Archives par mot-clé : Singapour

Book Review : Living with Myths in Singapore

Book Review : Loh Kah Seng, Pingtjin Thum & Jack Chia Meng-That (eds), Living with Myths in Singapore, Ethos Books, Singapore 2017 by Serina Rahman, 23/10/2017, New Mandala

Living with Myths in Singapore is an eye-opener for anyone who has grown up on the institutionalised Singapore stories.

From a young age, the average Singaporean is exposed to tales of the island’s catapulting itself from third world to first, and then fed a constant stream of pride-inducing narratives designed to demonstrate the nation’s success in overcoming abandonment by Malaysia, racial strife, economic struggles, and a constant siege by unfriendly neighbours. To be a citizen of Singapore was to delight in the tiny state’s ability to overtake others in the region in terms of development, economic progress, and “civilisation”. The larger and more unwieldy members of ASEAN were always depicted as those who were envious of Singapore’s progress, and constantly in need of assistance and advice from the island’s growing pool of local and resident international experts in countless fields.

Philip Holden (in Chapter 7) defines myths as “our way of telling a common sense story of the past”. The editors cite Roland Barthes as they point out that the distinguishing mark of myths are their “naturalness”—in other words, myths are stories that are taken as true and “historical”. But “history”, whether people realise it or not, is man-made. Singaporean stories taken as “history” seem to dangle off the edge of reality—and once unpacked, are revealed to be nothing more than myths created, embellished, and perpetuated for whichever use best suits national institutions, the state, and the media at the time.

I was born in Singapore but didn’t grow up there. Instead I travelled the world in a Singaporean bubble, perpetuating the national myths that engendered respect and awe. The occasional holiday in the homeland had the same impact on me as it did any foreigner. We were taken in by the sheen and shine; the spotlessness, safety and efficiency—and we all believed the myths. As an adult, spending my work hours in the “star” of Southeast Asia after decades abroad, the sparkle seems to dull a little. Murmurs on the ground help peel away the layers of flawless cling wrap to reveal the wrinkles and scars of those who lived all their lives in the Little Red Dot.

Living with Myths in Singapore cleared all the doubts that couldn’t be publicly proclaimed and confronted. The book unpacks the myths to reveal the reality hidden beyond the singular “history” that is perpetually propagated. It fills in the fissures of the fables that niggled because the “common sense” didn’t quite make sense—but couldn’t be questioned. The book’s use of researched, academic histories based on multiple sources, facts, and evidence counters the myths and provides previously obscured insight into the truth behind the tales.

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“Never take the unchanging province for granted”

ASEAN Film Festival winner Kirsten Tan: “Never take the unchanging province for granted”, 26/07/2017, The Isaan Record

A weary man approaches the camera, his purple umbrella barely reaching the eyes of the elephant beside him. There is no rain for the umbrella, but it shields him from the harsh sun as he travels from the country’s urban center to a rural border province in Isaan. The journey is demanding, not just physically but emotionally in a trip down memory lane.

Pop Aye, the debut feature by Kirsten Tan, a Singaporean filmmaker based in New York, follows a Bangkok architect’s journey to his hometown in Loei Province. The protagonist, Thana, explores his past amidst a midlife crisis alongside his childhood companion, the film’s titular elephant.

Tan was raised in Singapore and lived in South Korea and Thailand before moving to New York. She completed a Master’s in Film Production at New York University. Her work has been showcased in over 40 international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival 2017, where Pop Aye won the Special Jury Prize in Screenwriting.

In May, Pop Aye went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at ASEAN Film Festival 2017 in Bangkok, where the film premiered in Thailand.

The Isaan Record talks to Tan about Pop Aye’s portrayal of the urban-rural divide in Thailand and the nostalgia Thana and Pop Aye’s travels evoke.

