Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Should we be searching for Singapore's soul? (Part 1)

I had just finished reading a book by Philip Pan, Out of Mao's Shadow: The struggle for the Soul of a New China.

The book started with a powerful presentation of the Tiananmen Massacre and a very stark contrast: before the communist revolution, the Nationalist party used water jets to quell student protests. But when the communist party came to power, they used guns and tanks in response to the students' demand for democratic reform and an end to corruption.

But what hit me harder, was the conclusion of the book, which I felt mirrored some of the issues we face here in Singapore. This is what he said in the concluding chapter:

The internet has emerged as an important venue for people with shared gather, talk and organise...The hard truth, however, is that many people aren't looking...[the communist party's] "patriotic education" classes in the schools have dulled the public's curiosity...the government has grown expert at manipulating public opinion, especially rallying nationalist sentiment to its side...The party's most important advantage, of course, is the wave of prosperity that it has been riding for more than a quarter century...the wealthiest and most influential tycoons...are the most likely to owe their wealth to the one-party system and the least likely to challenge it.

Indeed, this paragraph can be used to describe exactly Singapore. Singaporeans are very much plugged in to the world wide web, but yet to find people interested in discussing social issues in Singapore - the wrong attitudes we are having towards fertility and aging population problem, the importance of preserving our dialect as a fast disappearing link to our history and ancestry - is not so easy.

Indeed, from the western point of view business development is supposed to be good for democratic development. But the nature of business development in Asia is so different and they fail to understand that in a country where the private sector is nurtured by the state, the business community will be the last people to champion democratic reform.

A friend recently commented to me: "I'm less concerned with saving the world than saving my bank account". Indeed, the government has done a good job of setting the priorities for Singaporeans.

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