Explaining the Antecedents of singaporean Xenophobia

Quite a few singaporeans are going on about becoming ‘2nd’ and ‘3rd’ class singaporeans in the face of a massive influx of foreigners.

Right. Where does that place Malay and Indian singaporeans then? 4th and 5th class perhaps?

 This basically serves as evidence of my observation in the past that Chinese singaporeans deem an event a non-event until it is they whom are at the receiving end of that which they are accustomed to dishing out. Such is expected of a people whom have, albeit unwitting, taken cultural and political fascism as the norm in the course of associating the idea of the ‘majority’ with ‘race’ as opposed to ‘nationality’ in the past, and now, for their own benefit, 'majority' with 'nationality' in the face of New Foreigners.

When, some years ago, the government stated that singapore ought to always have a ‘racial balance’ in favour of the Chinese, most, if not all, amongst them kept silent. 

In the face of some griping on my part in personal conversations, the Chinese I spoke to basically brushed it off with the usual, ‘It’s like that one laa. If Indian or Malay are majority, they will also do the same.’ (translation of first phrase : ‘that’s the way it is’.)  Their justification of racism is, simultaneously, a justification of their undeserved status as 1st class citizens.

When the ‘Speak Mandarin and Appreciate Chinese culture’ campaigns were initiated in 1989 and periodically given a steroid boost to the present despite the lip service paid to multiculturalism, similar silence or rationalisations such as a self-absorbed and arrogant....and grossly racist, ‘Chinese majority what!' is what i've heard most times.

When Malays and Indians were underrepresented in the media;
when Indians and Malays were portrayed as parking attendants/obese rockers and corner-shop proprietors whilst ‘the majority’ were cast as professionally versatile in a popular sit-com;
when the government forbade the non-Chinese from learning Mandarin in schools whilst promoting Mandarin for social and work-use via ‘Speak Mandarin, it’s an advantage’ and ‘Mandarin is cool’ campaigns;
when Chinese culture was publicly and centrally celebrated whilst others kept to their traditionally ethnic enclaves;
when Indians and Malays were disqualified from quite a few jobs requiring ‘Mandarin speakers’;
when the ex-PM turned ‘minister mentor’ stated that Mandarin is going to be the ‘mother tongue’;
amongst a host of others instances, a similar response or lack of was forthcoming from the chinese….which leads me to believe that they expect to be respected purely on the basis of their being ‘the majority’ as opposed to their being respectable in an egalitarian sense. I suppose it is to be expected given they themselves respect the government because of their authoritarian power as opposed to their being empathetic. Thus we are undervalued, thus we undervalue.

Now, some are bemoaning the balance tilting in favour of foreigners whom, according to some sources, has reached 37%.

Perhaps those whom are used to living on the privileged side of things will tend to want to maintain such privilege. I suppose the growth of Chinese fascism moved from associating ‘the majority’ with ‘race’ as opposed to ‘nationality’, and then later moved to associating ‘majority’ with ‘nationality’.

But what the Chinese are failing to query after in their ire over being confronted with an influx of foreigners is how the logic that had been applied in their favour is now being turned against them.  Now, it is the interests of the Chinese that is not considered.

But the interrelationship between the Chinese, local ‘others’, and foreigners is not entirely the same. The Indians and Malays were basically nobbled and led to underachieve in a climate where it was impressed upon their young over a couple of decades that they couldn’t aspire to much or be versatile because this or that career was ‘a Chinese thing’ or they couldn’t speak Mandarin – via the media, policies, discrimination, etc.

However, the interrelationship between the Chinese and foreigners is not unlike the interrelationship between the Malays in Malaysia – where the Malays have institutionalised via other means, a similar brand of fascism – and the non-Malays. Both have couched themselves in the complacency that comes with being members of the ‘preferred race’ and have failed to develop maximally for want of competition, or appreciation of cultural and perspectival difference.

In fact, in singapore, Indians are frequently told to tone down on their inquisitive and intellectual propensities lest the Chinese, whom maintain their position through ‘control’ as opposed to ‘reason’, won’t give them a job or promotions. Hence, I cannot but help observe that the ‘indians’ of today are quite the far cry from the ‘indians’ of yesteryear whom were relatively intellectually and creatively vibrant.

