Singapore is a small island state that that is surrounded by around 64 smaller islands and lies south of the Malay Peninsula. The most important part of Singapore history starts in 1819 when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first arrived in Singapore. However, it is important to note that Singapore history dates much earlier.
It is recorded that when Sir Raffles arrived in Singapore, it was only a small island with around 200 people and that Raffles immediately fell in love with this island. He purchased the island from the local chief, Abdul Rahman for the east India Company. The island later became an important seaport. Later on, the island of Singapore together with that of Penang and Malacca joined strait settlements which all fell under the British East India Company.
Singapore is a multiethnic society with immigrants from china, India, Malaya and Indonesia who arrived in Singapore during the establishment of the island as a sea port. Immigration into Singapore resulted from the thriving economy in Singapore as a result of the British rule.
There were a lot of opportunities and many immigrants worked either as clerks, technicians or teachers. 1823 saw Singapore become a penal station and convicts from India other parts of Asia were used in the building of roads. The eminence of Singapore grew especially following its colonization by the British and the development of the steamships around 1869.
The presence of tin and rubber made Singapore one of the leading sea ports in the region. In 1921, Singapore fell under the Japanese rule but was recaptured in 1945 by the British. In 1946, Singapore ceased to become part of the straits settlement and in 1959 attained her internal rule. She (Singapore) joined Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak forming Malaysia. 1965 saw Singapore attain full independence following her secession from Malaysia.
Singapore is a home to numerous groups of people most of whom are immigrants from china, India, Malay Archipelago and Japan. Majority of the Singapore population is made up of the Chinese immigrants who arrived here as early as 1800s. The main economic activity in Singapore is trade but there are also instances of manufacturing industries.
It is an active ship making country with tin smelting and rubber milling activities. It is formed on intensive capital, high wage and techno rather than the low wage and labor intensive industrial state it was in early 1980s. Singapore has a free market policy with open business characteristic (Venu, 2007 p.6).
Singapore, like the rest of the Asian economic giants has experienced tremendous economic growth since the late 1970s. Though Singapore is the world’s most populous country, she continues to enjoy an all high economic growth rates that are fueled by large labor and capital. Singapore forms the frontline in economic growth in Asia and has experienced an increase in the level of industrialization, political stability and accountability.
Chinese started moving into Singapore during the British settlement into the island. However, records shows that there were Chinese living in Singapore long before the arrival of the European. Many Chinese flocked into Singapore following the establishment of port in hope of making better lives.
Mass migrations started in 1840s after china was forced to open up its ports to European powers. Though many Chinese arrived on their own, most of them came through a credit system and provided cheap labor as coolies on arrival. These coolies were exploited and most of them were turned into slaves.
They were treated inhumanely and often arrived in overcrowded ships that were badly ventilated. The trade in coolies turned so ruthless that those who tried to escape faced dire consequences. This unfair treatment attracted the colonial authority that established a Chinese protectorate in 1877 (National Library Board, 2004 p.4). In 1840s, the population of Singapore had up to 50% Chinese.
In 1822, Sir Raffles ordered the division of the city state into different divisions each for a different ethnic group. The Malay community got the Kampong Glam area, Indians the Serangoon area while the Chinese community was allocated the Chinese kampong. The Chinese in Singapore were involved in trade and industry. Most of them worked as writers, cashiers, teachers, shoemaker brewers, shopkeeper and many other trades.
The Chinese Singaporeans were mainly agriculturalists and engaged in the cultivation of pepper and gambier. Large tracts of plantations were owned by the Teochews who cultivated these crops. Agriculture however began its downfall in 1840s when many farmers moved to Johor.
Chinese merchants were among the first to settle in Singapore following its establishment as a sea port by the Europeans. Many others served as middlemen while some actually established businesses here. The Chinese also provided cheap labor as manual workers. Other Chinese immigrants were employed in the gambier and pepper plantations. An important feature of the Chinese immigrants was their dialect specialization in which each dialect specialized in a given trade.
Currently, Singapore is the leading economic power in Asia. In Singapore, people have a fear of losing and always aspire to be the best. This aspect of ‘Kiasu’ makes the Singaporeans maintain high standards though it is thought to make them a graceless state. They have a very strong value placed on competition and relatively sturdy work ethics. Singapore prides in a well developed infrastructure far much ahead than in European countries and has a very hardworking population making it financially stable (Krause, Koh &Tsao, 1987 P.31).
The Chinese community in Singapore was a very diverse community and included immigrants from the coastal region in china. There were different dialects spoken by the people of the Chinese kampong. Major dialects were Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka and Hainanese.
Chinese speaking a similar dialect congregated together with Hokkiens living around Telok Ayer and Hokkien streets; Teochews were concentrated at Ellenborough market while central china town had a high concentration of the Cantonese people (National Library Board, 2004 p.7).
Early Chinese communities in Singapore were divided into pangs (gangs). These pangs were grouped depending on the dialect spoken. These pangs were mainly for security but also for support and fellowship and were formed when immigrants arrived from china and congregated together.
In early 19th century, Hokkien was the largest of this pangs followed by Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainase topped the list. What was more interesting was that each of these pangs had its own temples, schools and place of burial. There were also secret societies based on the dialects. Any difference between the pangs culminated into violence. In 1854, such violence left around 400 people dead when the Hokkien and Teochew pangs collided.
