Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why the 'Speak Mandarin', 'Appreciate Chinese Culture' Campaign in Singapore is a monumental mistake

Source: Ed'sperience's Blog

Well, the government has started yet another push to elevate Chinese culture again over all ‘others’. The ‘Speak Mandarin’ and a ‘new nationwide initiative to deepen the appreciation of Chinese culture and increase the competency level of communication in Mandarin. The Chinese Challenge will begin on 30 March 2009.’ source

My question is, as it has always been, where does it leave the Malays and Indians? Why is it that one culture and language is promoted over others in such a blatant fashion? And it is most ironic that whilst their promotional video shows an African child, amongst others, speaking mandarin, Malays and Indians are forbidden to study the language in this country.

Basically, what this does is to elevate the value of one culture over others. The advertisements illustrate the global appreciation of Chinese language and culture. Those whom are Chinese in appearance, if exposed to this from youth, will tend to identify with the culture and learn to be Chinese and be proud of it given the exposure it receives over all ‘others’. It is sociologically and psychologically verifiable that the promotion of one culture over another will tend to render its practitioners or those whom identify with it to take what I term ‘counterpositional relative pride’ in it. That is, feeling proud of one’s culture and looking down on others since the others are not given such exposure. And this is further exacerbated by promotional videos such as the above that tends to present Chinese culture and language as being lauded the world over. In the past it was promoted as preferable and an 'advantage' over other local cultures. Now, it is promoted as laudable on a global scale. Not only will this induce cultural arrogance and enhance the feelings of self-efficacy amongst those identified as 'chinese', but it will induce the inverse amongst local 'others'. Anyway, what is singapore doing promoting Mandarin on a global stage and not others? Yet another attempt to render 'Singapore' synonymous with 'Chinese' perhaps? But, as always, it is not those who promote such campaigns that I take issue with, but the masses who fail to see anything amiss in such culturally vainglorious promotion. Shame on them.

If I was Prime Minister,

I would give equal prominence to ALL cultures despite the numbers of any population. Why?

Firstly, when we give all cultures prominence, their practitioners and those who identify with the culture will have their sense of personal and cultural self-efficacy enhanced. When this happens equitably, they will develop their cultural propensities even further and contribute the fruits of such development to the collective pool.

Secondly, we will enhance what I term, ‘collaborative non-counterpositional cultural pride’. That is, all races will view their own and the cultures of others as equals and hence value each other’s cultural perspectives and contribution. (right now, the Chinese, culturalised to be Chinese, tend to view Indians as people who talk too much, ask too many questions, and not unquestioningly do as they’re told. The critical faculty of the entire population is thus severely compromised.)

I would encourage the Chinese to study Tamil and Malay; the Malays to study Mandarin and Tamil; and the Indians to study Malay and Mandarin. Why?

Very simple actually.

people are generally more careful with culturally dissimilar others in business, amongst others, than similar others. For instance, the Chinese in China may be less culturally imposing toward non-Chinese from other countries than diasporic (derived from the word Diaspora) Chinese. Indians from India and Chinese from China may tend to view as inferior diasporic peoples since both nations are the ‘motherlands’.

Secondly, when a person of one ‘race’ encounters one from another race who speaks their language, they tend to feel gratified and become more amiable toward the other as a person. This is not the case when one encounters one of the same ‘race’ as cultural norms are imposed. Put this together in a situation between a ‘mainland’ Chinese in China and a diasporic Chinese, expectations and impositions are increased manifold. I’ve personally enjoyed positive reactions all my life with Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese and, especially, Chinese from China, when I speak Mandarin. I tend to get more favours and got things done quickly at work in the past.

Let me give you an example. In my late teens (2 decades ago), I worked for a short time as a labourer. One time, I had to deliver a heavy wheel-like item which had cables running around it. I approached the Chinese contractor at a construction site and told him in English that I was there to deliver it and where I ought to put it. He just nodded to a particular location up a slope. Then I broke out in Mandarin and asked him if he wanted it to be placed there at that moment. He immediately looked at me in surprise and said, ‘Wah, ni huay chiang hua yi ah?!’(wow! You know how to speak mandarin?!”). He immediately told me to stand aside and called his workers to do the job for me. In another situation, a Chinese boss had me promoted as a supervisor after 3 days of work due to my ability to speak Mandarin. I’m also popular with most of the China girls who serve drinks at the neighbourhood coffeeshop and get exceptional service. This was also the case when I was working for ‘Yellow Pages’ a decade ago. I was the pet of the Chinese female staff and this helped in getting things done quickly. Dealing with debtors on the phone, when they discovered that I was Indian, or when they came down to the office in a confrontational attitude, they would always tone down and be more amiable toward me when I broke out in Mandarin. Speaking Mandarin is not an advantage, but speaking it when you’re not Chinese is.

