Between the past & present….

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The Purpose of Keeping Heritage sites is to Preserve the Physical Linkage between the Present and Past

The epithet on Khoo Seok Wan's tomb which is staked (photo Raymond Goh)

When the relevant authorities were planning for the cemetery to give way to the highway, did  they know the historical value of Bukit Brown? Or was it after the researchers and the public’s strong interest and views that they suddenly realised the importance of this site?  If this is the case, it reflects a deeper layer of problem: do the upper echelons of our government officials seriously lack historical and cultural conciousness? Today Bukit Brown is affected, who is to say  a  similar problem will not happen in future?

More than 50 – 60 years ago, scholars like Tan Yeok Seong and Hsu Yun Tsiao did indepth research of Singapore heritage sites including cemeteries, and they also inspired later generation scholars to conduct more research.

Everyone knows that History is ever continuing, and we make use of the past to shine a torch for the future. The 19th century German philosopher Hegel once said, ” What we can see now is but the fruit of the past, and what history tell us is invariably to preserve the things left behind from the past. Hence keeping track of the development of history is like a water current, the further out it can flow, the more volume it can gather, and the more content it can generate.

The importance of preserving heritage sites is to keep the physical linkage between the past and the present. If we destroy each and every heritage site, it means destroying the links between the past and the present, it means cutting off the roots of our present generation, so that if the latter generations would like to know how their ancestors travelled the path before, they would not have the physical evidence to substantiate it

Continuous gathering of history knowledge and research should be the mission of our education sector, but alas this is where the weakness of our Singapore education lies.  We should build upon the foundation of the past research done by our predecessors, expand and upgrade them to the next higher level.

Translated by Raymond Goh extracted from the article by Han Tan Juan

Original Article

早报网–从恒山亭到武吉布朗

(2012-05-31)

韩山元
… 开门见山

笔心

保留古迹的意义就在于保留古与今的一个实体的连接点。         ——韩山元

武吉布朗坟山因为当局要修建高速公路,要把其中数千座坟墓清除,当中有好多座古墓安葬的是新加坡的历史名人,该不该铲掉或搬迁这些古墓呢?那里还有哪些名人长眠?这成了众人关注与议论的话题。

远在武吉布朗之前,新加坡开埠初期有座大坟山在恒山亭后面(中央医院的范围内),而中峇鲁(马来话的意思是“新坟山”)则是连接恒山亭的新坟山,先贤陈笃生的墓就在那个范围。

碧山也是历史超过百年的广东人在本地最大的坟山,1819年随莱佛士船队到新加坡,比莱佛士先一步登岸探路的开埠先驱曹亚志,逝世后就葬在碧山。可惜的是,整个碧山坟地(包括曹亚志墓)已铲光。现在大家聚焦武吉布朗,请别忘了曾经有过的恒山亭、泰山亭、碧山亭、绿野亭等等。

当年这些坟山被铲除,也曾有人提出异议,表示惋惜,但是其声势远不如今天武吉布朗问题的反应强烈,这说明新加坡越来越多人对历史古迹的保留十分关注,人文意识与人文关怀在加强,这肯定是好事。但也应当看到,有关当局的人文意识与对古迹的态度,跟很多专家学者及民众是有差距的。

有关当局在考虑修建高速公路,须叫古墓让路时,事前知道不知道武吉布朗的历史价值?是等到学者专家以及民众广泛关注,提了意见之后,才惊觉原来那个地方那么重要!如果是这样,那反映了一个深层次的问题:某些高官是不是严重缺乏历史知识和人文意识?今天是武吉布朗引出了问题,谁能担保以后不会再出现同样的问题?

早在五六十年前,陈育崧、许云樵等学者对于新加坡的古迹(包括古墓)做了调查研究,到了上世纪70年代初,林孝胜、柯木林、张夏帏、张清江等青年学者,在陈育崧、许云樵等前辈的启发、引导下,对古迹和古墓都做过考察、整理与研究,那是前人工作的延续,一些成果收在《石叻古迹》一书中。

众所周知,历史是有延续性的,是承先启后的。19世纪德国哲学家黑格尔指出:一切现在的东西都是过去的东西的成果,历史发展的最后结果总是以一种扬弃的形式把过去的东西保持下来;因此,历史的发展有如一道洪流,流得愈远,水量也就愈大,内容愈加丰富。
保留古迹的意义就在于保留古与今的一个实体的连接点,如果将一个个古迹都销毁,那就等于销毁了古与今的联系,那是一种断“根”的行为,想让后人知道前人是怎么一路走来,就缺乏实物的根据,就显得十分无力。

历史知识与研究也应该有延续性,历史知识的延续是教育界的任务,新加坡的教育薄弱的就是这一环。历史研究的延续是在前人研究的基础上有所提升、丰富与深化,不吸取前人的研究成果,就谈不上更上一层楼。

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