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Reframing Singapore

Reframing Singapore: Memory - Identity - Trans-Regionalism

Derek Heng
Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Reframing Singapore
    Book Description:

    Singapore, over the last two decades, has advanced rapidly towards being a global city-state and key nodal point in the international economic sphere. These developments have necessitated the reassessment of the manner in which this country may be understood, including its history, population and geography, as well as its transregional and transnational experiences with the external world. Reframing Singapore: Memory - Identity - Trans- Regionalism, consisting of fourteen papers, spans several disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, and draws upon various theoretical approaches and methodological processes to provide a more refined understanding of Singapore. The papers take on a multi-disciplinary approach, seeking to reassess the accepted notions and held discourses on Singapore's past, and to reconceptualise our understanding of the challenges that the country and its people face in the present. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0821-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. 9-10)
    Wang Gungwu

    For a small country like Singapore, serving as a key ship-stop to help British imperial expansion for more than a century and only an independent island-state since 1965, there have certainly been a lot of books published about it. That number has grown more quickly of late, in part because Singapore is a success story that seems to fit an era of capitalist globalization most comfortably. But there are also other reasons why there are so many books and essays written. The island-city acts like a migrant multicultural state in a region that has discovered the idea of native nations....

  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 11-18)
    Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied and Derek Heng

    Any tourist who strolls along the Singapore River will find picturesque cityscapes that evoke paradoxical mental images in the mind. Skyscrapers are juxtaposed with shop houses that have been synthetically preserved so as to suggest memories of the island’s past. Painted black and raised high on a concrete pedestal, the statue of the colony’s British ‘founder’, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, stares at the modern, durian-shaped Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. Colonialism was here, and so were the Japanese. A tour of the Asian Civilizations Museum adds to the sense of confusion and ambivalence. Impressed by high-tech displays of the tapestry...


    • 2 From Political Rhetoric to National History: Bi-Culturalism and Hybridisation in the Construction of Singapore’s Historical Narrative
      (pp. 21-38)
      Derek Heng Thiam Soon

      Singapore’s national historical narrative has been employed by the relatively young nation-state as a means to justifying its existence. The goal has been to establish a relevance of the past in the present, and even the perceived future, at the level of state, society and sub-groups. The historiography of Singapore’s past, since its independence in 1965, has thus been an intertwined interaction between two key elements – the political imperatives and rhetoric of the state, and the discourse that Singapore society is engaged in.

      The formulation of the national narrative has not taken place in a vacuum, but has consistently...

    • 3 Gateway and Panopticon: Singapore and Surviving Regime Change in the Nineteenth-Century Malay World
      (pp. 39-68)
      Koh Keng We

      The 19th-century history of Singapore has often been situated within the territorial contours of the present-day nation-state, or that of the British Empire in Southeast Asia. These historical narratives focused on Singapore’s commercial success and cosmopolitanism as the basis for its importance within the British imperial system and the moulding of the future nation-state. As Wong’s (2003) detailed study of Singapore’s trade before 1869 has shown, the commercial success of Singapore depended very much on its connections to other parts of Southeast Asia and the world.¹ Studies of Islamic modernist and reform movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have...

    • 4 Beyond the Rhetoric of Communalism: Violence and the Process of Reconciliation in 1950s Singapore
      (pp. 69-88)
      Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied

      The Singapore state’s depiction of inter-ethnic relations in the post-World War Two period has been predicated upon a progressivist teleology that undergirds its political dominance since the separation from Malaysia in 1965. Rendered ineffective and portrayed as having lost their grip upon the forces of opposition, the preceding colonial regime is said to have failed in fostering common bonds and values between a plethora of racial groupings on the island. Communalist tendencies arising from colonial neglect thus characterized the postwar era and this had given rise to the outbreak of violent incidences such as the Maria Hertogh, Hock Lee and...

    • 5 The Politics of Fires in Post-1950s Singapore and the Making of the Modernist Nation-State
      (pp. 89-108)
      Loh Kah Seng

      Present-day Singaporeans, four-fifths of whom reside in modern flats built by the Housing and Development Board (henceforth HDB; HDBAR2007: 78) generally do not worry about losing their lives, homes or belongings to an unforeseen blaze. However, while they do not fear fire, many older Singaporeans still remember the infernos of the past, and – what is significant in this closely managed state – often do so independently of the government’s representation of the fires. Admittedly, the official story of the biggest conflagration in Singapore’s history, the 1961KampongBukit Ho Swee inferno, which narrates how the HDB successfully...

    • 6 Gender and Discipline in ‘The Singapore Story’: The Female Chinese Factory Workers in Perspective, c. 1980-c. 1990
      (pp. 109-130)
      Ernest Koh

      In his conclusion toRickshaw Coolie, James Warren underscores the intention of his book, which is to ‘bring back to Singapore’s own Chinese people and society, asingkehcoolie culture and history, which is, finally, their own – a People’s History (Warren 1986, 326).’ In the two decades since the publication ofRickshaw Coolie, Warren’s intentions have been echoed in a comparatively small but growing body of literature on Singapore’s history. But what is People’s History? What do such histories offer to the readers in the present especially with regard to past and existing trends in the practice of writing...


