Ethno-nationalism travels incognito in Singapore

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In his history of Singaporean nation-building, historian Edwin Lee characterized the country as “The Unexpected Nation.” He was referring to the inconvenient fact that the country’s Founding Fathers had never wanted it to be an independent polity or even a stand-alone economy. They had actively disparaged the notion that it might ever be a nation.1 It did not even have much of a history as a stand-alone colony. Under the century-and-a-half of British rule that preceded Singapore’s membership of Malaysia, the island was joined to Penang and Malacca as one component of a colony called the Straits Settlements. In the last half-century of its existence, the Straits Settlements was itself commonly treated as part of a broader collection of colonies known as British Malaya. Only at the end of the Pacific War and the Japanese Occupation of Singapore and Malaya, when the island was separated from the other parts of the Straits Settlements and also from Malaya, did it start a new life as a Crown Colony even as the rest of Malaya moved towards independence. But even this relative autarky lasted only a decade-and-a-half, after which Singapore joined the new Federation of Malaysia, only to be cast adrift again 18 months later to start life as an ‘unexpected nation.’2
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCivic Nationalisms in Global Perspective
EditorsJasper M Trautsch
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781315099002
ISBN (Print)9781138297821
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Nationalism
  • Travel
  • Singapore


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