Different Chinese communities had their own leaders. These leaders acted as a link between the colonial masters and the Chinese community. The community leaders ensured the maintenance of law and order. The leader of the largest Chinese dialect group was appointed by the British to rule the whole of the Chinese community (National Library Board, 2004 p.8).
Chinese dialect group leaders assumed other role such as being heads of temples and clans. Others headed the dialect and trade associations thus exerting total control on the society. Among the greatest of these rulers was Tan Tock Seng who rose to prominence in 1850 and headed the Hokkien region and the whole of the Chinese community in Singapore.
These were secret organizations that controlled the lives of the Chinese immigrants into Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these secret societies had a basis on the Triad society found in china. The law did no prohibit these secret societies in the early years because they were initially disguised as self help organizations but gradually encompassed crime. These criminal societies run brothels, gambling hide outs and engaged in illegal trade in coolies and drugs.
Later on in 1850s, these secret societies were involved in violence and in fact fueled the deadly Hokkien-Teochew riots and the anti-Catholic uprisings. More violence associated with the secret societies was experienced in the gambling, pepper and opium trades. The secret societies were outlawed in 1889 and were declared illegal. The colonial government set up advisory board made of leaders of the five Chinese dialect pangs.
These helped the Chinese immigrants settle down on their arrival to Singapore. This is because these immigrants were faced with the problem of new environment and harsh living conditions. Clan associations took care of the basic needs of the new immigrants such as housing, places of worship and burial processes.
Clan societies were formed based on the dialect and place of origin. Others had their roots on clan, surname or trade. The most important clan associations were those based on dialect and geography as they were large and influenced a lot of people. Clan associations looked at their welfare of its members, settled quarrels among members and ensured unity in the process.
An example of these societies was the Ghi Hok Society (GHS) that had a set of rules for its members. People wishing to join GHS were to listen to the instruction given by its leaders. Orders were to be followed and anyone who got into trouble for disobedience was on his own. GHS also helped members with matters of marriage upon payment of a fee and took care of the widows of its members.
Modern social organization is strongly built on the basis of all the ethnic groups and religions in Singapore. Confucianism greatly influences most of the social organization but other religions do still have their share in the social organization. Majority of the social organization is built around beliefs and values that have been carried down over the ages.
The culture and belief of the people of Singapore is built on five dimensions; power, collectivism/individualism, patriarchy, avoidance and long-term/short term orientation.
Power in Singapore is unequally distributed among the individuals. There is a strong hierarchical relationship in Singapore due to the stable confusion teaching. Singaporeans believe that people are unequal and as such there exists different ranks which in turn affect the way people interact. There is a lot of respect and formality to the superiors. The young also show respect to the seniors and are not allowed to air out their opinions.
This subordination means that people are unlikely to rebel or even question those in power. Complicated authority is the characteristic of this society as the authority is never questioned. The employer-employee relationship is a cold one as the boss does not communicate directly with the workers. The elderly people in Singapore are more revered than their counterparts in the western world.
The student teacher relationship is also a harsh one as the students are not supposed to ask or answer questions in class lest they attract shame (Qiang, 2010 p.4).
Singaporean children do not criticize their parents openly. Even after attaining adult age, most of the children stay attached to their parents and do not attain full reliance but instead choose to stay within the support system. Conversations in Singapore are affected by the subordinate superior factor (Qiang, 2010 p.8)
Families are very important in Singaporean culture. They form the basic units of the society. Groups are preferred rather than individuals in Singapore society.
During identification, Singaporean Chinese stick to the family name rather than individual name. most of the singapore people do not use pronouns when referring to the third person by they refer to then either as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ thus depicting the respect given to seniors.
Their immediate families refer to all children, parents, maternal and paternal family members. Families are all inclusive and take care of any member of the family who may require help. In Singapore, raising a child is the duty of everyone in the family.
Children are raised in the group and grow up appreciating collective responsibility. They are taught to be independent within the group, make choices and help support the group. Groups, be it school, family or neighborhood are highly held in Singapore. Anyone who tends to practice individualism by placing his or her needs ahead of the group needs is considered a misfit. In schools, the students are taught to assist each other and be part and parcel of groups.
Singaporeans are modest in their social behavior. They are humble and often appear to lack assertiveness. This behavior makes them to be very careful as they shun away from anything that would make them seem to be bragging (Quing 2010p.17). Singapore people do not make promises that they cannot fulfill and are more concerned with competence rather than boast.
Traces of the ancient Singapore culture and customs continue to influence the way of life of modern Singapore people. Their beliefs and values, economic and social organization forms an important aspect of the Singaporean culture. Singapore is a multicultural multiethnic city state and mainly contains immigrants from china (who form the largest part of the population), Malay and India.
Their values and customs continually influence other aspects of their lives including their social and economic and organization. Singapore’s business culture entails contents from china, Malay and Indian traditions.
Krause, L. Koh, A. & Tsao, Y. (1987). The Singapore Economy Reconsidered. Singapore: Institute of southeast asian studies
National Library Board, (2004). Singapore Story. Singapore: National Library Board
Qiang, L. (2010). Core Culture Values And Beliefs Of Singapore. Sinagpore: National University of Singapore
Venu, S. M. (2007). Singapore Economy: An Overview. Ahmedabad: ICFAI Business School