Reading Singapore

From the archives: Reading Singapore. Asian Review of Books. 25 March 2015. URL : (Consulté le 25 mars 2015)

The recent passing of Lee Kwan Yew, one of Asia’s most influential leaders and statesmen, has unsurprisingly resulted in considerable reflection about the man himself, and the past, present and future of the city with which he was so closely associated.

While one could make an argument that modern, independent Singapore owes its existence to Lee, the city itself of course has more than one father. In his review of Raffles and the Golden Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning, Singapore-based commentator Stephen Joyce wrote that

Without Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, there would be no Singapore, the colony that became a blueprint for the further expansion of the British Empire in Asia and continues as a highly successful city-state.

One can perhaps see some of Singapore’s current complexion in Raffles:

The complexity and subtlety of Asian culture was a source of great fascination for Raffles, yet he also sought to bring or impose on these people British law, civilisation and commerce, which he truly believed were far superior to anything on earth.

Singapore predates Raffles, of course, an issue taken up in Singapore and The Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 by John N Miksic. Stephen Joyce wrote in his review that

The main objective seems be to systematically dispel the myth that Singapore has no “historical depth” prior to the arrival of the British in 1819. In so doing, Miksic has given Singaporeans a more comprehensive view, new perspectives and perhaps a greater appreciation of the people who inhabited and worked on the island before the arrival of the British and colonialism.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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