Ministers, Ministers of State, Mayor, Parliamentary Secretaries, Members of Parliament,
Mr Ng Siew Quan, Chairman, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre,
Mr Thomas Chua, President, Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations,
Mr Chua Thian Poh, Founding Chairman, SCCC and Honorary President, SFCCA
The respective Council Members of SFCCA and Board Members of SCCC
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. [Opening greetings in Chinese.]
2. My wife and I are very happy to be here once again at this joint celebration by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre. It is a spring reception that is a time for reunion within the Chinese community, but also a time for unity amongst our diverse communities.
3. I commend both Mr Ng Siew Quan and Mr Thomas Chua for their very thoughtful speeches. Both your organisations are, in complementary ways, seeking to promote Singaporean Chinese culture and to foster unity amongst our diverse communities. And so doing, they are helping to strengthen our national identity.
4. The Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) is moving into new areas and building on existing priorities, as Mr Thomas Chua has laid out. You want to help seniors navigate a world where digital devices are now used for so many things.
Importantly, you want to promote sustainable living, and intend to mobilise your younger members to come up with initiatives and ideas to spread the spirit of conservation of the natural environment.
5. And importantly, you continue to build an inclusive and compassionate society, and to strengthen racial harmony. This is work that you’ve been doing for many years. In fact, it was very evident in the last few years and you’re continuing this work. For eg, our clan associations such as Singapore Kwangtung Hui Kuan and Eng Choon Hway Kuan were very active during the pandemic in supporting the vulnerable from all walks of life and all ethnic groups.
6. The Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) has been working actively and creatively with your partners to preserve and promote a vibrant Singapore Chinese culture.
7. The initiative which Mr Ng Siew Quan spoke about, to develop a comprehensive online repository of local Chinese arts and culture, will help our younger generations to understand and rediscover the strengths and the unique features of our local Chinese culture – including not just culture in the traditional sense, but community practices and habits and our popular culture. It’s a very good initiative.
8. At the same time, the SCCC has been actively fostering multiculturalism in Singapore. You have been promoting greater understanding of the cultures and values of each of our communities, including the values which we share. And importantly, SCCC has also been promoting greater exchange and collaboration between artists and groups from our diverse cultures in Singapore.
9. What both SFCCA and SCCC have been doing quietly, without too much fanfare, without the beating of cymbals and drums, is important. It is part of how we evolve our national identity.
10. Fundamental to our peaceful multicultural Singapore, is respect for our diverse traditions and ways. That’s the foundation – respect for different races, cultures, and religions.
11. We are now at a stage of development, six decades on as an independent nation, where we can build on this foundation, build on our history and experience together as a people, to go further, to deepen our multiculturalism.
12. There are two strands in this deepening of our multiculturalism. First, we must keep alive and strengthen each of our diverse Singaporean cultures. And second, to foster greater criss-crossing of our different cultures, and greater collaboration and participation in each other’s cultures.
13. The challenge is to achieve both of these strands, not achieve one strand at the expense of the other. We need not and should not sacrifice or dilute our respective cultures in order to deepen multiculturalism. If we do that, we will just be weakening our heartbeats. But neither should we live in separate cultural spheres in order to keep our distinctive cultures alive and strong. We must foster that criss-crossing, so each of our cultures evolves whilst absorbing influences from others, the influences that come from a multicultural Singapore environment.
14. We have to take a long view. Imagine the Singapore that we want, and the people that we want to be, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now.
15. This deepening of Singapore’s multiculturalism will help us enhance the distinctive character of each of our traditions, Singapore Chinese, Singapore Malay, Singapore Indian and our other traditions. It will enhance the distinctive character Singaporean character of each of our traditions. It will also help develop greater cultural flexibility, especially among new generations of Singaporeans who will increasingly have to engage with the world around us. But most important, it will enhance our identity as Singaporeans, and strengthen our social harmony in the decades to come.
16. We are in fact seeing very encouraging and creative efforts in this direction. My wife and I recently attended the Spring Rhapsodies concert by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, an annual concert to usher in the Lunar New Year. It was an evening full of spirit, a celebration of Singapore Chinese culture.
17. One item was especially unique – it was a fresh rendition of the traditional Chinese New Year melody “It’s Spring Again” (大地回春). It was composed by a talented young Singaporean, Dayn Ng Chee Yao. Dayn graduated from NAFA and the Royal College of Music, before getting an NAC scholarship to go to the Berklee College of Music (Spain).
18. He gave “Its Spring Again” a whole new rendition, keeping the original melody but infusing different Singapore ethnic rhythms and lilts Singapore Malay, Indian and Chinese styles – into the melody. It was not just campur-campur. The original melody was still there, with all its elegance and the stirring of the heart that it creates, but with a multicultural flavour. Skilfully composed, and performed by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in a very appealing way.
