Culture of Singapore

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Centre square of Raffles Place
Old Supreme Court of Singapore
Nuvola Singaporean flag.svg
Life in Singapore

The culture of Singapore is the combination of Asian and European cultures. Influenced by Malay, South Asian, East Asian, and Eurasian cultures, Singapore has been dubbed as a country where "East meets West", "Easy Asia" and "Garden city". [1]


Main article: History of Singapore

Singapore history dates back to the third century. It was a vassal state of the Chola Empire, and was ruled by ancient Indian kings before being founded and named by Sang Nila Utama. The island was ruled by various sultanates until 1819, when the British came to the island and set up a port and colony. During British rule, the port of Singapore flourished and attracted many migrants. After independence in 1965, Singapore made its own way.

It has a diverse populace of over 5.47 million people[2] which is made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Eurasians (plus other mixed groups) and Asians of different origins.

Attitudes and beliefs[edit]

A home displaying the national flag underneath their window
The national flag of Singapore


"The system of meritocracy in Singapore ensures that the best and brightest, regardless of race, religion and socio-economic background, are encouraged to develop to their fullest potential. Everyone has access to education, which equips them with skills and knowledge to earn a better living."[3] Indeed, the Education in Singapore ensures that primary education is compulsory for all children of age 7 to 12. Parents have to apply for exemptions from the Ministry of Education in Singapore in order to exempt their children under this compulsory rule with valid reasonings.

Social harmony[edit]

Singapore is a secular immigrant country. The main religions in Singapore are Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Respect for different religions and personal beliefs is heavily emphasised by the government.[4]

To demonstrate the importance of imparting racial harmony knowledge to the youths, schools in Singapore celebrate Racial Harmony Day on 21 July annually. Students come to school dressed in different ethnic costumes, and some classes prepare performances regarding racial harmony.

Democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality[edit]

Main article: Politics of Singapore

The concepts of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality are enshrined as stars in the Singapore national flag. Freedom in the World ranked Singapore 4 out of 7 for political freedom, and 4 out of 7 for civil liberties (where 1 is the most free), with an overall ranking of "partly free". Reporters without Borders ranked Singapore 153th out of 180 countries in their Press Freedom Index for 2015.[5]

Ethnic areas[edit]

Singapore has several distinct ethnic neighbourhoods, including Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam.

Little India is known and patronised by all races within the population for its thalis-- South Indian "buffets" that are vegetarian and served on the traditional banana leaves. These neighbourhoods are accessible by public transport, especially by Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).

Singapore's Chinatown is an ethnic neighbourhood featuring distinctly Chinese cultural elements and a historically concentrated ethnic Chinese population. Chinatown is located within the larger district of Outram.

Cultural policy[edit]

Singapore maintains tight restrictions on arts and cultural performances. Most artistic works have to be vetted by the government in advance, and topics that breach so-called out of bounds markers (OB markers) are not permitted. While the OB markers are not publicly defined, they are generally assumed to include sensitive topics such as race, religion, and allegations of corruption or nepotism in government. Nudity and other forms of loosely-defined "obscenity" are also banned. Singaporean film director Royston Tan has produced movies which challenge these policies, including a movie called Cut in reference to censorship of the arts.[6]

The country's first pre-tertiary arts school, School of the Arts, is now completed and stands along the country's prominent Orchard Road. Commenced in 2008, the school aims to provide an environment for nurturing young artists aged between 13 and 18 years old. There has been much public rhetoric about liberalisation and its association with the development of a creative economy in Singapore. The response from artists, academics, public intellectuals, and civil society activists has ranged from strongly optimistic to deeply pessimistic, as reflected in the chapters written for edited book Renaissance Singapore: Economy, Culture, and Politics. The difference between what is "culture" and what makes up "the arts" has been a matter of some debate in Singapore. For an attempt at defining what is artistic, see, for example, the Report of the Censorship Review Committee 1992.[7]

Cultural World Heritage Sites[edit]

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is one of three gardens, and the only tropical garden, to be honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Main article: Singaporean Cuisine

Singaporean cuisine is also a prime example of diversity and cultural diffusion in Singapore. In Singapore's hawker centres, for example, traditionally Malay hawker stalls selling also Tamil food. Chinese stalls may introduce Malay ingredients, cooking techniques or entire dishes into their range of catering. This continues to make the cuisine of Singapore significantly rich and a cultural attraction. Singaporeans also enjoy a wide variety of seafood including crabs, clams, squid, and oysters. One favorite dish is the stingray barbecued and served on banana leaf and with sambal (chilli).

