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History of Singapore

The history of Singapore, an island nation is somewhat short as much of the island is marshy so has only be sparsely populated until recent history. Its founding is often attributed to the 1200s when a prince of the Malay Srivijaya supposedly saw a lion on the island, named it Singapura (meaning Lion City) and settled it; since lions probably never roamed the island its founding and origin are unknown. From the 1200s myth to the following centuries, there were numerous reports and myths surrounding today's island nation.

From the late 1300s the history of Singapore nearly matches that of the Malay Peninsula. The Sultanate of Malacca was founded nearby in 1402 and Singapore fell under their rule. This sultanate was also responsible for the spread of Islam throughout the region, something which only stuck on the island among the ethnic Malays, although almost no one lived on the island at the time.

With the arrival of the Portuguese and the defeat of the Sultanate of Malacca in 1511, led to the fleeing of Malacca military officers to the island, but in 1587 the Portuguese destroyed this settlement and the island's population again returned to nearly nothing.

In 1641 the Dutch took the Malacca straight from the Portuguese with the help of the Johor Sultanate; however the island remained fairly unpopulated.

From this point until the end of the 1800s the Malay Peninsula was ruthlessly exploited as the land had tin and gold. This only affected the nearly empty island of Singapore in that it led to British dominance on the Malay Peninsula. In 1819 the British gained Singapore and soon began trading lands with the Dutch to gain control of Malacca and other lands in the region.

Once the British arrived in 1819 they began a small settlement at the mouth of the Singapore River and began building the island as a potential port; at this time there were fewer than 1,000 people living on the island. Early Singapore was somewhat of a lawless land as they temporary governor made it a free trade port in order to attract people and passing ships. Due to the free trade, which welcomed various traders, the government had no income so resorted to selling gambling licenses and opium to raise money. Prostitution also became a significant business and none of this was truly supervised.

The city continued to grow in the 1800s, expanding exponentially after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. By this time the settlement had already grown rapidly, with a population of over 100,000. These early settlers were primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians who came due to the growing rubber and tin industries in the Malay Peninsula. With the opening of the Suez Canal trade expanded and the city continued to grow.

Through the late 1800s and into the early 1900s Singapore continued to grow under British rule; the British eventually added more people to the government and police force in the city, leading to a more monitored city and less lawlessness.

As tensions with Japan arose in the 1930s the British set up a naval base in Singapore, one of the world's largest naval bases. However, when World War II broke out, the British were pre-occupied in Europe and in 1942 the Japanese easily overran the Malay Peninsula, leading to the surrender of Singapore. Under Japanese rule the people were treated harshly, especially the ethnic Chinese, who made up the island's majority and who the Japanese disliked in general.

After the war, the British surrender hurt their image in the eyes of the locals and soon people started thinking about independence. By the late 1950s the island was given domestic self-rule and in 1963 Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia along with what is today Malaysia and Brunei.

The union with Malaysia was short lived though as the Chinese in Singapore disagreed with numerous policies of the Malaysian government, most significantly giving special rights and privileges to ethnic Malays. This led to protests and Indonesian intervention, who fought the new Malaysia as he sought lands in northern Borneo.

As the violence escalated on all sides, Malaysia expelled Singapore from the federation in 1965 without letting the British know until after the vote. That same day the Parliament in Singapore passed an act to become an independent republic.

Singapore was immediately faced with a growing communist movement, unemployment, and numerous other issues. This was countered by making the country an oil refinery center and by making English the de facto language to improve international trade and economic opportunities.

In the 1980s and 1990s Singapore has gotten more involved in the high tech industries and trading; they also began pushing tourism as housing and infrastructure was heavily developed.

In the 2000s the country has had a couple setbacks. There were some terrorist threats by Islamic extremists and the financial crisis in Asia slowed the economy. There was also an outbreak of SARS, which led to panic. The economy is again on the right path though as legalized gambling has led to a large income source.

This page was last updated: March, 2013