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Singapore - SOCIETY

Singapore - The Society and Its Environment


MIRROR GLASS BANK TOWERS overshadowing Victorian-era government buildings symbolized Singapore's transformation from a colonial port to an independent city-state with the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia in 1989. Singapore's status as a newly industrializing economy ( NIE) was signaled by its landscaped complexes of owner-occupied apartments and streets blocked by the private cars of affluent citizens. The citizens increasingly considered themselves Singaporeans rather than Chinese or Indians or Malays, and the multiethnic population increasingly used English as the common speech in schools, offices, and the armed forces. Singapore in the 1980s had become a byword for orderliness and effective administration, a place where stiff fines discouraged littering and citizens of all ethnic groups were subject to common, impartial standards of merit and achievement. Government efforts at social engineering extended beyond slum clearance and the creation of housing estates to such matters as men's hair length, the language families spoke at breakfast, and the number of children born to women with university degrees.

Singapore's leaders reacted to the unanticipated 1965 separation from Malaysia, which left a city without a hinterland, by deciding to "go cosmopolitan." This meant seeking a place in the world rather than in the regional economy; it also meant maintaining a certain social and cultural distance from neighboring countries while deliberately fostering a new and distinctively Singaporean culture and social identity. By late 1989 Singapore was cosmopolitan, prosperous, modernized, and orderly. Its population was educated in English, worked for multinational corporations, and consumed a worldwide popular culture of film, music, and leisure activities. English was, however, a second language for most, and many distinctively Chinese, Indian, and Malay customs, practices, and attitudes continued. In contrast to many countries of the region, Singapore's avowed social values were secular, democratic (within certain limits), and nondiscriminatory.

The content of the distinctive "Singaporean identity" and the proper balance between cosmopolitan and traditional values were issues that both preoccupied the leadership and would continue to shape the society in the 1990s. There was much public discussion of social identity, ethnicity, and the proper relation of Singaporeans to worldwide popular culture. Such discussion, often initiated by political leaders, tended to dichotomize habits and behavior into mutually exclusive "Asian" or "Western" categories. The initial premise was that Singapore should be a modernized but not a Westernized society, and that it would be a mistake for Singaporeans to become so thoroughly Westernized and cosmopolitan as to lose touch with their Asian roots and values. Such concepts as tradition and modernity, local and cosmopolitan, had a distinctively Singaporean meaning as was indicated by the widespread use of such terms as "Asian traditions" and "cultural ballast." The meaning of these concepts, however, remained to be defined more precisely by the discussions and day-to-day decisions of Singapore's citizens.


Singapore - Geography


Singapore is located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula at the narrowest point of the Strait of Malacca, which is the shortest sea route between India and China. Its major natural resources are its location and its deep-water harbor. Singapore Island, though small, has a varied topography. The center of the island contains a number of rounded granitic hills that include the highest point, the 165- meter Bukit Timah Peak. The western and southwestern regions are composed of a series of northwest to southeast tending ridges, which are low but quite steep. To the east is a large region of generally flat alluvial soils where streams have cut steep-sided valleys and gullies. The island is drained by a large number of short streams, some of which flow into the sea through mangrove swamps, lagoons, or broad estuaries.

The island originally was covered with tropical rain forest and fringed with mangrove swamps. Since the founding of the city in 1819, the natural landscape has been altered by human hands, a process that was accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s. By 1988, Singapore's land area was 49 percent built up, and forest covered only 2.5 percent. Three water reservoirs and their reserve catchment area, which preserves a fragment of the original tropical forest, occupy the center of the island. Extensive land reclamation between 1965 and 1987 increased the size of Singapore Island from 586 square kilometers to 636 square kilometers; further reclamation was planned for the 1990s. Hills have been leveled, swamps drained and filled, and many of the fifty-odd small islets and reefs have been enlarged or joined to form new larger islands suitable for industrial uses. In 1989 three of Singapore's five oil refineries were on offshore islands, and other small islands were used for military gunnery or as bombing ranges. Some of the larger streams were dammed at their mouths to form fresh-water reservoirs, and the major stream courses through built-up areas were lined with concrete to promote rapid drainage. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the municipal authorities made great efforts to establish parks and gardens as land became available and to plant tens of thousands of ornamental trees and shrubs, thus completing the transformation of the natural landscape.

Singapore is two degrees north of the equator and has a tropical climate, with high temperatures moderated by the influence of the sea. Average daily temperature and humidity are high, with a mean maximum of 31C and a relative humidity of 70 to 80 percent in the afternoon. Rain falls throughout the year, but is heaviest during the early northeast monsoon from November through January. The driest month is July in the middle of the southeast monsoon. The intermonsoon months of April-May and October are marked by thunderstorms and violent line squalls locally known as Sumatras. The average annual rainfall is 237 centimeters, and much of the rain falls in sudden showers. Singapore is free from earthquakes and typhoons, and the greatest natural hazard is local flash flooding, the threat of which has increased as buildings and paved roads have replaced natural vegetation.

In spite of the high rainfall, Singapore's small size and dense population make it necessary to import water from Malaysia. The water, from reservoirs in upland Johor, comes through an aqueduct under the causeway linking Singapore with the Malaysian city of Johor Baharu. Singapore also supplies treated water to Johor Baharu, which in 1987 took about 14 percent of the 1 million cubic meters treated by Singapore each day. Singapore has responded to this dependence on a foreign country for water by expanding its reservoir capacity and constantly urging household and industrial users to conserve water.

Singapore's rapid economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s was accompanied both by increased air and water pollution and by increasingly effective government efforts to limit environmental damage. The government established an Anti-Pollution Unit under the Prime Minister's Office in 1970, set up the Ministry of the Environment in 1972, and merged the Anti-Pollution Unit with that ministry in 1983 to ensure unified direction of environmental protection. The new unit, subsequently renamed the Pollution Control Department, had responsibility for air and water pollution, hazardous materials, and toxic wastes. Singapore first moved to limit air pollution, closely monitoring oil refineries and petrochemical complexes and limiting the sulfur content of fuel oil for power plants, factories, and diesel motor vehicles. Because motor vehicles were the main source of air pollution, the government required emissions controls on engines and reduced (but not eliminated) the lead content of gasoline. The government also acted, partly for environmental reasons, to restrict private ownership of automobiles through very high (175 percent) import duties, high annual registration fees, and high charges for the entry of private automobiles to the central business district.

Between 1977 and 1987, the Ministry of the Environment carried out a major program to clean up rivers and streams by extending the sewer system, controlling discharges from small industries and workshops, and moving pig and duck farms to resettlement areas with facilities to handle animal wastes. The success of the program was demonstrated by the return of fish and aquatic life to the lower Singapore and Kallang rivers. Singapore, the world's third largest oil refiner, also acted to prevent the pollution of coastal waters by oil spills or discharges from the many large oil tankers that traversed the Strait of Malacca. The Port of Singapore Authority maintained oil skimmers and other equipment to clean up oil spills, and a comprehensive plan assigned both the oil companies and Singapore's armed forces responsibilities for dealing with major oil spills.

Singapore's environmental management program was intended primarily to ensure public health and to eliminate immediate hazards to citizens from toxins. Protection of the environment for its own sake was a low priority, and the government did not respond to local conservation societies' calls to preserve tropical forests or mangrove swamps. The pollution control laws gave the authorities wide discretion in dealing with offenders, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s penalties usually were light. Enforcement of the laws often reflected an appreciation of the economic benefits of polluting industries and provided time for industrial polluters to find ways to limit or eliminate their discharges.


Singapore - Population


Population, Vital Statistics, and Migration

Singapore had a population of 2,674,362 in July 1989 and the low birth and death rates common to developed economies with high per capita incomes. In 1987 the crude birth rate (births in proportion to the total population) was 17 per 1,000 and the death rate was 5 per 1,000 for an annual increase of 12 per 1,000. The infant mortality rate of 9.1 per 1,000 in 1986 was quite low by international standards and contributed to a 1987 life expectancy at birth of 71.4 years for males and 76.3 years for females. As in most developed countries, the major causes of death were heart disease, cancer, and strokes. As of 1986, 74 percent of married women of childbearing age practiced contraception, and the total fertility rate (a measure of the number of children born to a woman over her entire reproductive career) was 1.6, which was below the replacement level but comparable to that of many countries in Western Europe.

Since the city's founding in 1819, the size and composition of Singapore's population has been determined by the interaction of migration and natural increase. Throughout the nineteenth century, migration was the primary factor in population growth. Natural increase became more important after the 1920s, and by the 1980s immigration and emigration were of minor significance. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Singapore's population was composed largely of immigrant adult males, and grew primarily through immigration. By the 1920s, the proportion of women, the percentage of the population that was Singapore-born, and consequently the relative contribution of natural increase to the population, all were increasing. By the 1947 census, 56 percent of the population had been born in Singapore, and there were 1,217 males for every 1,000 females. The 1980 census showed that 78 percent of the population had been born in Singapore and that the sex ratio had reached 1,042 males for every 1,000 females.

Migration to Singapore dwindled during the Great Depression of the 1930s, ceased during the war years of 1941 to 1945, and resumed on a minor scale in the decade between 1945 and 1955. Most nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century immigrants came from China, India, or Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Between 1945 and 1965 immigrants came primarily from peninsular Malaya, which shared British colonial status with Singapore and so permitted the free movement of people between Singapore and the rural areas and small cities of the peninsula. After independence in 1965, Singapore's government imposed strict controls on immigration, granting temporary residence permits only to those whose labor or skills were considered essential to the economy. Most such workers were expected to return to their homelands when their contracts expired or economic downturns made their labor redundant. Illegal immigrants and Singaporeans who employed them were subject to fines or imprisonment. The immigrants of the 1980s fell into two distinct categories. The first category, unskilled labor for factories and service positions, was composed largely of young unmarried people from Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India. Regulations prohibited their marrying without prior official permission and required women to be tested for pregnancy every six months--measures intended to make it difficult for them to attain Singaporean residence or citizenship by becoming the spouse or parent of a citizen. The second category comprised skilled workers, professionals, and managers, often working for multinational corporations. They came from Japan, Western Europe, North America, and Australia. Predominately middle-aged and often accompanied by their families, they were immigrants only in the strict sense of the government's population registration and had no intention of settling permanently in Singapore.

The 1980 census reported that 9 percent of Singapore's population were not citizens. The aliens were divided into permanent residents (3.6 percent of the population) and nonresidents (5.5 percent). The acquisition of Singapore citizenship was a complex and often protracted process that began with application to the Immigration Department for permanent resident status. After residing in Singapore for two to ten years, depending on skills and professional qualifications, those with permanent resident status could apply to the Registry of Citizens for citizenship. In 1987 citizenship was granted to 4,607 applicants and denied to 1,603 applicants. The 1980 census showed that 85.5 percent of citizens had been born in Singapore, 7.8 percent in China (including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan), 4.7 percent in Malaysia, and 1 percent in the Indian subcontinent (including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka). Singapore's government, keenly aware of the country's small size and the need to survive by selling the skills of its citizens in a competitive international marketplace, was determined not to permit the citystate to be overwhelmed by large numbers of unskilled rural migrants. In 1989 Singapore mounted a campaign to attract skilled professionals from Hong Kong, offering a Chinese cultural environment with much lower living costs than Hong Kong's. At the same time, however, that the government was attempting to attract skilled professionals, Singaporeans themselves were emigrating. From July 1987 to June 1988, records show that 2,700 Singaporeans emigrated to Australia, 1,000 to Canada, 400 to the United States, and 97 to New Zealand. A large number of the emigrants were university-educated professionals, precisely the category that Singapore wished to keep and attract. In 1989 a special government committee was reported to be devising policies to discourage emigration by professionals and managers.

