Chinese Singaporean

Chinese Singaporean
Chinese Singaporean
Lee Kuan Yew.jpgLeeHsienLoong-IISSConf-Singapore-20070601.jpg


Lee Kuan Yew  · Lee Hsien Loong
Stefanie Sun · JJ Lin
Fann Wong
Total population
2,794,000 [1](2010 est.)
Regions with significant populations

English and Singaporean Mandarin
Min Chinese, Yue Chinese, Hakka, various other Chinese dialects


Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and others

Related ethnic groups

Southern Chinese, Malaysian Chinese

Chinese Singaporeans (simplified Chinese: 新加坡华人; traditional Chinese: 新加坡華人; pinyin: Xīnjiāpō Huárén) are people of Chinese ethnicity who hold Singaporean nationality. As of 2010, Chinese Singaporeans constitute 74.1% of Singapore's resident population, or approximately three out of four Singaporeans, making them the largest ethnic group in Singapore. Outside Greater China, Singapore is the only country in the world where ethnic Chinese constitute a majority of the population.

Ethnic Chinese in Singapore tend to identify themselves primarily as Singaporeans (新加坡人) and only secondarily as Chinese (Huaren/ 华人/華人). The terms Chinese Singaporean or Singaporean Chinese are used interchangeably. In terms of racial or ethnic identity, Chinese in Singapore commonly identify themselves as "Huaren 华人/華人" rather than "Huayi 华裔/華裔" or "Huaqiao 华侨/華僑" . Peranakan Chinese are the offspring of ethnic Chinese who had married indigenous peoples and have developed a unique culture distinct from the Chinese majority.



The Singapore Department of Statistics defines 'Chinese' as a 'race' (or 'ethnic group'). Chinese in Singapore refer to persons of Chinese origin such as Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese, Hakkas, Hainanese, Hockchias, Foochows, Henghuas, Shanghainese, etc.[2] Singaporeans of mixed parentage are classified as "Chinese" if their father is classified as such.

Ancestral origins or language groups

Chinatown, Singapore was an enclave for the early Chinese immigrants in Singapore in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In general, the Chinese in Singapore are grouped according to their respective Chinese spoken language, linguistic-cultural or ancestral groups. The ancestral origins of the Chinese Singaporeans are diverse in nature and they are identified by their linguistic differences and ancestral home (known as "Zuji 祖籍" or "Jiguan 籍贯").

Most of the Chinese in Singapore belong to several linguistic-cultural groups, originating from mainly the southern parts of China, predominantly Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan province. The Hokkiens, Teochews and Cantonese jointly form more than three-quarters of the Chinese population. The Hakka, Hainanese and other groups account for most of the remainder. These are generally the descendants of the migrants from southern China during the 19th and early half of 20th century (first and second wave of migration) and are typically known as "local Singaporean Chinese" (新加坡本地华人). The 1990s and early 21st century saw Singapore experiencing a third wave of new Chinese migration from different parts of China.

Inter-marrying between different Chinese language/ancestral groups is quite common in Singapore, but association of linguistic-cultural group will follow the respective ancestry of the father's side. For instance, if one's father is of Hokkien ancestry and another's mother is of Teochew ancestry, the children will tend to associate themselves as Hokkien (i.e. following the roots of the father). Some Chinese Singaporeans also tend to associate themselves with their clans and ancestral origins, as seen in Singapore Chinese Clan Associations.

Population Profile of Singapore Chinese Dialect Groups[3]
Dialect Group Ancestral home 1990 2000
Hokkiens Xiamen (厦门), Quanzhou (泉州), Zhangzhou (漳州), Tongan (同安), Nanan (南安), Anxi (安溪), Huian (惠安), Yongchun (永春), Longhai (龍海), Jinjiang (晉江) 896,080 1,028,490
Teochews Chaozhou (潮州), Shantou (汕头), Chaoan (潮安), Chaoyang (潮陽), Jieyang (揭阳), Raoping (饒平), Chenghai (澄海), Puning (普寧), Huilai (惠來) 466,020 526,200
Cantonese Guangzhou (广州), Zhaoqing (肇庆), Shunde (顺德), Taishan (台山), Heshan (鹤山) 327,870 385,630
Hakkas Meixian (梅县), Dapu (大埔), Huizhou (惠州) 155,980 198,440
Hainanese Wenchang (文昌), Haikou (海口) 148,740 167,590
Foochows (Min Dong) Fuzhou (福州) 36,490 46,890
Henghua (Puxian/Putian) Putian (莆田), Xianyou (仙游) 19,990 23,540
Shanghainese Shanghai (上海) 17,310 21,550
Hockchia (Fuqing) Fuqing (福清) 13,230 15,470
Others 50,150 91,590

Min-Nan (Hokkien)

Thian Hock Keng is the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore.

