In contrast to Thailand, Singapore set out to manage its ethnic-Chinese population not by reducing expressions of ‘Chineseness’, but by promoting homogeneity among diverse Chinese groups. This was crucial to ensuring internal stability and economic progress.
During Singapore’s initial nation-state-building years, there was a need to downplay the republic’s ‘Chineseness’. On a superficial level, this was similar to Thailand. However, reasons behind the approach were different. After Singapore’s independence in 1965, the population was slightly more than three-quarters ethnic Chinese, along with 15% Malay and 6% Indian. As Singapore was the only country in Southeast Asia with a majority Chinese population, the government deemed it imperative to de-emphasise ‘Chineseness’. The de-emphasis was important to avoid being perceived as a ‘Third China’ or base for overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia by neighbouring countries, which were dominated by indigenous non-Chinese peoples (commonly referred to as the ‘Malay speaking world’).
As in Thailand, for Singapore the Cold War era and a fear of Communism, coupled with the country’s relationship with the US, produced suspicion towards ethnic Chinese, who were perceived as politicised by events in China. The government held to the notion that its Chinese-educated population was drawn to communist ideology. As a result, schools that focused on Chinese education were viewed with suspicion as well. English education was more desirable for advancement in society, particularly in the government as the PAP was dominated by English-educated Chinese. Therefore, an increasing number of parents sent their children to English-curriculum schools.
However, one’s identity in Singapore as ethnic Chinese was not considered a threat as it was in Thailand, since Singapore viewed Chinese as an official Singaporean ethnicity. What the government was concerned about was whether the ethnic Chinese had communist leanings owing to their attending Chinese schools, which indeed had affiliations with communist China. It was during the late-Cold War era in 1980 that the main Chinese university, Nantah University, was forced to close and merge with the National University of Singapore (NUS). However, the situation changed with the opening up of China and the end of the Cold War.
19/03/2012 - 10:50