Social Scientist. v 24, no. 278-79 (July-Aug 1996) p. 51.


Graphics file for this page
BENG-HUAT CHUA*

Racial-Singaporeans: Absence after the Hyphen^

As in all nations that are dominated by immigrant population^, Singapore is 'multiracial* in demographic composition. If bonds of solidarity among citizens of modern nation-state were built on the 'universalization of a shared civilization or ethnic tradition in the minds of equal and autonomous individuals as a condition for its continued survival' (Chun, 1994: 50; Gellner, 1983), then nations like Singapore have an endemic problem of finding a 'common bond* to bind its population to a sense of shared 'identity' and destiny. Alternatively put, there are serious obstacles to formulating the 'cultural substance' that may lend 'materiality' to the 'imagined' community called a nation. These difficulties are compounded in the Singapore case by particularistic conditions at its inception as a 'nation'.

Granted self-government of domestic affairs by the 'British colonial administration in 1959, it was nevertheless difficult for the Singapore population to push on for the obvious next political step because an independent Singapore was thought to be 'a foolish and absurd proposition' (Lee Kuan Yew, quoted in Drysdale 1984: 249) for .several reasons. Politically, it had been administratively part peninsular Malaya, until the latter's independence in 1957. Economically, under the prevailing belief in import substitution $is the best development strategy for decolonized states, an island without a large domestic marker was deemed to be non viable; demographically, population consisted almost entirely of immigrants,even the island's Malays were immigrants from neighbouring areas; culturally and ideologically, these immigrants were oriented to their "homelands" of China, India and emerging Malay nationalism. Under such conditions, the population could only see its continuing existence as part of peninsular Malaya, especially economically.

* Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.

Paper presented at the Conference on Identities, Ethnicities and Nationalities: Asian and Pacific Context. La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia, 7-9 July 1994.

Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 7-8, July-August 1996



Back to Social Scientist | Back to the DSAL Page