Chinese Singaporean

From Academic Kids

Chinese Singaporean is a term that refers to Singaporeans who are of Chinese descent.

The population of Chinese in Singapore currently stands at slightly more than 3 million out of a total of about 4 million, or about 76.8% of the population.


Dialect Groups

Nearly all Singaporeans are descended from the Han Chinese, the dominant group of the Chinese in China. The Singaporean Chinese are descended from several dialect groups, originating from various parts of China. Around 70% of the Chinese Singaporeans belong to the Min-nan dialect group, but inter-dialect marriages among the third and fourth generations are making the dialect lines increasingly blur.


The Hokkien constitute around 45% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Most came the southern parts of the Fujian province, primarily Xiamen and Quanzhou. They speak Hokkien, a Min-nan dialect, though their Hokkien includes words from Malay.

The element of Spirit Worship, known as Tanki-ism in the Hokkien dialect, was widespread among the older generation. One of the festivals is that of the Nine Emperor Gods, a Taoist commemoration of the Emperors who brought peace and prosperity to the people and the prayer to the Jade Emperor on the 8th day of Chinese New Year.[1] (


The second most populous group after the Hokkiens. Although they dominate the Chinese population in Thailand, the Teochew in Singapore constitute around 25% of the Chinese Singaporean population. They mainly come from eight of the ten Chaozhou prefectures in China, with the majority coming from Shantou.

Like the Hokkiens, the Teochews speak the Teochew, a Min-nan dialect. Unlike Hainanese, both Hokkien and Teochew are mutally intelligible.

Chinese settlements with large populations of Teochews used to be found along the banks of Singapore River in Chinatown. To honour their success in their successful commerence, Lee Hsien Loong gave a speech relating to the Teochews of Singapore in November 2003. [2] (


The Cantonese made up 16% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Unlike the Hokkien, Teochew and the Hainanese, the Cantonese spoke a dialect belonging to the Yue family.


The Hakkas constitute 7% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Since their dialect was initially somewhat intelligible to Mandarin, although strongly influenced by Min-nan and Yue, they were believed to have migrated from Northern China between the 16th and the 17th century.

Hainanese and Northern Min

This group constitutes 5% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Of them, the majority are Hainanese, from Hainan, speaking Hainanese, a Min-nan dialect.

The others, who included the Hokchew, Hokchia and the Henghuas, who came from Northern Fujian and Southern Zhejiang. They speak various Northern Min dialects. As late-comers to Singapore (late 19th century), most of them worked as shop helpers, chefs, and waiters in the hospitality sector.

Mandarin and Wu

The Mandarin and Wu people from Shanghai, Zhejiang, Beijing and other northern provinces constitute only 2% of the Chinese Singaporean population.

They are mainly first and second-generation Chinese Singaporeans. A few worked as engineers. They speak Mandarin and Wu dialects with a Beijing, Zhejiang or Shanghai accent, which are so different from the local patois that they are unintelligible to the local Chinese Singaporeans.


Traditionally, the Singaporean Chinese have a preference of using the dialects of their place of origin as their main avenue of communication. However, since independence, the government has continuously encouraged the Singaporean Chinese to speak only Mandarin, as a process to unify all the Chinese from different dialect groups into one group.

As the traditional southeastern Chinese dialects are not taught in school, the number of their speakers has steadily declined. Many of the young Chinese in Singapore are unable to use their dialects fluently - most can utter no more than a few words. This is even more common among the westernized Chinese Christian community, who speak acrolectal English. Thus only older people continue to use dialects, either as the main form of communication or as their lingua franca. Younger Singaporeans are increasingly using Chinese surnames based on Chinese dialects with given names based on Mandarin pronunciation, rather than dialect-based pronunciations.

English is also used as the business language, and all students are required to master English as their first language and speak Mandarin only during Mandarin class. Singlish is also commonly used among the Singaporeans, including the Singaporean Chinese.


Traditionally, the Chinese are adherents of a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor worship. A sizeable minority of 13% of the Chinese claimed to profess no particular religion, and this is increasing among younger people.

Traditional religions

About 67% of the Singapore Chinese still adhere to their traditional religion in varying degrees of devoutness. This group tends to speak Mandarin and/or Chinese dialects at home and follow a Chinese-influenced lifestyle. Most the people in this group came from the lower and middle classes, though some of them belong to the upper-class. Of these, the majority claim to be Buddhist and the remainder Taoist.

Most of the traditional Buddhists would place one or two altars at home, or along the corridors of their HDB flats. The altars often contain the three ancestral gods, namely Wealth (Fok in Cantonese, Fu in Mandarin), (Lok in Cantonese, Lu in Mandarin), and Life (Sao in Cantonese, Shou in Mandarin). The Guan Yin and ancestral tablets may also be placed on the altar in addition to these three gods. A brazier, often painted red, may also be seen. They also hang small urns filled with sand and ash outside the house; this is where joss sticks are placed and used as offerings to the gods.

The traditional Buddhists also visit temples or columbariums at least once a year to pay respects to their ancestors, and to pray for blessings. Temples of this kind, like the Thien Hock Keng temple, can be found all over Singapore.