Population Control Policies

Since the mid-1960s, Singapore's government has attempted to control the country's rate of population growth with a mixture of publicity, exhortation, and material incentives and disincentives. Falling death rates, continued high birth rates, and immigration from peninsular Malaya during the decade from 1947 to 1957 produced an annual growth rate of 4.4 percent, of which 3.4 percent represented natural increase and 1.0 percent immigration. The crude birth rate peaked in 1957 at 42.7 per thousand. Beginning in 1949, family planning services were offered by the private Singapore Family Planning Association, which by 1960 was receiving some government funds and assistance. By 1965 the crude birth rate was 29.5 per 1,000 and the annual rate of natural increase had been reduced to 2.5 percent. Singapore's government saw rapid population growth as a threat to living standards and political stability, as large numbers of children and young people threatened to overwhelm the schools, the medical services, and the ability of the economy to generate employment for them all. In the atmosphere of crisis after the 1965 separation from Malaysia, the government in 1966 established the Family Planning and Population Board, which was responsible for providing clinical services and public education on family planning.

Birth rates fell from 1957 to 1970, but then began to rise as women of the postwar baby boom reached child-bearing years. The government responded with policies intended to further reduce the birth rate. Abortion and voluntary sterilization were legalized in 1970. Between 1969 and 1972, a set of policies known as "population disincentives" were instituted to raise the costs of bearing third, fourth, and subsequent children. Civil servants received no paid maternity leave for third and subsequent children; maternity hospitals charged progressively higher fees for each additional birth; and income tax deductions for all but the first two children were eliminated. Large families received no extra consideration in public housing assignments, and top priority in the competition for enrollment in the most desirable primary schools was given to only children and to children whose parents had been sterilized before the age of forty. Voluntary sterilization was rewarded by seven days of paid sick leave and by priority in the allocation of such public goods as housing and education. The policies were accompanied by publicity campaigns urging parents to "Stop at Two" and arguing that large families threatened parents' present livelihood and future security. The penalties weighed more heavily on the poor, and were justified by the authorities as a means of encouraging the poor to concentrate their limited resources on adequately nurturing a few children who would be equipped to rise from poverty and become productive citizens.

Fertility declined throughout the 1970s, reaching the replacement level of 1.006 in 1975, and thereafter declining below that level. With fertility below the replacement level, the population would after some fifty years begin to decline unless supplemented by immigration. In a manner familiar to demographers, Singapore's demographic transition to low levels of population growth accompanied increases in income, education, women's participation in paid employment, and control of infectious diseases. It was impossible to separate the effects of government policies from the broader socioeconomic forces promoting later marriage and smaller families, but it was clear that in Singapore all the factors affecting population growth worked in the same direction. The government's policies and publicity campaigns thus probably hastened or reinforced fertility trends that stemmed from changes in economic and educational structures. By the 1980s, Singapore's vital statistics resembled those of other countries with comparable income levels but without Singapore's publicity campaigns and elaborate array of administrative incentives.

By the 1980s, the government had become concerned with the low rate of population growth and with the relative failure of the most highly educated citizens to have children. The failure of female university graduates to marry and bear children, attributed in part to the apparent preference of male university graduates for less highly educated wives, was singled out by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1983 as a serious social problem. In 1984 the government acted to give preferential school admission to children whose mothers were university graduates, while offering grants of S$10,000 to less educated women who agreed to be sterilized after the birth of their second child. The government also established a Social Development Unit to act as matchmaker for unmarried university graduates. The policies, especially those affecting placement of children in the highly competitive Singapore schools, proved controversial and generally unpopular. In 1985 they were abandoned or modified on the grounds that they had not been effective at increasing the fecundity of educated women.

In 1986 the government also decided to revamp its family planning program to reflect its identification of the low birth rate as one of the country's most serious problems. The old family planning slogan of "Stop at Two" was replaced by "Have Three or More, if You Can Afford It." A new package of incentives for large families reversed the earlier incentives for small families. It included tax rebates for third children, subsidies for daycare, priority in school enrollment for children from large families, priority in assignment of large families to Housing and Development Board apartments, extended sick leave for civil servants to look after sick children and up to four years' unpaid maternity leave for civil servants. Pregnant women were to be offered increased counseling to discourage "abortions of convenience" or sterilization after the birth of one or two children. Despite these measures, the mid-1986 to mid-1987 total fertility rate reached a historic low of 1.44 children per woman, far short of the replacement level of 2.1. The government reacted in October 1987 by urging Singaporeans not to "passively watch ourselves going extinct." The low birth rates reflected late marriages, and the Social Development Unit extended its matchmaking activities to those holding Advanced level (A-level) secondary educational qualifications as well as to university graduates. The government announced a public relations campaign to promote the joys of marriage and parenthood. In March 1989, the government announced a S$20,000 tax rebate for fourth children born after January 1, 1988. The population policies demonstrated the government's assumption that its citizens were responsive to monetary incentives and to administrative allocation of the government's medical, educational, and housing services.

Population Distribution and Housing Policies

In the early 1950s, some 75 percent of the population lived in very crowded tenements and neighborhoods; these were usually occupied by a single ethnic group in the built-up municipality on the island's southern shore. The remaining 25 percent lived in the northern "rural" areas in settlements strung along the roads or in compact villages, known by the Malay term kampong, and usually inhabited by members of a single ethnic group. Many kampongs were squatter settlements housing wage laborers and urban peddlers. Low-cost public housing was a major goal of the ruling People's Action Party ( PAP). Vigorous efforts at slum clearance and resettlement of squatters had begun with the establishment in 1960 of the Housing and Development Board, which was granted wide powers of compulsory purchase and forced resettlement. By 1988, Housing and Development Board apartments were occupied by 88 percent of the population and 455,000 of these apartments (74 percent of all built) had been sold to tenants, who could use their pension savings from the compulsory Central Provident Fund for the downpayment. The balance was paid over twenty years with variable rate mortgage loans, the interest rate in 1987 being 3.4 percent. The government envisaged a society of homeowners and throughout the 1980s introduced various measures such as reduced downpayments and extended loan periods to permit low-income families to purchase apartments.

The massive rehousing program had many social effects. In almost every case, families regarded the move to a Housing and Development Board apartment as an improvement in their standard of living. Although high-rise apartment complexes usually are regarded as examples of crowded, high-density housing, in Singapore the apartments were much less crowded than the subdivided shophouses (combined business and residence) or squatter shacks they had replaced. Between 1954 and 1970 the average number of rooms per household increased from 0.76 to 2.15, and the average number of persons per room decreased from 4.84 to 2.52. Movement to a public housing apartment was associated with (although not the cause of) a family structure in which husband and wife jointly made important decisions, as well as with a family's perception of itself as middle class rather than working class. The government used the resettlement program to break up the ethnically exclusive communities and sought to ensure that the ethnic composition of every apartment block mirrored that of the country as a whole. Malays, Indians, and Chinese of various speech groups lived next door to each other, shared stairwells, community centers, and swimming pools, patronized the same shops, and waited for buses together.

Although the earliest public housing complexes built in the 1960s were intended to shelter low-income families as quickly and cheaply as possible, the emphasis soon shifted to creating new communities with a range of income levels and public services. The new complexes included schools, shops, and recreation centers, along with sites on which residents could use their own resources to construct mosques, temples, or churches. The revised master plan for land use called for the creation of housing estates at the junctions of the expressways and the mass transit railroad that were to channel urban expansion out from the old city center. New towns of up to 200,000 inhabitants were to be largely self-contained and thoroughly planned communities, subdivided into neighborhoods of 4,000 to 6,000 dwelling units. In theory, the new towns would be complete communities providing employment for most residents and containing a mixture of income levels. In practice, they did not provide sufficient employment, and many residents commuted to work either in the central business district or in the heavy industrial area of Jurong in the southwestern quadrant of the island. Public transportation made the journey to the central business district short enough that many residents preferred to shop and dine there rather than at the more limited establishments in their housing estates. Thus, as in other countries that have attempted to build new towns, Singapore's new towns and housing estates have served largely as suburban residences and commuter settlements, the center of life only for the very young and the very old.

Throughout the 1980s, the government and the Housing and Development Board made great efforts to foster a sense of community in the housing estate complexes by sponsoring education and recreation programs at community centers and setting up a range of residents' committees and town councils. The apartment complexes generally were peaceful and orderly, and the relations between residents were marked by civility and mutual tolerance. But social surveys found that few tenants regarded their apartment blocks as communities in any very meaningful sense. Residents' primary social ties were with relatives, old classmates, fellow-workers, and others of the same ethnic group, who often lived in housing complexes some distance away. In the late 1980s, families who had paid off their mortgages were free to sell their apartments, and a housing market began to develop. There were also administrative mechanisms for exchanging apartments of equivalent size and value. Residents used sales, purchases, and apartment exchanges to move closer to kin and friends who belonged to the same ethnic group. The result was a tendency toward the recreation of the ethnic communities that had been deliberately broken up in the initial resettlement.

The government criticized the tendency toward ethnic clustering as contrary to its policy of multiracialism and in March 1989 announced measures to halt it. Although no family would be forced to move from its apartment, new rules prohibited the sale or exchange of apartments to members of other ethnic groups. Although the tendency toward ethnic resegregation apparently stemmed more from personal and pragmatic motivations than from conscious antagonism toward other ethnic groups, the government effort to halt it and to enforce ethnic quotas for apartment blocks demonstrated the continued significance of ethnicity in Singapore's society.

<>Ethnic Categories

Updated population figures for Singapore.


Singapore - Ethnic Categories


Since the city's foundation in 1819, Singapore's population has been polyglot and multiethnic. Chinese have been in the majority since 1830 but have themselves been divided into sometimes antagonistic segments speaking mutually unintelligible Chinese languages. The colonial society was compartmented into ethnic and linguistic groups, which were in turn associated with distinct political and economic functions. Singapore has never had a dominant culture to which immigrants could assimilate nor a common language. This was the foundation upon which the efforts of the government and ruling party to create a common Singaporean identity in the 1970s and 1980s rested.

On July 1989 Singapore's 2,674,362 residents were divided into 2,043,213 Chinese (76.4 percent), 398,480 Malays (14.9 percent), 171,160 Indians (6.4 percent), and 61,511 others (2.3 percent). The proportions of the ethnic components had remained substantially unchanged since the 1920s. Although the ethnic categories were meaningful in the Singaporean context, each subsumed much more internal variation than was suggested by the term "race." Chinese included people from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, as well as Chinese from all the countries of Southeast Asia, including some who spoke Malay or English as their first language. The Malays included not only those from peninsular Malaya, but also immigrants or their descendants from various parts of the Indonesian archipelago, such as Sumatra, the Riau Islands south of Singapore, Java, and Sulawesi. Those people who in Indonesia were members of such distinct ethnic groups as Acehnese, Minangkabau, Buginese, Javanese, or Sundanese were in Singapore all considered "Malays." Indians comprised people stemming from anywhere in pre-1947 British India, the present states of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and from Sri Lanka and Burma. Singapore's Indian "race" thus contained Tamils, Malayalis, Sikhs, Gujaratis, Punjabis, and others from the subcontinent who shared neither physical appearance, language, nor religion.

<>The Chinese
<>The Malays
<>The Indians

More about the <>Population of Singapore.


