(Re)Constructing History: Alfian Sa’at’s Merdeka and the Bicentennial Dilemma

Dr. Jane Yeang Chui Wong2

2Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore

In the closing months of 2019 as the bicentennial celebrations in Singapore draw to a close, Alfian Sa’at’s Merdeka calls to question the tensions between Singapore’s independence and its inherent associations with British colonial legacy. At the centre of the proposed essay is an examination of the ways in which Sa’at challenges assumptions and expectations of colonial legacy and the government’s attempts to inscribe colonial legacy into a brand of nostalgia that is neither inherently colonial nor local but rather commercial. Sa’at’s interest in the government’s use of material artefacts, and more specifically, the spaces and places they occupy, underscore anxieties of a national identity against the backdrop of a broader global context. The popularization of history as a commercial and nostalgic narrative in Sa’at’s play provides a critical platform for audiences to consider the implications of historical articulation in the public domain. In teasing out the seemingly haphazard and piecemeal versions of Singapore history in Merdeka, this essay aims to shed new light on how Singapore is forced to re-examine its existing historical paradigms while struggling to come to terms with its colonial legacy two hundred years after Sir Stamford Raffles “founded” Singapore.


Jane Yeang Chui Wong is Assistant Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University. Her research interests include early modern literature and historiography, modern drama, and Asian literature and culture. She is also the author of Dissent and Authority in Early Modern Ireland: The English Problem from Bale to Shakespeare (Routledge, 2019).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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