The Hokkiens (福建人) constitute around 41% of the Chinese Singaporean population. They are the largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore. In Singapore, "Hokkien" is the term referring to the Min-nan people (闽南人) or Hoklo people (河洛人). They originated from the southern parts of the Fujian province (福建省), including Xiamen (厦门), Quanzhou (泉州), Zhangzhou (漳州) and other Min-nan towns/villages such as Tongan (同安), Nanan (南安), Anxi (安溪), Huian (惠安), Yongchun (永春), Longhai (龍海), Jinjiang (晉江) etc.

They speak Singaporean Hokkien, the standard of which is based on the Amoy dialect (厦门话 / 厦门闽南语) of Hokkien, a Min-nan (闽南) language, which is 50.4% comprehensible with Teochew (潮州话), and less so with Hainanese (海南话).[4] The Hokkien language was a lingua franca amongst the various Chinese language 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.

What is noteworthy in Singapore is that "Hokkiens" do not refer to all the people originating from all parts of the Fujian province. It was only used to specifically refer to Min-nan people (闽南人) (i.e. people of southern Fujian province) who speak the Min-nan dialects (闽南语), otherwise also known in Singapore as simply "Hokkien" (福建话). In this sense, "Hokkiens" has excluded other people of Fujian provinces such as Fuzhou, Putian etc.

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 centred along the Singapore River.

As early settlers came from the southern coast of China, they were active in sea trade and worshipped 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 Ngee Ann Kongsi is based at the Teochew Building on Tank Road.

The Teochew (潮州人) in Singapore constitute about 21% of the Chinese population in Singapore, making them the second largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore. They originated from Chaoshan region in the eastern part of Guangdong province of China, including Chaozhou (潮州), Shantou (汕头), Jieyang (揭阳), etc.

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 (福建). Their migration from southern Fujian to their new homes in what is now known as the Chaoshan region and Hainan Island respectively was due mainly 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 Language group for a period of time during the 19th century. Mass emigration 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 Teochews 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.

Other 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 language associations. These clan associations or Kongsi served as unions for the mostly illiterate Chinese labourers and represented them when dealing with their colonial rulers or employers. One of the more prominent clan associations for the Teochews was the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew-oriented association formed in 1845 that is still in existence.

The Straits Times highlighted that Hougang has a relatively high concentration of Teochew residents.


The Cantonese (广东人) make up 15% of the Chinese Singaporean population. They originated from the southern region of Guangdong province in China, including Guangzhou (广州), Zhaoqing (肇庆), Shunde (顺德), Taishan (台山), Heshan (鹤山), etc.

Unlike the Hokkien, Teochew and the Hainanese, the Cantonese speak a language belonging to the Yue family. The Cantonese community uses several dialect groups. Yue Hai is considered to be the purest form of Cantonese because of its close proximity with the language of Guangzhou. Other variants include Luoguang, Seiyap and Gouyeung. The Gwainaam variant is largely based in Guangxi and shares close affinity with Pinghua. As with the Hokkiens and Teochews, some Cantonese also share Taoist beliefs.

The Cantonese worked mainly as doctors, politicians, teachers of classical Chinese, goldsmiths, tailors and restaurateurs during the early and mid 20th century, and their businesses dominated the shop houses 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 toward Singapore's development. 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 the 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.

As of 2010 Singaporeans recognize Chinatown for having a large number of Cantonese people.


Ying Fo Fui Kun is the first Hakka clan association in Singapore.

The Hakka (客家人) constitute 11.4%.[5] They originated mainly from the Hakka-speaking region (north-eastern part) of Guangdong province in China, such as Meixian (梅县), Dapu (大埔), etc. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of the Republic of Singapore has Hakka ancestry originating from Dapu (大埔).

Since the Hakka language is somewhat similar to Mandarin, albeit strongly influenced by Min-nan and Yue, the Hakkas were long thought to have migrated from Northern China between the 4th and the 13th century. Recent genetic studies, however, have shown that the Hakkas originated from Southern China, like the other Chinese language 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.

Hainanese, Min Dong and Puxian Min

This group constitutes 5% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Of them, the majority are Hainanese (海南人), from Hainan, speaking Hainanese. The Hainanese in Singapore originated mainly from north-eastern region of Hainan island, including Wenchang (文昌) and Haikou (海口).

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.

The Hockchew (Fuzhou 福州人) and Hockchia (福清人) originated from Northeastern Fujian province and Southern Zhejiang province of China. They spoke various Eastern Min languages.