Singapore - The Chinese


Singapore's Chinese residents were the descendants of immigrants from coastal southeastern China, an area of much linguistic and subcultural variation. The migrants spoke at least five mutually unintelligible Chinese languages, each of which contained numerous regional dialects. Singaporean usage, however, following the common Chinese tendency to assert cultural unity, referred to mutually unintelligible speech systems as "dialects." All the Chinese languages and dialects shared common origins and grammatical structures and could be written with the same Chinese idiograms, which represent meaning rather than sound. The primary divisions in the immigrant Chinese population therefore followed linguistic lines, dividing the populace into segments that were called dialect communities, speech groups, or even "tribes". In the nineteenth century, each speech group had its own set of associations, ranging from secret societies to commercial bodies to schools and temples. The groups communicated through leaders conversant with other Chinese languages or through a third language such as Malay or English.

The nomenclature for Chinese speech groups common in Singapore and Southeast Asia is confusing, partly because each group can be referred to by several alternate names. Most of the names refer to places in China with characteristic regional speech or dialects, and include the names of provinces, counties, and major cities.

The distribution of Singapore's Chinese speech groups has remained fairly stable since 1900. The largest group were the Hokkien, who came from the area around the trading port of Xiamen (Amoy) in southern Fujian Province. Hokkien traders and merchants had been active in Southeast Asia for centuries before the foundation of Singapore. In 1980 they made up 43 percent of Singapore's Chinese population. The second largest group were the Teochiu (sometimes written Teochew), comprising 22 percent of the Chinese population. Their home area is Chaozhou, in Chao'an County in northeastern Guangdong Province, which has as its major port the city of Shantou (Swatow). Chaozhou is immediately south of the Hokkien-speaking area of Fujian, and both Teochiu and Hokkien are closely related languages of the Minnan group, mutually intelligible to native speakers after sufficient practice. Hainanese, from the island of Hainan south of Guangdong, made up 8 percent of the population. Hainan was settled by people from southern Fujian who arrived by sea, and Hainanese is a Minnan language whose native speakers can understand Hokkien or Teochiu with relatively little difficulty after practice. Speakers of Minnan languages thus made up 72 percent of the Chinese population, for whom Hokkien served as a lingua franca, the language of the marketplace.

The third most numerous group were Cantonese, from the lowlands of central Guangdong Province around the port city of Guangzhou (Canton). They made up 16 percent of the Chinese population. Hakka, a group scattered through the interior hills of southern China and generally considered migrants from northern China, were 7 percent. Other Chinese call them "guest people", and the term Hakka (Kejia in pihyih romanization) is Cantonese for "guest families." There also were small numbers of people from the coastal counties of northern Fujian, called Hokchia, Hokchiu, and Henghua, whose northern Fujian (Minbei) languages are quite distinct from those of southern Fujian and seldom spoken outside of Fujian. A final, residual category of Chinese were the "Three Rivers People," who came from the provinces north of Guangdong and Fujian. This group included people from northern and central China, and more specifically those provinces sharing the word "river" (jiang) in their names--Jiangxi, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang. They would have spoken southern Mandarin dialects or the Wu languages of Shanghai, Ningbo, and Hangzhou. In 1980 they were 1.7 percent of the Chinese population.

A significant category of Chinese, although one not listed in the census reports, were the Baba Chinese or Straits Chinese. They were Chinese who after long residence in Southeast Asia spoke Malay or English as their first language, and whose culture contained elements from China, Southeast Asia, and sometimes Europe as well. An indication of the size of the Baba Chinese community was provided by the 1980 census report that 9 percent of Chinese families spoke English at home. Stereotypically the Baba were the offspring of Chinese migrants and local women. In the nineteenth century, they tended to be wealthier and better educated than the mass of immigrants and to identify more with Singapore and Southeast Asia than with China. In spite of their language, the Baba considered themselves Chinese, retained Chinese kinship patterns and religion, and even when speaking Malay used a distinct Baba dialect of Malay with many loan words from Hokkien. Never a large proportion of Singapore's Chinese population, in the late nineteenth century they took advantage of opportunities for education in English and promoted themselves as loyal to Britain. In Singapore, many Baba families spoke English as a first language and produced many of the leaders of Singapore's independent political movements, including Lee Kuan Yew. Although the Baba, in a sense, provided the model for the current Singaporean who is fluent in English and considers Singapore as home, the community fragmented in the early twentieth century as Chinese nationalism spread. After the 1920s its members gained no advantage, economic or political, from distinguishing themselves from the rest of the Chinese population and tended increasingly to become Chinese again, often learning to speak Chinese as adults. In the 1980s, Baba culture survived largely in the form of a well-known cuisine that mixed Chinese and Malay ingredients and in some families who continued to use English as the language of the home.

As the majority of the population and the ethnic group that dominated the political system and state administrative structure, Singapore's Chinese exhibited the widest range of occupational, educational, and class status. Those with little or no formal education occupied the bottom rungs of the occupational hierarchy and led social lives restricted to fellow members of the same dialect group. The level of formal education and language of education--Chinese or English--divided the Chinese into broad categories. Status for those working in the internationally oriented private sector or in government service depended on command of English and educational qualifications. In the still substantial Chinese private sector, status and security rested on a position in a bounded dialect community and a network of personal relations established over a lifetime. Although the latter exclusively Chinese category was shrinking, by the late 1980s it still contained some quite wealthy men who helped set the international price of rubber, controlled businesses with branches in Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and other countries of the region, and supported Singapore's array of Chinese charities, hospitals, and education trusts. Singapore's Chinese society was one with a high degree of social mobility and one in which status increasingly was determined by educational qualifications and command of English and Mandarin.

More about the <>Ethnic Categories of Singapore.


Singapore - The Malays


The Malay made up 15 percent of Singapore's population and were, like the Chinese and the Indians, descendants of immigrants. They or their ancestors came from peninsular Malaya, Sumatra, Java, and the other islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Java was much more densely populated than peninsular Malaya, and its people had a significantly lower standard of living. From the mid-nineteenth century to the period just after World War II, many Javanese migrated to Singapore, attracted both by urban wages offering a higher living standard and by freedom from the constraints of their native villages, where they often occupied the lower reaches of the economic and social order. Singapore Malay community leaders estimated that some 50 to 60 percent of the community traced their origins to Java and an additional 15 to 20 percent to Bawean Island, in the Java Sea north of the city of Surabaya. The 1931 census recorded the occupations of 18 percent of the Malays as fishermen and 12 percent as farmers; the remaining 70 percent held jobs in the urban cash economy, either in public service or as gardeners, drivers, or small-scale artisans and retailers. The British colonialists had considered the Malays as simple farmers and fishermen with strong religious faith and a "racial" tendency toward loyalty and deference; they preferentially recruited the Malays to the police, the armed forces, and unskilled positions in the public service. In 1961 more than half of Singapore's Malays depended on employment in the public sector. Although the colonial stereotype of the Malays as rural people with rural attitudes persisted, Singapore's Malay residents were for the most part no more rural than any other residents. Malay identity was couched in religious terms, with Malay being taken almost as a synonym for Muslim, and most Malay organizations taking a religious form.

After independence, the government regarded the Malay preponderance in the police and armed forces as disproportionate and a potential threat to security and acted to make the security forces more representative of the society as a whole, which meant in practice replacing Malays by Chinese. The government's drive to break up ethnic enclaves and resettle kampong dwellers in Housing and Development Board apartment complexes had a great effect on the Malays. Evidence of the convergence of Malay patterns of living with those of the rest of the population was provided by population statistics, which showed the Malay birth and death rates, originally quite high, to be declining. In the 1940s, Malay women had married early, had many children, and were divorced and remarried with great frequency. By the 1980s, Malays were marrying later, bearing fewer children (2.05 per woman for mid-1986 to mid- 1987), and divorcing less frequently. By the 1980s, a large proportion of Malay women were working outside the home, which was a major social change. Many young women in their late teens and early to mid-twenties were employed in factories operated by multinational corporations, which, unlike the small-scale Chinese shops and workshops that had dominated the economy into the 1960s, paid no attention to ethnicity in hiring. Even Malay fishing communities on the offshore islands, which appeared to preserve the traditional way of life, were in the 1980s losing population as young people moved to Singapore Island, attracted by urban life and unskilled jobs that offered higher and more reliable incomes than fishing.

Although very much a part of Singapore's modernizing society, the Malays conspicuously occupied the bottom rungs of that society; their position illustrated a correlation between ethnicity and class that presented a major potential threat to social stability. With the lowest level of educational attainment of any ethnic group, the Malays were concentrated at the low end of the occupational hierarchy and had average earnings that were 70 percent of those of Chinese. Malays had a higher crime rate than other groups and in 1987 accounted for 47 percent of the heroin addicts arrested. The 1980 census showed that 86 percent of the Malay work force was in the clerical, service, and production sector; 45 percent of all employed Malays worked on assembly lines, largely in foreign-owned electronics factories. Only 8 percent of all professional and technical workers (including schoolteachers), and 2 percent of all administrative and managerial personnel were Malays. Malays dropped out of the competitive school system in large numbers, and those who continued past primary school were concentrated in vocational education programs. In 1980 they made up only 1.5 percent of all university graduates and 2.5 percent of students enrolled in higher education.

In sharp contrast to neighboring Malaysia with its policies of affirmative action for the Malay majority, Singapore's government insisted that no ethnic group would receive special treatment and that all citizens had equal rights and equal opportunities. The potential threat, however, posed by the overlap between Malay ethnicity and low educational achievement and occupational status, was clear. Demonstrating the Singaporean propensity for discussing social affairs in terms of "race," both government spokesmen and Malay intellectuals tended to attribute the Malays' economic position and educational performance to something inherent in the Malay personality or culture, or to their supposed "rural" attitudes. The ways in which lower income and ill-educated Malays resembled or differed from the very many lower income and ill- educated Chinese, who had very different cultural backgrounds, were not addressed.

In 1982 the prime minister defined Malays' educational difficulties as a national problem and so justified government action to improve their educational performance. The colonial government had provided free but minimal education, in the Malay language, to Malays but not to Chinese or Indians, on the grounds that the Chinese and Indian residents of Singapore, even those born there, were sojourners. In the colonial period most English- language schools were run by churches or missionaries, and many Malays avoided them for fear of Christian proselytization. Although after independence schooling in Singapore was not free (fees were generally low, but the government felt that people would not value education if they did not pay something for it), Malays continued to receive free primary education. In 1960 that benefit was extended to secondary and higher education, although the free schooling was offered only to those the government defined as Malay, which excluded immigrant Indonesians whom the Malays regarded as part of their community. Throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s, most Malay children continued to attend schools that taught only in Malay, or, if they taught English at all, did so quite poorly. Opportunities for secondary and higher education in the Malay language were very limited. Although many Malays were employed in the public service or as drivers or servants for foreign employers, in almost all cases the language used at work was the grammatically and lexically simplified tongue called Bazaar Malay.

Throughout the 1970s, relatively few Malays knew English, a language that became progressively more necessary for high-paying professional and technical jobs. Substantial numbers of the Chinese knew no more English than the Malays, but they found employment in the extensive sector of Chinese commerce and small-scale industry where hiring demanded command of a Chinese regional language and personal recommendation. The former Malay economic niche in the military and police forces was eliminated in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the large number of Malays who had been employed by the British armed forces at British naval and other military facilities lost those secure and well-paying positions when the British withdrew from Singapore from 1970 to 1975. Such factors as poor command of English, limited availability of secondary and postsecondary education in Malay, and the loss of public-sector jobs accounted for much of the low economic position of the Malay community in 1980.

