From Singapore Hotels & Singapore Lifestyle
According to Malay legend, a Sumatran prince encountered a lion - considered a good omen - on Temasek, prompting him to found Singapura, or Lion City. It mattered little that lions had never inhabited Singapore (more likely the prince had seen a tiger); what did matter was the establishment of the region as a minor trading post for the powerful Sumatran Srivijaya empire and as a subsequent vassal state of the Javanese Majapahit empire in the mid-13th century.
Before 1819, Singapore was a small fishing village, relatively unknown all over the world. Singapore might have remained a quiet backwater if not for Sir Stamford Raffles' intervention in 1819, founding a British port on the island. The British had first established a presence in the Straits of Melaka (now called Malacca) in the 18th century when the East India Company set out to secure and protect its line of trade from China to the colonies in India. Fearing another resurgence of expansionism in the Dutch - which had been the dominant European trading power in the region for nearly 200 years - Raffles argued for an increased British presence, which he was promptly given. Under his tutelage, Singapore's forlorn reputation as a fetid, disease-ridden colony was soon forgotten. Singapore began gaining recognition as a center for both the India-China trade and the entrepot trade of the Southeast Asian region and it eventually becoming one of the most important port cities in the world, being called the Crown Colony by its British colony masters. Migrants attracted by a tariff-free port poured in by the thousands, and a flourishing colony with a military and naval base was established. As with these circumstances, Singapore's trade economy grew enormously.
Singapore's inexorable growth continued into the 20th century. During World War II, although the British tried to protect their Crown Colony from falling into the Japanese hands, their efforts were in vain. The outbreak of WWII brutally exposed the fallacy of British might: they suffered the ignominy of defeat when Japan invaded the colony in 1941. With most of their defenses shattered and supplies almost exhausted, Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival and the British forces finally surrendered to General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army on Chinese New Year, 15 February 1942. About 130,000 Indian, Australian and British troops became prisoners of war, many of whom would later be transported to Japan, Korea, or Manchuria for use as slave labor via prisoner transports known as "Hell Ships." The fall of Singapore was the largest surrender of British military personnel in history.
Singapore was conquered and occupied by the Japanese Empire from 1942 to 1945, the period being known today as The Japanese Occupation. It became regarded as one of the darkest times in the history of Singapore and brought about many losses of innocent lives. The Japanese had claimed that they were liberating Southeast Asia from colonialism, but in reality they were far harsher rulers than the British ever were. They had a grudge against the Chinese, mainly because they thought that the Chinese here in Singapore were supporting China, who was waging a war against Japan, by sending funds back to their homeland. The Japanese tortured and killed many Chinese during the war. The British were welcomed back after Japan's surrender in 1945, but their right to rule was no longer assured.
After the war, Singapore reverted to British control. By the 1950s, burgeoning nationalism had led to the formation of a number of political parties as Singapore moved slowly towards self-government. The People's Action Party, with the Cambridge-educated Lee Kuan Yew as leader, was elected in 1959. Lee became prime minister, a position he was to hold for the next 31 years.
With increasing levels of self-government being granted, culminating in its merger with the Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. It was an occasion to both the Singaporeans and Malayans an occasion to celebrate, as they had both achieved their individual goals through this merger, or so it seemed. Malaya's main reason for the merger was because it was afraid that Singapore would fall into the power of the communists and then it would have a communist base right at their doorstep. Since Malaya was anti-communist, it could not tolerate such a threat. Singapore, on the other hand, wanted to set up a Common Market with Malaya so it could gain numerous economic benefits. But by 1965, the nascent federation was in tatters. Singapore became independent soon after and was once again the economic success story of the region. The marriage of convenience was part of the cause for separation on August 9, 1965. There were many hardships suffered as the government struggled to bring Singapore to prosperity when it was separated from the Federation of Malaysia and it was left to govern itself, with hardly any natural resources and a relatively small population of mainly four races.
Though many people doubted Singapore's ability to become a successful independent nation, it steadily grew stronger economically and social cohesion was easily observed. Where there used to be racial riots and fights, now one can see different races living together in harmony. It has become one of the world's most prosperous nations, with a highly-developed free market economy, strong international trading links, and per capita GDP comparable to that of the leading nations of Western Europe.
Singapore's main industries used to manufacture soap bars, noodles, toilet seats etc. - the basic necessities - in the 1960s. However, as the standard and quality of living rose through the years, the manufacturing industries moved towards luxury goods like sofas, televisions etc. And finally, upon entering the 21st century, Singapore began moving into the tertiary industry. The focus wasn't so much on manufacturing but on providing quality services. Multi-national corporations (MNCs) from all over the world, like Nike and Toshiba, were brought in to Singapore while home-grown brands like Creative established themselves as big names internationally.
Lee Kuan Yew resigned as prime minister in 1990 and was replaced by Goh Chok Tong, a leader more inclined towards consultation and liberalism. The country's first presidential election was held in August 1993 - prior to that, presidents were elected by members of parliament. The most recent election was in September 1999 when the presidency, a largely ceremonial role, was won by SR Nathan.
Economically, the southeast Asian region's late-1990s downturn (a euphemism if ever there was one) hit Singapore as hard as anywhere else - in one three-month period in late 1998, unemployment in the country doubled. The city-state is slowly bouncing back, however, and on the street things are lively as ever, though the exodus of well-trained professionals seeking glittering international opportunities is a growing concern.
Stepping onto Orchard Road today, one can see for yourself that Singapore has turned into a shopping haven for people of all ages. Whether is it that you want a brand new soft toy or a funky handbag or even an antique, one street covers it all that you need. Travelers will be in for a treat if they visit Singapore.