Singapore, 1915, and the Birth of the Asian Underground
Sites of Asian Interaction
This paper examines the 1915 Singapore Mutiny within the context of bordercrossing patriotic and anarchist movements in the early twentieth century world. It traces some of the continuities and discontinuities with later revolutionary movements in Asia, especially in terms of networks and the sites of their interactions. Through this, it reflects on the meaning of the 'transnational' at this moment in Asian history. * An early version of this paper was written for a workshop on 'Asia Inside
... on 'Asia Inside Out: Period' at the University of Hong Kong, December 2010. I am very grateful to the organizers, Helen Siu and Eric Tagliacozzo, for inviting me. I owe a particular debt to Sunil Amrith and all our co-participants at the 'Sites of Asian Interaction' project were matched by 190 Japanese civilians raised by the Imperial consul. 7 The decision to place Russian sailors under British command, and in British khaki, was a humiliating twist in the old 'Great Game' in Asia. 8 When a series of victory parades was held, Japanese pressmen noted gleefully that, for the first time, the 'Rising Sun' flew over Singapore. 9 The episode was heavy with meaning for all observers. The New York Times portrayed the uprising as the greatest threat to British power in Asia since 1857. The Times of London recalled the hysteria during the earlier Indian Mutiny over rumours of violation of European women. Yet only one British woman was killed, seemingly by accident, when throwing herself in front of her husband. 10 The violence was curiously discriminating. 'You Ingleesh?' mutineers demanded of one European volunteer. 'No, Irish' came the reply, and the man was spared. 11 British retribution, however, was swift and brutal, even though the identification of the perpetrators of specific murders-often by 'ladies not accustomed to dealing with Indians'-proved nigh-on impossible. After a Summary General Court Martial, 202 men were convicted: 43 were executed and 63 transported for life. 12 At one of the executions, 110 men were included in the firing party: they were local volunteers and British regulars, five men for each condemned sepoy. In a break with local practice, the executions were held in public, against the walls of Outram Road Prison and, on one occasion, a crowd of around 15,000 spectators assembled. Many in the firing parties were unaccustomed to short range musketry, with grisly results-scattered, ineffective fire-as the condemned men were despatched to the accompaniment of the wails of their comrades inside the gaol. 13 A rather effective news blackout was imposed on the affair, particularly in India.