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The Binding Tie

The Binding Tie: Chinese Intergenerational Relations in Modern Singapore

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    The Binding Tie
    Book Description:

    Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has become the most trade-intensive economy in the world and the richest country in Southeast Asia. This transformation has been accompanied by the emergence of a deep generational divide. More complex than simple disparities of education or changes in income and consumption patterns, this growing gulf encompasses language, religion, and social memory. The Binding Tie explores how expectations and obligations between generations are being challenged, reworked, and reaffirmed in the face of far-reaching societal change. The family remains a pivotal feature of Singaporean society and the primary unit of support. The author focuses on the middle generation, caught between elderly parents who grew up speaking dialect and their own children who speak English and Mandarin. In analyzing the forces that bind these generations together, she deploys the idea of an intergenerational "contract," which serves as a metaphor for customary obligations and expectations. She convincingly examines the many different levels at which the contract operates within Singaporean families and offers striking examples of the meaningful ways in which intergenerational support and transactions are performed, resisted, and renegotiated. Her rich material, drawn from ethnographic fieldwork among middle-class Chinese, provides insights into the complex interplay of fragmenting and integrating forces. The Binding Tie makes a critical contribution to the study of intergenerational relations in modern, rapidly changing societies and conveys a vivid and nuanced picture of the challenges Singaporean families face in today’s hypermodern world. It will be of interest to researchers and students in a range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, Asian studies, demography, development studies, and family studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6462-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    Bee Choo’s paternal grandfather and granduncle left China in the early twentieth century to set up a fishing business in Singapore, where they hoped conditions would be better. The two brothers settled down in a smallkampung(village) there and built a house for both their families to live in. Their new home was soon crowded, with eight children on Bee Choo’s grandfather’s side and nine on her granduncle’s. Bee Choo and her two brothers were born and raised in the same house a couple of decades later. Arranged marriages were still a common practice when Bee Choo’s father grew...

  6. Introduction: Challenges to Family Ties in an Asian Global City
    (pp. 5-18)

    The point of departure for this study is the seeming contradiction between, on one hand, rapid societal change and the erosion of cultural continuity across generations (or an emerging generation gap) and, on the other hand, prevailing notions of traditional family values. Bee Choo’s narrative is representative of middle-class Singaporeans of her age group, as it illustrates the dramatic societal and personal transformations that have taken place over the past several decades. After nearly 150 years of British colonial rule, followed by a short-lived merger with Malaysia, the Republic of Singapore gained its independence in 1965. Massive effort was invested...

  7. 1 From Temasek to the Republic of Singapore: A Historical Overview
    (pp. 19-31)

    It is difficult to make sense of present-day Singapore without some knowledge of its history. Singapore was under British colonial rule between 1819 and 1963. Historical and archeological records of precolonial Singapore are scarce, but they do suggest that settlements in the area date back at least six hundred years prior to 1819. The earliest reliable references to the small island come from the fourteenth-century Javanese workNagarakertagama,where it is referred to as Temasek. The name Singapore derives from the Malay wordsingapura,which means “lion city.” The word singapura appears in aMalay Annalsstory about a Sumatran...

  8. 2 Fieldwork in the Metropolis
    (pp. 32-48)

    The tiny island-state of Singapore is located at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula, immediately north of the equator. Currently, the total land area amounts to approximately 700 square kilometers, less than half the size of Hong Kong. It would be misleading to give an exact figure, since Singapore’s land area is growing constantly due to reclamation, the creation of new land where there was previously water. Anyone who arrives at the state-of-the-art Changi Airport and continues on through the urbanized, well-planned landscape would find it hard to imagine the tropical lushness that once covered this island. Singapore is...

  9. 3 Modernity and the Generation Gap: The Singapore Experience
    (pp. 49-83)

    This study argues the importance of rethinking the structural correlation between modernity and intergenerational relations. The emergence of modernity is usually associated with a set of characteristics, including industrial capitalism, commodification, social differentiation, individualism, democracy, the nation-state, secularization, alienation, and social movements. Above all, modernity is associated with the experience of a break between past and present forms of social life (Friedman 1994). While the experience of the disintegration of old structures is potentially universal, the context in which it occurs, and the ways in which people deal with it, are not. Our contemporary world should be understood as “a...

  10. 4 Binding Ties
    (pp. 84-114)

    In the previous chapter, I discussed how the massive transformation of Singapore has disrupted cultural continuity across generations. Rapid economic development and upward social mobility, as well as state policies and individual Singaporeans’ aspirations to be modern have caused a deep generational divide and an inversion of the relationship between elder and younger generations. But although the drive to adjust to a rapidly changing world puts many of the elderly at a disadvantage, we need to make a further distinction between social seniority and familial obligations.² Especially striking in the case of Singapore is the discrepancy between real disintegration of...

  11. 5 Renegotiating the Intergenerational Contract
    (pp. 115-155)

    The previous chapter discussed the ways in which the Chinese intergenerational contract is regenerated in contemporary Singapore. But the terms and realization of the intergenerational contract are far from uncontested. I have already touched upon challenges facing intergenerational relations in Singapore—massive upward social mobility, the widening generation gap, and an emerging ageism. The erosion of extended family units and a dramatic decline in fertility are additional threats. These problems are not unique to Singapore. Studies of other Asian societies likewise reveal that the intergenerational contract is being challenged and renegotiated in the context of modernization (Ikels 1993; Croll 2000...

  12. Conclusion: Living in Transition
    (pp. 156-162)

    When I began my fieldwork I was intrigued by the seeming contradiction between traditional family values and the huge generational divide caused by Singapore’s dramatic modernization. The Singaporean experience of modernity is peculiar in several respects, but most striking are the parallel processes of intergenerational integration and disintegration. While the family remains a pivotal feature of society and the primary unit of support, this tiny city-state still represents one of the most rapidly changing societies in the world. This study has attempted to explore Singapore’s complex modernity from below, to capture the ethnographic reality of the “maelstrom of perpetual disintegration...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 163-172)
    (pp. 173-174)
    (pp. 175-186)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 187-192)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-196)