The singapore prize is an award given to a publication that best demonstrates Singapore in the world and in the eyes of its readers. It is open to works published in English or Chinese and must have had an impact on the public’s understanding of Singapore. The inaugural award was launched in 2014 as part of the SG50 celebrations, and is given triennially.
It was established by a gift from the late Dr Alan HJ Chan to recognise his passion for Singapore’s literary culture and the spirit of Singapore. The prize is a prestigious accolade that rewards a book or work that best epitomises and inspires the Singapore story.
This year, the panel selected a diverse list of winning submissions from Singapore, China and the region. Some of these creative proposals were based on data and technology, examining how we use and interpret the information around us. For example, a proposal by fashion artist Jamela Law used dating app data to show how people seek human connection in our digital age. Another project from a team of students from the National University of Singapore explored how we can improve health care through collaborative design. The judges highlighted that the winning submissions showcased strong research, innovative concepts and high-quality craftsmanship.
The winning books delve into various aspects of Singapore life, from its unique location and political system to the cultural nuances that make the city-state stand out. Some of the books even touch on Singapore’s past, with one examining the history of the estate that houses many leftist movements in the country. Other works explore the history of sarong kebaya, the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Bukit Ho Swee fire.
Of the shortlisted titles, four were making their debut in this competition. These include a novel that follows the lives of an extended family, and another that probes how ordinary citizens can challenge the government through social media. The other two shortlisted books were a study of the migrant workers’ movement and an examination of the politics behind detention centres.
The winner, archaeologist John Miksic’s 491-page tome titled Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800, was selected by a four-man panel led by NUS historian Wang Gungwu. The jury commended the work for triggering “a fundamental reinterpretation of Singapore’s history”, and said it confirmed, through concrete archaeological evidence, that the nation’s history stretches back more than 700 years. A similar study commissioned by the government last year also refuted the common perception that the nation’s origins date only to the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Plans to extend the prize’s scope to include movies and other forms of storytelling are in the works. NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani, who mooted the idea of a Singapore prize in an opinion piece in The Straits Times, believes that a shared imagination through historical writing is critical to the strength of nations. “It’s time we recognise this in a way that is more than an academic exercise,” he said.