Call for Short Historical Fiction

A Malayan Vision

Call for New Short Historical Fiction featuring Lim Chin Siong

In Singapore and beyond, there has been a quickening of interest in the anticolonial and socialist struggle of the 50s and 60s after the publications of archival research by historian PJ Thum and of the Eisner-winning graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew, among other works. The undisputed leader of this historical struggle was the student activist, trade unionist, and politician Lim Chin Siong (LCS), who organised the largest social movement in Singapore to fight for democracy, freedom, and justice. Although this movement ultimately failed, it opens a window into an alternative future for Singapore, Malaysia, and the rest of Asia—a window that creative writers with their imaginative powers can help us look at and through.

Together SUSPECT and New Naratif call for new short historical fiction featuring Lim Chin Siong as a minor but vital character (1,500-5,000 words).

The social struggle was not about LCS alone but was instead the joint effort of those named and unnamed in history. However, LCS provides a concrete point of interest. Making him a minor character in the story expands the space for unusual plots, original viewpoints, and surprising settings. For example, we’d love to read stories with his wife Wong Chui Wan, also an activist, as the protagonist; or stories from the perspectives of his anti-colonialist and socialist colleagues such as James Puthucheary and of cultural workers such as Linda Chen Mong Hock; or stories narrated by as-yet-unnamed workers involved in the struggle. Ultimately, we are not interested in one-dimensional depictions of LCS—whether hagiographic or otherwise—but in the emotional and political truth that a good short story should and could embody.

Informational resources about LCS and his historical period, and counterfactuals (“What if…”) for creative inspiration are provided below. A good work of historical fiction does not have to adhere to what actually happened but may explore what could have happened if circumstances were different. Writers are welcomed to explore far beyond what we have provided.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, 1 December, 2023. Stories will undergo an editing process that includes developmental and stylistic editing as well as a review of historical accuracy and fact checking. Accepted stories will be paid USD100.00 and published online in both SUSPECT and New Naratif from May 1, 2024 onwards. The publications will be accompanied by author interviews, podcast recordings, reading events, and group discussions. If we receive a sufficient number of excellent submissions, Gaudy Boy will publish them as a print anthology.

Guidelines for submission
  1. This call for submissions is open to everyone. You do not have to be a Singaporean or Malaysian.
  2. Submissions must be written originally in English and previously unpublished. Blogs, social media, and other online platforms constitute publication.
  3. Each submission is to be between 1,500 and 5,000 words. It must include a title and the correct pagination.
  4. Email Jee Leong Koh at jkoh@singaporeunbound.org cc pitches@newnaratif.com with a brief cover letter in the body of your email and the story attached in PDF or MSWord format.
  5. Your name, mailing address, and email address should not appear anywhere in your story. Instead, they should be given in your cover letter in the body of your email.
  6. You may submit more than one story.
  7. No simultaneous submission to other journals, please.
Information about Lim Chin Siong and his historical period
  1. Thum, Ping Tjin, ‘The Malayan vision of Lim Chin Siong: unity, non-violence, and popular sovereignty’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 18/3 (2017), 391-413.
  2. Comet in Our Sky, 2nd ed., by Dr Poh Soo Kai (Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia: Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2015).
  3. Lim’s interview in Melanie Chew’s Leaders of Singapore (Singapore : Resource Press, 1996).
  4. Lim’s interview notes from his brother’s book (Lim Chin Joo, My Youth in Black and White, Singapore: Library@The Garret, 2019).
Counterfactual examples

The following represent possible turning points in Lim Chin Siong’s political life. This is not an exclusive list and authors should feel free to suggest others.

I.

In 1951, LCS was 18 and in Junior Middle III at Chinese High School. He was elected Secretary of the Class Committee alongside future colleagues and trade unionists Chen Say Jame (President) and Fong Swee Suan (committee member). They organised political discussions, social events, flood and fire relief efforts, and sought to get students involved in poverty alleviation and social justice activism. They condemned colonialism, advocated for fair and equal treatment for Chinese education, and demanded social justice and freedom from colonial rule.

Junior Middle III students were required to sit for two year-end examinations, one internal and one external, to advance to Senior Middle School. The external examination had previously been for access to further education in China, but with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the subsequent new immigration policy, which closed the doors to re-entry from China, students could no longer go to China to study. The external examination was now pointless, but the colonial government still required them to sit for it.  The students’ committee protested this as yet another example of colonial discrimination. They campaigned for a boycott of the examinations, penned pamphlets, and made speeches calling for fair and equal treatment for Chinese students. In August, Special Branch detained LCS without trial for nearly a week. No communist links were found and he was eventually released.

In October, at the examination, 80 out of the 108 students simply scribbled their names on top and turned in blank sheets, thus meeting the perfunctory minimum for the examination. Despite this, they were all promptly expelled and some arrested.

LCS and his colleagues were detained again for questioning. Unable to elicit a confession of communism, Special Branch resorted to torture and beatings. At one stroke, LCS and his colleagues had lost their hopes for future education and advancement in society. He went on to work as clerk and paid secretary for a bus company, starting him on his path to becoming Singapore’s most formidable trade unionist. Ironically, the examination requirement was abolished the following May.

What if Lim had not participated in the examination boycott, had completed the examination paper, and then graduated from Chinese High School?

II.

In 1954, Lee Kuan Yew was looking for a connection to the vibrant anti-colonial trade unions. He asked some of the students he had represented for help, and through multiple people he was connected with Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan. They met with Lee and eventually agreed to help him start his new party, the People’s Action Party. LCS still had reservations about Lee and his party, and for various reasons decided not to be a convenor of the Party but just an ordinary party member. Still, LCS was clearly incredibly talented and was subsequently fielded in the 1955 General Elections, where he garnered the highest vote share of any candidate.

What if Lim and Fong had decided not to join Lee Kuan Yew in forming the PAP?

III.

In 1962, Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman were pressuring the British government to agree to the mass arrest of their opponents. British High Commissioner Lord Selkirk, on the other hand, believed arrests would be counter-productive and discredit the formation of Malaysia. In December 1962, the Brunei Rebellion broke out. By this time, Lim knew that his arrest and detention was highly likely. Despite this, he refused to remain silent over the Rebellion. Recognising it as a genuine anticolonial revolution, the Barisan Sosialis released a statement that the rebellion was “a popular uprising against British colonialism and must command the support of all genuine anticolonialists.” The Federation leaders and Lee seized upon this. The Barisan’s endorsement of the rebellion had provided, Lee declared, “a heaven-sent opportunity of justifying action against them”. British Commissioner Selkirk had been resisting political detentions, but now wrote to London that it was now impossible to deny the Federation the arrests they so badly craved without jeopardising merger. Squabbling over the timing of the arrests and who to arrest badly delayed the arrests, but finally in February 1963, Operation Coldstore detained without trial over 111 leading anti-colonial activists and politicians.

What if Lim had decided the Barisan Sosialis should stay silent about the Brunei Rebellion?

IV.

After his detention, Lee Kuan Yew offered Lim the opportunity of exile. Lim declined. Instead, he was tortured in prison and his health went into precipitous decline, from which he never recovered. Eventually he agreed to exile in the UK in 1969, where he worked as a vegetable seller. When he finally returned to Singapore in the early 1980s, he was broken and unrecognisable to many of his former colleagues.

What if Lim had agreed to exile, and then returned to Singapore with his full strength at a later date, e.g. in the 1980s when public anger against the PAP led to the election of the first two new opposition Members of Parliament since 1968?

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