76.2% of the Singaporean citizen population (2015)
|Related ethnic groups|
|Overseas Chinese, Peranakans|
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Chinese Singaporeans (simplified Chinese: 新加坡华人/华裔新加坡人; traditional Chinese: 新加坡華人/華裔新加坡人; pinyin: Xīnjiāpō Huárén / Huáyì Xīnjiāpōrén) are Singaporeans of Chinese ancestry. Chinese Singaporeans constitute 76.2% of the Singaporean population, making them the largest ethnic group in Singapore.
Many Chinese Singaporeans can trace their ancestry to the southeastern coast of China, where many of their ancestors came from during the 19th and first half of the 20th century. The Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese are the 3 largest dialect groups that Chinese Singaporeans are classified under.
The Singapore Department of Statistics defines "Chinese" as a "race" or "ethnic group", as opposed to Malay, Indian and Others under the CMIO model. They consist of "persons of Chinese origin" such as the Hokkiens, Teochews, Hainanese, Cantonese, Hakka, Henghuas, Hokchias and Foochows, Shanghainese, Northern Chinese, etc." Chinese Singaporeans are defined as the "Chinese community in Singapore" regardless of their affiliation with the wider global Chinese community.
As early as the 10th century, there was evidence of Chinese people trading and settling in Singapore and there were also various Chinese records documenting trading activities and Chinese residents on the island from the 10th to the 14th century. Prior to the establishment of Singapore as a British trading port, there was a small population of 120 Malays who were the followers of Temenggong Abdul Rahman, and about 20–30 Chinese living on the island. After Singapore became a British colony, there was an influx of Chinese migrant workers, but these early Chinese migrants to Singapore were predominantly males, as they would usually return back to their families in China after they have earned enough. There was only a significant number of Chinese residents permanently settling in Singapore during the early to mid twentieth century, forming the bulk of the Chinese Singaporean population today.
The early records of Singapore in Imperial Chinese sources named Singapore as "Long Ya Men" (龍牙門), "Dan Ma Xi" (單馬錫 or 淡馬錫). Later other terms such as "Xi La" (息辣), "Shi le" (石叻), or "Xi Li" (息力, for "selat" meaning strait) may also refer to Singapore or the surrounding areas.
Archaeological excavations of artefacts such as Chinese coins or ceramics in Singapore, which dated back to the period of the reign of Emperor Zhenzong of Song (998–1022) and Emperor Renzong of Song (1023–1063), indicated that Chinese merchants or traders had already visited Singapore by the Song dynasty.
The Chinese record Annals of various foreign states (Zhu fan zhi) written by Zhao Rushi in 1225 clearly described Chinese merchant ships arriving in Singapore from Quanzhou and various Chinese trading activities. In this annal, the chapter San Fo Qi (三佛齊 the Chinese name for Srivijaya) recorded merchant ships passing through "Ling Ya Men" (凌牙門, although it is not clear however if it is the same as Long Ya Men) before reaching Srivijaya for trading.
The Chinese traveller Wang Dayuan, visiting the island around 1330, described a small Malay settlement called Dan Ma Xi (淡馬錫, from Malay Temasek) in which Chinese residents live together with the Malays.
Following the decline of Srivijayan power, Temasek was alternately claimed by the Majapahit and the Siamese, but the invasion of 1377 and 1391 caused Singapore to be destroyed. Following that, there were little Chinese records of the visiting of Chinese to Singapore. Singapore is marked as Dan Ma Xi in the Mao Kun map that dates back to the naval voyage of Chinese explorer Zheng He in 1403. In 1420, en route the 6th voyage, Zheng He passed by Singapore, but there were no records of presence of Chinese.
The 19th century Chinese record Investigation of Southern Pacific (南洋蠡測) (Nanyang Li Ce) described the presence of Chinese tombs in Singapore (known as "Xin Ji Li Po" (新忌利波 in Chinese). On the Chinese tomb, there were words and inscriptions recording the period of Later Liang and Emperor Gong of Song. This may suggest that from 907 to 1274, some Chinese had settled, lived, died and were buried in Singapore.
From the founding of modern Singapore by Stamford Raffles until the Japanese occupation in 1942, Singapore was ruled as a colony by the British. When the British first arrived in Singapore, most of the inhabitants on the island of Singapore were fisherman, seamen or pirates, living in small houses. There were about 150 people; a majority of 120 Malay and 30 minority Chinese.
When Singapore became a Straits Settlement, there were very few Chinese. After Singapore became a British trading post as part of the Straits Settlement, the first batch of Chinese came from Malaysia, predominantly from Malacca and Penang. Amongst these Chinese from Malacca and Penang, many were Peranakans or descendants of Chinese in Malaysia for several generations. Most were traders who could speak Chinese and Malay, though many were also English-educated and could communicate with the British. In the Manners and customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements, Singapore, it was described that the Straits-born Chinese regarded themselves as British subjects instead of Chinese subjects; their lifestyle was more westernised. By the time of the first census of Singapore in 1824, the Chinese migrants were noted as being either Peranakans, or from Macau, Guangdong and Fujian.
The Chinese quickly formed the majority of the population in Singapore, by the census of 1826 there were already more Chinese (6,088) than Malays (4,790) excluding Bugis (1,242) and Javanese (267). The Chinese became the dominant group by the 1830s (the largest ethnic group at 45.9% in the 1836 census), and by 1849, 52.8% of the total population of 52,891 were Chinese. The Chinese population reached over 70% of the total by 1901 and has stayed there since.