19. That is one approach, and I believe it has a lot of promise – retaining our respective cultures, keeping them vibrant, but infusing them with elements from other Singapore cultures.
20. It is not the only approach. There is a second approach we are also seeing, which involves deeper collaboration amongst artists from our different communities, to develop new whole compositions in music, dance and song, yet retaining the distinctive elements of our different traditions. Not simply fusing everything into one such that the original cultures are unrecognisable, but weaving a new cloth while retaining quite visibly the different threads of our diverse cultures.
21. For example, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre collaborated a few years ago with Bhaskar’s Arts Academy to present a new, reimagined version of the classic Chinese folk tale Butterfly Lovers. Bhaskar’s Arts Academy produced the item, combining Chinese musical instruments, Indian Bharatanatyam dancers, and Cantonese opera artists. The music was composed by a world-renowned Indian composer and a local Chinese artist. Again, it was not just campur campur. You could see the threads of the different traditions, each with their own authenticity, but woven together in a very appealing way.
22. Another example of this second approach, involving collaboration between artists from our different communities to create new forms, was seen when Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre introduced an award a few years ago to encourage cross- cultural song compositions. The winning entry in 2019 was a Malay-Chinese song. It was produced by Jamiel Said, who also composed the lyrics together with Mr Lim Wei Bin. They wanted to compose a song that reflected the influences of P. Ramlee and Teresa Teng. They called it Ku Mahu Zaihu (Ku Mahu 在乎), a combination of Malay and Chinese words meaning ‘I want to care’. Again, skilfully composed, and sung by Regine Han and Jamiel Said himself, in Chinese and Malay. You could feel the souls of both P. Ramlee and Teresa Teng in the song.
23. So that is the second approach – where we collaborate, blend our different traditions, create a new fabric but one where the threads of our diverse traditions are still visible and distinct. And ensuring that the whole performance is appealing to the ear, to the eye, and to our hearts.
24. There is a third approach, which we can also grow in the years to come, and in my view deserves more emphasis. It is to retain our different traditions, but for us to cross into each other’s cultures, whether in music, dance or art. we We can respectfully learn the intricacies of each other’s cultures, seek to practice them and be proficient in them. And for some, to even develop flair and virtuosity when they cross into another Singapore culture.
25. A good example is Tan Qing Lun. He is now in his late 30s. He had already mastered the dizi, the Chinese flute, when he was taught by Ghanavenothan Retnam, a leading Indian flautist, how to play the Indian flute, the venu. Tan Qing Lun went on to become a master of the Indian flute, in fact even winning one of the top awards at an Indian music competition. He and Ghanavenothan have often performed together, playing classic Chinese and Indian tunes. They are wonderful examples of artists who have not lost their own cultures – they are in fact leading exponents within their s own cultures – but have crossed into another of our cultures and developed a real flair for them.
26. We must now make it possible and natural for our younger generation to do more of this crossing into other cultures. Our school CCAs are fertile ground for achieving this. Not diluting our cultures, but taking the effort to learn each other’s cultures and develop some proficiency.
27.There must be space for all these three approaches to deepening of multiculturalism. We cannot force the evolution of our multiculturalism. Culture has to evolve organically. But we can encourage efforts to evolve our cultures in ways that infuse elements of each into the other, and make it natural for our young and people of all ages to cross into each other’s cultures, and feel enriched in doing so.
28.We must admit that appreciation of each of our different cultures, among other communities, is quite superficial and weak. In the old days, we had Aneka Ragam Ra’ayat in the 1960s. Those of you who are old enough will remember – people went to different community gathering points to watch multiracial performances. In fact, the launch in 1959 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at the Botanic Gardens, was attended by over 22,000 people. But that was in the days before television. People flocked to these Aneka Ragam Ra’ayat performances for entertainment, but also learnt a little of each other’s cultures.
29.We can’t go back to those old days. But we can find new ways to now deepen our multiculturalism, encourage more criss-crossing – more collaboration between artists of our different cultures, and more individuals and groups crossing into each other’s cultures.
30. If you think about it, Singaporeans take very easily to Western culture. Some spend years mastering western music or dance, classical or pop, and many more take a close interest in it. There’s nothing wrong with that. It shows the openness of Singaporean minds, and it shows our talent. But if we can do it so readily with Western culture, we can take a stronger interest in our own Singaporean cultures – strengthen the criss-crossing, and deepen our national identity as we do so. I am sure we can.
31. Finally let me commend Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations once again for your active and progressive approach to preserving and evolving our Singapore Chinese culture, and in strengthening our national identity.
32. It will be a continuous journey. But there’s no journey more worthwhile than strengthening the Singapore heartbeat.
33. I hope the Year of the Dragon brings abundance in all that you wish for, and all that we wish for together. [Closing greetings in Chinese]
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