieve his “other important things”. He was allowed to go. Those who were collected never came back. Mr Lee said that it was his “good luck to be allowed to go back to collect his things.” Another man, Chua Choon Guan, had been held at the Jalan Besar Football stadium concentration centre. They selected him to be executed because of his physique. "They had a liking for those who were well built and they took us all out," Choon Guan said later. At Tanah Merah Besar, he was pushed up to the water’s edge, where the Japanese opened fire. As he had been knocked unconscious during the shooting, he collapsed with machinegun wounds to the side and legs. His fellow prisoners, who had not been so fortunate as to survive, fell on his body and concealed him from the Japanese soldiers who were finishing off any survivors with bayonets. When he finally awoke, it was dark. He crawled out from under the corpses, cut his bonds on a sharp rock, and escaped safely.
But these were just the fortunate minority. Many more innocents were still killed. The Japanese state that the total death toll was less than 500, but the Chinese community of Singapore claims that about 100,000 people were brutally slaughtered. The accurate number is more likely to be around 25000 to 50000.
Now, Punggol Beach is being preserved as a National Heritage site. We must never forget our forefathers, who died at the hands of Japanese in this terrible massacre. Those who survived, emerged stronger and more resilient. More importantly, we can learn a valuable lesson from this—we must never depend on another country to defend us.