The Puxian or Hinghwas (兴化人) originated from Central Fujian i.e. Putian and Xianyou and they speak Puxian Min.


This group constitutes less than 2% of the Chinese Singaporean population. In Singapore, due to their small population, the Taiwanese (台湾人) are often sub-categorised into Singapore's larger Chinese language groups such as Hokkien and Hakka, to which the Taiwanese people usually belong. In recent years, the new Taiwanese immigrants form a distinctive group on their own. They speak Taiwanese Mandarin, Taiwanese Hokkien, or Hakka, depending on their respective home languages (predominantly based on their Ancestral home languages originating from mainland China). The Taiwanese in Singapore generally originated from various cities in Taiwan, including Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung etc.

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. After 1965, due to military ties with Taiwan, some Taiwanese military personnel migrated to Singapore to serve as high ranking officers in Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). 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, research and education. There are also inter-marriages between Chinese Singaporean and Taiwanese, resulting in the Taiwanese partner moving to Singapore and obtain citizenship. As of 2009, the estimated population of Taiwanese in Singapore is around 60,000.[6]

Hong Kong

This group consists of most whom migrated to Singapore in the late 1980s' to early 1990s' due to the take over of Hong Kong by People's Republic of China.


Peranakans in Singapore were once concentrated in Katong.

The Peranakan, also known as Baba-Nyonya, are early Chinese immigrants from Malacca and Penang, 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 language 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 ethnic groups that blended colonial English style with indigenous Malay languages and Hokkien Chinese customs.

Wu-speaking peoples and others

Prior to 1990, Mandarin speakers from Beijing and other Chinese provinces such as Shandong, Sichuan, Hubei etc., and Wu speakers from Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, constitute less than 2% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Most of the current population of native Mandarin speakers immigrated to Singapore much later than the other groups, specifically after the Singapore government relaxed immigration laws in 1989. They can all speak Standard Mandarin, the lingua franca among all the Chinese languages, and may be able to speak their own languages or dialects. Since 1990s, the population of PRC Chinese who come to Singapore to study and work has steadily increased every year. Eventually, many settle down in Singapore permanently and became Singapore permanent residents (PRs) or citizens. This group now constitutes about a fifth of Singapore's population.

The first- and second-generation Chinese Singaporeans who came to Singapore in the 1990s 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. From the late 1990s, due to a liberalisation of immigrants from China, Singapore has seen a large influx (third wave) of new China migrants from different parts of China. They came to Singapore to study or work in all sectors. While some returned to China after a temporary period of time, there were also many who eventually settled down permanently in Singapore. Immigrants from China during the 1990s and the early 21st century originated from different parts of China. They are typically known as "Xinyimin 新移民".

There are also many new Chinese immigrants from the neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam etc., all adding to the diversity of Chinese in Singapore.



Traditionally, Chinese Singaporeans used their respective mother tongues as their main avenue of communication. Although that led to much inconvenience amongst the varying dialect groups, it has nevertheless forged strong dialectal bonds amongst the Chinese community.

But today, the languages spoken by Chinese in Singapore exhibited a diversity including English, Singlish, Mandarin, Singdarin (Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin), Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese and other Chinese dialects. Most Chinese Singaporeans are generally bilingual, whereby they can speak both English and Mandarin or some other Chinese dialects.

Before 1980s

Before 1980s, Chinese Singaporean were either English-educated or Chinese-educated. The English educated Chinese were educated with English as the medium of instruction and learnt little or no Mandarin in school (In such cases, the Mandarin language became an optional language). As a result, they became affianced to English-speaking and inevitable distanced from the Chinese language and their respective mother tongues. On the other hand, the Chinese-educated were educated with Mandarin as the medium of instruction but learnt little or no English. They usually speak Mandarin and their respective mother tongues with little or no English. There were of course a portion of Chinese Singaporeans who were bi-lingual, i.e. simultaneously educated with English and Mandarin as the medium of instruction, or alternatively they attended Chinese-based primary schools and subsequently transferred to English-based schools from their secondary education.

After 1980s

After 1980s, all schools (including former Chinese-based schools) in Singapore began to use English as the primary medium of instruction with Mandarin as a secondary language. Thus, Chinese Singaporean educated in the post-80s are usually bi-lingual.

