Cheng Nien Yuan

Dec 23, 2021

The Storytelling State

Performing Life Histories in Singapore

New Books Network 2021

Today, oral histories of everyday Singaporeans are more widely circulated in the nation’s mediascape than ever before. At first glance, storytelling in Singapore appears to have lost its monolithic quality, becoming diffuse and diversified. But as Dr Cheng Nien Yuan argues, Singapore has become a Storytelling State, marketing bite-sized pieces of consumable lives as authentic windows to the private self. The result is the use of personal stories within the neoliberal public sphere, mirroring a growing global phenomenon. To tell this story, Dr Natali Pearson is joined by Dr Cheng Nien Yuan to discuss her award-winning research that charts Singapore’s development into a storytelling state over the last decade.

About Cheng Nien Yuan:

Cheng Nien Yuan is an Honorary Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Literature, Art and Media, as well as the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. Her research centres around the politics and poetics of storytelling in Singapore. She obtained her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies in 2020 at Sydney University. Her thesis titled ‘The Storytelling State: Performing Life Histories in Singapore’ was awarded the 2020 John Legge Best Thesis in Asian Studies Prize by the Asian Studies Association of Australia. She has published in the journals Studies in Theatre and Performance (2021), Performance Paradigm (2018), and the Oral History Review (2017). She is also a dramaturg and performance-maker. Cheng is currently based in the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore, where she researches their pedagogy and practice.

For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website:

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.
Learn More