The early Chinese migrants to Singapore were predominantly males. In 1826, the official census figures show that out of a total population of 13,750, there were 5,747 Chinese males but only 341 Chinese females. Most of the Chinese females in this early period of Singapore were nyonyas from Malacca as women from China were discouraged from emigrating. It was noted in 1837 that there were no Chinese women in Singapore who had emigrated directly from China; even as late as 1876, a British official in Singapore wrote that he did not know of any respectable Chinese woman who had emigrated with her husband. The imbalance of the sexes in Chinese community continued for a long time with the continual flow into Singapore of male migrant workers who were either single or had left their wives and children behind in China; for example, the 1901 census figures show that there were 130,367 Chinese males compared to 33,674 Chinese females. For a long period, most of the Chinese population in early Singapore were immigrants as many did not intend to settle permanently to raise their family there; even by the late 1890s, only around 10% of the Chinese population in Singapore were born there. The early migrant Chinese workers worked to send money back to their family in China, and many would then return to China after they had earned enough money. However, an increasing number would also choose to settle permanently in Singapore, especially in the 1920s when more chose to remain in Singapore rather than leave. Change in social attitude in the modern era also meant that Chinese women were freer to emigrate from China, and the sex ratio began to normalise in the 20th century. This gradual normalisation of sex ratio led to an increase in the number of native births. Immigration would continue to be the main reason for the Chinese population increase in Singapore until the 1931–1947 period when the natural increase in population would surpass the net immigration figures.
Many of the early migrants were Chinese traders who were attracted by the free trade policy after Singapore became the capital of the British Straits Settlements in 1832. Many also came to work in the plantations, with 11,000 migrants recorded in one year. Singapore became one of the entry and dispersal points for large number of Chinese and Indian migrants who came to work in the plantations and mines of the Straits Settlements, many of whom then settled in Singapore after their contract ended. Because of booming commerce which required a large labour force, the Chinese coolie trade also appeared in Singapore. Indentured Chinese labourers (known as coolie) were contracted by coolie traders and brought to Singapore to work. Because China banned the travelling of Chinese overseas before the Opium War, any form of coolie trade was conducted mainly through the Portuguese-controlled Macau. Thus any form of large migration of Chinese labourers overseas at the beginning of the 19th century is quite unlikely. It was only after the Treaty of Nanking signed in 1842 (due to Opium War) that large migration of Chinese coolie began to appear. In 1860 under the 2nd Opium War, Chinese coolie trade became legalised and reached a high peak. The large influx of coolies into Singapore only stopped after William Pickering became the Protector of Chinese. In 1914, the coolie trade was abolished and banned in Singapore.
The large influx of Chinese to Singapore led to the establishment of a large number of Chinese associations, schools, and temples in Singapore and, within a century, the Chinese immigrant population exceeded that of the Malays. During this period, Christian missionaries from Europe began evangelising to the Asians, especially the Chinese.
Peranakans, or those descendants of Chinese in Southeast Asia for many generations who were generally English-educated were typically known in Singapore as "Laokuh" (老客 – Old Guest) or "Straits Chinese". Most of them paid loyalty to the British Empire and did not regard themselves as "Huaqiao". From the 19th till the mid-20th century, migrants from China were known as "Sinkuh" (新客 – New Guest). A majority of them were coolies, workers on steamboats, etc. Some of them came to Singapore for work, in search of better living conditions or to escape poverty in China. Many of them also escaped to Singapore due to chaos and wars in China during the first half of the 20th century. They came mostly from the Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan provinces and, unlike Peranakans, paid loyalty to China and regarded themselves as "Huaqiao".
1937–1945 (World War II)
The Second Sino-Japanese War, started in 1937, revived a perceived sense of patriotism in the local Chinese to their native homeland in China which led them to impose an embargo against Japanese goods and products in Singapore. During the war, many of the immigrants returned to China to fight the Japanese, while established entrepreneurs sent economic aid or military equipment to China. After the Japanese took Singapore in 1942, the Kempeitai tracked down many Chinese who aided the Chinese war effort against Japan. However, the Kempeitai's Sook Ching Operation was simply a massacre designed to drive fear into the local populace, so the Kempeitai simply picked out people based on accounts of masked informers, which in many cases were false accounts based on personal vendettas. There was also active anti-Japanese resistance during the war, such as Force 136, headed by Lim Bo Seng.
Race riots were common during the early post-war period, predominantly in the period between self-governance and independence in 1965. One major riot took place during birthday celebrations in honour of Muhammad, on 21 July 1964. There were records of high casualties (23 killed and 454 injured), as well as claims that the riot was politically motivated to oust the then Prime Minister (Lee Kuan Yew) and his cabinet as well as to prevent the promotion of a Malaysian Malaysia concept in Peninsular Malaysia.
After the independence of Singapore in 1965, Singapore began to foster a more racially harmonious society in Singapore. Following the construction of Singapore national identity and nationhood, the Chinese in Singapore began to change their mindset from temporary stay to permanent settlements in Singapore, thus taking roots in Singapore. Following this transformation, the Chinese in Singapore gradually began to recognise citizenship-wise as "Singaporeans".
Chinese migrants from China during the late 20th century and early 21st century were generally known as "Xinyimin 新移民" (new immigrants). They came from various parts of China.
Chinese associations or institutions in Singapore
When the Chinese migrants first arrived in Singapore in the 19th and early 20th century, they settled in an enclave such as Chinatown. They tended to group themselves according to dialectal similarity, with those from nearby Chinese regions grouping. This led the Chinese to form 5 dialectal Cohorts (known as Bangqun, 幫群), namely the Hokkien Bang, Teochew Bang, Cantonese Bang, Hakka Bang and Hainanese Bang.
During the British colonial period, the colonial government basically adopted the approach of using "the Chinese to govern the Chinese". They appointed Chinese leaders to govern the Chinese community. Effectively, the Chinese community existed in a half-autonomy state. Most Chinese leaders used the Chinese civil societies (small organisations) to help govern the Chinese community and to help new Chinese immigrants settled into Singapore, including finding jobs and lodgings for them.
As most of these Chinese civil societies were involved in Chinese family religious activities such as funerals or ancestral worship, they were in fact religious-oriented. This gradually evolved into the development of Chinese Temples or Chinese clan associations in Singapore. As time passed by, the Chinese had grown to have more achievements in the business and education in Singapore. Some rich and powerful Chinese businessmen began to establish Clubs, such as the Ee Ho Hean Club (怡和軒) in 1895, and Chamber of Commerce, such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to broaden the Chinese social circle. Established in 1906, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry was the highest body of organisation within the Chinese community in Singapore. It was responsible for fighting the rights of the Chinese in Singapore during the British colonial period. During the World War II, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry had managed to help raise funds and resources to help relieve the sufferings in war-torn China.