English is supposedly the 1st language and therefore presumably spoken by all Singapore residents. This was partly due to Singapore government's policy of making English the medium of instruction in all schools in the 1980s (including former Chinese-based schools),as well as making English the working language for administration and business in Singapore (in short making English the lingua franca among all Singaporean). The presence of English language in Singapore has its roots originating from Singapore's colonial past, whereby Singapore was part of British colony. As a result of the government's policy, English or Singlish has become widespread among the Singapore residents, including but not confining to the Chinese Singaporeans (esp. the young people). The increase of English/Singlish speaking Chinese family in Singapore was a result of misperceived social and cultural values that the preservation of mother tongues is "low-class" resulting in desperate attempts to replace mother tongues with the English language. As of 2010, it was estimated that 32.6% of Singapore Chinese speak English at home.[1] But at work or in the city and business district, English is the official lingua franca, but there remains a notably undeniable fact, albeit ironical, that the Hokkien dialect remains extant amongst Singaporeans, not limiting to the Chinese, and operates as the unofficial common language.

Mandarin is another widely spoken language among Chinese Singaporeans. As of 2010, it was estimated that 47.7% of Chinese Singaporeans speak Mandarin at home.[1] Evidently, Singapore government's Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched in 1980s with the intention of making Mandarin the lingua franca among the Chinese in Singapore.[7] It was intentionally a way to unify the Chinese from different dialect groups. In the 1990s, this campaign began to target the English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans. As a result of this campaign, Mandarin became widespread in places such as residential area, HDB, neighbourhood shopping and even business districts. Evidently, Mandarin is also often spoken in most "traditional Chinese-based" schools, despite the fact that English is their medium of instruction. Colloqually, as with all other languages spoken in Singapore, the Chinese Singaporeans prefers a localized flavour in mixing words from English, Hokkien, Malay, and some other dialects, into the Mandarin language. Most young Chinese Singaporeans are capable of conversational Mandarin, but are weaker in their ability to write Mandarin.

Variations according to age group

The main languages spoken by Chinese Singaporean vary according to the age group. Most young Chinese Singaporean speak either English or Mandarin whilst the elderly, though able to converse in Mandarin, have preferred Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, or Hainanese. As the south-eastern Chinese dialects are not taught in school, the number of their speakers has steadily declined, and with it saw the deterioration of Chinese cultures and values. In addition, many parents have begun to communicate with their children solely in English, in the belief that the language is essential to attain upward social mobility. Many of the young Chinese in Singapore are unable to use their mother tongues fluently. However, a few years into the work force, be it white-collar or blue-collar, most would pick up the Hokkien dialect. This applies equally even to the more westernized Chinese Christian community, who prefers the English language over any other. This (the Hokkien dialect) apparently seems to be the only struggling force against the loss of Chinese cultural heritage.

Debate over preferred language

The question of which language is preferred in Singapore seem to have caused a series of debate among the Chinese Singaporeans recently. The question of declining standards in the command of the Chinese language amongst Chinese Singaporeans seems to cause several revision in the government's education package towards the Chinese language. The Singapore government's continued policy towards bilingualism for all Chinese Singaporean, which is to continue to pursue English as the first language while making Mandarin the lingua franca (or at least the 2nd language or home language) amongst all Chinese has drawn mixed responses. The more English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans will generally prefer English language as the lingua franca or their home language, while the Mandarin-speakers worries that English will replace Mandarin as the lingua franca, thus eliminating the thin thread of Chinese identity altogether, saw English as a strong competition. With the rising economy of China in the 21st century, which has led to more Singapore companies requiring fluency in Mandarin, Mandarin has been viewed with greater importance amongst the Singaporean Chinese than before and has risen in terms of prominence.[8] Both English and Mandarin will continue to dominate the language scene among Chinese Singaporeans.

Chinese Dialects Preservation

There also exists a strong urge and need in preserving the dialect cultures in Singapore. The decline of the Chinese indigenous religion, Taoism, has also indirectly contributed to the deterioration of Chinese cultural heritage. Unless the government and Chinese Singaporeans take their own initiative in preserving dialect cultures, Chinese dialects may probably decline or even disappear from Singapore in the near future. There is thus a strong need to restore the Chinese identity or risk it falling into extinction one day. This exigency is translated into recent renewed efforts by Chinese clan associations in Singapore to impart and revive their respective Chinese mother tongues, which are met with warm receptions, including the younger generations. Therefore, there lies a greater challenge for the Chinese community in Singapore - the preservation of the Chinese identity - than just the satisfaction of linguistic domination and material gains.

