Advertising community: Union Times and Singapore’s vernacular public sphere, 1906–1939

David Kenley, Elizabethtown College


Newspapers have long played an important role in Singapore’s vernacular public sphere. Drawing on scholarly work in the fields of sociology, economics, history, and communications, this paper analyzes advertisements in the Chinese-language newspaper Zonghui bao (Union times) between 1908 and 1941. At the most simple level, advertisers told consumers what to wear, ingest, and drive. Additionally, ads defined worldviews, gender relations, and cross-cultural associations. However, advertisers also responded to the needs and demands of their audience. It was within this public sphere between seller and consumer that Singapore’s multiethnic society developed.