After Singapore gained independence and autonomy in the 1960s, the Singapore government undertook measures to help foster racial harmony in Singapore. It encouraged various races of different languages and religious backgrounds to intermingle and to live side by side. Following the growth of Singaporean nationhood and national identity, the Chinese immigrants began to change their mindset from temporary migration to permanent settlements, thus soiling their roots in Singapore. With the strengthening of Singaporean national identity, the Chinese clans association gradually declined in terms of importance. Their role of organising and governing the Chinese community was soon taken over by the Singapore government.
Today, all Singaporean clan associations come under the flagship of Singapore Federation of Chinese Clans Association (SFCCA). They connect Chinese Singaporeans to their Chinese roots or Ancestral home. Besides, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) continued to look after the interests of the Chinese business community as well as sourcing business opportunities in China. The Chinese Development Assistance Council was founded out of these two organisations (SFCCA and SCCCI) to help nurture and develop the potential of the Chinese community in contributing to the continued success of multiracial Singapore. There are also various Chinese cultural organisations such as Singapore Chinese Calligraphy Society, Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Siong Leng Musical Association, Nanyang Confucian Association, Singapore Chinese Opera Institute etc. Besides, there are also major Chinese religious associations such as Singapore Buddhist Federation, Taoist Federation (Singapore) and Singapore Buddhist Lodge to look after the religious affairs of Chinese Singaporeans.
All these Chinese organisations continue to play an important role in the economical, cultural and religious activities of Chinese Singaporeans.
Han Chinese subgroups
In general, Singaporeans of Chinese descent are grouped according to their respective ancestral origins in China or the different Han Chinese subgroups they belong to. Most Chinese Singaporeans descended from the southeastern coast of China in the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan. The Min Nan people (Hokkiens and Teochew) and Cantonese together form more than three-quarters of the Chinese Singaporean population. The Hakka, Henghuas, Foochows and other subgroups account for most of the remainder. Singaporeans of Chinese descent are generally the descendants of non-indentured and indentured immigrants from southern China during the 19th and first half of the 20th century. The 1990s and early 21st century saw Singapore experience a third wave of immigration from different parts of China.
Quanzhou: Anxi, Nan'an, Jinjiang, Shishi, Hui'an, Yongchun, Kinmen
Zhangzhou: Longhai, Pinghe, Zhao'an, Longyan
|Teochew||Guangdong||Chaozhou, Shantou, Chao'an, Chaoyang, Jieyang, Raoping, Chenghai, Puning, Huilai||466,020||526,200||562,139|
|Cantonese||Guangdong||Guangzhou, Zhaoqing, Foshan, Shunde, Sanshui, Taishan, Heshan, Dongguan, Kaiping, Xinhui, Enping||327,870||385,630||408,517|
|Chengxiang County (present-day Meixian District), Dapu, Hepo, Huizhou, Danshui (present-day Huiyang District), Yongding, Heyuan, Western Longyan, Lufeng||155,980||198,440||232,914|
|Hainanese||Hainan||Wenchang, Haikou, Qionghai, Ding'an, Wanning||148,740||167,590||177,541|
|Fujian||Fuzhou, Changle, Gutian||36,490||46,890||54,233|
|Shanghainese (Sanjiang)||Yangtze Delta||Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang||17,310||21,550||22,053|
The Hokkien-speaking subgroup constitutes nearly two-fifths of the Chinese Singaporean population. They are Hoklo people from Minnan, including mixed-race Peranakan Chinese and immigrants who originated in the southern parts of the Fujian province, including Xiamen, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou.
They speak Singaporean Hokkien, the standard of which is based on the Amoy dialect of Xiamen, which is partially comprehensible with Teochew although less so with Hainanese. Hokkien Chinese was a lingua franca among coastal Chinese and was also used by other ethnic groups such as the Malays and the Indians to communicate with Chinese before Mandarin came to dominance during the 1980s and 1990s.
Just as in Taiwan, Hokkien people, speakers of Hokkien, refers not to people originating from all parts of Fujian. "Hokkien" refers only to the Minnan (Southern Min) region of southern coastal Fujian. Singaporean Hokkien does not include northern Fujianese such as those arriving from Fuzhou, Putian and so on. Early Hokkien migrants settled around Amoy Street and Telok Ayer Street, forming enclaves around the Thian Hock Kheng Temple. They subsequently set up clan headquarters (Hokkien Huey Kuan) there and later expanded to Hokkien Street and the vicinity of China Street. Hokkiens were the most active in early trading that centred along the Singapore River.
As early settlers came from the southern coast of China, they were to pray for calm waves and a safe journey and worshipped the “Mother of Heavenly Sage” or Tian Shang Sheng Mu (天上聖母), the Goddess who can calm the sea and ensure the safety of those travelling across the seas. Thian Hock Keng Temple was thus built in 1840 along Telok Ayer Street and dedicated to Tian Shang Sheng Mu (天上聖母), it was a bustling meeting point and an important congregation point for the Hokkien community. Other popular deities are the Kew Ong Yah, Guan Teh Gong, Kuan Yim Hood Chor, Ong Yah Gong, Qing Shui Zhu Shi, Bao Sheng Da Di, Kai Zhang Sheng Wang, Fu De Zheng Shen and especially the Jade Emperor, 9th Day of the 1st Lunar Month is the birthday of Jade Emperor and is considered by many Chinese to be the most important day of the lunar year.
A traditional Taoist practice by spiritual mediumship (乩童, p jītóng, Hokkien tangki; 童乩) is also popular. The tangki goes into a trance and purportedly channels a chosen Deity for the petitioner. The Deity will provides wide range of divine assistance from bestowing blessings to oracles consultation to exorcism to giving spiritual protection and talismans.
The Teochew-speaking subgroup in Singapore constitutes about a fifth of the Chinese Singaporean population, making them the second-largest Southern Min dialect-speaking group in Singapore. The Teochew speakers form a separate division of Hoklo (Min Nan/Hokkien) people. They originated from Chaoshan region in eastern Guangdong, in cities like Chaozhou, Jieyang and Shantou. Many trace their origins from different Northern cities but were settled there to maintain as county authorities within the south of China.
