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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chinese New Year Story

Chinese New Year Story

There are many Chinese traditional stories about Chinese New Year but this is one you haven't heard:

Originally, and even some time after Lee Kuan Yew took over in what was practically a bloodless coup despite its ferocity of attack on press freedoms, political life and opposition and criticism of any kind, Singapore officially referred to this important date as "Chinese New Year". Greetings were the traditional "Happy and Prosperous (Chinese) New Year".

Then, some time into his reign, it became more politically correct to refer to this festival as "Lunar New Year" because the term "Chinese" became politically sensitive in the context of neighbouring largely Malay nations. Although in Malaysia, Chinese Malaysians still continued to use the word "Chinese" without any inhibitions, in Singapore, all references in the press and even advertisements used the neutral, if a little odd, term "Lunar".

That was, in retrospect, the Golden Age of True Multiracialism in Singapore and it didn't last long, only about a decade or so.

Then, with growing confidence in his military might and canny diplomatic outmanoeuvring of his Malay neighbours into solid ties with the US and the Western world, LKY was confident enough to bring back the term "Chinese New Year".

The calendar had gone one full circle.

This also coincided with China's emergence into world politics and more importantly, economy and perhaps, most critically, LKY's consciousness. So he began to cultivate China, mostly by channelling our huge reserves into white elephant projects in Suzhou and other 'investments', and thereby gaining the goodwill and a little time from China's leaders, which he could then burnish into a reputation as a "canny China watcher" (but only to the West).

Also, it coincided with a freer immigration policy that welcomed huge numbers of mainland Chinese into Singapore, from construction workers to ballet teachers to university researchers, replacing some of the traditional sources of Chinese from Malaysia and Hongkong. The stated aim is, of course, to 'maintain' the racial majority of Chinese at 77% because the local Chinese were, alas, not reproducing themselves as fast as the Malays. We are all also encouraged to speak Mandarin to one another, instead of English, even if sometimes this discomforts our Indian and Malay classmates, friends and colleagues who do not fathom the tongue.

So, nowadays, it's back to "Happy Chinese New Year". A full circle indeed.

Gong Xi Fa Cai.