Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Unique Chinese Dilemma In Singapore

Should English become the mother tongue for Singaporean Chinese? To some, this is not a question. For many young kids growing up in an English environment, perhaps this is a funny question as they are so used to think everything in English and even consider themselves a product of ‘English’.  It is a known secret that some kids hate Chinese in schools.

However, I am not talking about this type of dilemma. This man-made dilemma is of course a product of the People’s Action Party. It certainly shows the effectiveness of our bilingualism education as well as our bi-cultural programs. And in fact, the PAP government only wants the top 10% or 20% of students to be bilingual and bi-cultural. So, the majority of younger generation of local born Singaporeans will need to master English only.  

For the continuation and maintenance of local Chinese language, culture and tradition, the burden has to go to this top 10-20% people plus a few more Singaporeans who are interested on these subjects. The rest of Singaporean Chinese will have less association or contact with their father’s or grandfather’s culture, customs and tradition.   

This is the current dilemma and perhaps a small one comparing to the future one.

Will we be eating more of this in future? 
Will we be eating less of this in future?

Will Chinese language and culture die off in future Singapore?  The answer is no.  This is why I call it a unique dilemma and perhaps it can only take place in Singapore. We will likely to see a diluted original (Southern Chinese Guangdong and Fujian) Singapore Chinese culture joining an expanded and ‘overall’ Chinese culture from different regions of China.

And this more representative or well represented Chinese culture may be too alien or too foreign to some Singaporeans, not to mention speak-only English Singaporeans.  This is why we hear the comment of ‘we are like staying in a Chinese city’?

Yes, indeed this is emerging.  Even though we don’t have the official figure of non-locally born Chinese in Singapore, it is easy to estimate the figure by just using the racial ratio of 75% Chinese. For 5 million populations, we will have 3.75 million Chinese. For 6.9 million populations, we will have 5.18 million Chinese.  To make up this figure, a lot of them will have to come from China as our birth rate is too low.

The bigger dilemma will be we will have a very different Chinese culture in Singapore - a different culture that even Chinese educated Singaporeans may find it difficult to adjust and adapt.  When the Chinese educated Singaporeans become an extinct, we will then see an even bigger social divide: a speak English only population and a part-bilingual part-Mandarin speaking population.

This is unique because our own Chinese culture (or is there one remaining?) is being transformed by a bigger and more powerful Chinese culture coming from all over China.  The PAP government likes to see this happening as we can have all business connections all over China. But can Singapore as a whole handle the situation well?  The elites may think so in pure economic terms but what about the larger population.   

This is very different from the USA, UK or France. You can find Chinatowns in New York, London or Paris; however, the individual country still maintains their own culture and language even the size of Chinese population grows.   

It is an interesting development and the drama has just begun. The issue goes beyond whether Singaporeans are anti-foreigners or not.  Certainly, it also goes beyond the question of whether we should consider English as our mother’s tongue. When the wise man of bilingualism goes into history, will he also bring along this dilemma with him?

If not, the future generation of Singaporeans whether born or not born in Singapore will have to think a way out to solve this dilemma. Perhaps, this will make us stronger and become a reformed Singapore re-emphasizing our past!


Just some updates on statistics on weibo accounts in Singapore from There are 1.5 million registered accounts and 800,000 daily active members.

据报道,受委负责新加坡微博业务公司Trends Media的Jimmy Li说,新加坡在新浪微博注册用户数排名第四,拥有150万注册用户,每天有80万活跃用户。虽然大部分新加坡人在使用Facebook、Twitter、Instagram,他说该公司并非与这些平台竞争,而是要抢占使用中文者的市场(约三分之一新加坡人口)。新浪微博计划覆盖新加坡三分之一人口,达到200万注册用户和150万日活跃用户。 - See more at:

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