Modernity, popular culture and urban life : Anglophone Asians in colonial Singapore, 1920-1940
Chua, Ai Lin
University of Cambridge
Faculty of History
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Chua, A. L. (2008). Modernity, popular culture and urban life : Anglophone Asians in colonial Singapore, 1920-1940 (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11668
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As a thriving cosmopolitan port city in Southeast Asia, Singapore under British colonial rule was quick to embrace international trends in popular culture. The multiethnic, Anglophone, Asian middle-class was most influenced by new ideas and modern mass consumer technologies. In this thesis, modern popular culture is investigated through a social history sunounding various modes of mass consumer technologies which became increasingly embedded in the everyday life of Singapore's cityscape. The local popular press and amateur associations played a key role in the promotion of new technologies and consumer tastes, which in turn provided opportunities for commercial enterprises in Singapore. The motor car brought about an important qualitative shift in the physical experience of movement, freedom of mobility and the experience of the city's streets. The automobile was also a focus for the expression of new middle-class lifestyles and social tastes, while allowing earlier patterns of ethno-economic employment to continue. A highly cosmopolitan cinema industry also developed rapidly in Singapore, marking its presence on the city's built landscape. Despite official attempts at censorship, vibrant public debates illustrate the cinema's deep influence on changing social ideals, values and fashion trends especially amongst young people and women. Shortwav� radio offered an even more intense experience of global cultures and the wonders of modern technology. Even as the colonial government attempted to connect the British empire through wireless radio, broadcasting in Singapore became increasingly localised in terms of personnel involved and content. Together with gramophone records, the medium of radio developed symbiotically with other urban entertainments at the time. In conclusion, this thesis reveals the depth and textures of an distinctively local experience of modernity in inter-war Singapore. In addition, the shared experience of popular modernity by the Anglophone Asian community formed a basis for a multiethnic community identity, echoing the newly assertive political expressions of the permanently-settled local community during this period.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11668