1SG - Why the 'Speak Mandarin','Appreciate Chinese Culture' Campaign is a monumental mistake

Well, the government has started yet another push to elevate Chinese culture again over all ‘others’. The ‘Speak Mandarin’ and a ‘new nationwide initiative to deepen the appreciation of Chinese culture and increase the competency level of communication in Mandarin. The Chinese Challenge will begin on 30 March 2009.’ source

My question is, as it has always been, where does it leave the Malays and Indians? Why is it that one culture and language is promoted over others in such a blatant fashion? And it is most ironic that whilst their promotional video shows an African child, amongst others, speaking mandarin, Malays and Indians are forbidden to study the language in this country.

Basically, what this does is to elevate the value of one culture over others. The advertisements illustrate the global appreciation of Chinese language and culture. Those whom are Chinese in appearance, if exposed to this from youth, will tend to identify with the culture and learn to be Chinese and be proud of it given the exposure it receives over all ‘others’. It is sociologically and psychologically verifiable that the promotion of one culture over another will tend to render its practitioners or those whom identify with it to take what I term ‘counterpositional relative pride’ in it. That is, feeling proud of one’s culture and looking down on others since the others are not given such exposure. And this is further exacerbated by promotional videos such as the above that tends to present Chinese culture and language as being lauded the world over. In the past it was promoted as preferable and an 'advantage' over other local cultures. Now, it is promoted as laudable on a global scale. Not only will this induce cultural arrogance and enhance the feelings of self-efficacy amongst those identified as 'chinese', but it will induce the inverse amongst local 'others'. Anyway, what is singapore doing promoting Mandarin on a global stage and not others? Yet another attempt to render 'Singapore' synonymous with 'Chinese' perhaps? But, as always, it is not those who promote such campaigns that I take issue with, but the masses who fail to see anything amiss in such culturally vainglorious promotion. Shame on them.

If I was Prime Minister,

I would give equal prominence to ALL cultures despite the numbers of any population. Why?

Firstly, when we give all cultures prominence, their practitioners and those who identify with the culture will have their sense of personal and cultural self-efficacy enhanced. When this happens equitably, they will develop their cultural propensities even further and contribute the fruits of such development to the collective pool.

Secondly, we will enhance what I term, ‘collaborative non-counterpositional cultural pride’. That is, all races will view their own and the cultures of others as equals and hence value each other’s cultural perspectives and contribution. (right now, the Chinese, culturalised to be Chinese, tend to view Indians as people who talk too much, ask too many questions, and not unquestioningly do as they’re told. The critical faculty of the entire population is thus severely compromised.)

I would encourage the Chinese to study Tamil and Malay; the Malays to study Mandarin and Tamil; and the Indians to study Malay and Mandarin. Why?

Very simple actually.

Firstly, people are generally more careful with culturally dissimilar others in business, amongst others, than similar others. For instance, the Chinese in China may be less culturally imposing toward non-Chinese from other countries than diasporic (derived from the word Diaspora) Chinese. Indians from India and Chinese from China may tend to view as inferior diasporic peoples since both nations are the ‘motherlands’.

Secondly, when a person of one ‘race’ encounters one from another race who speaks their language, they tend to feel gratified and become more amiable toward the other as a person. This is not the case when one encounters one of the same ‘race’ as cultural norms are imposed. Put this together in a situation between a ‘mainland’ Chinese in China and a diasporic Chinese, expectations and impositions are increased manifold. I’ve personally enjoyed positive reactions all my life with Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese and, especially, Chinese from China, when I speak Mandarin. I tend to get more favours and got things done quickly at work in the past.

Let me give you an example. In my late teens (2 decades ago), I worked for a short time as a labourer. One time, I had to deliver a heavy wheel-like item which had cables running around it. I approached the Chinese contractor at a construction site and told him in English that I was there to deliver it and where I ought to put it. He just nodded to a particular location up a slope. Then I broke out in Mandarin and asked him if he wanted it to be placed there at that moment. He immediately looked at me in surprise and said, ‘Wah, ni huay chiang hua yi ah?!’(wow! You know how to speak mandarin?!”). He immediately told me to stand aside and called his workers to do the job for me. In another situation, a Chinese boss had me promoted as a supervisor after 3 days of work due to my ability to speak Mandarin. I’m also popular with most of the China girls who serve drinks at the neighbourhood coffeeshop and get exceptional service. This was also the case when I was working for ‘Yellow Pages’ a decade ago. I was the pet of the Chinese female staff and this helped in getting things done quickly. Dealing with debtors on the phone, when they discovered that I was Indian, or when they came down to the office in a confrontational attitude, they would always tone down and be more amiable toward me when I broke out in Mandarin. Speaking Mandarin is not an advantage, but speaking it when you’re not Chinese is.

The lesson here is simple. Speaking any language is an advantage when you’re not supposed to be able to speak it.

Thirdly, locally, when people learn to speak each other’s languages, not only does mutual validation and consideration take place; not only are people brought together despite ‘race’; but it will certainly help to forge a bond that will, over time, lead to a singular Singaporean identity that is not synonymous with just one race.

Finally, being of one culture and being most open to other cultures – especially when one is not taught to discount other cultures by undue prominence being given to one over another – will develop in the individual what I term, multiangular thought. That is, we’ll bring to bear an arsenal of different perspectives in the appreciation and analysis of any phenomena. We will become acutely cognizant of detail; the tendency to discount information will decrease as we will have the trained propensity to ignore or discount that which is new weeded out of us; and we will tend to become more innovative, critical and inventive.

As I've said in other articles, to marginalise one race is to compromise the potentials of ALL. For the myriad perspectives that may be garnered from the development of ALL can never be compensated for by the development of just one. Sisters and brothers, let me tell you what the struggle for equality is all about. It is not the struggle for the elevation of the marginalised, but the struggle for the perspectival progress of all. For it is not the numbers of a people that matter, but the potential of even a single individual of another culture to add exponential value to the perspectives of all. The = symbol in a lengthy equation may just be 1 symbol amongst many. But without it, we will never have a conclusion that in turn serves as a stepping stone to further formulae.



[this article was first published on 18th April, 2009. '1SG' image redesigned from the old Singapore $10 note by a2ed]

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