Despite similarities, the Teochew and Hokkien speakers consider themselves distinct and did not get along during their early settlement in Singapore, especially during the British colonial era. The Teochew were dominant for a period of time during the 19th century. Mass immigration from Fujian changed this, although the majority of the Chinese along the banks of the Straits of Johor were Teochew until the HDB initiated redevelopment in the 1980s. The Straits Times reports that Hougang still has a relatively high concentration of Teochew residents.
Most Teochew settled along the Singapore River in Chinatown during the 19th and early 20th century. Teochew who settled in Chinatown worked in many commercial sectors as well as the fisheries. Commercial sectors once dominated by Teochews include Circular Road and South Bridge Road. Other Teochew businessmen set up gambier and pepper plantations in the dense forests of north Singapore and Johor Bahru. The Chinese first started their plantations with the approval of the Sultan of Johor and then developed the kangchu (江厝, p jiāngcuò, lit. "river house") system. Chu was the clan name of the first headman of the plantations in the area. These kangchus gave rise to modern place names such as Choa Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang and Yio Chu Kang, all of which were plantation areas before urban redevelopment.
Early Chinese immigrants clustered themselves to form clan and language associations. These clan associations (kongsi) served as unions for the mostly illiterate Chinese labourers and represented them when dealing with their colonial administrators or employers. One of the more prominent associations for the Teochew was the Ngee Ann Kongsi, formed in 1845 and still in operation.
The Cantonese-speaking subgroup makes up 15% of the Chinese Singaporean population. They originated from Hong Kong and the southern region of Guangdong province in China, including Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhaoqing, Jiangmen, Maoming and Heshan.
The Cantonese speak several dialects belonging to the Yue family. Yue Hai is considered the prestige dialect from its occurrence in Guangzhou. Other variants include Luoguang, Siyi and Gouyeung. The Gwainaam is spoken by immigrants from Guangxi and shares close affinity with Pinghua.
The Cantonese worked mainly as professionals and tradesmen during the early and mid 20th centuries, and their businesses dominated the shophouses along Temple Street, Pagoda Street, and Mosque Street. Cantonese women from the Samsui district worked at construction sites and contributed greatly toward Singapore's development. These Samsui women left their families behind in China and came to Singapore to work at construction sites for a living during the early 20th century. Cantonese women from the Siyi district of Jiangmen wore black headgear similar to the Samsui women and mainly worked at Keppel Harbour and the shipyards at the old harbour along the Singapore River. Many Cantonese women also worked as majie in rich people's households. More Cantonese immigrated from Hong Kong in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Today, the Cantonese dialect is still preserved amongst ethnic Chinese of Cantonese ancestry, although most younger generations tend to speak more Mandarin due to language reforms, but is still widely used as the main lingua franca for connecting both the older and the younger generations when communicating to one another as well. As of 2010, Singaporeans recognise Chinatown for having a large number of Cantonese people.
The Hakka-speaking subgroup constitutes 11.4% of the Chinese Singaporean population. They originated mainly from the northeastern part of Guangdong, from such areas mostly in the villages of Meixian and Dapu in Meizhou Prefecture.
Singapore has more than 200,000 Hakkas and they are the fourth-largest dialect group after the Hokkiens, Teochews and Cantonese. The Hakkas were known for running pawnshops, traditional Chinese medicine shops and optical shops. Many Hakka women who came to Singapore during the early 20th century worked in construction sites and wore headgear similar to the Samsui women. However, instead of red, the Hakka women wore black headgear.
Ying Fo Fui Kun (應和會館), a Hakka clan association, is the oldest clan association in Singapore. Its clan house is located at Telok Ayer Street in the Outram Planning Area, within the Central Area, Singapore's central business district. In 2015 a Hakka tulou (土樓) replica was built. The replica in Singapore was built by the Fong Yun Thai Association, an umbrella body for three Hakka clans – Char Yong (Dabu) Association, Eng Teng Association and Foong Shoon Fui Kuan. This is the only tulou replica outside of proper China till date.
Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, were fourth- and fifth-generation Chinese Singaporeans of Hakka descent, respectively. Apart from Lee Kuan Yew, many first-generation leaders of Singapore were of Hakka descent, including Chor Yeok Eng, Hon Sui Sen, Howe Yoon Chong and Yong Nyuk Lin.
This subgroup constitutes about 5% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Of them, the majority are from Hainan and speak Hainanese. The Hainanese in Singapore originated mainly from the north-east part of the island, from cities such as Wenchang and Haikou.
As relative late-comers to Singapore in the late 19th century, most of them worked as shop assistants, chefs, and waiters in the hospitality sector. Hainanese chicken rice became a famous dish. They were also known for their Western cooking, as many of the early Hainanese migrants worked as cooks on European ships. The Hockchew and Hockchia originated from northeastern Fujian, particularly Fuzhou city, Changle District, Gutian county and Fuqing. They speak Eastern Min. The Puxian or Hinghwas originated from Central Fujian – Putian and Xianyou – and speak Puxian Min.
Taiwan-born Chinese Singaporeans (and their descendants) are predominantly of the Hokkien and Hakka subgroups. They number around 30,000 (2012) and constitutes less than 2% of the Singaporean population. In Singapore, due to their small population, the Taiwanese are often grouped into larger populations, such as the Hokkien and Hakka, according to their dialect or ancestral origin. Newer Taiwanese immigrants have formed a distinctive group on their own. They may speak Taiwanese Mandarin, Hokkien or Hakka and originate from many different cities, including Taipei, New Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung.
