Article ID: CBB659300814

Mental Illness in Singapore: A History of a Colony, Port City, and Coolie Town (2016)


The case of Singapore explores the history of mental illness in a British colony, port city, and Chinese coolie town. As a colony, Singapore not only received Western psychiatric expertise from the metropole but also suffered from the inner contradictions and failings of colonial rule. The mental asylum thus had a both modernizing and marginal role. As an international port city, Singapore was a major center for internationally crisscrossing flows, yet the transnationalism in mental health policy remained connected to colonial power in two ways: the British simplified the culturally diverse patients into distinct, subordinate races and transferred them between Singapore and other countries. Singapore was also an unruly “coolie town” where, utilizing the weapons of the weak, Chinese sufferers contested the psychiatric regime in the asylum and continued to seek treatment and care beyond it. Their ability to do so depended, however, on the specific circumstances that prevailed in the individual, asylum, and coolie town, and their agency was expressed in relation to the colonial system rather than independent of it.

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Authors & Contributors
Chang, Jiat-Hwee
Crozier, Ivan
Dolan, Brian
Sutphen, Mary
Porter, Dorothy
Greene, Jeremy
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
Health and History
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
History and Anthropology
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
History of Psychiatry
Princeton University
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Francisco
Harvard University
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
East Asia, civilization and culture
Mental disorders and diseases
Great Britain, colonies
France, colonies
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
21st century
17th century
16th century
Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro

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