In 1981 Malay community leaders, alarmed by the results of the 1980 census that demonstrated the concentration of Malays in the lower reaches of the occupational hierarchy, formed a foundation called Mendaki, an acronym for Majlis Pendidikan Anak-anak Islam (Council for the Education of Muslim Children). Mendaki (ascent in Malay), devoted itself to providing remedial tuition classes for Malay children in primary and secondary school, offering scholarships for living expenses and loans for higher education, attempting to encourage parents to take a more active role in their children's education, and holding public ceremonies to honor Malay students who excelled in examinations or graduated from academic secondary schools or universities. Government support for Mendaki took the form of financing the organization through a special voluntary checkoff on the monthly contribution of Muslim workers to the Central Provident Fund, and through unspecified other public donations.

Throughout the 1980s, both the number of Malay students in selective secondary schools and institutions of higher education and the proportion of Malays passing and scoring well on standardized examinations slowly increased. As with the changes in birth rates, it was difficult to separate the effects of such government-sponsored programs as those of Mendaki from other factors, including increased female participation in the work force, residence in apartment complexes rather than kampong housing, exposure to television and radio, smaller family size, and better teaching in the schools.

The use of a voluntary checkoff on the monthly Central Provident Fund contribution as a means of raising Malay educational funds was characteristic of Singapore in the 1980s. Malays, like other Singaporeans, were assumed to have regular employment and salaries, and their distinctive Malay and Muslim concerns were efficiently and equitably addressed through a computerized government program.

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Singapore - The Indians


The Indians, although a component of Singapore's society since its founding, were in the 1980s its most immigrant-like community. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Indian men had worked in Singapore, sending money home to families and wives in India, whom they would visit every few years. Indian women and complete Indian families were rare before World War II, and the Indian sex ratio in 1931 was 5,189 men for every 1,000 women. The 1980 census showed 1,323 Indian men for every 1,000 women; most of the surplus males were over age 60. In the 1980s, the "Little India" off Serangoon Road contained many dormitories where elderly single men lived, as well as some shops and workshops whose owners, in the traditional pattern, housed and fed a workforce of middleaged and elderly men who might or might not have wives and children in India or Sri Lanka. Significant issues for the Indian community included securing residence status, citizenship, or entrance for the Indian families of men who had worked in Singapore for decades and for the Brahman priests who were necessary for Hindu religious life.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the Indian population were Tamils from southeastern India's Tamil Nadu state; some Tamils also came from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. The great diversity of the Indian populace was indicated by the census category "other Indians," who made up a substantial 19 percent of the group, followed by Malayalis (8 percent); Punjabis, mostly Sikh (8 percent); and Gujaratis (1 percent). Like the Straits Chinese, some of Singapore's Indians adopted English as a first language, a change facilitated by the widespread use of English in India, where it had become another Indian language. Indians were the most religiously diverse of Singapore's ethnic categories; an estimated 50 to 60 percent were Hindu, 20 to 30 percent Muslim, l2 percent Christian, 7 percent Sikh, and 1 percent Buddhist. Indian immigrants, like those of other nationalities, had been primarily recruited from among poor farmers and laborers, which meant that they included a large proportion (perhaps onethird ) of untouchables. In Singapore untouchables were usually referred to by the more polite Tamil term Adi-Dravidas, meaning pre-Dravidians. Although Tamils made up nearly two-thirds of the Indian population and Tamil was one of the country's four official languages (along with English, Malay, and Mandarin Chinese), by 1978 more Indians claimed to understand Malay (97 percent) than Tamil (79 percent). The 20 to 30 percent of the Indian population who were Muslims tended to intermarry with Malays at a fairly high rate and to be absorbed into the Malay community, continuing a centuries-old process of assimilation of Indian males to Malay society.

The linguistic and religious diversity of the Indian population was matched by their high degree of occupational differentiation. Indians were represented at all levels of the occupational hierarchy in numbers roughly proportional to their share of the total population. Within the Indian category, occupational and education attainment was far from equitably distributed. The untouchables for the most part did unskilled or semiskilled labor, while the Jaffna Tamils and the Chettia caste, who were traditionally moneylenders and merchants, were often professionals and wealthy businessmen. After World War II, caste received no public recognition in Singapore. Untouchables were free to enter Hindu temples, and food was distributed at temple festivals without regard for relative degrees of purity and pollution. Members of the Indian community were reluctant to discuss caste in public, but it continued to play a decisive role in marriage arrangements. The Indians were the most likely of all ethnic groups to attempt to arrange marriages for their children, or at least to restrict the choice of marriage partners to acceptable caste categories. Although the relatively small size of the Indian population and the disparate mixture of local caste groups from large areas of southern India made it difficult for most families to insist on strict caste endogamy (marrying only within the caste), Hindu marriages were made within a tripartite hierarchy. The highest level was occupied by Brahmans and Chettias, who attempted to maintain caste endogamy or at least to marry only members of other high castes. Mid-level caste Hindus intermarried with little difficulty, but the marriages of low-caste or outcaste category of former hereditary washermen, barbers, and untouchables were restricted to their own circle

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Singapore - Singaporean Identity


The period after Singapore's withdrawal from Malaysia in 1965 saw much public discussion of Singaporean identity. The discussion tended to use terms, categories, and basic assumptions provided by the government and ruling party. One basic assumption was that there was not, at least in the late 1960s and 1970s, a common Singaporean identity, but that there should be. A corollary was that Singaporean identity would not spontaneously emerge from the country's ongoing social, political, and cultural life. Rather, it would have to be consciously created and "built" by policies, directives, and educational campaigns. The content of the identity remained somewhat ill-defined, and it often appeared easier to say what Singaporean identity was not than what it was. The ideal seemed to combine, somewhat uneasily, a self-consciously toughminded meritocratic individualism, in which individual Singaporeans cultivated their talents and successfully competed in the international economy, with an equally self-conscious identification with "Asian roots" and "traditional values," which referred to precolonial India, China, and the Malay world. Singaporeans were to be modern and cosmopolitan while retaining their distinctively Asian traditions.

Singapore's leaders explicitly rejected the ideology of the melting pot, offering rather the vision of a confidently multiethnic society whose component ethnic groups shared participation in such common institutions as electoral politics, public education, military service, public housing, and ceremonies of citizenship; at the same time they were to retain distinct languages, religions, and customs. Singaporeans were defined as composed of three fundamental types--Chinese, Malays, and Indians. These ethnic categories, locally referred to as "races," were assumed to represent self-evident, "natural" groups that would continue to exist into the indefinite future. Singaporean identity thus implied being a Chinese, a Malay, or an Indian, but selfconsciously so in relation to the other two groups. The Singaporean model of ethnicity thus required both the denial of significant internal variation for each ethnic category and the highlighting of contrasts between the categories.

Being Singaporean also meant being fluent in English, a language which served both as a neutral medium for all ethnic groups and as the medium of international business and of science and technology. The schools, the government, and the offices of international corporations for the most part used English as their working language. The typical Singaporean was bilingual, speaking English as well as the language of one of the three component ethnic groups. Hence the former English-speaking Baba, Chinese or Indian, would seem to serve as the model of Singaporean identity. The resulting culture would be the type social scientists call "creolized," in which a foreign language such as English or French is adapted to local circumstances and the dominant culture reflects a unique blending of local and "metropolitan" or international elements. In the 1980s, there were signs of the emergence of such a culture in Singapore, with the growth among youth (of all "races") of a distinctive English-based patois called "Singlish" and the attraction of all ethnic groups to international fashions and fads in leisure activities.

Singapore's leaders resisted such trends toward cosmopolitan or creole culture, however, reiterating that Singaporeans were Asians rather than Westerners and that abandoning their own traditions and values for the tinsel of international popular culture would result in being neither truly Western nor properly Asian. The consequence would be loss of identity, which in turn would lead to the dissolution of the society. The recommended policy for the retention of Asian identity involved an ideal division of labor by language. English was to function as a language of utility. The Asian "mother tongues"--Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil--would be the languages of values, providing Singaporeans with what political leaders and local academics commonly called "cultural ballast" or "moral compasses." Stabilized and oriented by traditional Asian values, the Singaporean would be able to select what was useful from the offerings of "Western" culture and to reject that which was harmful. This theory of culture and identity resulted in the effort to teach the "mother tongues" in the schools and to use them as the vehicle for moral education.

In an extension of the effort to create a suitable national identity, in 1989 Singapore's leaders called for a "national ideology" to prevent the harmful drift toward superficial Westernization. The national ideology, which remained to be worked out in detail, would help Singaporeans develop a national identity and bond them together by finding and encouraging core values common to all the country's diverse cultural traditions. Suggested core values included emphasizing community over self, valuing the family, resolving issues through the search for consensus rather than contention, and promoting racial and religious tolerance.


Singapore - Language


In colonial Singapore, the nearest thing to a common language had been Bazaar Malay, a form of Malay with simplified grammar and a very restricted vocabulary that members of many ethnic groups used to communicate in the marketplace. The government used English, with translators employed when necessary, as in the courts. Among the Chinese a simplified form of Hokkien served as the language of the marketplace. The Chinese schools, which were founded in large numbers in the early years of the twentieth century and associated with the rise of Chinese nationalism, attempted to teach in Mandarin Guoyu, the use of which on such formal occasions as weddings and Chinese national holiday celebrations came to carry some prestige. In the terminology of sociolinguistics, Singapore's language system was multilingual and diglossiac, that is, characterized by two languages or dialects, high and low, or classical and vernacular, each used in different social contexts and carrying differential prestige. Bazaar Malay and market Hokkien were the low languages, employed in the streets and market places, and English and Mandarin were the high languages, used in education, government offices, and public celebrations. In addition, such native tongues as pure Malay, Teochiu, Tamil, or Punjabi were used in the home and in gatherings of members of the same speech group. In a 1972 survey asking which language people understood, Hokkien came first, at 73 percent, followed by Malay, with 57 percent. Malay was the most important language for intergroup communication, with almost all the Indians and 45 percent of the Chinese claiming to understand it. English came second, understood by 47 percent of the total population. A follow-up survey in 1978 showed that 67 percent claimed to understand Malay and 62 percent to comprehend English. As the 1990s approached English was replacing Malay as the common language. It was used not only as the high language but also, in its Singlish variant, as a low language of the streets. Bazaar Malay was declining, and Malay in its full native complexity was increasingly used only by Malays. Even though it was one of the four official languages and the putative "mother tongue" of the Indian community, Tamil was used less often and literacy in Tamil was reported to be declining.

