Saturday, September 10, 2005

Views of a child born to Chinese-educated S'poreans.

Was reading Mr Wang's blog when I chanced on a debate on the usefulness and role of Mandarin in Singapore. Some say Mandarin is part of our identity (ethnic chinese), while others say we are S'poreans not PRC Chinese so there isn't a need to know Mandarin. Some say with the rise of China there is much economic value in knowing Mandarin, while others assert that S'pore is still English dominated and even if one wants do deals in China there isn't a need for him/her to know Mandarin at all.

However since both of my parents are Chinese educated, I understand how they feel about the Chinese language issue. Like what the article in Zaobao has said, they have a lingering resentment on how they have been marginalised by the PAP government. However they too understand that the situation is irreversible and the English first policy have done Singapore much good. My parents have encourage me and my sis to master English, while not neglecting our Mandarin. They also sent both me and my sis to an English speaking country for our university education. They are not some Chinese chauvinists who want to force Mandarin down people throats. They just want to help the culture and language they loved to survive and hopefully flourish in the place they called home.

Here is the translation of the article.

Views of an old Chinese-educated S'porean

By Han Tan Juan

In his National Day Rally Mandarin speech this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to entertainer Jack Neo's recent talk show in which the latter interpreted "jing ying" as Singaporeans who are proficient in the English language and "jing hua" as those who are well-versed in the Chinese language.

Here is an undeniable fact: "Jing ying" enjoys higher status than "jing hua" in the government service, job market and business sector, which is why it is the goal of many parents to get their children to become "jing ying" and not "jing hua".

In Singapore, the "gold content" or value of the English language far surpasses that of Chinese.

Singaporeans who are not proficient in English often find themselves coming up against a wall. After a while, even the dumbest will learn his lesson.

Mr Lee disagreed with Jack Neo's talk about old Chinese-educated Singaporeans as being the disappearing "jing hua". "This is a long-running serial and the best shows are yet to come", he said.

If I understand Mr Lee's comment correctly, the cast in the shows must be elite who have an excellent command of both the English and Chinese languages.

He also noted that the older generation of Chinese-educated Singaporeans are becoming more active and some have even taken up university courses. This is an encouraging phenomenon.

I believe Mr Lee wanted to boost the morale of this group of Singaporeans. But I think it is more important to know why these Singaporeans feel discouraged.

Having suffered for decades for being handicapped in English and having been marginalised for years, I'd be lying if I say we do not feel demoralised at all.

We no longer have the youthful passion for change. We just want to preserve our "spiritual home" - our undying love for the Chinese culture which we will never give up.

And there is something that we would very much like to speak up but is afraid to - the fear of being labelled as Chinese chauvinists.

Some years back, some of us had expressed unhappiness about the lack of Chinese signs at MRT stations. The authorities had responded then by saying that signs cluttered with words would not be pleasing to the eye.

Meanwhile, well-meaning people had cautioned us against getting into trouble over the "sensitive issue" of language.

Once bitten, twice shy. It's a lingering fear that refuses to go away.

I believe the majority of the older generation of Chinese-educated Singaporeans no longer view the People's Action Party government the way they used to.

We are well aware of the big picture - that under the leadership of the government, Singapore has prospered and become an affluent society where most people are able to live comfortably.

Even though we have been disadvantaged in the past, we place the overall interest of the nation above all and have no problems affirming the contribution of this government.

This change of attitude should be both ways - the PAP government should also see us in a new light.

The differences and conflicts in the past are now history and we should not allow history to repeat itself.

We are aware that we just do not have the environment that is needed to restore Chinese as the first language in our schools.

We recognise that English is the dominant language and we encourage our children to master it. But we do hope that parents who are English-educated can also urge their children to learn the Chinese language well.

If we in the past could persevere in our efforts to pick up English, why can't they now show a little determination in learning Chinese?

There is no need for our leaders or the English-educated elite to worry that English will become less important.

As I see it, the real challenge for the English-educated elite is that their dominance may one day be threatened by a younger generation that is proficient in both English and Chinese, or both "jing ying" and "jing hua".


At 3:35 AM, October 13, 2005, Blogger Yee-Wei Chai said...

interesting .... here's my take on the article when it came out.

At 11:33 PM, October 13, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have mention:

"...They are not some Chinese chauvinists who want to force Mandarin down people throats..."

In S'pore, we force English down all races throats too, you may say this is for their good, I would say forcing mother tongue down people throats is also for their good. So, there are no such thing as chauvinists in today's S'pore.

Ask any of your white friends oversea, they are more likely to understand what I have said.

At 2:07 AM, October 14, 2005, Blogger at82 said...

Hi anon 11.33pm

The problem is some people thinks that the people promoting the use of Chinese are Chinese chauvinists.

Even in politics there are certain ppl being labelled as chinese or malay chauvinists.

At 2:22 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello at82:

You have said:

"...The problem is some people thinks that the people promoting the use of Chinese are Chinese chauvinists...Even in politics there are certain ppl being labelled as chinese or malay chauvinists..."

My thinking is this:

When the chinese, malay and indian communities or their newspapers promote the learning of their respective ethnic mother tongue under the bilingual policy framework, they do not advocate to ditch English or amend the bilingual policy so that English is made optional. They have accepted and embraced English as a common language. Therefore, they are not chauvinists when they remind their young, besides learning English, they should also learn more about their own ethnic languages and cultures!

However, in local English newspapers, if you observe, you might come across some suggestions in forum pages from time to time by readers that we should drop our ethnic identity, drop or change our bilingual policy to make the learning of ethnic mother tongue optional. From these facts, we can say these people are English chauvinists as they do not tolerate different races and languages.

At 2:06 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

please. why can't singaporeans just accept the fact that the main language is english. get over it. if not for the english language, do u honestly think singapore would have made it this far? and if u think that singapore is supposedly too anglo-fied, or too much english is shoved down your throats, back up and think again mate, the standard of english in singapore is really not all that wonderful eh mates. if you guys feel so marginalized by the fact that mandarin is not a 'main' language then what about the indians and malays. if you want mandarin to be a main language, then tamil and malay should be too...after all you're supposed to all be equal, or has that changed? sure seems like it in singapore. and of course there are chauvinists in singapore. don't be idealistic. why is everything about the chinese? you're a multi-racial country remember? multi-lingual too....supposedly....

At 1:48 AM, October 29, 2005, Blogger at82 said...

To anon 2:06 PM, October 19, 2005:

I don't think anyone is advocating the ditching of English as working language here.

We are just saying that there is nothing wrong with promoting the use of Chinese, Malay or Tamil as 2nd languages. Even though some Singaporeans feel that the 2nd language policy should be abolished.

We are just asking why promoting the use of 2nd language without it replacing English as working language is called Chinese, Malay chauvinists, while promoting the use of English AND asking the govt to abolish the 2nd language policy is not deemed as being English chauvinists?

BTW many foreigners think that the bilingual policy is great and lament that it is not introduced in their country.

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