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Myths III considers what SG50 means by probing three issues on our birth as a nation. Huang Jianli problematizes the popular rags-to-riches stories of our Chinese migrant community. Seng Guo-Quan scrutinizes the charges of communism in Lee Kuan Yew’s Battle for Merger talks. Lee Kah-Wee unravels the myths surrounding the 2005 casino debates, returning to earlier debates on Singapore and Las Vegas.

Living with the Myth of Rags-to-Riches in the Nanyang Diaspora

Huang Jianli

National University of Singapore


Stories of rags-to-riches has been one common feature of our Chinese migrant community, framing several pioneering family histories and providing inspiration to the general society. There is also the corporate state’s appropriation of such biographical emplotment as manifested in Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘The Singapore Story: From Third World to First.’ The talk will identify the causal factors which have led to a high circulation of such stories and will problematize the narrative. It will then lead us back to the main theme of this year-long series of talks by advocating a shift from the binary perspective of Myth versus History to a co-existential living with mythologization in history writing, for both the academics and citizen historians.


HUANG Jianli is an Associate Professor with the History Department of the National University of Singapore. Within the university, he is concurrently the Deputy Director of Asia Research Institute and a Research Associate at the East Asian Institute. His first field of study is on the history of student political activism and local governance in Republican China from the 1910s to 1940s. His second research area is on the Chinese diaspora, especially the relationship between China and the Chinese community in Singapore. 




The Myth that the Battle For Merger was a Battle against ‘Communists’ and ‘Pro-communists’

Seng Guo-Quan
University of Chicago


The ‘Battle for Merger’ was the title for a series of twelve radio talks that Lee Kuan Yew gave in September and October 1961 to persuade the Singapore public about how ‘communists’ and ‘pro-communists’ had come to oppose the PAP government's bid to bring self-governing Singapore into a merger with the Federation of Malaya. In this talk, I explore how the ‘pro-communist’ label in particular was manipulated in public discourse during the ever-widening split between the labour movement and the PAP leadership during the months leading up to the radio talks.


Seng Guo-Quan is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. He is completing a dissertation project on colonial family law and Chinese family formations in the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya.




Casino Debates Revisited: Learning from History and Las Vegas

Lee Kah-Wee

National University of Singapore


The casino debates around 2005 bring to surface some foundational myths in the self-imagination of Singapore as a historical process. In my reading, it seems that the official argument to justify the casinos rests on defining what has changed and what has not – in other words, by re-presenting history. One particularly salient pair is the idea the government has always said ‘no’ to casino gambling, and that the Integrated Resort is a new creature that is suitable for Singapore. By this representation, the morality of the state is a historical constant while the element of change is tamed and absorbed into this semblance of constancy.


 Has the government always said ‘no’ to casino gambling? Is the Integrated Resort really a ‘found object’, evolved elsewhere, that is now finally safe to be imported into Singapore? My talk will provide two historical perspectives – Singapore in the 1960s during the debates around the legalization of the state lottery, and Las Vegas in the 1970s when corporations began to take over mafia-run casinos.


Lee Kah-Wee obtained his PhD in Architecture (Designated Emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies) at UC Berkeley, and is currently Assistant Professor at NUS, Department of Architecture. His research pertains to the spatial history of the control of vice and contemporary casino development in the Asia Pacific region, a phenomenon he calls ‘casino urbanism’. He is also working on his book, ‘Las Vegas in Singapore’.






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