Need for new immigrants to be integrated into our multi-racial society

~ By Terry Xu ~

The recent spate of incidents involving Chinese immigrants has cast a pretty bad impression in the eyes of many Singaporeans. Some Singaporeans may have already fallen into an emotional trap to bunch all new Chinese immigrants into a stereotyped racial group commonly referred to as PRCs (short for People’s Republic of China, the name of the country from where the Chinese immigrants come from). More than often, people would jump to the predetermined conclusion that anything that goes wrong in Singapore is the immediate result of employing PRCs.

Even as news in recent days have covered new Chinese immigrants being involved in various offences and incidents, one needs to step back and think about the number of law-abiding and hardworking Chinese immigrants (against the selected few who are highlighted in the news) who are working day and night to feed themselves and their family while contributing to the growth of our country. Apart from ingrates like the student who made a degrading comment on Singaporeans, it does no justice to the workers taking up jobs which locals would probably shun. I have seen people who are clearly Chinese immigrants being overly cautious of their behaviour and fearing that they would be seen as rude and uncivil. Is this the way we want them to feel in a foreign country which prides itself as a developed and civilised nation?

New immigrants and foreign workers of different nationalities – including Chinese immigrants – have contributed greatly to Singapore’s economic success of today (and more so in the recent past) by taking up jobs which many locals would not want to, as well as serve as a source of low-cost labour which enables companies to keep their operating expenses down. 

Anger or Frustration?

This anger directed towards new immigrants, and especially the Chinese immigrants, apart from being the consequence of recent negative incidents, may also come from the pent-up frustration over the overnight surge of new Chinese immigrants seen all over Singapore – from the residential areas to the workplace environment. Proudly or stubbornly – as different people see it, maintaining their own lifestyle habits and particular mannerisms, Singaporeans undoubtedly feel the disturbance to the once stable and established multicultural lifestyle.

This phenomenon is not unique to Singapore though as such issues of having vast differences in the culture of the immigrant workforce (who hail from the suburban and rural areas of the country) to the city-folk exist even in the cities of China such as Beijing and Shanghai. Why Singaporeans generally view Chinese immigrants as a stereotyped racial group may be due to the way our government lumps these new immigrants as a whole entity to begin with.

The early Chinese immigrants whom most modern-day Singaporean Chinese descended from were mainly from the Teochew, Cantonese, Hokkien and Hainanese dialect group. Not too long ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long called upon the local clans to be part of the integration process for new Chinese immigrants to blend into our community ('Chinese clans' role still vital, says PM Lee', Channel NewsAsia, 25 Jan 2012).

True enough, that it seems like a legitimate request for something to be done for this new group of immigrants so that they can be assimilated into our multi-racial society.

New Immigrants vs Forefathers

But what may be an oversight is that we are not be talking about the same Chinese immigrants whom our forefathers were. Immigration from China today is no longer what it was in the early days of seafaring migration where various sorts of individuals with different cultural backgrounds and ways of life descended from all over China. Chinese from China as we know it, is not a single community of like-minded individuals living in a massively huge country. We are talking about a big cultural pot of 56 recognised ethnic groups with the majority Han-speaking together with various of dialects as well.

Getting our Chinese clans to assimilate the modern Chinese immigrants might be a tall order as we do not really know the exact make-up of all these Chinese immigrants in terms of their culture and lifestyle since there has never been a straight answer to how many new Chinese immigrants there are in Singapore and where they come from. From what former Mininster Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said about the worrying birth rate – especially in the Chinese segment of the population ('Lee Kuan Yew calls for understanding towards immigration policy', Channel NewsAsia, 03 Feb 2012), a bold assumption often comes up that this mass influx of new Chinese immigrants will defray the dwindling birth rate of Singaporean Chinese. However, like how the famous Thai phrase goes 'same-same, but different'.

The government needs to seriously address this issue of directed anger towards this particularly large group of immigrants.  Preventing the growing sense of xenophobia towards the Chinese immigrants and other nationalities through measures such as decisive amendments to the lax immigration policies which has caused this mass influx of foreigners that threatens the country’s delicate social fabric is the first step. Looking towards a fairer employment environment which encourages jobs be given to locals first and then to foreigners only when no locals are available, would also dispel the notion that Singapore is all for foreigners but not for Singaporeans.

And, last but not least, it should acknowledge that Chinese individuals from China are uniquely special and very different from the Singaporean Chinese, so that the misguided notion that integration of immigrants into Singapore culture is going to be a walk in the park can be corrected. Only then can newly introduced cultures be slowly assimilated over time – just like how Singapore has come over decades to be the Uniquely Singapore of today.