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Manufacturing Authenticity: The Cultural Production of National Identities in Singapore

  • TERENCE CHONG (a1)
Abstract

According to Prasenjit Duara, the sacredness of the nation hinges on its ‘regimes of authenticity’ where timelessness and the politics of embodiment are key to an authentic national identity. This paper looks at three different cultural impulses that have attempted to manufacture authenticity in Singapore. They are: the Malay literary movement Angkatan Sasterawan 50 prior to independence; the state-sponsored Confucian ethics discourse during the 1980s; and the romanticization of the working-class ‘heartlander’ through contemporary popular culture in confrontation with the politics of global capitalism and globalization. In doing so, this paper articulates the difference between the regimes of authenticity of state elites and non-state cultural producers, as well as their ‘national imaginaries’. It concludes that the regime of authenticity, that operationalizes the representations of the working class as a diametric opposite to the logic and force of globalization, offers the most popular symbols of national identity in Singapore.

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References
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1 Duara, Prasenjit, ‘Of Authenticity and Woman: Personal Narratives of Middle-Class Women in Modern China’ in Wen-hsin, Yeh (ed.), Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005); Duara, Prasenjit, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, New York, 2003); Duara, Prasenjit, ‘The Regime of Authenticity: Timelessness, Gender, and National History in Modern ChinaHistory and Theory 37, no. 3 (1998), pp. 287308; Duara, Prasenjit, ‘Historicising National Identity, or Who Imagines What and When’ in Eley, Geoff and Suny, Ronald G. (eds.), Becoming National: A Reader (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996).

2 Duara, Prasenjit, ‘The Regime of Authenticity: Timelessness, Gender, and National History in Modern China’, in Kai-wing, Chow, Doak, Kevin M. and Poshek, Fu (eds.), Constructing Nationhood in Modern East Asia (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2001).

3 Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern, p. 171.

4 Bulag, Uradyn E., The Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, New York, Oxford, 2002).

5 Duara, ‘The Regime of Authenticity: Timelessness, Gender, and National History in Modern China’, p. 290.

6 Ibid., p. 296.

7 Duara, ‘Historicising National Identity, or Who Imagines What and When’.

8 Roff, Willaim, The Origins of Malay Nationalism (Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994).

9 Shah, Mohd Hazim, ‘Historicising Rationality: The Transmission of Rationality and Science to the Malay States under British RuleAsian Journal of Social Science 35, no. 2 (2007), pp. 216241.

10 The person responsible for the reformation of Malay education was O. T. Dussek, the headmaster of the Sultan Idris Training College from 1922 to 1936. Dussek believed that the improvement of Malay education began with the improvement of Malay teachers, and is thus credited with providing the necessary conditions for the growth of a nationalist intelligentsia (Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism, p. 148).

11 Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism, p. 212.

12 Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism, p. 213.

13 Tarling, Nicholas (ed.), The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, volume 2 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992); Harper, T. N., The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999).

14 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (Verso, London, 1983), p. 6.

15 Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya.

16 Tham, Seong Chee, ‘The Politics of Malay Literary Development’ in Tham, Seong Chee (ed.), Essays on Literature and Society in Southeast Asia: Political and Sociological Perspectives (Singapore University Press, Singapore, 1981).

17 Tham, ‘The Politics of Malay Literary Development’; Syed, Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, ‘Films as Social History: P. Ramlee's “Seniman Bujang Lapok” and Malays in Singapore (1950s-1960s)The Heritage Journal 2, no. 1 (2005), pp. 121; Markasan, Suratman, ‘Contemporary Singapore Malay Literature as Seen Through Two Streams of Social CritiqueMalay Literature 4, no. 1 (1991), pp. 111.

18 Tham, ‘The Politics of Malay Literary Development’, p. 218.

19 Toynbee, Arnold J., East to West: A Journey Around the World (London, 1958), p. 59, cited in Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya, pp. 305–306.

20 Tham, ‘The Politics of Malay Literary Development’, p. 256.

21 ASAS 50 (1961), Memoranda Angkatan Sasterawan 50 (Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1961).

22 Tahir, Ungku Maimunah Mohd., Modern Malay Literary Culture: A Historical Perspective, Research Notes and Discussion Paper no. 62 (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1987).

23 Ungku Maimunah, Modern Malay Literary Culture: A Historical Perspective, p. 44.

24 Wang, Gungwu, Community and Nation: China, Southeast Asia and Australia (Allen & Unwin, New South Wales, 1992), p. 205.

25 Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya, p. 302.

26 See also ASAS 50: Senarai Awal (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1980).

27 For a broad discussion on Malay identity, see Barnard, Timothy P. (ed.), Contesting Malayness: Malay Identity Across Boundaries (Singapore University Press, Singapore, 2004).

