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The Asian Modern

Culture, Capitalist Development, Singapore

C.J.W.-L. Wee

Publication Year: 2007

How does one comprehend the phenomenon of the modernization of an Asian society in a globalized East Asian context? With this opening question, the author proceeds to give an account of how the modernization processes for postcolonial societies in Asia, such as those of India, Malaysia, and Singapore, are fraught with collaborations and conflicts between different socio-political, historical, economic, and cultural agents.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

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pp. vii-ix

Travelling around Asia, I frequently encounter enthusiastic expressions of Singapore as a ‘desired’ future. Discussions range from ‘how did Singapore alone manage to avoid the culture of corruption that is everywhere in Asia’, to ‘can we borrow your political leaders, particularly Lee Kuan Yew, for a few years to get us off the...


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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-13

What does the Asian modern of a ‘globalising East Asia’ — a phrase now both clichéd and yet still resonant — look like? In the discourses that have emerged over the past two decades, East Asia has become increasingly viewed as industrial, capitalist and urban — and committed to frenetic development. All the three elements mentioned contribute...

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1. The Asian Modern

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pp. 15-30

Before the analysis of Singapore’s experiment with an Asian modern commences in detail, it is important to reiterate the point that the People’s Action Party (PAP) government’s imagining of a local and indeed regional modernity that it was part of was not something quirky: it was one part of the ongoing East and Southeast Asian responses to the colonial legacy of Western modernity.1 This chapter attempts a...

PART 1. Deterritorialisation

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2. The ‘Modern’ Construction of Postcolonial Singapore

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pp. 33-51

E. J. Hobsbawm, in an address to the American Anthropological Association, remarks that, ‘Nations without a past are contradictory in terms. What makes a nation is the past, what justifies one nation against another is the past, and historians are the people who produce it.’2 The past is thus ‘what we are’, immutably and essentially, and each state has a nation and national culture with deep, primordial roots...

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3. Economic Development and the National Narrative

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pp. 53-76

Of all Southeast Asian postcolonial societies, Singapore is distinct in the way the People’s Action Party (PAP) government has recreated the city-state for the central purpose of economic development. The now-standard(ised) historical narrative of commercial and industrial emergence reflects this purpose, and a key result is that the usual divisions between pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial are weakened. What also becomes...

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4. The Homogenised Urban Environment and Locality [contains image plates]

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pp. 77-98

What emerges from the previous two chapters is that Singapore seems to be a postcolonial city-state in which both the contradictions and the complexities of becoming a modern nation-state are seemingly resolved by state-directed technocratic and technicist means. This modern-Asian city is a partial fulfilment of a modernising desire to wipe the slate clean, and to invent society from scratch. The...

PART 2. Reterritorialisation

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5. The State, Ethnic Identity and Capitalism

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pp. 100-119

Thus far, my discussion has examined how the demand for ‘progress’ in Singapore has led to industrial modernity itself becoming the metanarrative which frames the city-state’s immediate post-independence national identity. The modernity that Lee Kuan Yew and the other first-generation People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders wanted...

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6. Staging Cultural Fragments, the Singaporean Eunuch and the Asian Lear

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pp. 121-142

In the Introduction, I observed that one way of the ways economic and political power functions is through a global West. Capitalism’s development in the ‘imperial present’, as Fernando Coronil puts it, has led to the West’s ‘invisible reterritorialisation in the elusive figure of the globe[, and this] … conceals [the] diffuse[d] transnational financial and political networks that integrate metropolitan and peripheral dominant...

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pp. 143-160

A major assumption in this book has been that economic and political power has shifted away from a geographical location called the ‘West’ to a less identifiable position in the ‘globe’. One thing the 1997 Asian economic crisis reveals is how for the former Asian ‘Miracle’ and up-and-coming Southeast Asian Newly Industrialising Economies (NIEs) there...


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pp. 161-196

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 197-206


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pp. 207-210

E-ISBN-13: 9789888052837
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622098596

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007