Singapore in WWII and the sook ching

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Generally, after the end of the first World War, the British began developing the “Singapore Strategy” which saw Singapore developed as a major defensive mode between the Pacific and Indian Oceans (Abshire 2011, 84). Japanese aggressively gave further justification to the strategy, which was supported by air bases and plans on how to move forces to Singapore in case of a Japanese attack, but these efforts proved not to be well executed or optimistic, and in the end would not be enough. When the Japanese invasion came, from the northern part of Malaysia as expected, British forces were inadequate and subsequently were forced to continually fall back. Key cities fell in quick succession: Penang on December 17, Taiping on December 22, Kuala Lumpur on January 11, and Japanese troops here in Johor by January 15 which fell on the 27th of that month (Abshire 2011, 92, 94). Japanese bombing raids inflicted causalities as the British attempted to hold out. On February 8, 1942, Japanese troops began crossing the Straits, commencing their invasion while British leadership, including that of Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival, suffered from inconsistencies and was largely ineffective in coordinating defense. On February 15, the British waved the white flag and surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. Occupation officially began the following day.

Under occupation, the Japanese furthered a system of ethnic differentiation, with Europeans being considered prisoners of war and Indian and Malay soldiers being given the option to join the Japanese “pan-Asian” efforts. Those incarcerated had a range of experiences, from very comfortable to forced labor. The relationship with the ethnic Chinese was more problematic. Because the Japanese sought to make Singapore a permanent colony, the goodwill of its large Chinese population was essential, but there was also a great distrust of the Chinese, perhaps because of Japan’s earlier and ongoing conflict in China itself (Abshire 2011, 102). This led to a program termed, “sook ching or “purging for purification”” (Ibid.). Japanese attempted to identify potential subversives uses interrogations of the entire fighting-age male population, but also information from informers or details such as one’s profession, suspected ties to secret societies, or the area of origin in China (Ibid.). Those under suspicion were executed in-mass,with estimates ranging as high as 50,000 individuals being killed (Abshire 2011, 103). The sook ching was just the most extreme example of many policies aimed at pacifying the Asian populations of Singapore .


Abshire, Jean E. 2011. The History of Singapore. The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood.

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