chapter  9
24 Pages

Contested compromises: national pasts in Singapore,

ByHong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok

All political communities are lodged within given structural circumstances; these comprise both practice and ideas: the former are made up of the relations of power which constitute the global system, the latter, the resources of discrete traditions;1 elites read their circumstances and react by fashioning projects which plot a route to the future; and domestic populations are appropriately disciplined via the familiar political processes of mobilization (or demobilization 2) and legitimation. In this way, schematically, elites create political projects. Yet such projects are contingent: as political life unfolds, periods of stability are interrupted with episodes of change. Periods of relative stability evidence a contested compromise between the contending groups which constitute the polity. 3 In these periods of stability competition between ideas is muted. It is here that we can fi nd the national past which offers a provisionally agreed version of the history, present character and – by implication – ideal future of the polity. Such national pasts contribute both to the self-understandings of the various groups within the polity and to the overall legitimacy of the state. A national past is an elaborate construct which must be made and remade within the shifting relationships of power that order the polity. Just as political projects are contingent, so too are their national pasts. In periods of change, confl ict is obvious, so too are competing ideas, and the make up of the national past will come into question. But these interlinked processes of reconstruction are not straightforward; change is unsettling and maybe disorienting; 4 and periods of uneasy debate might be expected.