According to the book, Japanese's view of Singapore (日本人眼裏的新加坡) edited by Mr Lin Shaobin, the Vice-Chairman of Singapore Japanese cultural society, the "Bank of Taiwan" started its operation in Singapore from 1912 to 1925. The book also indicated that according to Japanese statistics of 1932, there were around 105 Taiwanese living in Malaya (including Singapore). According to verbal accounts by Singaporeans, many of the "Japanese" soldiers involved in the occupation of Singapore during World War II were in fact Taiwanese serving in the Imperial Japanese Army. Similar accounts relate that many teachers of Mandarin Chinese in the 1950s and 1960s came from Taiwan. After 1965, military ties led to the immigration of some Taiwanese military personnel as high-ranking officers in Singapore Armed Forces. More immigration began during the 1970s and 1980s from investors, businessmen, and students. Most of these were highly educated and employed in professions such as engineering, business, investment, research and education. Marriages between Chinese Singaporeans and Taiwanese (i.e. Taiwan-born Chinese) often resulted in the Taiwanese partner moving to Singapore and obtaining citizenship.
The Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya are early mixed Chinese-Malay immigrants from Malacca and Penang who later migrated to Singapore. The Peranakans are descendants of mixed-race Chinese subgroups such as the lower class Tankas who have for generations extensively intermarried with the indigenous Malays, Bugis, Balinese, Javanese or Europeans and assimilating their adopted slave children. A few notable Peranakans have classified themselves as a separate ethnic group and have a distinct identity from either separate group while the vast majority have self-classified as Chinese Singaporeans after re-assimilation. The men are known as Baba while the women are known as Bibiks or Nyonyas.
Peranakans in Singapore were once concentrated around the Malay settlement at Geylang and the Chinese enclave at Katong because they often served as intermediaries for businesses and social groups in colonial Singapore owing to multilingual fluency in English, Malay, and Hokkien (post-independence and after the 1980s, standard Mandarin as well mastered as a third supplementary language). Many Peranakans and Hokkien Chinese moved out of the congested town of Singapore – today's Central Business District – and built seaside mansions and villas along the East Coast in Tanjong Katong for their families. After Singapore's independence, Peranankans moved throughout the island.
Many Peranakans converted to Roman Catholicism during the 17th and 18th century Dutch, Portuguese, British and Spanish colonisation of Southeast Asia, which saw missionaries set up posts in Batavia (today's Jakarta) and along the Malay peninsula.
New Chinese immigrants
Before 1990, Mandarin speakers from Beijing and northern China and Wu speakers from Shanghai and the central Pacific coast of China constituted less than 2% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Most of the current population of native Mandarin speakers immigrated to Singapore much later than the other groups, after the Singaporean government relaxed immigration laws in 1989. Many of them were working in blue-collared jobs during Singapore's rapid industrialisation which began in the 1970s. Because of this, the members of this third wave are called the "New Immigrants" (新移民, p Xīnyímín). They usually speak Standard Mandarin, the lingua franca among mainland Chinese groups today, and many speak other varieties as well. Since the 1990s, the number of mainland Chinese who come to Singapore to study or work has steadily increased every year. Many stayed only for a short time and then returned to China, but eventually many settled down permanently and became permanent residents or citizens of Singapore.
Today, newer Chinese migrants includes migrant workers working in various industries of the Singapore economy, with a mix of blue-collar workers and white-collar workers, as well as students.
Traditionally, Chinese Singaporeans used their respective mother tongues as their main avenue of communication. Although that led to communication difficulties amongst speakers of more distant topolects, it has nevertheless forged strong ethnic bonds amongst the Chinese community in Singapore.
But today, the speech of Chinese in Singapore exhibits a great amount of linguistic diversity which includes English, Singlish, Mandarin, Singdarin (Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin), Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese, as well as other languages, with the traditional mother tongues of Chinese Singaporeans on the losing end. Most Chinese Singaporeans are generally bilingual, speaking both English and Mandarin.
- Before the 1980s
Before the 1980s, Chinese Singaporeans were either English-educated or Chinese-educated (Standard Chinese). The English-educated Chinese were educated with English as the medium of instruction and learnt little or no Mandarin in school (in such cases, Mandarin became an optional language). As a result, they became affianced to the English-speaking Singaporeans and inevitably distanced from the Mandarin-speaking Singaporeans but were still be able to speak their respective mother tongues. On the other hand, the Chinese-educated were educated with Mandarin as the medium of instruction but learnt little or no English. They usually spoke Mandarin and their respective mother tongues with little or no English. There was a portion of Chinese Singaporeans who were bilingual, i.e. simultaneously educated with both English and Mandarin as the medium of instruction, or who attended Chinese-based primary schools and subsequently transferred to English-based schools for their secondary education.
- After the 1980s
After the 1980s, all schools (including former Chinese-based schools) in Singapore are required to use English as the primary medium of instruction with Mandarin as the designated second language. Thus, Chinese Singaporeans educated in after the 1980s are theoretically bilingual.
English is the first language and therefore spoken by all Singaporeans. This was partly due to the policy of Singapore's government to make English the medium of instruction in all schools in the 1980s (including former Chinese-based schools), as well as making English the working language for administration and business in Singapore (in short making English the lingua franca among all Singaporean). The presence of the English language in Singapore has its roots originating from Singapore's colonial past when Singapore was a British colony. As a result of the government's policy, English or Singlish has become widespread among the residents of Singapore, including but not limited to the Chinese Singaporeans, and this especially the case among the younger generations. As of 2010, it was estimated that 32.6% of Singapore Chinese speak English at home. But at work or in the city and business district, English is the official lingua franca, but ironically Hokkien remains extant amongst Singaporeans, not limited to the Chinese, and operates as an unofficial common language, reminiscent of Singapore before the 1980s.
Mandarin is another widely spoken language among Chinese Singaporeans. As of 2010, it was estimated that 47.7% of Chinese Singaporeans speak Mandarin at home. Evidently, Singapore government's Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched in the 1980s to make Mandarin the lingua franca among the Chinese in Singapore. It was intended to be the language to unify Chinese Singaporeans from different topolect groups by replacing the then lingua franca Hokkien. This was also because Mandarin was deemed more economically valuable, and speaking Mandarin would help Chinese Singaporeans retain their heritage, as Mandarin supposedly contains a cultural repository of values and traditions that are identifiable to all Chinese, regardless of topolect group. In the 1990s, this campaign began to target the English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans. As a result of this campaign, Mandarin became widespread in places such as residential areas, neighbourhood markets and even business districts, with the various mother tongues of Chinese Singaporeans falling out of favous among younger Chinese Singaporeans. Mandarin is also often spoken in most "traditional Chinese-based" schools, even though English is now their medium of instruction. Colloquially, as with all other languages spoken in Singapore, the Chinese Singaporeans prefer a localised flavour of mixing words from English, Hokkien, Malay, and some other varieties, into their Mandarin speech. Most young Chinese Singaporeans are capable of conversational Mandarin but are weaker in their ability to write Chinese, or with higher level conversations on complex, specialised topics.