The most ambitious aspect of Singapore's language planning and attempted social engineering was the campaign to replace the Chinese "dialects" with Mandarin, called the "mother tongue." The Speak Mandarin campaign began in 1979 as a PAP project and was subsequently institutionalized in the Mandarin Campaign Secretariat in the Ministry of Communications and Information. The promotion of Mandarin as a common Chinese language dates back to the early years of the century, when it was associated with the rise of Chinese nationalism and the foundation of Chinese schools. Learning Mandarin would, it was argued, permit all Chinese to communicate in their "mother tongue," be useful for doing business with China, and, perhaps most important, promote traditional Chinese values. All ethnic Chinese were required to study Mandarin through secondary school and to pass examinations in it for university admission. Chinese civil servants took a required 162-hour conversational Mandarin course, and the Mandarin Campaign Secretariat coordinated the annual Speak Mandarin campaigns. Mandarin classes were offered by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and by some native-place and clan associations. All Chinese television broadcasting was in Mandarin, as was most radio broadcasting. Radio programs in Chinese dialects were limited to 9:00 P.M. to midnight on the same station that broadcast Tamil from 5:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. In 1989 members of Parliament complained that some residents were tuning in to Cantonese opera broadcast by television stations in neighboring Malaysia. By late 1988, some 87 percent of the Chinese population claimed to be able to speak Mandarin. People did not agree, however, on the appropriate social contexts for use of what was for everyone a school language. As a result, people tended to use English or their native tongue on most everyday occasions. During the late 1980s, the Speak Mandarin campaign attempted to persuade people to use Mandarin when shopping and targeted taxi drivers, bus conductors, and operators of food stalls as workers who were to use Mandarin.

The goals of the Speak Mandarin campaign included improving communication between Chinese speech groups, teaching people to read Chinese, and promoting Confucianism. Some critics argued that children were expected to learn two foreign languages in school (English and Mandarin) and that for some students the result was fluency in neither. The official response was that the problem would be avoided if people would speak Mandarin at home. Some educators questioned whether a sufficient level of Chinese literacy could be achieved with the amount of time the schools devoted to Chinese, a point that was indirectly supported in August 1988 when Brigadier General Lee Hsien Loong, the minister for trade and industry and son of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, urged Chinese newspapers to use simpler language to attract younger readers. Some academics questioned the restriction of Chinese values to Confucianism and recalled that in the 1950s and early 1960s Chinese was the language of radicalism and revolt rather than of loyalty and conservatism. The necessity of learning Mandarin to conserve traditional Chinese culture was not obvious to those Chinese who felt that Chinese culture had been transmitted for centuries through Hokkien, Teochiu, and Cantonese. They pointed out that the colloquial speech of modern Beijing (upon which Mandarin is based) was as distant from the classical Chinese of the Confucian texts as was colloquial Cantonese. Giving up the dialects implied a major transformation of the social structure of the Chinese community, because the associational and commercial structure of Singapore's Chinese-oriented society rested on (and reinforced) dialect distinctions.


Singapore - Ethnicity and Associations


Because Singapore was a small society open to influence from the West through the English language and subject to the homogenizing effects of modernization and industrialization, the persistence of ethnicity as a fundamental element of its social structure was by no means assured. By the late 1980s ethnic affiliations were in many ways less significant than they had been in 1970 or 1940, and the lives of members of distinct ethnic groups had more and more common elements. In Singapore, as elsewhere, the forces of standardized education, impartial application of laws and regulations, common subordination to the impersonal discipline of the factory and the office, common pursuit of leisure activities, and exposure to international mass media resulted in many shared attitudes among ethnic groups. Studies of factory workers in Malaysia and Singapore, for example, found no marked differences in the attitudes and performance of Chinese and Malays. Psychological profiles of a cohort of poorly educated young Chinese who had held a succession of unskilled jobs before induction into the armed forces resembled those of equally poorly educated and unskilled Malays. Foreign popular culture seemed equally tempting or equally threatening to young Singaporeans of all ethnic groups. Ethnic boundaries persisted, especially where they corresponded with religious distinctions, and were evident in the continuing low rate of ethnic intermarriage. In daily life, however, the significance of ethnic affiliation had apparently diminished from the levels of previous generations.

Government policies were a major factor in the continuation of ethnicity as an organizing principle of Singapore's society. On the one hand, the government and the ruling party acted to break up ethnic enclaves, to provide public services to members of all ethnic groups, and to reshape society with the network of People's Association Community Centers, Residents' Committees, and Members of Parliament Constituent Advisory Groups. On the other hand, the government's ideology defined Singaporeans as members of component ethnic groups, and its various ministries listed everyone's "race" on their identity card and all official records, and remained very concerned with such matters as the ethnic mix in apartment complexes. Official statistics usually included breakdowns by "race," indicating an assumption that such categorization was significant. National holidays featured displays of the distinctive traditional cultures of the major ethnic groups, represented by costumes, songs, and dances. Pupils in secondary schools took required courses in the ethics and religion of their designated traditional culture--Confucian ethics for the Chinese, Islamic studies for the Malays, Hindu or Sikh studies for the Indians, and Buddhism or Bible study as options open to all.

Although state policies reinforced ethnic boundaries and the habit of ethnic categorization, they had little effect on the content of the ethnic categories. Ethnic identity was acted out on a daily basis through an extensive network of ethnically exclusive associations. Many Malay and Indian associations took a religious form, such as mosque and endowment management committees, sharia (Muslim law) courts, Hindu temple committees and the high-level Hindu Advisory Board, which represented Hindus to the government. An example of the reinforcement of ethnic identity was provided by the groups of Indian employees in one government department who distinguished themselves from their Malay and Chinese coworkers by jointly sponsoring festivals at a major Hindu temple. All ethnic groups had their own education and charitable associations as well as higher-order federations of such associations whose officers were the recognized community leaders. Singapore law required all associations of ten or more persons to be registered with the government, which supervised and could dissolve them. Trade unions, financial, education, and religious bodies were supervised by the appropriate government departments, and the catch-all Registry of Societies listed all associations that did not come under the authority of a specialized department. In 1987 3,750 associations were under the Registry of Societies.

The most elaborate set of ethnic associations was found among the Chinese, who in 1976 supported over 1,000 clan, locality, occupational, religious, and recreational associations. The membership of each association usually was restricted to those speaking the same dialect or tracing ancestry to the same small region of China. The lowest level associations were clan or district associations, which were in turn grouped into federations based on progressively larger administrative or linguistic regions of China. The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, founded in 1906, was the overarching association that represented the entire Chinese community. A federation, its constituent units were not individuals or individual businesses but associations. Its basic structure consisted of representatives of seven regional associations (Fujian, Teochiu, Cantonese, Hakka 1, Hakka 2, Hainan, and "Three Rivers") and ninety-three trade associations, each one usually restricted to speakers of one dialect.

The functions and activities of the associations were multiple, reflecting the concerns of members and leaders. Common activities included mutual aid; insurance benefits; foundation and maintenance of schools, hospitals, or cemeteries; contributions to the same sorts of public projects in the ancestral districts of China; settling disputes between members; acting as spokesman for the community to the government; and promoting good fellowship and continuing identification with the clan or region. Associations were run by committees and met at least once a year for a formal banquet. Association leaders were prosperous businessmen who had played a major part in fundraising and the management of activities. Success in business gave them both the free time to devote to association activities and the funds to contribute to the association and its charities. The associations conferred prestige and public recognition on those who took the burdens of office and community service, but the community so served was restricted to those from the same region and speaking the same dialect. The leadership of the lowest level associations was usually provided by those of moderate means, while the more wealthy belonged to several or many associations and worked for the higher level, more inclusive associations, which conferred more public recognition and prestige. The mechanisms of leadership and prestige and the channeling of much charity and assistance (schools, scholarship fund, hospitals, recommendations for employment or loans from Chinese banks, death benefits) through the associations thus reinforced ethnic and subethnic identification for both poor and rich.

In a pattern common to Chinese urban society in China and in Southeast Asia, groups defined by common place of origin or dialect also tended to specialize in certain trades or monopolies. Exactly which regional group dominated which trade varied from place to place and represented historical accidents and contingencies, but the principle of a regional group also acting as an occupational group was common. As late as the 1980s, the Singapore Hokkien were dominant in banking, insurance, shipping, hardware, real estate, and other lucrative fields. Within the Hokkien community, smaller subgroups controlled particular trades. For example, 96 percent of the merchants dealing in China tea in the 1980s traced their ancestry to Anxi County in southern Fujian. Teochiu dominated the fresh produce trade and the jewelry and antiques business; Cantonese predominated in furniture making, watch and clock repair, and operating drug stores and restaurants; and the Hakka were pawnbrokers, tailors, and dealers in Chinese herbs and medicines. The Henghua people from northern Fujian, a small component of the Chinese population, controlled the very important bicycle, motorcycle, and taxi businesses. Over the years the speech groups competed for the control of trades, and the pattern of dialect- specific occupations was a dynamic one, with, for example, strong competition for shares of the textile trade. In the 1980s, four textile trade associations represented Teochiu, Hokkien, Hakka, and Cantonese traders. The competition between speech groups reinforced both their internal solidarity and the social boundaries between them. Regional associations were, to a certain extent, also trade associations. For the large proportion of the Chinese population employed in regional commerce, service trades, or small-scale manufacturing, there remained a close relation between ethnicity and occupation, each aspect reinforcing the other.

For the proprietors and employees of many small and medium Chinese businesses, continued identification with dialect and subethnic communities provided many benefits and indeed was a precondition for engaging in many lines of trade. Although the dialect communities were not primarily occupational groups, the social solidarities created within the communities were economically useful. Much of the business activity in the extensive Chinese "traditional" sector of the economy depended on credit, personal relations, and the reputation of individuals for trustworthiness. In the final analysis, individuals met their obligations because failure to do so would result in immediate loss of reputation and creditworthiness with their fellows in restricted subethnic communities.

For many members of the Chinese community, economic self- interest reinforced the identification with an ethnic or subethnic community and the continued use of a regional dialect. Such individuals tended to be both more intensely and self-consciously "Chinese" and "Teochiu" or "Anxi Hokkien" than their fellows, who might well be their own brothers, sons, or daughters, who worked for the government or large multinational corporations. For the latter, formal educational certification, command of English, and perhaps skill at golf rather than Chinese finger games and etiquette were associated with economic success.


Singapore - Social Stratification and Mobility


During the 1970s and 1980s, economic development and industrial growth reduced poverty and income inequity and accelerated upward social mobility. Those with educational qualifications, command of English, and high-level technical or professional skills profited the most from the process.

In the late 1980s, the major indices of social stratification were education level, citizenship status, sector of the economy where employed, and number of employed persons in the household. Residents were sharply differentiated by the amount of education they had completed. In 1980 about 44 percent of the population aged 25 and above had no educational qualifications, 38 percent had completed primary school, 15 percent secondary school, and only 3.4 percent higher education. Those people born after 1970 were on average much better educated than previous generations, but throughout the 1990s the work force will contain many individuals with limited education. Wages correlated fairly closely with educational attainment, although education in English brought higher salaries than Chinese education. Many benefits, such as access to a Housing and Development Board apartment, were available only to Singapore citizens, and only citizens and permanent residents were enrolled in the Central Provident Fund. In 1985, a recession year when many foreign factory workers lost their jobs and residence permits, citizens made up 91 percent of the work force. Noncitizens were concentrated in the lower and in the highest wage levels, either as factory or service workers on short- term work permits, or as well-paid expatriate managers and professionals. Wages were relatively higher in government service and government-owned corporations and in the capital intensive and largely foreign-owned export-oriented manufacturing sector. They were lower in the service, retail, and less highly capitalized light industrial, craft, and commercial sector, which was dominated by small Chinese firms. Wages for unskilled and semiskilled factory work and for unskilled service jobs were relatively low. Those who held such jobs, often young women in their teens and early twenties, were not entirely self- supporting but parts of households in which several members worked at low-paying jobs. Families of the poorly educated and unskilled improved their standard of living between 1970 and 1990 in part because full employment made it possible to pool the wages of several family members.

