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Resurgent Spirits of Civil Society Activism: Rediscovering the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore
pp. 21-45 | 10.1353/ras.2014.0016                                                                                                           

 

Abstract:

The proposed building of a major highway and expected extensive housing projects in the forgotten Chinese cemetery at Bukit Brown of Singapore in 2011 ignited unprecedented national and international attention. Opened in 1922 by the British colonial authorities and eventually embedded with over 100,000 graves of the Chinese diaspora within a site rich in biodiversity, it is now touted as one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China and a possible candidate for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This paper is not intended as a major theoretical framing of larger issues; instead, the focus is on chronicling the important resurgence of civil society activism in the process of rediscovery and tracing the challenges posed to the disciplinary political authorities of Singapore. Previous studies about contestation over Chinese burial grounds in Singapore are centred on Western versus Chinese practices and on parochial sub-communal interest versus modernist developmental regimes, without bringing heritage concerns directly into the microphysics of power. This new narrative on Bukit Brown will unveil the extent to which heritage, history and identity suddenly surged to the forefront of citizenry consciousness and interrogated the fundamentals of governance and national developmental agenda.

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