- Variations according to age group
The linguistic diversity among Chinese Singaporeans varies according to age group. Most young Chinese Singaporeans speak English and Mandarin while the elderly, though also able to converse in Mandarin, prefer speaking other sinitic languages such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, or Hainanese. As these south-eastern sinitic languages are no longer taught in school, the number of speakers have steadily declined. Besides, many parents have begun to communicate with their children solely in English, believing that English is the quintessential way of attaining upward social mobility. Many young Chinese Singaporeans have a poor command of Mandarin as a result. This applies equally even to the more westernised Chinese Singaporean Christian community, who generally prefers the English language over any other.
- Debate over preferred language
The question of which language is preferred in Singapore seem to have caused a debate among Singaporeans recently. The question of declining standards in the command of the Chinese language amongst Chinese Singaporean seems to cause several revisions in the government's education policies towards the Chinese language. The government of Singapore's continued policy towards bilingualism for all Chinese Singaporeans, which is to continue to pursue English as the first language while making Mandarin the lingua franca (or at least the 2nd language or home language) amongst all Chinese has drawn mixed responses. The more English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans generally prefer English as the lingua franca or their home language, while the Mandarin-speakers worry that English will replace Mandarin as the lingua franca, which would eliminate the thin thread of Chinese identity. With the rising economy of China in the 21st century, which has led to more Singaporean companies requiring fluency in Mandarin, Mandarin has been viewed with greater importance among Chinese Singaporeans than before. Both English and Mandarin will continue to dominate the language scene among Chinese Singaporeans.
- Preservation of other Chinese varieties
There exists a strong need in preserving the many non-Mandarin topolects in Singapore. The decline of Chinese indigenous religion and Taoism indicates the serious deterioration of Chinese cultural heritage and values among the younger generation of Chinese Singaporeans. Unless the government and Chinese Singaporeans have the awareness and take their own initiative in preserving non-Mandarin varieties, they will inevitably disappear from Singapore in the future. There is thus a strong desire to restore the Chinese identity or risk it falling into extinction one day. This exigency is translated into recently renewed efforts by Chinese clan associations in Singapore to impart and revive their respective sinitic mother tongues, which are met with warm reception, including by some of the younger generations. Therefore, there lies a greater challenge for the Chinese community in Singapore – the preservation of the Chinese identity – than just the satisfaction of linguistic domination and material gains.
|Home language||1990 ('000)||2000 ('000)||1990 (%)||2000 (%)||2010 (%)|
|Other Chinese Topolects||948.1||685.8||50.3||30.7||19.2|
Alongside other ethnic groups, Singaporeans of Chinese descent from all social backgrounds and occupations have achieved significant upward advances in their educational levels, income, and life expectancy and experienced other social indicators. Singapore's rapid industrialisation between the 1960s and the 1990s has lifted numerous people out of poverty and has created a broad middle class for many Singaporeans. During the period of rapid economic growth in the process, many Chinese began to experience upward social mobility for the first time in their lives. In 2000, Chinese Singaporeans represented the second-highest proportion of University graduates after the Indian Singaporeans and their new citizenship holders. In 2008, 86.2% of Chinese Singaporeans students achieved a minimum of 5 passes at O-level, the exams taken by 15- and 16-year-olds, compared to 59.3% for Singaporean Malays and 73% for Singaporean Indians.
According to the 2010 Census, 22.6% of Chinese Singaporeans have achieved a bachelor's degree, a figure below the national average of 22.8% and remained the second highest after the Indian Singaporeans because Singaporean Indians had a larger increase in the proportion of university graduates compared with Chinese Singaporeans and Singaporean Malays. The increase in the proportion of Indian university graduates was mostly due to the inflow of Indian permanent residents with university qualifications. Some 60 per cent of Indian permanent residents were university graduates in 2005, up from 51 per cent in 2000.
As of 2005, 47.3% of Chinese Singaporeans work in select white-collar occupations compared with the national average of 44.8%. The labour force participation rate was 63.6% contrasting towards the national average of 63.0%. This figure was up from 46.2% in 2000 and was highest participation rate during that year in the white collar workforce among the three major ethnic groups in Singapore.
While constituting nearly three-quarters of the Singaporean population, Chinese Singaporeans are estimated to control 81% of the Singaporean's publicly listed companies by market capitalisation as well as contributing to 80% of Singapore's GNP. Chinese Singaporean businesses are part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Southeast Asia that share common family and cultural ties. With China's growing economic strength, a number of Chinese Singaporean businessmen and investors have turned to their ancestral roots through clan associations to rekindle with their Chinese heritage as well as pursue overseas business and investment opportunities in the country. Many have began to taken hold of their ancestral roots by reining in on the plethora of business and investment opportunities presented by the country, by reinvigorating their ancestral hometowns through real estate development and investing. Characterized as an outsider nation in Southeast Asia, Singapore itself is known as a "small Chinese Island in a Muslim Sea", as the Chinese Singaporeans are well known for their business prowess leading them to be regarded as the "Jew of the Orient".
