Chinese Literary Works and Historical Memory of Singapore in 1940s

Project Number
RI 7/15 LJ

Project Duration
May 2016 - January 2019

In-Progress (Extended)

Chinese literary works and historical documents of Singapore’s writers in the 1940s form a rich resource in Singapore’s historical memory, not just in terms of literary value of individual works, but also in terms of the historical value that the corpus of texts as a whole would provide in enabling better understanding of social history of the period. These have however not been fully surveyed and analysed to date, due to problems of availability or access as well as the limitations in scope of study or theoretical framework in earlier efforts. Under a more traditional approach in literary history by pioneer scholars like Fang Xiu and others, the tendency was to consider Chinese literary works according to arbitrary periodisation that either fails to see the continuity between pre-war and post-war developments, or contrast too simply between works that reflect consciousness of a local or an immigrant identity. Writings such as memoirs and poems which provide insights into the Chinese society under Japanese Occupation and British colonial rule were also often omitted, hence missing opportunities of discovering material for National Education that would provide lessons on Singapore’s long and winding road of nationbuilding. This research project aims to fill the gap of knowledge by adopting an interdisciplinary approach that combines the perspectives of literary history and social history, taking interest in the production of historical memory through social transformation. The theoretical framework will also follow the most recent paradigm of Sinophone literature, which provides more sophistication in allowing one to analyse and re-evaluate Singapore Chinese literature of the 1940s by taking into account phenomena of hybridity between sound and script, standard and dialects, Chinese and Malay cultures. In addition to close reading of these literary works to uncover the specificities of such works produced under complex social conditions, mutual corroboration between literature and history will also help to discover historical significance to literary output of the 1940s. This wide-ranging survey and analysis will hence enable one to evaluate the literary and historical value of Singapore’s Chinese literature as part of a larger history.

Funding Source

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