Language Most Frequently Spoken at Home Among Chinese Resident Population Aged 5 and Over.[1][9]
Home language 1990 ('000) 2000 ('000) 1990 (%) 2000 (%) 2010 (%)
Total 1,884.0 2,236.1 100.0 100.0 100.0
English 363.4 533.9 19.3 23.9 32.6
Mandarin 566.2 1,008.5 30.1 45.1 47.7
Chinese Dialects 948.1 685.8 50.3 30.7 19.2
Others 6.4 7.9 0.3 0.4 0.4

Chinese languages Media

In Singapore, Mandarin is generally propagated through various Mandarin Chinese TV media, cable TV and radio channels. Most Chinese dialect media (such as those of Hokkien, Cantonese) are generally censored in the mainstream Chinese media of Singapore, except for some Chinese dialect news broadcasting in radio channel FM95.8. Hokkien media from Taiwan and Cantonese media from Hong Kong are however easily available for sale in shops of Singapore and also present in Karaoke lounges. Some cable channels in Singapore also have Hokkien media from Taiwan and Cantonese media from Hong Kong.


Before 1980s

Singapore's Chinese education began with the establishment of old-style private Chinese schools (known as "Sishu 私塾") by early Chinese immigrants during the 19th century . These schools predominantly used various southern Chinese languages (such as Hokkien) as its medium to teach Chinese classics. In the 1920s, as influenced by China's New Cultural Movement, many Chinese schools in Singapore began to change its medium of instruction to Mandarin. During the British colonial times, the colonial government generally allowed the Chinese community in Singapore to organise and develop its own system of Chinese education. By 1930s and 1940s, with donations and fundings from the public, more Chinese organisations began to set up more Chinese schools. In 1953, the chairman of Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, Mr.Tan Lark Sye organised and helped to establish the first overseas Chinese-medium university (Nanyang University) in Singapore, leading to the establishing of a well-structured Chinese-medium education system (from primary school to university) in Singapore.

However, after the 1960s, the left-wing communist ideology of People's Republic of China and the cultural revolution was in conflict with the capitalist policy of Singapore. In order to attract western investments, Singapore decided to adopt the fundamental policy of making English its main lingua franca and working language. In order to prevent the Singaporean Chinese from being influenced by left-wing political thoughts, Singapore greatly promoted English and placed less emphasis on Chinese education. On the one hand, it encouraged Chinese Singaporeans to attend English-medium schools for economic reasons; on the other hand, it initiated a public effort in denouncing communism. Due to a lesser proficiency in English, Chinese-educated Singaporeans often encountered difficulties in finding jobs in Singapore. Thus, the majority of Chinese Singaporeans sent their children to English-medium schools for better job prospects, causing the number of registered students at Chinese-medium schools to drop annually. All these factors (including that of government policy) eventually caused the Chinese-medium education system to perish in Singapore.

After 1980s

Since the early 1980s, the Singapore government gradually abolished the Chinese-medium education system in Singapore. Apart from Chinese language and moral education subjects, all subjects are taught in English. However, to make sure that Singaporean Chinese still maintain and preserve their mother tongue (Chinese) culture, the Singapore government implemented the teaching of Chinese language in all schools: All Chinese Singaporeans had to learn Mandarin Chinese as a "second language". Singapore also established the Special Assistance Plan Schools. These were formerly traditional Chinese-medium schools and were tasked with the nurturing of Chinese language and cultural talents. The Chinese subject in Singapore did not just involve the teaching of Chinese languages; it was also tasked with the mission of transmitting Chinese cultural values to Chinese Singaporeans. Because of the continuation of Chinese education in Singapore, the Chinese Singaporeans are generally able to speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese. Chinese Singaporeans are thus one of the few overseas Chinese communities (the other being Malaysian Chinese) which still preserved the Chinese language and culture.


The Chinese in Singapore generally maintain a distinct communal identity and are more likely to intermarry within the Chinese community. Inter-marriage between different Chinese dialect groups are quite common. There is also a minority of Chinese in Singapore who inter-marry with other ethnic groups in Singapore such as Singaporean Malays, Singaporean Indians, Eurasians, Africans, Caucasians, Japanese, Koreans, etc.


Religions of Chinese Singaporeans Aged 15 years and Above (Year 2010) [1]
Religion Percent
Taoism/Chinese Folks Religion
Other religions
No religion

According to the 2010 census, 43% of Singapore's Chinese population declared themselves to be Buddhist, 14.4% Taoist, 20.1% Christian and 21.8% non-religious. The Chinese form the vast majority in these four groups, due to their dominance in Singapore.

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. In Singapore, Chinese folks religious practice such as worship of certain folks deities is often classified under Taoist practice; Though in actual fact, this was inherited from the southern Chinese folk religious practice, which mixed Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism together.