The lesson here is simple. Speaking any language is an advantage when you’re not supposed to be able to speak it.

locally, when people learn to speak each other’s languages, not only does mutual validation and consideration take place; not only are people brought together despite ‘race’; but it will certainly help to forge a bond that will, over time, lead to a singular Singaporean identity that is not synonymous with just one race.

being of one culture and being most open to other cultures – especially when one is not taught to discount other cultures by undue prominence being given to one over another – will develop in the individual what I term, multiangular thought. That is, we’ll bring to bear an arsenal of different perspectives in the appreciation and analysis of any phenomena. We will become acutely cognizant of detail; the tendency to discount information will decrease as we will have the trained propensity to ignore or discount that which is new weeded out of us; and we will tend to become more innovative, critical and inventive.

As I've said in other articles, to marginalise one race is to compromise the potentials of ALL. For the myriad perspectives that may be garnered from the development of ALL can never be compensated for by the development of just one. Sisters and brothers, let me tell you what the struggle for equality is all about. It is not the struggle for the elevation of the marginalised, but the struggle for the perspectival progress of all. For it is not the numbers of a people that matter, but the potential of even a single individual of another culture to add exponential value to the perspectives of all. The = symbol in a lengthy equation may just be 1 symbol amongst many. But without it, we will never have a conclusion that in turn serves as a stepping stone to further formulae.


Anonymous said...

A very good article. Hope to read more from the author.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Malay and Indian Singaporeans should not be "forbidden from studying Chinese in this country" (I doubt that they are, though). Specifically, I believe that there should be no bar to parents of any ethnicity choosing for their children to study any of our four official languages as a second language in school. They, parents and child, would of course need to be prepared to put in all of the work necessary (and there could be a great deal) for the child to maintain a minimum level of proficiency in that second language. I feel that the schools should allocate significant resources to help students and parents do this.
As for the main thrust of your article, you should realize that the camaign is, and has always been, directed at Chinese Singaporeans. They are urged to speak more Mandarin and less dialect. I do not feel that the intention is to "elevate one language above the others." It is instead to address one problem: the sorry state of Chinese language proficiency among Singaporeans (Chinese Singaoreans, primarily, but everybody is welcome to study the language as far as I am concerned). Maybe your point is "why do we need to fix it?" Well, many of us want our children to still have familiarity with the culture of our ancestors and that of a good chunk of mankind even today. Just as we value the friendship of our Malay and Indian compatriots, we value this Chinese part of our existence. And you can't have access to it without learning the language well enough.

Seelan Palay said...

Thank you for the comment, Anonymous.

However, the original author of this is Ed, a fellow blogger. I will inform him of your comment, and hopefully he replies with his thoughts too.

ed said...

As for promoting a common language amongst the chinese, dialect-speaking was quite pervasive back in the 70s and to some extent in the 80s. But this is not as much the case in the present. Anyway, having mandarin as a second language does significantly counter divisive tendencies that might emerge from linguistic divergence.

One can say that having English as a first language counters divisive tendencies amongst the population in general. But this is undone by the need to be bilingual - in English and Mandarin - at the workplace; with generally one race being given prominence in the media and in terms of being 'modern' and 'progressive'(ref. the grossly racist local comedy, 'Serves you Right' which no one seems to have a problem simply because racism has been naturalised and apathy institutionalised); with one culture being promoted above all others; with the speak mandarin campaign being paired with 'appreciating chinese culture' without similar campaigns for other cultures; with people here defining the idea of 'the majority' with race as opposed to nationality;....this list goes on, if one has the requisite empathy to recognise it.

You must realise one important thing that most overlook. Chinese culture emerged from an attempt by the Chinese Imperium in China to fuse a culturally and racially disparate people. Sub-cultures do exist, but the Chinese generally share a singular culture that leads them to see themselves as one whole. The same thing applies to many nations which we now see as culturally homogeneous - as the nation-state is of recent invention. So, to hold on to the culture of people in China, elevate it above others, and appreciate it in ways that are not afforded others, is to not do what is required for the formation of one culture. If China had done this in the past, one wouldn't have a 'chinese culture' to promote. So the same ought to be done in singapore. Fusion and the formation of one culture. Without this, there will only be assimilation. Everyone loses out in such a case.

A good example of cultural fusion is India which has been constantly embracing new cultures for more than 2000 years. In fact, it would be true to say, 'to be indian is to not be indian'. Such a people will inevitably become intellectually vibrant, multiangular thinkers.

Cultural isolationism never bodes well for the intellectual and perspectival progress of any individual or state. Replication of the past has to be paired with fusion with the present, in term of cultures. That, unfortunately, is verifiably not the case in singapore.

I will write more about this in the near future.