When there is a death in the family, the relatives of the deceased will organise a funeral ceremony. These ceremonies are usually held at HDB void decks The deceased is placed in a wooden coffin. Buddhist or Taoist monks are then called to preside, and they chant mantras and prayers for the deceased to ward off evil spirits. During the funeral ceremony, the relatives of the deceased will burn incense paper and pray for the deceased. A typical funeral ceremony will last around 3 or 5 days.

At the end of the ceremony, a hearse will transport the body to the crematorium, where the body will be cremated. As the body is cremated, the monks are also present to pray for the deceased. The ashes are placed in an urn, which is then placed in a columbarium or temple, where an ancestral tablet is used to indicate the location of the urn.


A minority (20%) of Singaporean Chinese, which is equal to the total number of religious adherents in Singapore to 13.5% are Christian. Most of the Chinese Christians belong to the Protestant, Anglican or Roman Catholic denominations. They form the majorty of the Chinese Singaporeans of the westernized upper class, though some can be found in the middle class. Like their Buddhist counterpart, a very small number of them are actually nominal or near-nominal Christians.

This group, unlike the former, are highly westernized and tend be very well educated in western rather than Chinese ways. Unlike Buddhists, Christians tend to eat in western rather than Chinese ways.

Christians do not place many religious items or altars at home, though a cross may be placed above the doorway of the house. Christians normally attend church services on Sundays, though church services on Saturdays or even weekdays are not uncommon. Services may last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours or longer.

Services are mainly held in English, though some churches have services in different languages, notably Mandarin, Tamil, Tagalog and on rarer occasions, Chinese dialects.

When there is a death, the ceremony is normally held in the church, though funeral ceremonies may be allowed at HDB void decks. The members of the church attend the ceremony and verses of the Bible are read, and prayers said to mourn for the deceased. A head of the church will also be there, presiding over the funeral ceremony.

At the end of the ceremony, the family members and some of the church members will walk to the graveyard, with the coffin being transported by a hearse. Upon reaching the destination, the church staff, along with the family of the deceased will pay their final respects as the burial takes place. However, due to the land constraints in Singapore these days, most Christians too are cremated.

The step for modernization and westernization has witnessed growth in the Christian population in the 1980's from 10% to 18% in 1988 of the Singapore's population, although in recent years it has dropped to 15%. Fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic denominations has seized the chance to proselytise the Chinese of the upper class in the 80's and early 90's. The number of non-religious Chinese also increased substantially, as the influence of Buddhism took a downturn, as the rich and educated Chinese Singaporeans viewed Buddhism as an obstacle to the modern context of society.


Another 13% of the Chinese Singaporean are non-religious and they call themselves "free thinkers". In Singapore, this term means that the person does not believe in any religion. However, some may practise Chinese traditions and practices.

An small minority of the Singapore Chinese follow either Islam or Hinduism. Most people from this group are Chinese men or women who are married to Malay spouses and have converted to Islam, which is part of the Malay marriage custom, regardless of his/her religion. If a Chinese Man marries a Malay, the children will still follow the surname/language/culture/race of the Chinese father. The Chinese Hindus are mainly women who have married Indian men.


The Chinese were present in Singapore even before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, who founded it: 14th-century Chinese sources state that there was already a sizeable Chinese population along the entire Southern coast. According to the traveller Wang Dayuan, the Chinese in Singapore dressed in traditional Malay costume and largely intermarried with the local Malay women, following an amalgam of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Those were the earliest Peranakans of Singapore.

Sir Stamford Raffles soon founded Singapore as a port, and the free trade policy attracted many Chinese from mainland China to trade, and most settled down in Singapore. The large influx of Chinese to Singapore led to many Chinese associations, schools, and Buddhist temples. New settlements were created under the Raffles Town Plan and the Chinese immigrants soon outnumbered the Malays. During this period, Christian missionaries from Europe also began to evangelize the Asians, especially the Chinese. Entrepot trade turned Singapore into a trading centre by the middle of the 19th century. By 1849, the Chinese reached half of Singapore's population.

Some immigrant Chinese parents, dissatisfied with the Qing government, made the decision to settle in Singapore, and sent their children to English missionary schools in the hope of a better future. This pattern of westernization lasted right until after World War 2.

The Sino-Japanese War that broke out in 1937 between China and Japan caused resentment among the Chinese. For the sake of their motherland, many returned to China to fight the Japanese. With the invasion of the Japanese into Singapore in 1942, the Kempeitai (Japanese Secret Police) tracked down many of the Chinese who had fought against them. However, the Kempeitai's Sook Ching selection of people to be executed was largely a random process carried out by masked informers. There were also anti-Japanese forces during the war, such as Force 136, headed by Lim Bo Seng.

Soon after WWII, partly due to several communist uprisings in Singapore and Malaya, riots between the Chinese and the Malays were widespread. As a result, a state of emergency was declared, and curfews were imposed on the local populace from the 1950s to 1960s.

One example was the riot on Prophet Muhammad's birthday between Malays and Chinese on 21 July 1964. Many were injured or killed during the riots. Racial Harmony Day was thereafter observed in Singapore. The riots were a major factor leading to the separation from Malaysia in 1965.

Today, the Chinese Singaporeans are generally considered one of the strongest and most economically powerful peoples in the world. International trade was established with other countries, particularly with neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and China. This also attracted many recent Chinese immigrants all over from China to work and settle down in Singapore, eventually displacing the age-old Chinese influences.

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