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Why Singapore is struggling to reinvent itself

A general view of the Central Business District of Singapore and the Merlion, illuminated with a projection during the iLight Marina Bay on March 23. © Getty Images

« Why Singapore is struggling to reinvent itself » by William Pesek, 11/07/2017, Nikkei Asian Review

Roots of today`s problems were visible in the city-state over 20 years ago.

There is a hot new industry in Singapore: Kremlinology.

Paul Krugman once compared the city-state to the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the Nobel laureate had a point. He was not referring to communism or to mass killings, of course — but the art of observing, deducing and obsessing over a secretive organization is again consuming the nation of 5.5 million people. The subject of the latest intrigue is a bizarre spat within the family at the core of Singapore’s astounding success and the row is fueling an unprecedented scandal that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says could dent the nation’s squeaky-clean image.

 As far as Singapore’s budding Kremlinologists can tell, the tiff concerns the estate of Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015. Some of Lee’s children accuse their brother, the current prime minister, of preserving a family home that Singapore’s founding father wanted demolished. They took to social media to air the dirty laundry of a family that long maintained a facade of having none. Many are asking what is really going on and what the first family brawling means for the trajectory of Singapore’s top-down political and economic system.

The echoes of Krugman’s 1994 critique are impossible to miss. His over-the-top comparison was this: Lee Kuan Yew’s model of appropriating domestic savings, championing state-linked companies and steering the workforce into moderate-paying jobs « would have done Stalin proud, » but would ultimately prove unsustainable. The fallout from that unsustainability is now the biggest challenge facing the younger Lee. Efforts to recalibrate the engines of growth away from demographics to greater productivity and innovation are not doing Singaporeans proud.

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Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore

Chua Beng Huat, Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore, NUS Press, 2017

In Liberalism Disavowed, Chua Beng Huat examines the rejection of Western-style liberalism in Singapore and the way the People’s Action Party has forged an independent non-Western ideology.

This book explains the evolution of this communitarian ideology, with focus on three areas: public housing, multiracialism and state capitalism, each of which poses different challenges to liberal approaches. With the passing of the first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew and the end of the Cold War, the party is facing greater challenges from an educated populace that demands greater voice. This has led to liberalization of the cultural sphere, greater responsiveness and shifts in political rhetoric, but all without disrupting the continuing hegemony of the PAP in government.

Table of contents

Chapter 1     Contextualizing Singapore: Antipathy to Liberalism
Chapter 2     Singapore State Formation in the Cold War Era
Chapter 3     Liberalism Disavowed
Chapter 4     Disrupting Private Property Rights: National Public Housing Program
Chapter 5     Disrupting Free Market: State Capitalism and Social Distribution
Chapter 6     Governing Race: State Multiracialism and Social Stability
Chapter 7     Cultural Liberalization without Liberalism
Conclusion  An Enduring System

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2017 Holland Prize Shortlist Pacific Affairs

2017 Holland Prize Shortlist Pacific Affairs

Professionals and Soldiers: Measuring Professionalism in the Thai Military by Punchada Sirivunnabood (Mahidol University, Nakhorn Phatom, Thailand), Jacob Isaac Ricks (Singapore Management University, Singapore), Pacific Affaires, vol. 89, n° 1, March 2016


Thailand’s military has recently reclaimed its role as the central pillar of Thai politics. This raises an enduring question in civil-military relations: why do people with guns choose to obey those without guns? One of the most prominent theories in both academic and policy circles is Samuel Huntington’s argument that professional militaries do not become involved in politics. We engage this premise in the Thai context. Utilizing data from a new and unique survey of 569 Thai military officers as well as results from focus groups and interviews with military officers, we evaluate the attitudes of Thai servicemen and develop a test of Huntington’s hypothesis. We demonstrate that increasing levels of professionalism are generally poor predictors as to whether or not a Thai military officer prefers an apolitical military. Indeed, our research suggests that higher levels of professionalism as described by Huntington may run counter to civilian control of the military. These findings provide a number of contributions. First, the survey allows us to operationalize and measure professionalism at the individual level. Second, using these measures we are able to empirically test Huntington’s hypothesis that more professional soldiers should prefer to remain apolitical. Finally, we provide an uncommon glimpse at the opinions of Thai military officers regarding military interventions, adding to the relatively sparse body of literature on factors internal to the Thai military which push officers toward politics.

