10 Past Singaporean National Campaigns Even OG Locals Have Forgotten About

Past Singaporean national campaigns

Well before and since Singapore gained its independence in 1965, hundreds of campaigns have traversed along our shores. And I’m not just talking about electoral ones. There have been plenty of iconic national movements that don’t involve soliciting your votes – some good, some odd and some that simply won’t fly in today’s social context.

Whether you remember them or not, the Singapore we know certainly would not be what it is today without some of these national campaigns:

1. Eat Frozen Pork

Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Launched: 1985

Long before veganism took the world by storm with its frozen plant-based meats, our government actually actively encouraged citizens to eat frozen pork. As Singapore was aiming to completely transition away from pig farming by 1989, the Eat Frozen Pork campaign was thus carried out to dispel any misconceptions surrounding imported frozen pork consumption.

Good thing that the campaign only lasted for five weeks because I’m not sure that a picture of a giant bloody pig’s trotter would necessarily sit well with Peppa Pigs fans, much less environmental activists today.

2. National Productivity Campaign

Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Launched: 1970s-1990s

Bees might be known for their laborious work ethic and famed for their honey production, but have you ever heard of Teamy the Productivity Bee? If you were born in the late 1990s or after, you’ve likely never encountered Teamy given his official retirement in 1999.

Teamy was the face of Singapore’s National Productivity Campaign which aimed to promote efficiency and productivity in the workplace. He even had a song: “Good, better, best! Never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better, best.”

3. Stop At Two

Image credit: jkgeography.com

Launched: 1972-1986

If you’ve ever taken Social Studies in school, Stop At Two will surely ring a bell. 

As part of Singapore’s second National Family Planning Programme, the Stop At Two family planning campaign sought to decrease Singapore’s fertility rate. Needless to say, it was wildly successful in doing so. 

So much so that till this day, despite successive pro-natalist campaigns such as “Have Three Or More If You Can Afford It”, Singapore’s fertility rate still remains well below its replacement rate. 

4. Anti-Yellow Campaign

Image sourced from: Singapore Rebel

Launched: 1959-1979

Anti-Yellow Campaign what? Before you start wondering why there was even a campaign against a colour, let us clarify that this campaign was actually launched to eradicate “yellow culture”. 

“Yellow culture” is directly translated from the Chinese phrase “黄色文化” (huangse wenhua), referring to “decadent behaviours” – such as opium-smoking, gambling and prostitution to name a few – which have plagued China for a long time. 

Image sourced from: Singapore Rebel

The distaste for this “yellow culture” was imported into Singapore by schoolteachers from China and conflated with Singapore’s need for a national identity revival. As a result, the then newly elected PAP government made “yellow culture” elimination a goal to achieve in the social revolution to forge a new Malayan nation.

Putting their campaign into motion, PAP actually implemented a countrywide clampdown on aspects of Western influences and culture they deemed to be promoting a “decadent” lifestyle. Unfortunately, that included bans on pin-table saloons, jukebox dens and even rock ‘n’ roll music. Tragic, I know.

5. Operation Snip Snip

Image credit: Remember Singapore

Launched: 1974-1980s

The drive against yellow culture lasted over two decades and even translated into a ban against long hair for men in the 1970s. 

Operation Snip Snip  – yes, the name’s for real – associated long hair with deviant behaviour that corrupted Singapore’s society. Men caught sporting longer than average locks were penalised in fines and even sacked at the workplace if they refused to cut their hair. 

This rule applied to visitors entering Singapore as well. Rock bands like The Bee Gees and Led Zeppelin even had to cancel their gigs in our little red dot because they were refused entry into the country unless they cut their hair. Fortunately, this ban has eased – can you imagine Harry Styles performing in Singapore without his long curly locks? Yeah, me neither.

6. Speak Mandarin Campaign

Image Credit: National Archives Singapore

Launched: 1979-present

For those of us who have ever lamented learning Chinese in school, you’ll have the Speak Mandarin Campaign to thank. It was launched by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew while he was Prime Minister to facilitate understanding and communication amongst Chinese Singaporeans from different dialect groups. 

However, as painful as it was to memorise those characters for tīng xiě (Chinese spelling tests), at least most of us can (sort of) communicate in our Mother Tongues now – however terrible our language abilities may be. 

7. National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign

Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Launched: 1993-present

Even if you don’t recall the National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign, chances are you’ve heard of the campaign’s most famous event: the Great Singapore Workout.

After all, this 15-minute workout made it into the Guinness Book of Records for the largest mass aerobic session held in a single location. It’s hard to even imagine a small gathering of 10 in the time of Covid-19, let alone a crowd of 26,107 people working out at the Padang. 

But it really did happen folks – pre-Covid times, of course.

8. Keep Singapore Clean

Image credit: Remember Singapore

Launched: 1968

The Keep Singapore Clean campaign was one of Singapore’s first national campaigns since gaining independence. If you’ve ever seen one of those tourist shirts labelling Singapore as a “Fine City” with a list of all the things you can be fined for underneath, just know that the iconic littering fine under that list was started under this campaign.

The Keep Singapore Clean campaign sought to instil in Singaporeans the habit of keeping public areas clean. I don’t know about you but I sure am grateful for our spanking clean and green city.  

9. Singapore’s OK Campaign

Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Launched: 2003

The 2003 SARS outbreak brought forth the launch of the Singapore’s OK Campaign, appealing to Singaporeans to play their part in fighting the virus. Serving as a public education campaign, posters were put up in public areas such as toilets and hawker centres islandwide to encourage better personal hygiene and socially responsible habits.

Image credit: National Archives Singapore

Back when I was a kid, these cartoons were my only form of entertainment whenever I had to take a dump in public restrooms. However, they can still be found islandwide today. Looks like this campaign is still going strong after so long.

10. Tree Planting Campaign

Image credit: The Straits Times

Launched: 1963-Present

If you’re used to the sight of a plethora of shady trees lining the streets of Singapore, it’s all only possible due to the mighty Tree Planting Campaign launched by the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. 

Starting out with the aim of transforming Singapore into a green garden city, a minimum of 10,000 saplings were planted annually and this green goal has carried forward till today.  Having sought shelter from the sweltering heat beneath those leafy greens too many times to count, I honestly don’t wanna imagine where – or how sunburnt – I’ll be without them. 

Btw, did you know that this campaign also includes a Tree Planting Day on the first Sunday of November every year? Every town council usually has its own tree-planting activities, so join in on the fun this November.

Iconic national campaigns in Singapore

While most of these national campaigns have bitten the dust, there’s no denying their significance in shaping Singapore’s identity. Not to mention, they sure do trigger a wave of nostalgia for us OGs who remember them. 

For more throwback Singaporean things, look at:

Cover images adapted from: National Archives Singapore , National Archives Singapore , Singapore Rebel , Remember Singapore

Gabrielle Sng

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