    • 7 Textualising the Baba Identity: Insights into the Making of a Bibliography
      (pp. 133-154)
      Bonny Tan

      During a Heritage Week held in October 1986, over one hundred Baba titles were donated to the National Library in Singapore by a woman named Linda Lim (Hoe 1986). This private collection was later transferred to Singapore’s National Library. It reveals, among other things, the hybrid culture of the Peranakan Chinese or Babas of the Straits Settlements with its own language, customs and history. Lim’s kind donation supplements the existing collection of publications in the National Library, which documents the history of the Babas to as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, many of which have been relatively neglected.


    • 8 Negotiating Identities, Affiliations and Interests: The Many Lives of Han Wai Toon, an Overseas Chinese
      (pp. 155-174)
      Sharon Wong Wai Yee

      It has been commonly noted that the Chinese overseas are ‘clannish’, business-minded and utterly loyal to their homelands, which they long to return to. This is not surprising given that most Chinese in pre-World War Two Singapore were generally businessmen or workers who saw their multifaceted activities in Southeast Asia as temporal and transient. Unlike many overseas Chinese in his time, Han Wai Toon (1892-1970) took on a Southeast Asian-Chinese identity, whilst maintaining very strong emotional links to his Chinese homeland, Hainan. Besides his affiliations with Southeast Asian-Chinese academic organizations, he was involved in the activities that were organized by...

    • 9 Singaporean First: Challenging the Concept of Transnational Malay Masculinity
      (pp. 175-194)
      Lenore Lyons and Michele Ford

      Since Singapore’s independence in 1965, the People’s Action Party’s (henceforth the PAP) management of ethnicity and potential ethnic conflict has depended on a strategy that emphasizes selected ‘race’ identities.¹ Under a policy of multiracialism, all Singaporeans fall into one of four official race categories – Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others. This policy, known as ‘CMIO multiracialism’, goes much further than simply providing an environment in which cultural and religious practices are observed and upheld. It downplays diversity within racial categories and emphasizes shared cultural and linguistic heritages within racial groups. In the process, race becomes an important way of labelling...

    • 10 Trans-National Biographies and Trans-National Habiti: The Case of Chinese-Singaporeans in Hong Kong
      (pp. 195-210)
      Caroline Plüss

      Do individuals who have lived in different societies, develop multi-local life-worlds? How, and why, do life-worlds, with cultural, social and economic characteristics that have their roots in different geographical regions, develop within individuals? The present chapter aims to elucidate and apply the concept of trans-nationalhabitusto make a contribution to the scholarship by analysing why and how individuals who have lived in different societies and cultures develop cosmopolitan or culturally hybrid identities (Basch, Schiller and Blanc 1994; Kelly and Lusis 2006; Onwumechili et al. 2003; Levitt and Schiller 2004; Plüss 2005; Plaza 2006).

      Trans-national migrants are likely to establish...


    • 11 Indian Media and the Lure of ‘Uniquely Singapore’
      (pp. 213-228)
      Faizal bin Yahya and Arunajeet Kaur

      India’s rise as an economic power in the post-Cold War era has led to the emergence of a burgeoning Indian middle class. The growing affluence of this Indian middle class has meant their recognition as significant consumers in the global capitalist markets for retail, fashion, luxury items and tourism. As tourists they have been pitched to replace the Japanese as the stereotypical, ‘most sought after’ vacationer due to their propensity to be big spenders at tourist destinations. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has been quick to capture the potential of the Indian middle classes as tourists, which reflects, among other...

    • 12 Localising the Global and Globalising the Local: The Global Households of Filipina Trans-Migrant Workers and Their Singapore Employers
      (pp. 229-246)
      Janet M. Arnado

      The world-system perspective conceives the household as an ‘income-pooling unit, with boundaries subject to continuing change ... [depending on the] pressures [derived] from the cyclical rhythms of the world market and from the state machineries’ (Wallerstein and Smith 1992: 253). Due to the malleability of its boundaries, the definition of household does not depend so much on the structure as it does on the nature of relationship which ‘impose[s] sharing obligations’ (Friedman 1984: 46). This income-pooling arrangement, according to Kathie Friedman (1984: 51), has two types: one is ‘a long-term household with life-time obligations and rights ensuring exchanges among’ members;...

    • 13 Raffles Hotel Singapore: Advertising, Consumption and Romance
      (pp. 247-268)
      Chris Hudson

      While much ink has been spent on the life and career of one of Southeast Asia’s most celebrated colonial administrator and the founder of modern Singapore – Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles – there is a paucity of literature regarding the processes which contributed to the reification of the ideas of luxury, prestige and exclusivity associated with his name (Solomon 1997; Madden 2003; Aljunied 2005). This chapter attempts to fill this gap by examining the creation and sustenance of the Raffles brand in Singapore. A number of landmarks, botanical specimens, streets, buildings, businesses and institutions have been named after Raffles. There...

    • 14 The Role of Recruitment Agencies for Japanese Working Women in Singapore
      (pp. 269-282)
      Yoshimichi Yui

      Economic globalisation has increased the mobility of the international workforce. Transnational flows include the following socio-economic groups: the transnational business class comprised of highly mobile, highly skilled professional, managerial and entrepreneurial elites, a large group of low-waged immigrants filling unskilled and semi-skilled niches in the urban service economy, expressive specialists who enliven the cultural and artistic scene and world tourists attracted by the cosmopolitan ambience (Yoe 2001). Moreover, it has been argued that the most powerful manifestations of the internationalisation of the capital in the world real estate economy are global cities, distinguished by their high concentration of corporate headquarters,...

  9. About the Authors
    (pp. 283-288)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-318)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-320)