Measured in 1990 dollars, the average household monthly income rose from S$3,080 in 1990 to S$4,170 in 2000 at an average annual rate of 2.8%. According to the 2005 Singaporean census, both the average and median monthly income for Singaporeans of Chinese origin were (S$3,610 and $2,500 respectively), exceeded the national average. The household and median income for Chinese Singaporeans commonly exceed the national average where it remained the highest out of the three major ethnic groups in 2000. Chinese Singaporeans held the second-highest median and average household income among all three major ethnic groups in Singapore after Singaporean Indians in 2010.
|Ethnic group||Average household income (SGD$)
||Median household income (SGD$)|
Singaporean Education System
Singapore's Chinese education began with the establishment of old-style private Chinese schools (known as "Sishu 私塾") by early Chinese immigrants during the 19th century. These schools predominantly used various southern Chinese varieties (such as Hokkien) as its medium to teach Chinese classics. In the 1920s, as influenced by China's New Cultural Movement, many Chinese schools in Singapore began to change its medium of instruction to Mandarin. During the British colonial times, the colonial government generally allowed the Chinese community in Singapore to organise and develop its own system of Chinese education. By the 1930s and 1940s, with donations and fundings from the public, more Chinese organisations began to set up more Chinese schools. In 1953, the chairman of Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, Mr.Tan Lark Sye organised and helped to establish the first overseas Chinese-medium university (Nanyang University) in Singapore, leading to the establishment of a well-structured Chinese-medium education system (from primary school to university) in Singapore.
However, after the 1960s, the left-wing communist ideology of the People's Republic of China conflicted with the capitalist policy of Singapore. To attract western investments, the Singaporean government decided to adopt the fundamental policy of making English its main lingua franca and working language. To prevent Chinese Singaporeans from being influenced by left-wing political thoughts, Singapore greatly promoted English and attempt to end Chinese education. On the one hand, it encouraged Chinese Singaporeans to attend English-medium schools for economic reasons; on the other hand, it was claimed as a strategy in denouncing communism. Due to a lesser proficiency in English, Chinese-educated Singaporeans often encountered discrimination and difficulties in finding jobs in Singapore. Thus, the majority of Chinese Singaporeans sent their children to English-medium schools for better job prospects, causing the number of registered students at Chinese-medium schools to drop annually. All these factors (including that of government biased policies) eventually forced the Chinese-medium education system to be abolished in Singapore.
Since the early 1980s, the Singapore government gradually abolished the Chinese-medium education system in Singapore. Apart from Chinese language and moral education subjects, all subjects are taught in English. However, to make sure that Chinese Singaporeans still maintain and preserve their mother tongue (Chinese) culture, the Singapore government implemented the teaching of Chinese language in all schools. Although Chinese Singaporeans belong to a number of Southern Chinese clans and spoke various Southern Chinese varieties, all Chinese Singaporeans had to learn Mandarin Chinese as their "second language". Singapore also established the Special Assistance Plan Schools. These were formerly traditional Chinese-medium schools and were tasked with the nurturing of Chinese language and cultural talents. The Chinese subject in Singapore did not just involve the teaching of Chinese; it was also tasked with the mission of transmitting Chinese cultural values to Chinese Singaporeans but has not been successful at all. Because of the continuation of Chinese education in Singapore, the Chinese Singaporeans are generally able to speak, read, and write simple Chinese. However, the destruction of Chinese-medium education system in Singapore has been causing the younger generation of Chinese Singaporeans to gradually losing their heritage and roots.
Since most Chinese Singaporean trace their ancestral origins to southern China, their culture generally has a closer affinity with southern Chinese culture (predominantly that of Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan) This is especially true in terms of various southern Chinese dialects, customs, cultural, and religious practices in Singapore.
Although Singaporean culture is diverse in nature, Singapore is one of the few countries outside Greater China with a vibrant Chinese-speaking presence. On one glance, Singapore's infrastructure and environment might seem Western, but on closer observation, certain aspects of Chinese culture is generally present across all corners of Singapore. This includes the widespread use of different Chinese varieties, various Chinese writings across Singapore, various Chinese press and entertainment media, a thriving Chinese pop culture, various Chinese organisations, Chinese cultural festivals, Chinese opera, Chinese religious activities, Chinese bookshops etc.
Mandarin and other Chinese varieties are spoken by the Chinese Singaporeans. They influence the way other Non-Chinese languages are spoken in Singapore. For instance, Singlish is known to be greatly influenced by Singaporean Hokkien and Singaporean Mandarin in terms of grammar, syntax and lexicon.
According to the latest 2020 Census, 40.4% of Singapore's Chinese population declared themselves as Buddhists, including 25.7% non-religious, 21.6% Christians, 11.6% Taoists and 0.8% other religions, as stated in the following statistics.
|Protestantism and other Christians||378,703||14.5%|
The majority of Chinese Singaporeans register themselves as Buddhists or Taoists. Recent decades have seen a slight increase in adherence to Christianity and those who identify as irreligious. In Singapore, Chinese folk religions which includes ancestral worship and the worship of certain Patron Deities are usually classified under Taoism. Chinese ancestral worship is an important traditional practise among Oversea Chinese, it is still commonly practiced by Taoists, most Chinese Buddhists and some of the non-religious Chinese. There are over one thousand Chinese temples in Singapore, some of notable century-old Chinese temples in Singapore are Thian Hock Keng Temple, Yueh Hai Ching Temple, Hong San See Temple, Po Chiak Keng Temple, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and Siong Lim Temple.
Many Chinese Singaporean dishes were adapted by early Chinese immigrants to suit local circumstances (such as available ingredients) and cannot strictly be considered mainstream Chinese cuisine. Nevertheless, these dishes exhibited local Chinese Singaporean flavours and tastes. Most local Chinese Singaporean dishes such as Bak kut teh, Mee pok, Ban mian, Hakka Yong Tiu Foo, Char kway teow, Chee cheong fun, Hokkien mee, Hainanese chicken rice, Hakka Lei Cha, Wan ton mee, and Popiah can still be easily found in food centres throughout Singapore. Some Chinese Singaporean are vegetarians, as they may be devoted followers of Buddhism. With the influx of new migrants from all parts of China in the 21st century, Chinese cuisine of a variety of regional flavours and tastes can be found across Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Singapore or in other regions of Singapore, such as Sichuanese cuisine, northeastern Chinese cuisine etc.
