Chinese Singaporeans are people of Chinese descent who are born in or immigrated to Singapore and have attained citizenship or permanent residence status. As of 2000, Chinese Singaporeans constitute 78% of Singapore's population, or approximately three out of four Singaporeans. Outside Greater China, Singapore is the only country in which Overseas Chinese forms the greatest majority of the population.
Chinese in Singapore today commonly recognize themselves first as Singaporeans (新加坡人), and then Chinese (Huaren 华人). Peranakans are ethnic Chinese who had married ethnic Malays somewhere in their ancestral line and thus developed a culture of their own comprising a mixture of Chinese and Malay culture.
In general, the Chinese in Singapore are grouped according to their respective Chinese dialect or linguistic-cultural groups. Inter-dialect group marriage is quite common in Singapore, but dialect association follows the respective dialect of the father's side. Most of the Chinese in Singapore belong to several linguistic-cultural dialect groups, originating from mainly the southern parts of China. The Hokkien, Teochew and Hainanese, all of whom belong to the Min-nan group, jointly form more than three-quarters of the Chinese population. The Cantonese, Hakka and other minor groups account for most of the remainder.
The government in Singapore adopted 2 campaigns to change the linguistic practices of the local populace. There was an Anglicization 英语化 campaign started in 1965 to promote English and a so-called "Mandarinization" 华语化 campaign from 1980 onwards to promote Mandarin. As such, most Chinese Singaporeans have a working knowledge of both English Language and Mandarin Chinese, with most being fluently bi-lingual in both. There are also a number of Chinese Singaporeans able to speak some form of Chinese dialects.
Government policies aimed at narrowing dialect-culture and reducing the dialect-group based parochialism within the Chinese community were spearheaded by the Speak Mandarin campaign together with the banning of dialect-medium subjects in schools and the media. This has resulted in younger Singaporeans being less familiar with their dialects. This government policy towards the dialects of Singaporean Chinese has been controversial among certain quarters of Chinese Singaporeans who feel that preserving the dialects is important to their cultural identity.
The Hokkiens constitute around 41% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Most originated from the southern parts of the Fujian province (福建省), primarily Xiamen (厦门), Zhangzhou (漳州) and Quanzhou (泉州). They speak the Amoy dialect of Hokkien (厦门话 / 厦门闽南语), a Min-nan (闽南) language, which is 50.4% comprehensible with Teochew (潮州话), and less so with Hainanese(海南话).
The Hokkien language was a lingua franca amongst the various Chinese dialect groups and was also used by other ethnic groups such as the Malays and Indians to communicate with Chinese before Mandarin came into dominance during 1980s and 1990s.
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 St and the vicinity of China Street. The Hokkiens were the most active in early trading that centered along the Singapore River.
As early settlers came from the southern coast of China, they were active in sea trade and worshiped one of the patron-deities of Taoist pantheon, the Heavenly Mother or "Ma Zhu" who supposedly looked out for seafarers. Thian Hock Kheng Temple houses Goddess "Ma Zhu" (妈祖) and is thus also known as Ma Zhor Kheng. Another popular patron group of deities are the Nine Emperor Gods, a commemoration of the Emperors who were said in Taoist folklore to have brought peace and prosperity to the people. Among some Chinese Singaporeans, the supreme Taoist God, the Jade Emperor, is revered and his birthday on the 9th day of Chinese New Year is accorded utmost prominence by them.
An official Taoist practice by a Taoist spiritual medium known as "Tangki 乩童" (a Hokkien term derived from Taiwan) is also popular amongst some Taoist Chinese. In this ceremony, the spiritual medium goes into a trance and is thought to establish a channel of communication between the mortal petitioner and the chosen Deity. It is said that the Taoist Deity transmogrifies the spiritual medium and provides a wide range of help to devotees ranging from religious rituals to health, business, domestic queries and requests like a talisman to protect their loved ones.
The Teochew in Singapore constitute about 21% of the Chinese population in Singapore. Teochews originated from the Chaoshan region in Guangdong Province of China, namely Jieyang, Shantou, Chaozhou, Chaoyang, Puning, Chao'an, Raoping, Huilai, Chenghai and Nan'ao.
The Teochew people speak Teochew, another Min-Nan language, which is 50.4% mutually intelligible with Hokkien. The Teochews, like the Hainanese, trace their ancestry to southern Fujian (闽南). Their migration from southern Fujian to their new homes in the Chaoshan region and Hainan Island respectively were mainly due to overpopulation and famine in the southern Fujian region. Despite linguistic and cultural similarities, the Teochews and Hokkiens considered themselves distinct and did not get along well during their early settlement in Singapore, especially during the British colonial era. Like the Hokkiens, the Teochews similarly shared the Taoist belief of a Taoist spiritual medium.
The Teochews were the dominant Chinese dialect group for a period of time during the 19th century. Mass immigration of Chinese from Fujian later caused the Hokkiens to outnumber the Teochews, especially in the south. The majority of the Chinese living along the banks of the Straits of Johor were largely Teochew until the HDB initiated mass redevelopment from the 1980s onwards.
The majority of the Teochew settled along the banks of the Singapore River in Chinatown during the 19th and early 20th century. Teochews who settled in Chinatown worked in many commercial sectors as well as fishery. Traditional commercial sectors of Chinatown once dominated by Teochews include Circular Road and South Bridge Road.
Others Teochew businessmen set up gambier and pepper plantations in the dense forests of Singapore, parts of northern Singapore as well as Johor Bahru. The Chinese first started their plantations with the approval of the Sultan of Johor from the nineteenth century onwards. This attracted more Teochews to start their plantations in those areas over the years. As such, the "Kangchu" system eventually started to form. The Chinese word "Kang" (江) means river, while "Chu" (厝) means house. However, in this context, "Chu" is the clan's name of the first headman in charge of the plantations in the area. The "Kangchus" gave rise to modern place names such as Choa Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang and Yio Chu Kang, all of which were largely plantation areas prior to urban redevelopment.
Early Chinese immigrants clustered themselves to form clan and dialect associations. These clan associations or Kongsi served as unions for the mostly illiterate Chinese laborers and and represented them when dealing with their colonial rulers or employers. One of the more prominent clan assosciations for the Teochew was the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew-oriented association formed in 1845 that is still in existence.
The Cantonese mainly worked as goldsmiths, tailors and restaurateurs during the early and mid 20th century, and their businesses predominated the shophouses along Temple Street, Pagoda Street, and Mosque Street.
Cantonese women from the Samsui district (Chinese: 三水区; pinyin: Sānshǔi Qū), worked in construction sites, and contributed greatly towards the development of Singapore. These Samsui women left their families behind in China and came to Singapore to work in construction sites for a living during the early 20th century. They were noted for their distinctive navy blue outfits and bright red headgear, which were meant for protecting their hair as they worked. The headgear was first worn by Wang Chao Yun (王朝云 字子霞), a concubine of Su Dongpo, in the Hakka Fui Chiu district of Guangdong province and it eventually became the traditional headgear of Hakkas. Cantonese women who worked alongside female Hakka labourers adopted the use of the headgear.
Cantonese women from the Seiyap (Chinese: 四邑) district in Jiangmen prefecture wore black headgear similar to the Samsui women. Seiyap women who wore black headgear mainly worked in shipyards at the old harbour along Singapore river as well as at Keppel Harbour.
Today Chinatown is known among Singaporeans for having a large number of Cantonese people.
The Hakkas constitute 11.4% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Since their language is somewhat similar to Mandarin, albeit strongly influenced by Min-nan and Yue, they were long thought to have migrated from Northern China between the 16th and the 17th century. Recent genetic studies, however, have shown that the Hakkas originate from Southern China, like the other Chinese dialect groups in Singapore.
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, unlike the Samsui women, those Hakka women wore black, rather than red headgear.
The others, who included the Hockchew (Fuzhou), Hockchia and the Hinghwas, who came from Northeastern Fujian and Southern Zhejiang. They spoke various Eastern Min dialects. As late-comers to Singapore (late 19th century), most of them worked as shop helpers, chefs, and waiters in the hospitality sector. Hainanese Chicken Rice is a famous dish.
The Singaporean Hainanese were also known for their Western food, as many of the early Hainanese migrants worked as cooks on European ships.
These are mainly first and second-generation Chinese Singaporeans who came to Singapore in the 1990s. They tend to be highly paid white-collar workers in multinational corporations or academia in research and educational institutes. There is also an increasing number of Chinese teachers from the PRC working in Primary and Secondary schools and Junior Colleges in Singapore. This is because the Ministry of Education in Singapore finds it increasingly difficult to find qualified young Singaporeans to teach Standard Mandarin.
Migration of Chinese from Taiwan to Singapore could have begun as early as 1940s . According to verbal accounts by Singaporeans who have lived through the 1940s, many of the "Japanese" soldiers, who were involved in the occupation of Singapore during World War II, were in fact Taiwanese serving in the Imperial Japanese Army. Verbal accounts also indicate that many Chinese teachers teaching the Chinese language in the 1950s and 1960s came from Taiwan. More immigration from Taiwan began during the 1970s and 1980s as more Taiwanese came to Singapore to invest, work, live or study. Most of them are highly-educated, and employed in professions such as engineering, business, investment and education.
The Peranakan, also known as Baba-Nyonya, are early Chinese immigrants from Malacca, many who later migrated to Singapore. As they are of mixed Chinese and Malays ancestry, the Peranakans are classified as a separate ethnic group from the Han Chinese in Singapore. They embrace a fusion of Malay and Chinese cultures but have their own distinct identity. The men are known as Baba while the women are known as Bibiks or Nyonyas. Peranakans in Singapore were once concentrated around Geylang (where many Malays lived) and Katong (a predominantly Chinese enclave). This is because the Peranakans were often intermediaries for businesses and social groups in colonial Singapore owing to their ability to speak English, Malay and Hokkien.
Many Peranakans and Hokkien Chinese moved out of the congested town of Singapore - now the Central Business District (CBD) - and built seaside mansions and villas along the East Coast in Tanjong Katong ("Turtle Bay" in the Malay language) for their families.
After Singapore's independence in 1965, Peranankan people have moved throughout the island of Singapore. Peranakans in Singapore generally belong to the Hokkien and Teochew dialect groups and spoke Baba Malay and Chinese dialects as mother tongues. Many of them converted to Roman Catholicism during the 18th-century Portuguese colonisation of South-East Asia when missionaries set up posts in Batavia (Indonesia) and Malaya (Malaysia)
The Peranakans were a transcultural mix of races that blended colonial English style with indigenous Malay languages and Hokkien Chinese customs.
Some Singaporean Chinese refer to English speaking Chinese as "Ang Moh Pai 红毛派" (a Hokkien term that literally means "red-hair faction" or "Caucasian faction") or else call them "English-Educated". The term "Ang Moh Pai" is sometimes used in a derogatory way to refer to 'westernized banana' (a westernized Chinese who is yellow on the outside and white on the inside).
Unlike the "English-educated" Chinese counterparts in Malaysia, most of the predominantly English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans are able to speak, read and write in Chinese due to the mandatory requirement of Singapore's education to learn Mandarin Chinese in schools. However, few are truly effectively bilingual and tend to be better at either English or Mandarin. Quite a significant proportion are fluent in neither Mandarin nor English, as they juggled in between Singlish or Singdarin.
Chinese Singaporeans who preferentially or predominantly speak English are generally born in Singapore. Since Singapore adopted and standardized English as medium of instruction in all schools in the 1980s (i.e. English-based education became the norm), the number of Chinese families speaking Singlish/English had increased.
The majority of the Chinese in Singapore register themselves as Buddhist, and a smaller number claimed to be Taoist. Many Chinese have retained to a certain extent the Taoist belief and practice which is an age-old Chinese tradition. Taoism was once the dominant belief system, but younger generations have either switched to Buddhism or have become non-religious.
Taoism is practiced by 8.5% of Singapore's population, which amounts to more than 200,000 individuals. As a backbone of Chinese culture, Taoism was once a popular belief held by many Chinese, but Taoist beliefs has witnessed a sharp decline from the 1990s onwards, as most of the younger-generation, Chinese Singaporeans perceive the religion as demoded and draconian.
Taoists in Singapore are generally polytheistic, and worship similar Deities. Many of these Deities are incarnated and thus ancestral and are subject to a complex Taoist hierarchy of veneration. The Chinese also worship some Deities of common origins, notably the Jade Emperor, the Northern Emperor or Xiong Tae Gong, Emperor Guan Yu or Guan Tae, and the Heavenly Empress or Matsu. Other Deities that were venerated and frequently taken as auspicious images include Prosperity (Hock in Teochew/Hokkien, Fok in Cantonese, Fu 福 in Mandarin), Wealth (Lock in Teochew/Hokkien, Luk in Cantonese, Lu 禄 in Mandarin), and Longevity (Siew in Teochew/Hokkien, Sao in Cantonese, Shou 寿 in Mandarin) (see Fu Lu Shou). This includes ancestral Gods such as Guan Yu. The God of Fortune is also venerated by many Chinese businessmen all over Singapore as well as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Minor Deities, especially ancestral, worshipped by different dialect groups may not share a common origin with other dialect groups.
The Hakka are an exception in this case. Unlike other Chinese dialect groups, some Deities worshipped by Hakka are not depicted in the form of statues. Usually a stone or tablet is used to represent the Deity instead, and this is particularly true side-temple Deities that are not placed in the main altar.
Adherents of Taoism would place house altars in their living room. This is more frequently seen among Chinese families, rather than individuals. The family God or Deity would be placed on the top altar, and a spiritual tablet would be placed at the bottom altar, although ancestral tablets are at times incorrectly placed at the top altar as well. Often, urns, usually placed with some joss sticks, are placed in front of the Deity. Oil lamps may also be placed at the sides, and fruit offerings are also placed in front of the Deity as offerings to the Deity.
A brazier, often painted red, may also be seen. They are meant for burning joss papers. They also hang a small altar, painted red, with the words "Heaven Bestows Wealth" (天宮賜福) painted on it outside the house or simply a small urn filled with ash where joss sticks are placed. The smoke emitted from burning joss sticks is believed to transmit their devotion and at times requests to the Gods in heaven.
Traditional Chinese funeral customs is largely Taoist, although nowadays Buddhist monks are often invited to initiate the rituals. Therefore, either Taoist priests or Buddhist monks are called in to chant mantras and prayers. Funerals are usually conducted under the void deck of an HDB flat, condominium, or within the living premises of the deceased's private house. Funeral rituals usually last three to five days. Due to land spatial constraints, families of deceased members would have the deceased cremated in crematoriums and temples inlieu of their custom of a burial.
Taoists in Singapore are influenced by Buddhism and vice versa. There is definitely a unique culture and practice that has developed locally that gave rise to the localized religious flavor in Singapore. Most who declared themselves as Buddhist are also often seen honoring and revering Taoist Gods and Deities; and most Taoists, on the other hand, are also ready to honor Lord Buddha. In fact, the demarcation between Buddhism and Taoism has obscurred and to adherents of either religion, Taoism and Buddhism are actually viewed as a single entity.
The afore-stated reason probably accounted for the steep decline in the number of adherents of Taoism, from 30% in 1980 to 22.4% in 1990, and then down to 8.5% in 2000 whilst Buddhism rise from 31.2% in 1990 to 42.5% in 2000. Proposition that economic affluence and changes in lifestyles have led younger-generation Chinese Singaporeans to embrace evangelical Christianity may well be overstated as the percentage rise in Christianity between 1990 (12.7%) to 2000 (14.6%) is merely less than 2%.
Buddhism is practiced by 42.5% of Singapore's population, or more than half of the Chinese in Singapore. The growth of Buddhism and Buddhist teachings in Singapore is not a recent development. Overseas missionaries from Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan and to a lesser extent, Tibet, have introduced Theravada, Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism to Singaporeans. The Buddhists in Singapore are not exclusively ethnic Chinese, they include Japanese expatriates, Europeans, Americans, and Eurasians who have converted from Christianity.
All the three mainstream Buddhist traditions, namely Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana are well represented in Singapore and they unanimously celebrate the festival Vesak. Vesak Day is a festive that commemorates the birth, Enlightenment and the Nirvana of Lord Buddha Gautama.
In recent decades, atop of the inherent Buddhist-Taoist culture, Buddhist missionaries from other parts of Asia have cause large number of converts throughout the region. Valued and learned writings translated into books are one of many factors responsible for the success of Buddhism. Other factors include Singaporeans' relations with Buddhist organizations overseas.
Buddhists in Singapore normally pay frequent visits to Temples for prayers, Dharma Centers of Monasteries for dharma activities like Dharma Talks or discussions, Meditation, Chanting as well as many other activities especially for the youth.
Christianity is practiced by 14.6% of Singapore's population, the great majority of whom are ethnic Chinese. Most Christians in Singapore are either Roman Catholic or Protestant, with Orthodox Christians forming a minuscule minority.
Protestants in Singapore include Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Non-sectarian Churches such as Pentecostals, Charismatics have made large numbers of converts in the recent years, notably among youths. However, Catholicism (Roman) still remains the largest denomination locally.
Ancestor worship is not permitted among Catholics, contrary to what many Protestants believe. However, dead ancestors are often prayed for during Mass and various prayer services. But this is considered taboo among Protestant denominations. However, the continuation of ancestor worship persists according to individuals, especially during the Cheng Meng festival.
Christian church services are mainly held in English, though some churches have services in different languages, notably Mandarin, Tamil, Tagalog and even in Chinese dialects. Latin services are occasionally conducted in Catholic churches.
The Christian population in Singapore grew from 10% in the 1980s to 18% in 1988 before taking a dip to 14.6% as recently.
A small minority of the Chinese in Singapore follow Islam and Hinduism. Most are converts who have married Malay Muslims or Indian Hindus. Some may also have been raised by Malays or Indians while some may have converted as a matter of personal choice.
After Singapore became the capital of the British Straits Settlements in 1832, the free trade policy attracted many Chinese from Mainland China to trade, and many settled down 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 immigrants exceeded the population of the Malays. During this period, Christian missionaries from Europe began to evangelize the Asians, especially the Chinese. By 1849, the Chinese formed half of Singapore's population.
The Second Sino-Japanese War, started in 1937, revived a perceived sense of patriotism in the local Chinese to China and soon the Singaporean Chinese imposed an embargo against Japanese goods and products in Singapore. During the war, fearing for the safety of their relatives in China, some 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 are false accounts based on personal vendettas. There were also active anti-Japanese resistance during the war, such as Force 136, headed by Lim Bo Seng.