Thank you, sincerely, for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Seelan, u are another racialist idiot. You hate Singapore so much then migrate to Malaysia and fight for your Indian rights. Better still, migrate to Tamil Nadu. Try not to still racial sentiments in Singapore. Damn u.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous, does the line in the above article sound racialist to you? - "I would encourage the Chinese to study Tamil and Malay; the Malays to study Mandarin and Tamil; and the Indians to study Malay and Mandarin. Why?"

If it does, then indeed it is you who is the racialist :)

ed said...

Seelan is not stirring 'racial sentiments'. He is attempting to undermine the basis upon which it is founded - inequality. That's simple logic. Racial hatred cannot be stirred up without the existence of inequality. It is those whom maintain inequality or ignore it that are guilty of it.

That would mean you mate.

Anyway, it's good that you didn't include your name, lest you make a public exposition of your idiocy.


sim said...

To the anonymous person who started the 'name calling'. The points discussed in the article and some of the comments were written with the writer putting a lot of thoughts behind it and were supported with equally valid examples and justifications. Be objective and consider the points and counter them with your own justifications if any instead of resorting to such behaviour which seem pointless and worst demean oneself.

Anonymous said...

Ignore the idiot who says that the article is racist.grow up man!one thing that struck me is that chinese language is not forbidden to be taught to other races.Although i believe that only popular and big shot schools that have it.try spreading it to the neighbourhood schools since thats where the majority of SG students are.
As for the campaign,though i agree that it is to increase the knowledge of chinese language,couldnt it be done on channel 8 since thats where the majority watch their telly?I remember having a show called hua yi cool a few years back on channel 5.It really defeat the purpose of having a english channel where you still air chinese speaking show.

Anonymous said...

I think we are having a rather complicated issue here. It might not be as straitforward as we see it.

First, the Chinese langauge, perhaps the Tamil language as well, IS facing a PROBLEM in Singapore, whereby the young resist learning their "mother tongues", thanks to past national policy which emphasised on English so much as to bring negligence and disregard towards the importance of other languages. Yes, where Singaporeans could once converse casually in one another's tongues (be it Hokkien or Malay), they are now reduced to sub-standard, mediocre (sometimes broken) English, with a smattering of even worse Chinese and Mandarin (and Malay and Tamil as well).

Those hua yu cool programmes are stupid, and i say so not because i disagree with their purpose of instilling more native cultural knowledge, but because of the need to do so, the fact that we have been reduced to that state! Well, i do understand well we SHOULD broadcast those on Channel 5 instead of Channel 8, because it is stupid to tell those who are already speaking and thus tuning to ch8 perhaps, to speak the language. Surely it would be wiser to spread the word to English-speaking ch5 folks, wouldn't it be? Yes, it could be offensive to the other races, but we need to take into account the special case here where there is an unusual mother tongue problem particularly with the Chinese language that we need to address, if not arrest. Not warranting even that would be tantamount to forbidding freedom of expression and the course of action for something with good intentions.

But having that said, I DO NOT agree with policies or whatsoever in Singapore that are biased towards certain races and against certain races. Although concerns like security or otherwise could be tolerated and understood, there are structural discrimination and racial tension and misunderstanding as demonstrated by some of Palay's and others' strong viewpoints and expressions, which need to be corrected ASAP.

These are my heartfelt opinions and no offence is intended. The blind and the tricked have to wake up, but remember they had been innocent!

uthira said...

uthira - all the pointer are well appreciated accept for one anny who should be in this topic , i would like to say a few words .

what seelan/ed is trying to say in a laymans term is : when a man is born we are know as humans first , then comes the race instillation and then come religion , so if you know how appreciate humans as one then you will know ho to appreciate race and religions of all humans - coorecto me if i am wrong guys :) now to do this promote and appreciate all cultures same time then is when we will know how to appreciate each other culture , language , history and come the respect automatically . during my dads time in the 70s i use to follow him to the wet market in sembawang , when my dad buy veg from a chinese satll he speaks in chinese/malay mixed , when hes in an indian stall he speaks in malay/tamil mixed and when hes in a malay stall he speaks in malal/chiense/tamil mixed , i used to enjoy it and infact learned to respect other cultures and btw its such coz kampog days are the golden era of singapore . when my time came in the late 80s/90s racism was everwhere , i was sad and told alot of my chinese/malay friends who agreed to coz they grew up like in kampongs , now seeing my children today i am a very happy fatner coz my faters times has returned , my daugther's (teen) best friends are a chinese/malay gal who they often sit together and talkin mixed language and i enjoy listening it gets me walking down memory lane .
well guys my children cant speak good tamil at all coz my mom/myself and my wife we spoke english since ifancy to them but that didnt bother us coz we have taught them the indian culture in way where tey know how to embraces others . cheers guys