Economic growth and the associated increase in the demand for labor from 1960 to 1989 raised living standards and sharply reduced the incidence of poverty. A survey of living costs and household incomes in 1953-54 found 19 percent of all households to be in absolute poverty, meaning that their members did not have enough to eat. Application of the same standard in 1982-83 found 0.3 percent of households in absolute poverty. A measure of moderate poverty, defined as adequate nutrition and shelter but little discretionary income and no savings, was devised by the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees in 1973. By that measure, 31 percent of households in 1972-73 were in moderate poverty, 15 percent in 1977-78, and 7 percent in 1982-83. Compared with other countries in the region, household incomes in Singapore were equitably distributed, with most households falling in the middle or lower middle ranges of the distribution.

The lowest income levels were those of single-person households, representing the elderly, the disabled, and those without kin in Singapore. Apart from the childless elderly and the disabled, those in moderate poverty in the 1980s were overwhelmingly working poor, holding unskilled jobs with no prospects for advancement. Such households typically had only one wage-earner with either primary education or no education and lived in rented housing and often a one-room or two-room Housing and Development Board apartment. Households with two or more members working, even at relatively low-paying jobs, were able to contemplate purchasing a Housing and Development Board apartment, save money for emergencies, and devote more resources to the education of children.

Much of the alleviation of poverty and decrease in income inequality that took place in the 1970s and 1980s resulted from the increased participation of women in the work force. In 1985, 46 percent of all women above the age of fifteen held paid employment; 68 percent of single women and 33 percent of married women worked outside the home. This trend was associated with women marrying later and having fewer children. One reason that more households attained an adequate standard of living in the 1980s was that there were more wives and unmarried daughters at work and fewer young children to be supported and looked after.

Surveys in the 1980s showed that most Singaporeans described themselves as middle class, justifying that status by their ownership of a Housing and Development Board apartment and the substantial and secure savings guaranteed by their Central Provident Fund Account. Families in the middle-income ranges usually occupied two- or three-bedroom apartments that they were buying from the Housing and Development Board, participated in one or more formal associations, took an active part in planning and supervising their children's education, stocked their apartments with a range of consumer appliances, and had money to spend on hobbies, sports, or vacations. Automobile ownership was not common, and most middle-income Singaporeans used public transportation. Their mode of life rested on occupational skills and educational qualifications, secure employment in large, bureaucratic government or private organizations, or ownership of their own small business.

The upper levels of the society were occupied by a tripartite elite of high-level civil servants, local managers and professionals employed by foreign-owned multinational corporations, and wealthy Chinese businessmen who served as leaders in the associational world of the Chinese-speaking communities. The first two categories were marked by fluency in English, university-level education, often in Britain or the United States, and a cosmopolitan outlook reinforced by foreign residence and travel. Many of the Chinese businessmen were entrepreneurs who operated in an exclusively Chinese setting and often had minimal educational qualifications. Their sons, however, often were graduates of the best secondary schools and of local or foreign universities and worked either as English-speaking representatives of their fathers' businesses, as civil servants, or as professionals. Few of the elite had inherited their status, and all were aware that they could not directly pass it along to their children. Having themselves been upwardly mobile in a society more open to individual effort than most in the region, they valued that society's stress on competition, individual mobility, and success through hard work. In the domestic sphere, they expressed those values by devoting much effort to the education of their children.

Increased family incomes made possible by full employment and by such government programs as the construction and sale of apartments and the enrollment of nearly everyone in the Central Provident Fund are to be distinguished from upward mobility, in which individuals moved into more highly skilled and highly paid jobs and hence into higher social classes. The expansion of industry, banking, and of the ranks of civil servants created many high and mid-level positions that Singaporeans could aspire to and compete for. Residents from every ethnic community regarded social mobility as a common and accepted goal. Education was regarded as the best channel for upward mobility, and most families tried to encourage their children to do well in school and to acquire educational qualifications and certification. This put severe pressure on the school system and the children in it, although, as elsewhere, middle- and upper-income families had an advantage in maneuvering their offspring through the education system.

Individuals approached jobs with a keen appreciation for their potential for further mobility. Most large organizations, whether government or private, provided some training. Some foreign-owned enterprises, such as those in the oil industry, employed large numbers of skilled workers and ran extensive in-house training programs. The electronics assembly factories, in contrast, offered no prospects for advancement to their large numbers of unskilled or semiskilled assembly line workers. Small scale enterprises, which in the late 1980s often recruited along ethnic and subethnic lines, were associated with long working hours and low wages, but sometimes offered the workers opportunity to learn a skill, such as automotive repair. Workers in such establishments commonly advanced by quitting and opening their own small firms, often after years of saving.

In a system that reflected both the great differences in educational attainment in the work force and the great significance attached to educational qualifications, most large organizations, public and private, made a sharp distinction between mental and manual labor, and movement from the lower to the higher was very difficult and rare. Lower level white-collar workers and skilled blue-collar workers often took advantage of opportunities to upgrade their occupational skills, either through training offered by the organization or through night school and short-term courses offered by educational or other government bodies. Unskilled workers in industry and service trades and employees in small Chinese firms saw few prospects for advancement and considered self-employment as their only hope for upward mobility. Vending food and consumer goods on the streets or operating a cooked-food stall, traditional entry points for entrepreneurs, had been practically eliminated by government action to tidy up the environment and to limit the numbers of mobile hawkers who obstructed traffic. Many Singapore economists felt that the successful modernization of the economy and the increases both in government regulation and in rents for shops and small premises had made it more difficult for the ambitious poor to get a start. By the late 1980s, Singapore's academics and political leaders were discussing the perceived shortage of entrepreneurs and suggesting solutions to the problem, although most discussion focused on industrial innovation and growth rather than the commercial fields in which most Singapore entrepreneurs had succeeded.


Singapore - Family, Marriage, and Divorce


Almost all Singaporeans lived in small nuclear families. Although both Chinese and Indian traditions favored large extended families, such families were always rare in immigrant Singapore where neither the occupational structure, based on wage labor, or the housing pattern, characterized by small, rented quarters, favored such family forms. In the 1980s, families were important in that most individuals as a matter of course lived with their parents until marriage and after marriage maintained a high level of interaction with parents, brothers, and sisters. Probably the most common leisure activity in Singapore was the Sunday visit to the grandparents for a meal and relaxed conversation with brothers, sisters, in-laws, uncles and aunts, cousins, and other assorted kin. Although the age of marriage increased in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a mean 28.5 years for grooms and 25.8 years for brides in 1987, Singapore remained a society in which it was assumed that everyone would marry, and marriage was a normal aspect of fully adult status.

Both ethnicity and class affected the form and functioning of families. Chinese and Indian families rested on cultural assumptions of the permanence of marriage and of the household as an ongoing, corporate group whose members, bound by duty, obligation, and subordination, pooled and shared income. The continued efforts of Indian parents to arrange the marriages or at least to influence the marital choices of their offspring and the Tamil obligation to provide daughters with large dowries reflected such cultural definitions of family and household. In a similar manner, some Chinese combined the household with the family enterprise, practicing a traditional entrepreneurial strategy that included mobilizing the savings of all household members and allocating them in accord with a long-term plan for family success. Such a strategy might take the form of a thriving business with branches in the major cities of Malaysia and Indonesia, or of sons and daughters employed in the Singapore civil service, a large foreign bank, or a university in Australia.

Malay families, on the other hand, gave priority to the individual and to individual interests. They viewed relations between siblings as tenuous and saw the household as a possibly short-lived coalition of autonomous individuals linked by sentiments of mutual concern and affection. Malays had traditionally had much higher rates of divorce and adoption than other ethnic groups, and the distinction continued in the 1980s although the divorce rate was lower than in the l940s or through the l960s. More significantly, for the Malays divorce was regarded as a realistic and normal, although unfortunate, possibility in all marriages. Because Malays did not define the household as a continuing body, they did not make long-range strategic plans to maximize family income and success. In Malay families, husbands, wives, and children with jobs held separate purses and sometimes separate savings accounts. It was thus difficult for Malays to establish family businesses as the Chinese and the Indians did.

Class affected families in a manner generally similar to many other industrialized societies. In all ethnic groups, lower-class or working-class people tended to be dependent on kin outside the immediate household for a wide range of services, and to operate wide networks of mutual assistance and gift exchange. Throughout the 1980s, kin provided the bulk of child care for married women working in factories. Such relatives were paid for their services, but less than a stranger would have been paid. The possibility of such support often determined whether a woman took a job outside the home, and thus demonstrated the relation between large numbers of kin and material comfort and security. Substantial sums of money were passed back and forth on such occasions as the birthdays of aged parents, the birth of children, or the move into a new apartment. Family members were a major source of information on and referrals to jobs for many unskilled or semiskilled workers. Relations with the extended circle of relatives were not always harmonious or happy, but they were important and necessary to the welfare and comfort of most working-class families.

Middle- and upper-class households were less dependent on kin networks for support. They maintained close ties with parents and siblings, but did not need to rely on them. Indeed their relations with their extended kin often were more amiable than those of the lower-class households, where mutual need often was accompanied by disputes over allocation of such resources as grandparents' childcare services, or of the costs of supporting elderly parents and other dependent kin. Middle- and upper-class households spent more leisure time with people who were not their relatives and gained much of their social support from networks based on common schooling, occupation, and associational memberships. In such families, the bond between husband and wife was close as they shared more interests and activities than most workingclass couples and made more decisions jointly.

Marriages across ethnic lines occurred, but not often. Between 1954 and 1984, intermarriage rates remained at 6 percent of all marriages. None of the traditional cultures encouraged marriage outside the group. The Hindu traditions of caste endogamy and the Malay insistence on conversion to Islam as a condition of marriage were major barriers to intermarriage. Shared religion encouraged intermarriage, with marriages between Malays and Indian Muslims the most common form of ethnic intermarriage. Interethnic marriages included a disproportionate number of divorced or widowed individuals.

Divorce rates in Singapore were low. Interethnic marriages were somewhat more likely to end in divorce than were marriages within an ethnic group. During the 1980s the divorce rate for Malays fell, while it rose for the other ethnic groups. In 1987 there were 23,404 marriages in Singapore, and 2,708 divorces, or 115 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. The figures included 4,465 marriages under the Muslim Law Act, which regulated the marriage, divorce, and inheritance of Muslims, and 796 divorces under the same act, for a Muslim divorce rate of 178 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. Marriages under the Women's Charter (which regulated the marriage and divorce of non-Muslims) totaled 18,939, and divorces under that law were 1,912, for a non-Muslim divorce rate of 100 per 1,000 marriages. The differential rates of divorce for ethnic groups may have suggested greater differences than were in fact the case. Situations that for Malay families resulted in prompt, legal divorce were sometimes tolerated or handled informally by Chinese or Indian families for whom the social stigma of divorce was greater and the barriers to legal separation higher. For all ethnic groups, the most common source of marital breakdown was the inability or unwillingness of the husband to contribute to maintaining the household. This sometimes led to desertion, which was the most common ground for divorce.


Singapore - Religion


Temples and Festivals

Singapore's immigrants commonly made their religious congregations a form of social organization. From the foundation of the city, colonial authorities had avoided interfering with the religious affairs of the ethnic communities, fostering an atmosphere of religious tolerance. It was characteristic of colonial Singapore that South Bridge Street, a major thoroughfare in the old Chinatown, should also be the site of the Sri Mariamman Temple, a south Indian Hindu temple, and of the Jamae or Masjid Chulia Mosque, which served Chulia Muslims from India's Coromandel Coast. The major religions were Chinese popular religion, commonly although inaccurately referred to as Daoism or Buddhism; Hinduism; Islam; Buddhism; and Christianity. Other religions included smaller communities of Sikhs and of Jains from India; Parsis, Indians of Iranian descent who followed the ancient Iranian Zoroastrian religion; and Jews, originally from the Middle East, who supported two synagogues.