Many of the Singaporean Chinese dishes were adapted by early Chinese immigrants to suit local circumstances (such as available ingredients) and cannot strictly be considered mainstream Chinese cuisine. Nevertheless, these dishes exhibited local Singaporean Chinese flavours and tastes. Most of the local Singaporean Chinese dishes such as Bak kut teh, Mee pok, Ban mian, Char kway teow, Chee cheong fun, Hokkien mee, Hainanese chicken rice, Wan ton mee, Popiah etc. can still be easily found in hawker centres or food courts throughout Singapore. Some Singaporean Chinese are vegetarians, as they may be devoted followers of Buddhism, while others do not consume beef, especially those worshipping the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin). With the influx of new migrants from all parts of China in the 21st century, Chinese cuisine of a variety of regional flavours and tastes can be found across Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Singapore or in other regions of Singapore, such as Sichuanese cuisine, North-eastern Chinese cuisine etc.

Cultural differences

Since most of the Singaporean Chinese have ancestry originating from southern China, the Singaporean Chinese culture generally has a closer affinity with the southern Chinese culture (predominantly that of Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan province) instead of northern Chinese culture. This is especially true in terms of various southern Chinese dialects, customs, cultural, and religious practices in Singapore.

Although the Culture of Singapore is diverse in nature, Singapore is one of the few countries outside Greater China with a vibrant Chinese cultural presence. Although Singapore's infrastructure and environment might seem Western, Chinese culture is generally present across all corners of Singapore. This includes the widespread use of different Chinese languages/dialects, various Chinese writings across Singapore, various Chinese press and entertainment media, a thriving Chinese pop culture, various Chinese organisations, Chinese cultural festivals, Chinese opera, Chinese religious activities, Chinese bookshops etc.

There exists, however, some degree of differences between the Singaporean Chinese and mainland Chinese in terms of mindset, culture, and languages. While the mainland Chinese are largely sino-centric in their outlook of the world, Singaporean Chinese are educated in English medium schools (but taught Chinese language throughout their education) and are exposed to western influences. As such, the local Singaporean Chinese culture is a blend and mix of southern Chinese culture, local Singaporean culture (with various influences from cultures of other ethnicity) and western culture.

There are also some differences in the Singaporean Chinese culture compared to that of China. Some traditional Chinese religious and folks custom are preserved by the Chinese community in Singapore, but are no longer practised or seen in China after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This is especially true of regional rites and rituals practiced by Singaporean descendants of the peasant immigrants from southern China.

There are also distinctive recognisable differences between Singaporean Mandarin accent and PRC's Mandarin accent. Colloquially , many Chinese Singaporeans also speak a mixed language, toggling between Singlish or Singdarin. Many of the local Chinese dialects in Singapore such as Hokkien, Teochew, or Cantonese have also been largely acculturated and differ from what is spoken in China.


Before 1819

The earliest records of Singapore in Imperial Chinese sources named Singapore as "Long Ya Men 龙牙门", "Ling Ya Men 凌衙门", "Dan Ma Xi 单马锡", "Dan Ma Xi 淡马锡", "Xi La 息辣", "Xi Li 息力" or "Shi le 石叻" etc.

Archaeological excavations of artifacts such as Chinese coins or ceramics in Singapore, which dated back to the period of the reign of Emperor Zhenzong of Song (998-1022) and Emperor Renzong of Song (1023–1063), indicated that Chinese merchants or traders had already visited Singapore since Song dynasty.[10]

The Chinese record Annals of various foreign states 《诸蕃志》 (zhufanzhi) written by Zhao Rushi 赵汝适 in 1225 clearly described Chinese merchant ships arriving in Singapore from Quanzhou and various Chinese trading activities.[11] In this annal, the chapter San Fo Qi men 三佛齐门 (the Chinese name for Srivijaya) clearly recorded Chinese merchant ships must pass by "Ling Ya Men 凌衙门"(the ancient Chinese name for Singapore) in order to reach Srivijaya for trading. The Chinese record Investigation of Southern Pacific 《南洋测蠡》 (Nanyang Celi) described the presence of Chinese tombs in Singapore (known as "Xin Ji Li Po 新忌利波" in Chinese). On the Chinese tomb, there were words and inscriptions recording the period of Later Liang Dynasty and Emperor Gong of Song. This could have proven that from 907-1274, some Chinese had settled, lived, died and were buried in Singapore.

The Chinese traveller Wang Dayuan, visiting the island around 1330, described a small Malay settlement called Dan Ma Xi (淡馬錫, from Malay Tamasik) containing a number of Chinese residents. According to Wang Dayuan, the Chinese inhabitants of Singapore were dressed in local traditional costumes and generally intermarried with local South-East Asian women, following an amalgamamation of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. These were the earliest Peranakans of Singapore.

Following the decline of Srivijayan power, Temasek was alternately claimed by the Majapahit and the Siamese, but the invasion of 1377 and 1391 caused Singapore to be destroyed. Following that, there were little Chinese records of the visiting of Chinese to Singapore.