Someone once said, upon the passing of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam, the old warlion of the opposition, that there would never be another like him. I agreed, but not because he was exceptional, but because the successful socialisation of the population into a Confucian/Legalist culture would ensure that the intellectual and perspectival vibrancy that it takes to produce one like him, or have one like him appreciated is no more. And I cannot but observe that the high level of creativity and vibrancy of the Malays has not developed beyond their cultural arena given the overarching Chinese cultural milieu that excludes differences.

What the Chinese don’t realise is that their Confucian/Legalist culture of subservience to authority;
being apathetic for the historically and, hence, culturally-induced fear of the top-down consequences of mutual empathy;
allowing popular intellectual individualism and creativity to be tethered to the decrees of their hallowed founding fathers and professional politicians;
has led to their being averse or indifferent to different others.
This has led to intellectual and perspectival ineptitude that emerges from not integrating with difference, being unable to see past one’s immediate and self or group interests, and lauding the ‘order’ that comes with awaiting and abiding by the dictates of their ‘Asian democratic’ government.

In this, their undoing at present is due to decades of apathy, subservience, and bigotry. It is no wonder that singapore has to import talent from relatively multicultural and non-Confucian/Legalist states since a monocultural state comparatively pales in quite a few creative, intellectual and perspectival abilities. 

The desire for political longevity had led to the promotion of monocultural fascism. And the intellectual and perspectival stupor and bigotry produced is that which now requires the importation of foreign talent. The Chinese ethos of doing one’s best in a bad situation is now mirrored in the government’s doing exactly that by bringing in foreigners. How else can they get around the mass ineptitude that they created?

So now the Chinese go on about how 'singaporeans' - meaning the relatively privileged Chinese - are playing 'second fiddle to foreigners'. Well, as they have been accustomed to playing organ-grinder when it comes to the non-Chinese, is it any wonder that the groundwork they have worked so hard on via self-absorption has led to that degree of apathy and social imbecility it takes to require new foreigners, and which has led them to taking the place of the dancing end of the said organ-grinder?

Hence, In this context, the locals' current, and most hypocritical ‘democratic’ and ‘egalitarian’ aspirations, or more aptly, pretensions, in the face of authoritarianism and foreign competition rings as hollow as post-termite infested woodwork.



  1. I remember being in school when the Chinese felt privileged and superior over the minority fellow students. During National Service there was good integration among the English educated Chinese and Minorities. This made the Minorities feel assured and much at home. However after completing N.S. and getting into the work force. The Minorities realised the so called working language in the office was more Mandarin rather than English,among the local staffs. Funny thing was, they always say, "we the majority, what!" They simply did not care if the Minority staff didn't gain any vital work info. It can be really frustrating. The Chinese staffs knew it and were very gleeful about the hardship imposed on the minority staff. It's really sad to see them go through the frustrations, knowing the FTs being in an advantageous position here now. Having a taste of their own bitter pill now,huh!
    I have forgiven these shallow close minded, self centered people. As I feel sorry for them and their future generations. It is also very true that there are exceptions. As I have met several open minded, western educated Chinese Gents with utmost humility.

  2. From what you said, it seems that your experience in the army was in the late 90s or the past decade?

    In the 70s and 80s, it was not a matter of the Chinese being inclusive. Being westernised and speaking English well was the 'in' thing. Then, the Eurasians and Indians were leading the way as they were culturally more open to change, new ideas, and multiculturalism - which, traditionally and historically, did not come as easily to the Chinese..unless they embraced difference. This placed the Eurasians and the Indians at an advantage since they did not have to 'unlearn' being monocultural first.

    There were quite a few Chinese in church, school, or the workplace whom liked to associate with them (and myself) for their vibrancy, wit, and banter. So the Eurasians and Indians did not need to 'feel included' by the Chinese. It was quite the other way round. But if things had been allowed to go their natural course, the English speaking Eurasians and Indians would have led the way, and the Chinese and English-speaking Malays would have integrated as the former 2 were not inclined toward discrimination on the basis of race.