The Chinese practiced Chinese popular religion, a distinctive and complex syncretic religion that incorporates some elements from canonical Buddhism and Daoism but focuses on the worship of gods, ghosts, and ancestors. It emphasizes ritual and practice over doctrine and belief, has no commonly recognized name, and is so closely entwined with Chinese culture and social organization that it cannot proselytize. In Singapore its public manifestations included large temples housing images of deities believed to respond to human appeals for guidance or relief from affliction and use of the common Chinese cycle of calendrical festivals. These occasions included the lunar New Year (in January or February), a festival of renewal and family solidarity; Qing Ming (Ching Ming in Wade-Giles romanization), celebrated by the solar calender on April 5th (105 days after the winter solstice), to remember the ancestors and worship at their graves; the fifteenth of the fifth lunar month (April or May), in Singapore known as Vesak Day and celebrated as marking the birth of the Buddha; the festival of the hungry ghosts in the seventh lunar month, a major Hokkien holiday, marked by domestic feasting and elaborate public rituals to feed and placate the potentially dangerous souls of those with no descendants to worship them; and the mid-autumn festival on the fifteenth of the eighth lunar month, an occasion for exchanging gifts of sweet round mooncakes and admiring the full moon. All Chinese temples held one or more annual festivals, marked by street processions, performances of Chinese traditional operas, and domestic banquets to which those who supported the temple, either because of residential propinquity, subethnic affiliation with a particular temple and its deity, or personal devotion to the god, invited their friends and business associates. To prevent the disruption of traffic and preserve public order, the government limited the length and route of street processions and prohibited the use of the long strings of firecrackers that had previously been a component of all Chinese religious display. Some festivals or customs that had little religious significance or were not practiced by the southeastern Chinese migrants were promoted by the government's Singapore Tourist Promotion Board for their spectacular and innocuous content. These included the summer dragon boat races, originally held only in China's Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River Valley, and the lantern festival in which paper lanterns in the shape of animals or other objects are carried through the streets by children or, if especially impressive, displayed in parks and temples. In China the lantern festival is celebrated in the first lunar month at the end of the New Year season, but in Singapore it is combined with the mid-autumn festival.

Canonical Buddhism was represented in Singapore as Sinhalese Theravada Buddhism. This form of Buddhism prevails in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia and differs from the Mahayana Buddhism of China, Korea, and Japan in both doctrine and organization. Theravada Buddhism was brought by Sinhalese migrants from Ceylon (contemporary Sri Lanka), who also influenced the architectural style of Thai and Vietnamese Theravada temples. These latter were staffed by Thai or Vietnamese monks, some of whom were originally members of the overseas Chinese communities of those countries and served a predominantly Chinese laity, using Hokkien, Teochiu, Cantonese, or English. Singapore was also home to a number of Chinese sects and syncretic cults that called themselves Buddhist but taught their own particular doctrines and lacked properly ordained Buddhist monks.

Hindus have been part of Singapore's population since its foundation in 1819, and some of the old Hindu temples, such as the Sri Mariamman Temple, were declared national historical sites in the 1980s and so preserved from demolition. Singapore's Hindus adapted their religion to their minority status in two primary ways--compartmentalization and ritual reinterpretation. Compartmentalization referred to the Hindus tendency to distinguish between the home, in which they maintained a nearly completely orthodox Hindu pattern of diet and ritual observance, and the secular outer world of work, school, and public life, where they did not apply categories of purity and pollution. Singapore lacked the tightly organized caste groups of communities found in India but replaced them in large-scale temple festivals with groups representing those of the same occupation or place of employment. The major Hindu holidays were the Hindu New Year, in April or May; Thaipusam, a festival during which penitents fulfilled vows to the deity Lord Subramanya by participating in a procession while carrying kavadi, heavy decorated frameworks holding offerings of milk, fruit, and flowers; and Deepavali, the Festival of Lights. Deepavali, a celebration of the victory of light over darkness and hence of good over evil, was a national holiday.

Seven of the ten national holidays were religious festivals; two of them were Chinese, two Muslim, two Christian, and one Hindu. The festivals were the Chinese New Year; Vesak Day; Hari Raya Haji, the Muslim pilgrimage festival; Hari Raya Pusa, which marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and was a time of renewal; Christmas; Good Friday; and Deepavali. Citizens were encouraged to learn about the festivals of other religious and ethnic groups and to invite members of other groups to their own celebrations and feasts. Public ceremonies such as National Day or the commissioning of military officers were marked by joint religious services conducted by the Inter-Religious Organization, an ecumenical body founded in 1949 to promote understanding and goodwill among the followers of different religions.

Religion and Ethnicity

In the 1980s, members of all ethnic groups lived and worked together, dressed similarly, and shared equal access to all public institutions and services. Religion, therefore, provided one of the major markers of ethnic boundaries. Malays, for instance, would not eat at Chinese restaurants or food stalls for fear of contamination by pork, and a Chinese, in this case, could not invite a Malay colleague to a festive banquet. Funerals of a traditional and ethnically distinctive style were usually held even by families that were not otherwise very religiously observant. The Community Associations and the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board encouraged the public celebration of such ethnically distinctive and appropriately colorful and noncontroversial festivals as the Chinese lantern festival and the dragon boat races.

The marriages, divorces, and inheritances of members of religious communities and the management of properties and endowments dedicated to religious purposes were of concern to the government, which interacted with some religious bodies through advisory boards dating back to the colonial period. The Hindu Advisory Board, established in 1917, advised the government on Hindu religion and customs and on any matters concerning the general welfare of the Hindu community. It assisted the Hindu Endowments Board, which administered the four major Hindu temples and their property, in organizing the annual festivals at the temples. The Sikh Advisory Board acted in the same way for the Sikhs.

The Singapore Muslim Religious Council (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura) played a very important role in the organization of Islamic affairs and therefore of the Malay community. Authorized by the 1966 Administration of Muslim Law Act, the council, composed of members nominated by Muslim societies but appointed by the president of Singapore, was formally a statutory board that advised the president on all matters relating to the Muslim religion. It acted to centralize and standardize the practice of Islam. The council administered all Muslim trusts (wafs); organized a computerized and centralized collection of tithes and obligatory gifts (zakat harta and zakat fitrah); and managed all aspects of the pilgrimage to Mecca, including registering pilgrims, obtaining Saudi Arabian visas, and making airline reservations. The council also helped the government reorganize the mosque system after redevelopment. Before the massive redevelopment and rehousing of the 1970s and 1980s, Singapore's Muslims were served by about ninety mosques, many of which had been built and were funded and managed by local, sometimes ethnically based, communities. Redevelopment destroyed both the mosques and the communities that had supported them, scattering the people through new housing estates. The council, in consultation with the government, decided not to rebuild the small mosques but to replace them with large central mosques. Construction funds came from a formally voluntary contribution collected along with the Central Provident Fund deduction paid by all employed Muslims. The new central mosques could accommodate 1,000 to 2,000 persons and provided such services as kindergartens, religious classes, family counseling, leadership and community development classes, tuition and remedial instruction for school children, and Arabic language instruction.

The government had regulated Muslim marriages and divorces since 1880, and the 1957 Muslim Ordinance authorized the establishment of the centralized Sharia Court, with jurisdiction over divorce and inheritance cases. The court, under the Ministry of Community Development, replaced a set of government-licensed but otherwise unsupervised kathi (Islamic judges) who had previously decided questions of divorce and inheritance, following either the traditions of particular ethnic groups or their own interpretations of Muslim law. The court attempted to consistently enforce sharia law, standard Islamic law as set out in the Quran and the decisions of early Muslim rulers and jurists, and to reduce the high rate of divorce among Malays. In 1989 the Singapore Muslim Religious Council took direct control of the subjects taught in Islamic schools and of the Friday sermons given at all mosques.

Religious Change

Modernization and improved education levels brought changes in religious practice. The inflexible work schedules of industrialism, which tended to restrict communal ritual to evenings and Sundays, and the lack of opportunity or inclination to devote years to mastering ceremonial and esoteric knowledge, both contributed to a general tendency toward ritual simplification and abbreviation. At the same time, prosperous citizens contributed large sums to building funds, and in the 1980s a wave of rebuilding and refurbishing renewed the city's mosques, churches, Chinese temples, Buddhist monasteries, and Hindu temples. Ethnic affiliation was demonstrated by public participation in such annual rituals as processions, which did not require elaborate training or study.

Immigrants tended to drop or modify religious and ritual practices characteristic of and peculiar to the villages they had come from. Hindu temples founded in the nineteenth century to serve migrants of specific castes and to house deities worshipped only in small regions of southeastern India became the temples patronized by all Hindu residents of nearby apartment complexes. They offered a generic South Indian Hinduism focused on major deities and festivals. Many Chinese became more self-consciously Buddhist or joined syncretic cults that promoted ethics and were far removed from the exorcism and sacrificial rituals of the villages of Fujian and Guangdong. The movement away from village practices was most clearly seen and most articulated among the Malays, where Islamic reformers acted to replace the customary practices (adat) of the various Malay-speaking societies of Java, Sumatra, and Malaya with the precepts of classical Islamic law--sharia.

In 1988 the Ministry of Community Development reported the religious distribution to be 28.3 percent Buddhist, 18.7 percent Christian, 17.6 percent no religion, 16 percent Islam, 13.4 percent Daoist, 9 percent Hindu, and 1.1 percent other religions (Sikhs, Parsis, Jews). The Christian proportion of the population nearly doubled between 1980 and 1988, growing from 10 percent to nearly 19 percent. The growth of Christianity and of those professing no religion was greatest in the Chinese community, with most of the Christian converts being young, well-educated people in secure white-collar and professional jobs. Most converts joined evangelical and charismatic Protestant churches worshiping in English. About one-third of the members of Parliament were Christians, as were many cabinet ministers and members of the ruling party, which was dominated by well-educated, Englishspeaking Chinese. The association of Christianity with elite social and political status may have helped attract some converts.

By the late 1980s, some Buddhist organizations were winning converts by following the Protestant churches in offering services, hymnbooks, and counseling in English and Mandarin. A Buddhist Society at the National University of Singapore offered lectures and social activities similar to those of the popular Christian Fellowship. Some Chinese secondary students chose Buddhism as their compulsory religious studies subject, regarding Confucianism as too distant and abstract and Bible study as too Western and too difficult. They then were likely to join Buddhist organizations, which offered congenial groups, use of English, and a link with Asian cultural traditions. In the late 1980s, other Chinese whitecollar and skilled workers were joining the Japan-based Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society, an organization based on Nichiren Buddhism), which provided a simple, direct style of worship featuring chanting of a few texts and formulas and a wide range of social activities. The more successful religious groups, Christian and Buddhist, offered directly accessible religious practice with no elaborate ritual or difficult doctrine and a supportive social group.

