Friday, April 30, 2010

'The Modern Ancient Mariner'

'Rice, rice, everywhere, nor any grain to eat.'

The Free Press, 18 Sept 1946, Wednesday.

Reference to Coleridge and Killearn again. But what is the bird doing there?

It'll be interesting at this point to place the cartoons so far in context and also to see how the other cartoonists/papers were portraying the same event. (Thanks to Kevin Blackburn for the notes and cartoons below)

The reports in the ST for 24 August 1946 (taken from Singapore: Illustrated History (1984)) seem quite scathing of Lord Killearn, especially the ‘letter’ with the former Japanese Mayor Odate congratulating Killearn on reducing the rice ration to a level that even he could reduce it during the Japanese Occupation.

The Peng cartoon for ST 24 August 1946 is hard on Killearn as well. He seems to be getting the blame for the reduced rice ration. The cartoon in the Illustrated History that has Lord Killearn as the ‘Black Market King’ is particularly strong, and it is submitted by a reader, Mr Goh Seng Lim.

These cartoons and letters seem to be in response to Lord Killearn’s 21 August 1946 speech frankly telling the public ‘the days of Japanese tapioca are not over’ and asking the public to ‘grow more food’. (which inspired the following cartoon from The Malayan Tribune, 5 Sept 1946)

In the same speech on 21 August 1946, Killearn did explain that the Thai government had declared all rice supplies national property in order to help supply Malaya, and prevent hoarding. He also mentioned that Burma was trying to fix up its bombed infrastructure to get rice to Malaya. But cautioned that the stocks of the supplying countries are at their lowest in the aftermath of the war.

All these thus provide the context for the first Kwan cartoon on 26 August 1946.

By the end of the first week of September 1946, Peng of ST shifts the blame to the hoarders in Thailand, and not Lord Killearn. (ST, 7 September 1946)

[NB: The figure behind Malaya is Dato Onn.]

It looks like Killearn was not seen as to blame by then. His visits to Java, Indochina, and Thailand seemed to have clarified that the causes of the cut in the rice rations lay well beyond the British administration. The Malaya Tribune cartoonists were not as forgiving based on their 5 September 1946 cartoons. (see Tapioca cartoon above)

Kwan was of the latter camp. In 1946, at the age of 26, Kwan was already married and trying to start a family, making ends meet. He would not make any excuses for Killearn.

Again, thanks to Blackburn for the excellent close reading.

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