    We would then have a far more creative and intelligent Singapore, and, most probably, the PAP would be in the opposition. That is their reason for bringing back Chinese culture over a cosmopolitan one with much vigour.

    As for open-minded Chinese, I'm know quite a few myself. But being 'open-minded' and being 'empathetic' is two different things. One can be open-minded and still not mind or notice the discrimination suffered by ethnic minorities. In that, they are simply encouraging it. I have 'open-minded' Chinese friends, but none whom are 'empathetic'. Even most, if not all, oppositional writers/bloggers do not notice it when others are put down. In that, they have internalised the fascist outlook of the bigoted.

    For myself, forgiveness is not a virtue unless those whom are doing wrong exhibit remorse and change. As forgiveness is usually followed by acceptance of an evil, I'd rather reserve my forgiveness for the deserving and keep my ire to continue my efforts to change the situation. If not, I'm as guilty as the perpetrators.

    Thank you for your thoughts 'anon'. Perhaps you could use a pseudonym next time :)


  3. But it is the Indian population that had increased the main in % wise. I don't how is that bad for the Indian community if they want to a bigger say in spore society.

  4. Dear Ed,

    What an amazingly good article. Incisive to the core.

    Always thought myself as Singaporean and it remains painfull when some Singaporeans feel that one has to be Chinese to be real Singaporean, otherwise why the need to maintain a Chinese as the majority population.

    Always reminded of the story in the deep American South of an Afro-American Tuskegee airman being forced to ride in a low-grade cabin reserved for blacks only while a "White" German POW was allowed to ride in the well maintained 'Whites Only' cabin. Situation here is only different in scale but not in principle.

    The comment about Indians growing in proportion because of emigration, totally ignores the fact that both Indian and Chinese propotions will grow at the expense of the Malays and Indian Tamils.

    In essence, the Tamils feel like the 'Last of the Mohicans', a fate, which ironically is now going to be shared by local born Chinese Singaporeans. The boomerang is starting to make its full circle!!!


  5. Hello Tehmasik,

    You're right on all counts except that the local chinese will eventually be united with their mainland 'brothers' with the aid of the decades-long imposition of the currently overarching chinese culture, 'speak mandarin campaigns', and the grooming of a chinese elite through SAP schools. Can't they do better or as good as others without such a strategy, some might wonder.

    Currently, the chinese are just jittery about threats to their privileged status as the 'natives' of a singapore-turned-confucian. The same applies to the malays in malaysia. Having relieved themselves of competition from the vibrant malays, and passionate and intellectually inclined indians, they've enjoyed smooth sailing socially (and can now happily set the standards for what makes 'an insightful blog' and give themselves awards for it;) and economically and have been led to believe that it was the weight of their 'race' and culture that brought them to their current position. Of course, they will not be able to conceptualise a singapore that would have gone further with cultural integration. For examples, just look at the west and india and see where cultural vibrancy took them. It's no accident that china is well-known for its brawn and copy-cattery as opposed to india's logical aptitude...or that the 'lion of singapore's opposition' was an indian.

    The purpose here is not to demean the chinese, but monoculturalism, which they have benefited greatly from at the expense of others. Hence, overtime, with others being excluded from the economic and social evolution of singapore, the others will not be able to say that they had a significant part in it. And it would be true too. Except that the reasons are founded on gross bigotry. Like a chinese civil servant acquaintance of mine once said, 'indians are not in english dramas because indians can't act'. Given enough discrimination, that could one day prove to be true.

    Anyone can progress with time, but keeping others down so that credit can go to oneself when one finally manages to move ahead is nothing short of pathetic. And even then, their progress would be compromised as they would not be able to reap the benefits of integration.

    That will be the achievement of Lee and those who give him credit for performing a 'miracle' in the country. They are comparing the nation with what it was, and not what it could be given its multicultural resource. A logical error in judgment that emerges from minds that have been trained to view the vantage of a frog in a well as that from the peak of mount. Their humanity has been sufficiently diminished for them to confuse it for a miracle as opposed to an atrocity. In that, the apathetic in singapore have nothing but my utmost disdain. It is they whom allow such conditions to continue without address whom ought to be hauled up for inciting racial animosity.



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