Singapore and the Lineages of Authoritarian Modernity in East Asia



Singapore appears to be a stand-alone case of authoritarian modernity in the post–Cold War world. But Singapore is much less a ‘lonely’ example of authoritarian modernity than it is a continuation of a historical trend in East Asia. This region has been home to the most significant examples of countries with advanced economies, but without liberal democratic political systems since Imperial Germany industrialized but did not democratize in the late nineteenth century. The ‘Prussian path’ of German authoritarian-led development was imitated by Meiji reformers and this model was later diffused throughout East Asia. Singapore is a particularly important example of this phenomenon not only because it ‘learned from Japan’ (an official campaign in the 1970s and early 1980s) and constructed a conservative culturalist discourse (‘Asian values’ in the 1980s and 1990s) to help justify continued authoritarian rule, but also because it served as the ‘model’ for China’s authoritarian developmentalist leadership. After Mao’s death and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European state socialist satellite states, Chinese officials and academic analysts became obsessed with tiny Singapore as the only modern non-democratic state worthy of imitation. This process of emulation was not chiefly about an appropriate economic model (there was a general consensus on the need for state intervention). Rather it was primarily a quest for authoritarian legitimation.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.City University of Hong KongKowloonHong Kong SAR

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