Have you heard of “The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” by Sonny Liew? If you haven’t, don’t fret. Many people would not have because the National Arts Council has pulled the plug on its support for the book. Not that it is not out there, mind you. They have not banned the book, just pulled the plug on funding, making it a little more difficult for the publishers who now have to find other sources of funding to get the book to the local market.
“The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” is a graphic novel that depicts historical events in Singapore through the eyes of a fictional character, Charlie Chan. Charlie comments about these events in a whimsical manner. For example, in a piece entitled Operation Spectrum, he comments about the 1987 detention of 16 people in an alleged Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the government as a plot to replace all the music in Singapore with that of Richard Marx’s. Funny, yet thought-provoking, the book challenges readers to remember Singapore’s past with a critical mind – agree or disagree, that is fine; just don’t dismiss it unthinkingly. With SG50 just around the corner, it would make a good compendium.
But alas, the National Arts Council, after having reviewed the manuscript, granted support for the work, and then withdrawn it after it has been published and put on the shelf, citing sensitive content, does seem a trite conservative. Perhaps they caved in on some person’s criticism, much like how the National Library Board did with other books, destroying them. One does not know the real reason for NAC’s pulling the plug, but one thing is certain – by flip-flopping its support for local work, the NAC has shown to be equivocal in its decisions, and fearful of alternative views.
History cannot be told by one person, through one set of eyes. If Singapore is to be a truly global city, it has to accept that there are many ways to interpret how things had come to be, and if we can allow a healthy discourse with dissenting viewpoints, we will come to be a thinking nation. After all, isn’t that what SkillsFuture is supposed to be, to develop our people into a thinking, learning nation? If the government only supports works that show them in a good light, there will never be open discussion. And this will force differing views to go underground, where emotions foment, and anti-establishment feelings take root. It also shows that it is still very paternalistic and somewhat condescending. Not traits that I would like to take to the next General Election.