In the 1980s, the government regarded religion in general as a positive social force that could serve as a bulwark against the perceived threat of Westernization and the associated trends of excessive individualism and lack of discipline. It made religious education a compulsory subject in all secondary schools in the 1980s. The government, although secular, was concerned, however, with the social consequences of religiously motivated social action and therefore monitored and sometimes prohibited the activities of religious groups. The authorities feared that religion could sometimes lead to social and implicitly political action or to contention between ethnic groups. Islamic fundamentalism, for example, was a very sensitive topic that was seldom publicly discussed. Throughout the 1980s, the authorities were reported to have made unpublicized arrests and expulsions of Islamic activists. The government restricted the activities of some Christian groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses who opposed military service, and in 1987 the government detained a group of Roman Catholic social activists, accusing them of using church organizations as cover for a Marxist plot. The charismatic and fundamentalist Protestant groups, though generally apolitical and focused on individuals, aroused official anxiety through their drive for more converts. Authorities feared that Christian proselytization directed at the Malays would generate resentment, tensions, and possible communal conflict. As early as 1974 the government had "advised" the Bible Society of Singapore to stop publishing materials in Malay. In late 1988 and early 1989, a series of leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, condemned "insensitive evangelization" as a serious threat to racial harmony. Official restatements of the virtue of and necessity for religious tolerance were mixed with threats of detention without trial for religious extremists.


Singapore - Health and Welfare


Medical Services and Public Health

As indicated by their long life expectancy and low death rates, Singaporeans generally enjoyed good health. Standards of nutrition and environmental sanitation were high. The Ministry of the Environment's Vector Control and Research Department was responsible for controlling mosquitoes, flies, rats, and other disease-bearing animals; the Food Control Department and the Hawkers Department inspected food producers and outlets for cleanliness and sanitation. The Ministry of the Environment's Public Affairs Department conducted educational campaigns on such topics as environmental sanitation, control of mosquito-breeding sites, proper disposal of refuse, and food handling. Educational efforts were backed up by sanctions, which included fines of up to S$500 for spitting or failing to flush public toilets.

The population was served by nine government hospitals with 7,717 beds and by twelve private hospitals with 2,076 beds. In 1987 the Ministry of Health certified 2,941 physicians, 9,129 nurses, 653 dentists, and 487 pharmacists. Five of the nine government hospitals were general hospitals, providing a complete range of medical services and twenty-four hour emergency rooms, and the other four each had a specialty: obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology and venereology, psychiatry, or infectious diseases. In 1987 the Ministry of Health's Community Health Service operated twenty-four clinics in major housing complexes, offering primary medical treatment for injuries and common diseases. The Maternal and Child Health Service provided preventive health care for mothers and preschool children at twenty-three clinics, while school children were served by the School Health Service.

Government hospitals and clinics charged fees for their services, although the fees were generally low and the medical services were heavily subsidized. The fees were intended to discourage frivolous use of the medical system and to demonstrate that residents were responsible for their own health costs, as Singapore was not a welfare state. After 1984 Singaporeans could pay for their medical expenses through the Medisave Scheme, under which 6 percent of the monthly income of every contributor to the Central Provident Fund could be set aside for the medical expenses of the contributor and the contributor's spouse, parents, grandparents, and children in all government or private hospitals.

Mortality and Morbidity

The major causes of death in 1986 were heart disease, accounting for 24 percent of all deaths; cancer, 23 percent; cerebrovascular disease, (stroke) 11 percent; and pneumonia, 8 percent. In 1988 two minor outbreaks of dengue fever took place but were halted through prompt control of arthropod-borne microorganisms, and a minor cholera epidemic broke out among the inmates of a mental institution. In 1982 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Singapore malaria-free, and 161 of the 165 cases of malaria reported in 1987 were determined to be imported. In 1987 the most serious epidemic disease was hepatitis; 752 cases of acute viral hepatitis and 11 deaths were reported. Noise-induced deafness and industrial-related skin disease the major occupational diseases; there was also some concern over exposure of workers to toxic and carcinogenic substances and to asbestos. The health authorities paid special attention to patients with kidney failure, a condition that which killed some 200 people a year. The number of deaths reflected inadequate dialysis facilities and a shortage of organ donors. The 1987 Human Organ Transplant Law gave doctors the right to remove the kidneys of those killed in accidents unless the victim had objected in writing or was a Muslim.

AIDS Policy

At the end of 1988, the Ministry of Health reported thirty-four cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) among Singaporeans; four of these cases resulted in death. The first two cases were identified in 1985. Thereafter the incidence increased; five new cases were reported in December 1988 alone. In 1987 the Ministry of Health established an AIDS Task Force to inform health professionals of research on and treatment programs for the disease. A National Advisory Committee, also formed in 1987, with representatives from the Ministry of Health, other ministries, the public media, hotels, and travel agencies concentrated on educating the public about the disease. The Ministry of Health worked with WHO, adapting its information and strategies to local circumstances. All blood donors were routinely screened for AIDS, and blood screening could be done at designated government clinics. In 1989 the Ministry of Health was sponsoring education programs on AIDS and offering confidential counseling to people worried that they might be infected. The ministry was trying to reach members of high-risk groups, but many of them refused counseling from fear of being identified and stigmatized.


Singapore - Education


The School System

The government frequently referred to Singapore's population as its only natural resource and described education in the vocabulary of resource development. The goal of the education system was to develop the talents of every individual so that each could contribute to the economy and to the ongoing struggle to make Singapore productive and competitive in the international marketplace. The result was an education system that stressed the assessment, tracking, and sorting of students into appropriate programs. Educators forthrightly described some students and some categories of students as better "material" and of more value to the country than others. In the 1960s and 1970s the education system, burdened with large numbers of children resulting from the high birth rates of the previous decades and reflecting the customary practices of the British colonial period, produced a small number of highly trained university graduates and a much larger number of young people who had been selected out of the education systems following secondary schooling by the rigorous application of standards. The latter entered the work force with no particular skills. Major reforms in 1979 produced an elaborate tracking system, intended to reduce the dropout rate and to see that those with low academic performance left school with some marketable skills. During the 1980s, more resources were put into vocational education and efforts were made to match the "products" of the school system with the manpower needs of industry and commerce. The combination of a school system emphasizing testing and tracking with the popular perception of education as the key to social mobility and to the source of the certifications needed for desirable jobs led to high levels of competition, parental pressure for achievement, and public attention and concern.

In 1987 some 4 percent of the gross domestic product ( GDP) was devoted to education. The government's goal for the 1990s was to increase spending to 6 percent of GDP, which would match the levels of Japan and the United States. Education was not compulsory, but attendance was nearly universal. Primary education was free, and Malays received free education through university. Students' families had to purchase textbooks and school uniforms, but special funds were available to ensure that no student dropped out because of financial need. Secondary schools charged nominal fees of S$9.50 per month. Tuition at the National University of Singapore for the 1989-90 academic year ranged from S$2,600 per year for students in the undergraduate arts and social sciences, business administration, and law courses to S$7,200 per year for the medical course. The university-level tuitions were intended to induce prosperous families to bear a share of the cost of training that would lead to a well-paying job, but a system of loans, needbased awards (bursaries), and scholarships for superior academic performance meant that no able students were denied higher education because of inability to pay.

The schools operated a modified British-style system in which the main qualifications were the Cambridge University-administered General Common Entrance (GCE) Ordinary level (O level) and Advanced level (A level) examinations. Singapore secondary students took the same examinations as their counterparts in Britain or in British system schools throughout the world. All instruction was in English, with supplementary teaching of the students' appropriate "mother tongue"--Malay, Tamil, or Mandarin. The basic structure was a six-year primary school, a four-year secondary school, and a twoyear junior college for those preparing to enter higher education. As part of the effort to reduce the dropout rate, some students progressed through the system more slowly than others, spending more time in primary and secondary school but achieving similar standards. The goal was that every student achieve some success and leave school with some certification. Both primary and secondary schools operated on double sessions. Plans for the 1990s called for converting secondary schools to single-session, all-day schools, a measure that would require construction of fifty new schools.

As of June 1987, there were 229 government and government-aided primary schools enrolling 266,501 students. Government-aided schools originally were private schools that, in return for government subsidies, taught the standard curriculum and employed teachers assigned by the Ministry of Education. There were 157 secondary schools and junior colleges, enrolling 201,125 students, and 18 vocational training schools, enrolling 27,000 students. The 15 junior colleges operating by late 1989 enrolled the "most promising" 25 percent of their age cohort and were equipped with computers, laboratories and well-stocked libraries. Some represented the elite private schools of the colonial period, with their ancient names, traditions, and networks of active alumni, and others were founded only in the 1980s, often in the centers of the housing estates. In 1989 the government was discussing the possibility of permitting some of the junior colleges to revert to private status, in the interest of encouraging educational excellence and diversity.

Singapore had six institutions of higher education: National University of Singapore (the result of the 1980 merger of Singapore University and Nanyang University); Nanyang Technological Institute; Singapore Polytechnic Institute; Ngee Ann Polytechnic; the Institute of Education; and the College of Physical Education. In 1987 these six institutions enrolled 44,746 students, 62 percent male and 38 percent female. Enrollment in universities and colleges increased from 15,000 in 1972 to nearly 45,000 in 1987, tripling in fifteen years. The largest and most prestigious institution was the National University of Singapore, enrolling 13,238 undergraduates in 1987. Only half of those who applied to the National University were admitted, a degree of selectivity that in 1986 brought parliamentary complaints that the admission rate was inconsistent with the government's objective of developing every citizen to the fullest potential.

The Ministry of Education tried to coordinate enrollments in universities and polytechnic institutes and specific degree and diploma courses with estimates of national manpower requirements. At the university level, the majority of the students were enrolled in engineering, science, and vocationally oriented courses. The Ministry of Education and the government clearly preferred an education system that turned out people with vocational qualifications to one producing large numbers of general liberal arts graduates. The ministry attempted to persuade students and their parents that enrollment in the three polytechnic institutes, which offered diplomas rather than the more prestigious degrees (a common distinction in the British system of higher education), was not necessarily a second choice. In promoting this choice, the ministry pointed to the good salaries and excellent career prospects of polytechnic graduates who were employed by large multinational corporations. Similar arguments were used to persuade those who left secondary school with respectable O level level scores to enroll in short courses at vocational and technical training institutes and to qualify for such positions as electronics technicians or word processors that were beyond the capabilities of those who had been directed into vocational schools after the primary grades. Almost all of the graduates of the demanding four-year Honors Degree Liberal Arts and Social Science program at the National University of Singapore were recruited into the upper levels of the civil service. Many graduates of the ordinary three-year arts, social science, and science programs were steered into teaching in secondary schools.

Education and Singaporean Identity

More clearly than any other social institution, the school system expressed the distinctive vision of Singapore's leadership, with its stress on merit, competition, technology, and international standards, and its rejection of special privileges for any group. Singaporeans of all ethnic groups and classes came together in the schools, and the education system affected almost every family in significant and profound ways. Most of the domestic political issues of the country, such as the relations between ethnic groups, the competition for elite status, the plans for the future security of the nation and its people, and the distribution of scarce resources were reflected in the schools and in education policy. Many of the settled education policies of the 1980s, such as the use of English as the medium of instruction, the conversion of formerly Malay or Chinese or Anglican missionary schools to standard government schools, or the attempted combination of open access with strict examinations, were the result of long-standing political disputes and controversy. In the determination of families and parents that their children should succeed in school, and in the universally acknowledged ranking of primary and secondary schools and the struggle to enroll children in those schools that achieved the best examination results, families expressed their distinctive values and goals. The struggle for achievement in the schools, which often included tutoring by parents or enrollment of young children in special private supplementary schools to prepare for crucial examinations, also demonstrated the system of social stratification and the struggle for mobility that characterized the modern society. It was in the schools, more than in any other institution, that the abstract values of multiracialism and of Singaporean identity were given concrete form.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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