The Padang: venue of largest protest, site of longest queue in Singapore’s history

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Gazetted on Singapore’s 57th birthday, the Padang is Singapore’s 75th national monument.

This open space holds shared memories as a nation, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said. 

Gazetting it as a national monument protects the site from alteration and change that would affect its character and significance, while allowing it to continue to be a social and community space enjoyed by Singaporeans, Mr Tong said.

‘Padang’ means ‘field’ in Malay. 

The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) refers to it as “the plain near the mouth of the river Tamasak [Temasek]”.

When Raffles arrived in 1819, the Plain as it was then known, was simply a swathe of green abutting the beach.

The Padang’s formal appearance was aided by its enlargement in 1859, its encirclement by Connaught Drive and St Andrew’s Road, and its framing by the Singapore Cricket Club on one end and the Singapore Recreation Club on the other.

Symbol of British colonial power

With the completion of the Municipal Building (renamed City Hall in 1951) in 1929 and the Supreme Court in 1939, the Padang became a symbol of British colonial power. 

Site for Japanese imperial power

During the Japanese Occupation, it became the site for the display of Japanese imperial power after the British surrendered on 15 February 1942.  The Municipal Building was commandeered by the Syonan Tokubetsu-si (Municipal Administration) as the headquarters of the civil administration.

Signing of Japanese surrender 

The signing of the Japanese surrender in 1945 took place at the Municipal Building (City Hall). 

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten gave a public address from the steps of the Municipal Building during the surrender ceremony.

Signing of the Japanese surrender 1945
Japanese surrender 1945

Swearing in of the first cabinet

Mr Lee Kuan Yew and members of his first Cabinet after the swearing in ceremony in June 1959

Inauguration of Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak

The Padang saw the inauguration of the first Yang Di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) Yusof Ishak on 3 Dec 1959 after Singapore was granted internal self-governance in 1959. On this day, he unfurled Singapore’s new red and white state flag with its crescent moon and 5 stars.

Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Yusof bin Ishak delivering address after his installation
Mr Lee Kuan Yew speaking on 3 Dec 1959 after the installation of the first Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak

Here at the Padang too, Singapore celebrated its first anniversary as an independent state with a parade on 9 August 1966. 

PAP Singapore First National Parade
First National Day Parade 1966

Venue of the largest protest in Singapore’s history

Do you know that the Padang was the venue of the largest organised protest in Singapore’s history? A massive crowd of 120,000 gathered at the Padang on 25 August 1963. The rally was organised by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to demand reparations from Japan for its wartime atrocities.

In the run-up to this rally, the Special Branch and the Criminal Investigations Department discovered that pro-communist elements planned to exploit the meeting to turn it into a massive demonstration against then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The entire police force – 5,000 men and troops – was placed on emergency alert.

A massive crowd of 120,000 attended the rally to demand reparations from Japan for wartime atrocities, 25 August 1963

As then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew started speaking, the agitators – a few thousands of them – began their organised booing. Mr Lee repeatedly challenged the leaders of the group to “come up to the City Hall and present their case”. None turned up. 

Mr Lee then ordered floodlights to be turned on the several thousand pro-communist elements who had “formed a belt from one end of the Padang to the other”. The booing died down and the agitators faded into the crowd. A potential public order disruption had been averted.

Site of the longest queue in Singapore’s history

Queue to pay last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

The Padang was also where the longest queue ever in the history of Singapore was formed. In March 2015, thousands of people arrived at the Padang through the day to endure waits of up to 10 hours for their turn to pay their last respects to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in person. At one point, the crowds swelled beyond control and the queue had to be temporarily halted in order to minimise discomfort to children and the elderly. In total, more than 330,000 people joined the queue.  

First green space to be listed as national monument

The Padang is the first green, open space on Singapore’s list of national monuments — the highest form of recognition for a structure or site’s significance.

In 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had announced that the Padang would be gazetted as national monuments.

The Preservation of Monuments Act was then amended to broaden the definition of monuments to include sites — defined as any open space, any inland waters, or any area of land containing anything that evidences human activity, present or past, including an intact building or buildings

With the amendment passed in Parliament last November, it paves the way for the Padang to be gazetted as a national monument. 

“Generations of people have gathered here and witnessed key milestones in Singapore’s history,” Mr Edwin Tong said. 

“It stands as a testament to Singapore’s historical journey, anchoring our Singaporean identity and reflecting our place in the world,” added Mr Tong. 


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