28 Duara, ‘The Regime of Authenticity: Timelessness, Gender, and National History in Modern China’, p. 365.

29 Chatterjee, Partha, ‘Whose Imagined Community?Millennium: Journal of International Studies 20 (1991), pp. 521525; Chatterjee, Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1986).

30 ASAS 50's journal in Singapore, Sasterawan, was published from 1971 and ceased in 1980.

31 Tham, Seong Chee, ‘The Perception and Practice of Education’, in Sandhu, Kernial and Wheatley, Paul (eds.), Management of Success (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1989); Chua, Beng Huat, Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore (Routledge, London, 1995).

32 Quoted in Vasil, Raj, Asianising Singapore: The PAP's Management of Ethnicity (Heinemann Asia, Singapore, 1995), p. 69.

33 Vasil, Raj, Governing Singapore: A History of National Development and Democracy (Allen & Unwin, New South Wales, 2000), p. 100.

35 Quoted in Ibid, pp. 101–102.

36 Nair, Devan (ed.), Socialism that Works. . .the Singapore Way (Federal Press, Singapore, 1976).

37 Seah, Chee Meow (ed.), Asian Values and Modernisation (Singapore University Press, Singapore, 1977).

38 White Paper on Shared Values (Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, Singapore, 1991).

39 Kuo, Eddie, ‘Confucianism as Political Discourse in Singapore: The Case of an Incomplete Revitalisation Movement’, in Weiming, Tu (ed.), Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity: Moral Education and Economic Culture in Japan and the Four Mini-Dragons (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1996).

40 Thompson, Mark R., ‘The Survival of “Asian Values” as “Zivilisationskritik”Theory and Society, 29 (2000), p. 664.

41 Lo, Jacqueline, ‘Theatre in Singapore: An Interview with Kuo Pao KunAustralasian Drama Studies 23, (October 1993), p. 139. See also Peterson, William, Theatre and the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Singapore (Wesleyan University Press, Connecticut, 2001).

42 Peterson, Theatre and the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Singapore, pp. 3–4.

43 For discussions on Neo's work, see also Chua, Beng Huat and Yeo, Wei Wei, ‘Cinematic Critique from the Margins and the Mainstream’, in Chua, Beng Huat (ed.), Life is Not Complete Without Shopping: Consumption Culture in Singapore (NUS Press, Singapore, 2003); Tan, Kenneth Paul, ‘Ethnic Representation on Singapore Film and Television’, in Eng, Lai Ah (ed.), Beyond Rituals and Riots Ethnic Pluralism and Social Cohesion in Singapore (Eastern Universities Press, Singapore, 2004); Royston Chan, ‘Socio-Political Commentary in the films of Jack Neo’, available at http://www.sgnewwave.com/sg_jackneo.htm (2006; last accessed: 15 April 2007). To date Neo has written, directed and acted in 10 films. They include Money No Enough (1998); That One No Enough (1999); Liang Po Po: The Movie (1999); I Not Stupid (2002); Homerun (2003); The Best Bet (2004); I Do, I Do (2005); One More Chance (2005); I Not Stupid Too (2006); Just Follow Law (2007); Money No Enough 2 (2008).

44 The term ‘heartlander’ was popularized by the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in his 1999 National Day Rally Speech to describe Singaporeans who were rooted to the locale, in contrast to globally mobile Singaporeans, or ‘cosmopolitans’, who possessed the skills and talents to ride the waves of globalization. Since then, ‘heartlander’ has entrenched itself in the local lexicon and is impregnated with working-class connotations and values.

45 Ho, Elaine, ‘Negotiating Belonging and Perceptions of Citizenship in a Transnational World: Singapore, a Cosmopolis?Social and Cultural Geography 7, no. 3 (2006), pp. 388389.

46 Royston Chan, ‘Socio-Political Commentary in the films of Jack Neo’, available at http://www.sgnewwave.com/sg_jackneo.htm (2006; last accessed: 15 April 2007).

47 Ah Beng is a local slang used to denote an unsophisticated, usually poorly educated and socially problematic, working-class Chinese male. It is an equivalent of the British ‘yob’.

48 Under One Roof revolved around a typical Chinese middle-class family living in a HDB flat in Bishan. Phua Chu Kang is the name of the lead character, a crude poorly educated but kind-hearted nouveau riche contractor.

49 Smith, Anthony, Myths and Memories of the Nation (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999).

50 It should be noted that One More Chance was supported by the Yellow Ribbon Campaign, a government effort to assimilate ex-convicts back into society. Interestingly, the literal translation of the film's Mandarin title is ‘Three Good Men’.

51 See Peterson, Richard A., Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997); Grazian, David, Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2003); Jones, Candace, Narasimhan, Anand and Alvarez, Josè Luis, ‘Manufactured Authenticity and Creative Voice in Cultural IndustriesJournal of Management Studies 42, (July 2005), pp. 893899.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
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