The Chinese explorer Zheng He's naval voyage in 1403 indicated Singapore as Dan Ma Xi (淡馬錫, from Malay Tamasik). In 1420, en route the 6th voyage, Zheng He passed by Singapore, but there were no records of presence of Chinese.


From the founding of modern Singapore by Stamford Raffles till the Japanese occupation in 1942, Singapore was ruled as a colony by the British. When the British first arrived in Singapore, most of the inhabitants on the island of Singapore were fisherman, seamen or pirates, living in small houses. There were about 150 people; about 30 were Chinese, while the rest were Malays.[12]

When Singapore became a Straits Settlement, there were very few Chinese. After Singapore became a British trading post as part of the Straits Settlement, the first batch of Chinese came from Malaysia, predominantly from Malacca and Penang. Amongst these Chinese from Malacca and Penang, many were peranakans or descendants of Chinese in Malaysia for several generations. Most of them were traders and can speak Chinese dialects, Malays; while many were also English-educated and can communicate with the British. In the Manners and customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements, Singapore, it was described that the Straits-born Chinese regarded themselves as British subjects instead of Chinese subjects; their lifestyle were more westernized.[13]

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. Because of a booming commerce which required large number of labour force, Chinese coolie trade also appeared in Singapore. Indentured Chinese labourers (known as coolie) were contracted by coolie traders and brought to Singapore to work. The large influx of coolies into Singapore only stopped after William Pickering became the Protector of Chinese. In 1914, the coolie trade was abolished and banned in Singapore.

Because China banned the traveling of Chinese overseas before the Opium War, any form of coolie trade was conducted mainly through the Portuguese-controlled Macau. Thus any form of large migration of Chinese labourers overseas in the beginning of 19th century is quite unlikely. It was only after the Treaty of Nanking signed on 1842 (due to Opium War) that large migration of Chinese coolie began to appear. In 1860 under the 2nd Opium War, Chinese coolie trade became legalized and reached a high peak.

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 immigrant population exceeded that of the Malays. During this period, Christian missionaries from Europe began evangelising to the Asians, especially the Chinese. By 1849, the Chinese formed half of Singapore's population.

From 19th till mid 20th century, migrants from China were known as "Sinkeh"(新客 - New Guest). Out of these Sinkeh, a majority of them were coolies, workers on steam boats etc. Some of them came to Singapore in search of a better living and to escape away from poverty in China. Many of them also escaped to Singapore due to chaos and wars in China during the first half of 20th century. Many of them came from Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan province. Most of them paid loyalty to China and regarded themselves as "Huaqiao".

Peranakans or those English-educated Chinese who had descended for many generations in Singapore were typically known as "Laokeh" (老客 - Old Guest) or "Straits Chinese". Most of them paid loyalty to the British Empire and did not regard themselves as "Huaqiao".

1937-1945 (World War II)

The Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park commemorates Lim Bo Seng, a World War II anti-Japanese Resistance fighter who was based in Singapore and British Malaya.

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 were 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.

After 1945

Race riots were common during the early post-war period, predominantly in the period between self-governance and independence in 1965. One major riot took place during birthday celebrations in honour of Muhammad, on 21 July 1964. There were records of high casualties (23 killed and 454 injured), as well as claims that the riot was politically motivated to oust the then Prime Minister (Lee Kuan Yew) and his cabinet as well as to prevent the promotion of a Malaysian Malaysia concept in Peninsular Malaysia.

After the Independence of Singapore in 1965, Singapore began to foster a more racially harmonious society in Singapore. Following the construction of Singapore national identity and nationhood, the Chinese in Singapore began to change their mindset from temporary stay to permanent settlements in Singapore, thus taking roots in Singapore. Following this transformation, the Chinese in Singapore gradually began to recognize nationally as "Singaporeans", while racially as "Huaren" instead of "Huaqiao".

Chinese migrants from China during the late 20th century and early 21st century were generally known as "Xinyimin 新移民" (new immigrants). They came from various parts of China.

Chinese Associations or Institutions in Singapore

Historical Background

When the Chinese migrants first arrived in Singapore in the 19th and early 20th century, they settled in an enclave such as Chinatown. Due to closer dialectal affinity, they tend to group themselves according to similar Chinese dialects or place of origins in China. This led the Chinese to form 5 dialectal Cohorts (known as Bangqun 幫群), namely the Hokkien Bang, Teochew Bang, Cantonese Bang, Hakka Bang and Hainanese Bang.

During the British colonial period, the colonial government basically adopted the approach of using "the Chinese to govern the Chinese". They appointed Chinese leaders to govern the Chinese community. Effectively, the Chinese community existed in a half-autonomy state. Most Chinese leaders used the Chinese civil societies (small organizations) to help govern the Chinese community and to help new Chinese immigrants settled into Singapore, including finding jobs and lodgings for them.