In Singapore, Mandarin Chinese is generally propagated through various Mandarin Chinese national free-to-air television broadcast terrestrial media station (MediaCorp TV Channel 8 and MediaCorp TV Channel U), cable television (StarHub TV and Singtel TV) and radio channels (including MediaCorp Radio Capital 95.8FM). Most media in other Chinese varieties (such as those of Hokkien and Cantonese) are generally censored in the mainstream Chinese media of Singapore, except for some broadcasting on Channel 8 and Okto (Such as Soap opera and government-funded mini Chinese dialect show that caters for older generation), and in radio channel Capital 95.8FM. Taiwanese Hokkien media from Taiwan and Cantonese media from Hong Kong are however easily available for sale in shops of Singapore and also present in Karaoke lounges. Some cable television channels in Singapore (e.g. StarHub TV) also have begun to have Chinese-based Chinese-language media (e.g. CCTV-4 Chinese International Channel (Asia)) and Cantonese-language media from Hong Kong (e.g. TVB Jade Satellite Channel (Southeast Asia)).
- Chinese press
The major Chinese-language newspaper in Singapore is Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), which was formed by a merger of two of the country's oldest Chinese-language newspaper. Lianhe Zaobao was critical in maintaining the Chinese literary scene in Singapore. In addition to this are other newspapers such as Lianhe Zaobao Sunday (联合早報星期日), Lianhe Wanbao (联合晚報), Shin Min Daily News (新明日報), My Paper (我報) (prints in both English and Mandarin), zbCOMMA (早报逗号), Thumbs Up (大拇指) and Thumbs Up Junior (小拇指).
Literature in Chinese
Singapore has a thriving literary scene in Chinese. The Singapore Association of Writers (新加坡作家协会) regularly publish Singapore Chinese Literature Journal (新华文学), an anthology of literary works by Chinese Singaporeans. A number of writers (or poets) including You Jin (尤今), Wang Runhua (王润华), Liu Duanjin (刘瑞金), Rongzi (蓉子) etc. had contributed to the Singapore Chinese literary scene.
The Singapore Chinese literature reflected the immigration and social-historical changes in Singapore. Singapore Chinese literature had its roots from Malaysian Chinese literature, as Singapore was part of Malaya before independence. Early Chinese immigrants started with the establishment of Chinese schools and Chinese press and as such began to create works of literature.
Early Chinese literary magazines such as New Citizens (新國民雜志), Southern Wind (南風), and Singapore Light (星光) in Singapore portrayed the lifestyle of immigrants in the pre-war period.
During the 1950s, most of the writers in Singapore had literary works portraying the lifestyle of all social spheres of Singapore. These literary works contain large use of local Chinese slang, creating unique localised literary works. The active writers at that time include Miao Xiu (苗秀), Yaozhi (姚紫), Zhaorong (赵戎) and Shushu (絮絮).
After Singapore's independence in 1965, the Chinese literature in Singapore began to separate from Malaysian Chinese literature and continued to develop on its own.
Traditional Chinese festivals are celebrated in Singapore including Chinese New Year, Qingming Festival (also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival), Dragon Boat Festival, Zhong Yuan Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Birthday of the Monkey God, Nine Emperor Gods Festival and Dongzhi Festival. Certain traditional Chinese festivals are made public holidays, including Chinese New Year. There existed some differences in the Singapore Chinese festival customs as compared to that from mainland China and Taiwan. For instance, it was common to carry lantern during mooncake festivals, but mainland China and Taiwan only practise carrying lanterns on 15 January lunar calendar. There is also an annual pilgrimage to Kusu Island on the ninth lunar month, where Chinese devotees will visit the Tua Pek Kong Temple and three Keramat shrines on the island.
Singapore features a thriving Chinese pop music scene and are known for producing Mandopop artists such as JJ Lin, Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua etc. Singapore is also known for holding Chinese music concerts and festivals, including the Taiwanese-originated Spring Wave Singapore Music Festival in 2013.
There exists, however, some degree of differences between Chinese Singaporeans and the Chinese in terms of mindset, culture, and languages. While the Chinese are largely Sinocentric in their outlook of the world, Chinese Singaporean are educated in English medium schools (but also are taught the Chinese language) and are exposed to western influences due to its long history as a British constituent colony of the Straits Settlements. As such, the local Chinese Singaporean culture is a blend and mix of southern Chinese culture, local Singaporean culture (with various influences from cultures of other ethnicities) and western culture. On the other hand, Singapore has also been accused of being a Sinocentric country, with reported Chinese Singaporean privilege marginalising ethnic minorities such as Indians and Malays.
There are also some differences in the Chinese Singaporean culture compared to that of China. Some traditional Chinese religious and folk customs are preserved by the Chinese community in Singapore but are no longer practised or seen in China after the disastrous cultural revolution. This is especially true of regional rites and rituals practised by Singaporean descendants of Southern Chinese immigrants, which has somehow contributed to the revival of certain traditional religious practices in Southern China regions in recent years.
There are also distinctive recognisable differences between the Singaporean Mandarin and mainland Chinese Mandarin accents. Colloquially, many Chinese Singaporean also speak a creole of Singlish and Singdarin or code-switch between English and Mandarin or a dialect. Many of the local Chinese varieties in Singapore, such as Hokkien, Teochew, or Cantonese, have also been largely acculturated and differ from what is spoken in China but still intelligible to each other.
A 2016 study of Singaporean locals and the Chinese students around them had 52% of the former expressing agreement that both groups shared a similar culture.
- Relations with recent Northern Chinese immigrants
Singaporeans and recent Northern Chinese immigrants have had a testy relationship in recent years. While the reasons for such a contentious relationship are multi-factorial, one of those mentioned was the cultural differences between the vast majority of Singaporeans whose ancestors were Southern Chinese immigrants and the Northern Chinese immigrants who spoke Northern Mandarin dialect. Most Northern Chinese immigrants from PRC have been through cultural revolution and no longer have the similar Chinese traditional values and heritage with local Chinese Singaporeans.
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|Library resources about |
- Buddhist and Pali College
- Theravada Buddhism Studies in Chinese Group (TBSC)
- Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods
- Nine Emperor Gods Project
- 2003 speech by Lee Hsien Loong on Teochews
- Research Center for Overseas Chinese at National University of Singapore
- Singapore Chinese Heritage Center
- Singapore Huayi Net
- Singapore Chinese Teachers' Union
- Singapore Chinese Development Assistance Council
- Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations
- Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry