Debating Integration in Singapore, Deepening the Variegations of the Chinese Diaspora

7 October, 2019

Photo: “Chinatown” from SRN’s SG Photobank

3 October 1990 marked the start of official relations between Singapore and China. Both countries have established warm ties over the years, with China especially important to Singapore as a trade partner and an immigrant source country. China’s abundant population provided both skilled and unskilled migrants to ease Singapore’s labour shortage in the 1990s.

However, despite 76% of Singaporeans being ethnically Chinese, tensions still exist between them and the newer Chinese immigrants from the mainland. Singaporeans believe these new immigrants are unwilling to integrate into the local culture. This was demonstrated in the ‘curry incident’, a 2011 neighbourhood conflict between an Indian-Singaporean family and their mainland Chinese neighbours over the odour of curry. Non-Indian Singaporeans demonstrated solidarity with Indian Singaporeans against the Chinese immigrant family, who were called out for being culturally insensitive. Relatedly, Singaporeans also reacted defensively to the government’s plan announced in 2013 to increase the population mainly through more immigrants, exemplified by the subsequent protest at Hong Lim Park.

In ‘Debating Integration in Singapore, Deepening the Variegations of the Chinese Diaspora’, a chapter in Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, (Springer, 2017), Associate Professor Elaine Ho (NUS Geography) and Ms Fang Yu Foo investigate the integration debates concerning the recent immigration of mainland Chinese to Singapore. Among other issues, the study explores the attitudes of new Chinese immigrants towards integration, and the co-ethnic tensions and social prejudice these new immigrants experience.

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