A hawker centre in Lavender, Singapore

Creative writing[edit]

Singapore has a rich heritage in creative writing in the Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil and other languages.


The major public holidays reflect the mentioned racial diversity, including Chinese New Year, Buddhist Vesak Day, Muslim Eid ul-Fitr (known locally by its Malay name Hari Raya Puasa), and Hindu Diwali (known locally by its Tamil name Deepavali). Christians constitute a large and rapidly growing minority, and Christmas Day, Good Friday, and New Year's Day are also public holidays.

On August 9, Singapore celebrates the anniversary of its independence with a series of events, including the National Day Parade which is the main ceremony. The National Day Parade, 2005 was held at the Padang in the city centre.

Singapore hosts an annual Singapore Arts Festival when international and local artists gather in the country to perform in a wide variety of events including music, dance and theatre. The Singapore Arts Festival has become an event for Singapore to showcase its ability to buy international renowned performing arts products. In 2003, the Esplanade - "Theatres on the Bay", a centre for performing arts, was opened. The Esplanade is also known as "The Durian", due to its resemblance to the fruit. The Arts House at Old Parliament Lane has also been supportive of local performing arts in recent years. Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and LASALLE College of the Arts are the two main arts institutions offering full-time programmes for the performing arts in Singapore.


Many Singaporeans, are bilingual. Most speak Singaporean English and another language, most commonly Mandarin, Malay, Tamil or Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish). Singapore Standard English is virtually the same as British, Malaysian, and Indian Standard English in most aspects of grammar and spelling, though there are some differences vocabulary and minor spelling differences, for example the word 'swap' is commonly spelt 'swop', as is standard in the Straits Times [8]

All Singaporeans study English as their first language in school, under the compulsory local education system, and their mother-tongue language as their second language. Thus, most Singaporeans are effectively bilingual, especially the youths in today's society. There are four main languages in usage in Singapore. The 'national' language of Singapore is Bahasa Melayu. This is in recognition of the Malay people as the indigenous community in Singapore. 85% of Singaporeans do not speak Malay. Malay is used in the national anthem, national motto and military parade drill commands. Tamil is an official language as a majority of South Asians in Singapore are ethnic Tamils from India and Sri Lanka. While most Chinese Singaporeans are descendants of southern Chinese migrants who spoke a variety of regional languages, it is the northern Chinese language of Mandarin that is official in Singapore, though dialects such as Hokkien and Cantonese are still prevalent in the older generation of Chinese.


Main article: Music of Singapore

Singapore has a diverse music culture that ranges from rock and pop to folk and classical.


Main article: Media of Singapore


The Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay

Gardens and gardening have a special place in Singaporean culture as well as in politics. Historically this is all officially attributed to Lee Kuan Yew who apparently spearheaded this philosophy in 1963.[9] In a rare interview with Monty Don shown in the TV-series Around the World in 80 Gardens, Lee Kuan Yew reveals that after visits to other big Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Bangkok he feared that Singapore would turn into another concrete jungle, and he decided that gardens and parks should be established everywhere and made this a priority of the government.

Performing arts[edit]

Singapore is also known as a cultural centre for arts and culture, including theatre and music.

Stand-up comedy[edit]

Singapore has a growing stand-up comedy scene with three active rooms. The three comedy rooms in Singapore are weekly, starting with Comedy Masala[10] on Tuesdays, Talk Cock Comedy[11] on Wednesdays and Comedy Hub Singapore[12] on Mondays and Thursdays. Every month, The Comedy Club Asia features leading international comics such as Shazia Mirza & Imran Yusuf. Comedy Masala also brings in international comedians, such as Paul Ogata.[13] Kumar, a drag queen who has performed in Singapore for more than 17 years, is one of Singapore's leading stand-up comedian.[14]


Sri Mariamman Temple, built in 1843, is the largest Hindu temple in Singapore.
Main article: Religion in Singapore

Religion in Singapore is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices due to its diverse ethnic mix of peoples originating from various countries.

See also[edit]