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Why Are Gender Reforms Adopted in Singapore? Party Pragmatism and Electoral Incentives by Netina Tan (McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada), Pacific Affairs, vol. 89, n° 1, March 2016


In Singapore, the percentage of elected female politicians rose from 3.8 percent in 1984 to 22.5 percent after the 2015 general election. After years of exclusion, why were gender reforms adopted and how did they lead to more women in political office? Unlike South Korea and Taiwan, this paper shows that in Singapore party pragmatism rather than international diffusion of gender equality norms, feminist lobbying, or rival party pressures drove gender reforms. It is argued that the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) strategic and electoral calculations to maintain hegemonic rule drove its policy u-turn to nominate an average of about 17.6 percent female candidates in the last three elections. Similar to the PAP’s bid to capture women voters in the 1959 elections, it had to alter its patriarchal, conservative image to appeal to the younger, progressive electorate in the 2000s. Additionally, Singapore’s electoral system that includes multi-member constituencies based on plurality party bloc vote rule also makes it easier to include women and diversify the party slate. But despite the strategic and electoral incentives, a gender gap remains. Drawing from a range of public opinion data, this paper explains why traditional gender stereotypes, biased social norms, and unequal family responsibilities may hold women back from full political participation.

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Singapour, héroïne de BD

Singapour, héroïne de BD par Patrick de Jacquelot, 11/05/2017, Asialyst

Un éblouissant ouvrage complètement hors normes, la biographie d’un auteur de BD imaginaire de Singapour, livre en toile de fond l’histoire de la cité-État.

Charlie Chan Hock Chye, une vie dessinée, scénario et dessins Sonny Liew, Urban Graphic, 320 p.

C’est un véritable tour de force que Charlie Chan Hock Chye, une vie dessinée*, cette monographie qui a tout d’une vraie – l’épaisseur, la variété des documents reproduits, planches de BD, esquisses, couvertures de magazines, toiles, et plusieurs centaines de notes de bas de page érudites – mais où tout est inventé. Comme de nombreux ouvrages consacrés à des artistes réels de BD, le livre mêle interviews de l’auteur – montrés ici en bande dessinée, évidemment – et documents de toutes sortes. Charlie Chan, censé être né en 1938, raconte sa vie. Sa passion pour la BD se manifeste dès l’enfance, comme en témoignent les pages de cahiers d’écolier reproduites, et débouche sur une première histoire réalisée à l’âge de seize ans, Ah Huat et le robot géant, dans un style très enfantin. Le style de l’auteur imaginaire évoluera beaucoup par la suite…

Par la suite, Charlie Chan varie ses registres : des histoires de science-fiction racontent les luttes pour le pouvoir à Singapour ; il imagine un super héros « local », étape de son travail illustrée par une profusion d’esquisses, de couvertures abîmées de fascicules anciens ou bien de coupures de journaux racontant des faits divers censés avoir inspiré ses histoires.

Les bandes dessinées ainsi « reproduites » reconstituent mine de rien toute l’histoire de la cité-État : guerre, décolonisation, fusion puis séparation de Singapour et de la Fédération de la Malaya, affrontement fondateur entre Lee Kuan Yew, qui deviendra le Premier ministre « père de la patrie », et son rival Lim Chin Siong, homme de gauche qui, ayant eu le dessous, s’exile à Londres. L’impact supposé des événements parfois tragiques sur l’auteur imaginaire est rendu avec beaucoup de subtilité. Au lendemain d’émeutes raciales ayant fait de nombreux morts en 1964, Charlie Chan « publie » une BD de sa série animalière composée de paysages où toute vie est totalement absente.

L’artiste se montre toute sa vie fort critique des autorités. Les attaques contre la politique du PAP, le parti de Lee Kuan Yew devenu omnipotent, sont multiples : Charlie Chan est présenté comme un rebelle pacifique, s’employant dans la solitude à dénoncer les dérives autoritaires du régime. Des planches incendiaires s’en prennent aux tentations eugéniques du gouvernement de Singapour, désireux de promouvoir la natalité des seules mères diplômées (planches « non publiées », est-il précisé en note !). Un pastiche de « Picsou » s’attaque aux pratiques de la place financière de Singapour.

Sonny Liew (le véritable auteur) ne retrace pas seulement l’histoire de la ville : il livre simultanément un portrait passionnant de l’évolution de la bande dessinée sur cette même période, à Singapour bien sûr mais aussi plus globalement. Les difficultés rencontrées par Charlie Chan pour se faire publier, dans ses premières années d’activité, soulignent l’ignorance totale de cette forme d’expression artistique qui prévalait à la fin des années 1950 et dans les années 1960. Le dessinateur et son comparse scénariste doivent démarcher des imprimeurs qui le plus souvent refusent de prendre le risque de telles publications et trouvent bien chère l’utilisation de la couleur. Toute sa vie supposée, l’artiste aura d’ailleurs les plus grandes difficultés à vivre de son œuvre : pendant tout un moment, il est décrit comme vivant grâce à un travail de veilleur de nuit qui lui laisse de nombreuses heures disponibles pour dessiner.

Totalement original, cet ouvrage constitue une étonnante mise en abyme. L’auteur – le vrai – va jusqu’à représenter côte à côte, dans des styles totalement différents, un incident survenu dans la vie de son héros et l’interprétation que ce dernier en donne en BD. La mise en abyme se retrouve aussi dans la reproduction de planches de BD autobiographiques à l’intérieur de la BD biographique… Et on la retrouve dans le monde « réel réel » : alors que tout au long de sa carrière, Charlie Chan le rebelle connaît de nombreux ennuis avec le gouvernement passablement autoritaire de Singapour, Sonny Liew n’est pas épargné dans la vraie vie. Lors de la publication de Charlie Chan Hock Chye, les pouvoirs publics de la cité-État ont retiré à son éditeur la subvention qui lui avait été déjà versée, considérant que l’œuvre s’attaquait à la légitimité et à l’autorité du gouvernement…

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Recalling a forgotten kingdom in Venice Biennale

Recalling a forgotten kingdom in Venice Biennale by Helmi Yusof, 14/04/2017, The Business Times

Zai Kuning will be showcasing Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge at the Singapore Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale from May 13 to Nov 26, 2017.

After18 years criss-crossing South-east Asia, Zai Kuning’s artistic journey is now going beyond the region to make a stop at the most important art event in the world: the Venice Biennale.

There, at the Singapore Pavilion in Arsenale, Zai is constructing a massive Phinisi ship out of rattan, string and beeswax. It will be 17 metres long – a metre perhaps for each year he’s spent exploring the history of Malays in South-east Asia – and it will be surrounded by 100 books that have been dipped in wax, never to be opened and read again, a metaphor for lost histories.

Since 1999, the artist has been obsessed with the meta-historical questions of: « Who am I? Where do I come from? Whom do I belong to? Whom do I answer to? » He’s less interested in issues of national identity and family genealogy than the broader field of the ethnogenesis and migration of Malays. The central figure in his research is Dapunta Hyang, the first ruler of the Srivijaya kingdom that dominated the Malay Archipelago from the 8th to the 12th century. As a Malay Buddhist, Dapunta Hyang also helped spread Buddhism throughout his kingdom.

At the Venice showcase, Zai will be putting up 30 photographic portraits of living mak yong performers on a facing wall running parallel to the ship. An audio recording of a mak yong master speaking in an ancient Malay dialect will also be played on loop.

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