Studies of Asian values discourse emphasize its link to the ideological articulation of Singapore's ruling elite in contemporary circumstances of global modernity. Significantly, an influential commentary has reflexively raised the postcolonial discomfort connected to the hybrid political space of Singapore. Focusing on postcolonial discomfort as the central problem, I locate the articulation of Asian values in the psychic-cultural consequences of colonial hybridity. I argue that the discomfort stemmed from the Anglicized Chinese elite's realization that British colonial discourse repudiated his racialized body as signifying Oriental perfidy. The consequential trauma then provoked the desire for Oriental purity and drove him toward imaginary identification with the putative original nation. The subject fulfilled desire and drive by fetishizing the Confucian junzi identity. I trace how postcolonial discomfort affected the trajectory of elite hegemony in decolonizing and postcolonial Singapore. The elite initially adopted a hybrid Malayan identity, which emulated the transformative multiracialism of their leftist comrades-turned-opponents. After undesired separation from Malaysia, the identity was no longer tenable, and the elite resorted to the “communist” abject to create the tentative boundaries of an imaginary, cleansed national entity during rapid industrialization. As Xiaoping Deng's reforms in China reoriented their search for an Asian identity, the elite adopted Confucianism as their personal junzi identity and as a public discourse for citizen morality. But political opposition to the regime led to the revival of the communist abject in the “Marxist conspiracy” crackdowns, which failed in the liberalizing post – Cold War context. The elite subsequently privatized their Confucianism and transposed it into Asian values to shore up domestic and international legitimacy. While fulfilling the desire for Oriental purity and assuaging the postcolonial discomfort experienced in hybrid Singapore, Asian values guide the elite in implementing new forms of governmentality for neoliberal globalization.
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Daniel P. S. Goh; Oriental Purity: Postcolonial Discomfort and Asian Values. positions 1 November 2012; 20 (4): 1041–1066. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-1717663
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