Rajaratnam’s Tiger: Race, Gender and the Beginnings of Singapore Nationalism


Holden, Philip. 2006. “Rajaratnam’s Tiger: Race, Gender and the Beginnings of Singapore Nationalism.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 41 (1): 127-40.

Author: Philip Holden


Singapore's future Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, wrote a significant and neglected body of short stories while studying Law in London in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Under the influence of his London contemporaries such as Mulk Raj Anand, Rajaratnam's stories do imaginative work that prepares the ground for decolonization. In engaging with Malayan nationalism, they inevitably encounter the problematics of imagining a nation from the complex legacies of a colonial plural society. Thus, while the stories construct a gendered social imaginary, in which a feminized tradition is relegated to the private sphere of culture, they are troubled by the category of "race" and through a series of elisions fail to imagine a multiracial polity. The uneasiness provoked in a contemporary reader by the stories, however, is useful in challenging hegemonic categorizations of race in contemporary Singapore, particularly in the tightened "racial governmentality" of the nation-state from the 1980s onwards.

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Nationalism, Race Regions: Asia, Southeast Asia Countries: Singapore

Year: 2006

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