As most of these Chinese civil societies were involved in Chinese family religious activities such as funerals or ancestral worship, they were in fact religious-oriented. This gradually evolved into the development of Chinese Temples or Chinese clan associations in Singapore. As time passed by, the Chinese had grown to have more achievements in the business and education in Singapore. Some rich and powerful Chinese businessmen began to establish Clubs, such as the Ee Ho Hean Club (怡和轩) in 1895,[14] and Chamber of Commerce, such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in order to broaden the Chinese social circle. Established in 1906, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry was the highest body of organization within the Chinese community in Singapore. It was responsible for fighting the rights of the Chinese in Singapore during the British colonial period. During the World War II, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry had managed to help raise funds and resources to help relieve the sufferings in war-torn China.

After Singapore gained independence and autonomy in 1960s, the Singapore government undertook measures to help foster racial harmony in Singapore. It encouraged various races of different languages and religious backgrounds to intermingle and to live side by side. Following the growth of Singaporean nationhood and national identity, the Chinese immigrants began to change their mindset from temporary migration to permanent settlements, thus soiling their roots in Singapore. With the strengthening of Singaporean national identity, the Chinese clans association gradually declined in terms of importance. Their role of organizing and governing the Chinese community was soon taken over by the Singapore government.


Today, all Singapore's clans associations came under the flagship of Singapore Federation of Chinese Clans Association (SFCCA). They function as the cultural role for connecting Chinese Singaporeans to their Chinese roots or Ancestral home. In addition, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) continued to look after the interests of the Chinese business community as well as sourcing business opportunities in China. The Chinese Development Assistance Council was founded out of these two organizations (SFCCA and SCCCI) to help nurture and develop the potential of the Chinese community in contributing to the continued success of multiracial Singapore. There are also various Chinese cultural organizations such as Singapore Chinese Calligraphy Society, Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Nanyang Confucian Association, Singapore Chinese Opera Institute etc. In addition, there are also major Chinese religious Associations such as Singapore Taoist Federation, Singapore Buddhist Federation to look after the religious affairs of Chinese Singaporeans.

All these Chinese organizations continue to play an important role in the economical, cultural and religious activities of Chinese Singaporeans.

Prominent Chinese Singaporeans

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Table 3 Ethnic Composition of the Resident Population", Singapore Department of Statistics, Social Statistics Section,, retrieved 2011-01-12 
  2. ^ "Glossary of Terms and Definition" (PDF). Singapore Department of Statistics. 2000. Retrieved 2010-11-18. 
  3. ^ Edmund Lee Eu Fah, "Profile of the Singapore Chinese Dialect Groups", Social Statistic Section, Singapore Department of Statistics (2000)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Overview Singapore". 2006. Retrieved 2010-11-18. 
  6. ^ 陈能端 (Chen Nengduan). "他们来自另一个岛屿 (They come from another island)". Retrieved 2011-01-10. 
  7. ^ Leong Koon Chan. "Envisioning Chinese Identity and Multiracialism in Singapore". Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  8. ^ Reuters (2009-09-16). "RPT-FEATURE-Eyeing China, Singapore sees Mandarin as its future". Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  9. ^ Lee, Edmund E. F., "Profile of the Singapore Chinese Dialects", Singapore Department of Statistics, Social Statistics Section,, retrieved 2010-10-18 
  10. ^ "新加坡华语戏曲的发端(The start of Singapore's Chinese Opera". Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  11. ^ 周定国 (Zhou Dingguo). ""狮城"新加坡地名文化(Singapore local geographical culture)". Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  12. ^ Newbold, Thomas John. Political and statistical account of the British settlements in the Straits of Malacca, viz, Pinang, Malacca and Singapore: with a state with a history of the Malayan states on the Peninsula of Malacca. vol 1. London: J Murray. 1839. p279
  13. ^ Vaughan, Jonas Daniel. "The manners and customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements" . Singapore: Mission Press. 1879 . pp4-5
  14. ^ 中国侨网 (zhonguo qiaowang). "新加坡怡和轩俱乐部(Singapore Ee Ho Hean Club)". Retrieved 12 February 2011. 

Further reading

  • Lynn Pan (Singapore Chinese Heritage Center) (1998). The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas. Singapore: Archipelago Press Landmark Books. ISBN 981-3018-92-5 399. 
  • 许教正 (Xu Jiaozhen) (1965). 东南亚人物志》 (Historical Figure of South East Asia). Singapore: Xu Jiaozhen Pub. 
  • Song Ong Siang (1993). One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce Publisher. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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