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II New Chinese Diasporas in Asia

Debating Integration in Singapore, Deepening the Variegations of the Chinese Diaspora

Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho and Fang Yu Foo Introduction

During the 1990s, in a bid to address immediate labor shortages and mitigate the potential impact of declining fertility rates, the Singaporean government implemented a series of initiatives to make the country a more favorable destination for immigrants. China proved to be an important source of immigration given its abundant supply of the skilled and unskilled workforce that Singapore desired. The cultural background of immigrants from mainland China was thought to be compatible with the majority- ethnic Chinese composition of the Singaporean population, given that 76 % are of Chinese ethnicity (NPTD et al. 2014). Successive waves of Chinese immigration have accentuated Singapore’s reputation as a key site where Chinese ethnicity, identity and culture are expressed as part of a wider Chinese diaspora landscape. The growing number of new Chinese immigrants (xin yimin) arriving in the country through the different immigration schemes made available by the Singaporean state has served to deepen the variegation of the “Chinese diaspora,” a label that has been conceptually interrogated by scholars of Chinese overseas studies such as Wang (1991) and Suryadinata (1997).

E.L.-E. Ho (*) • F.Y. Foo

National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore © The Author(s) 2017

M. Zhou (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-5595-9_5

Singapore has a majority population of ethnic Chinese (74.3 % compared with 13.3 % Malays, 9.1 % Indians and 3.2 % other ethnic groups in 2015; Department of Statistics Singapore 2016). Most Chinese-Singaporeans were born in Singapore and assert claims of natal belonging that differentiate them from those who were born elsewhere. They distinguish themselves from coethnics born and bred in mainland China (Ho 2006). However, the new Chinese immigrants who left China after 1979 are far from homogenous, and their migration experiences can be periodized according to the conditions in China at the time of departure and the type of migration route they took to get to Singapore. We argue that these contextual factors have an impact on immigrants’ attitudes toward integration and the extent of their integration. In the wider literature on integration, one view is that it is the host country that sets the expectations and guidelines for integration. Immigrants are expected to internalize them and thereby become subjects of the state (Lewis and Neal 2005). Some scholars question such notions of integration (Ehrkamp 2006), highlighting that immigrants inevitably bring with them characteristics from their homeland, remaining culturally different from the host society (Nagel 2005). Such debates about integration tend to focus on visible cultural difference such as those to do with ethnicity or religion. Much less has been said about the cultural diversity and differences between coethnics who have converged in immigration societies at different times (for an exception, see Liu 2014). This chapter discusses integration expectations in Singapore, which is experiencing a new wave of immigration from China. It also considers the integration experiences of new Chinese immigrants, and the intraethnic tensions between Chinese-Singaporeans and new Chinese immigrants, as well as differences among the new Chinese immigrant population. This discussion contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the Chinese diaspora at a time when greater emphasis is being placed on human mobility as a resource for driving national progress and wealth accumulation.

The chapter focuses on new Chinese immigrants who have permanent residency or citizenship status. The Singaporean government approaches the integration of permanent residents and citizens separately from that of low-skilled workers. Low-skilled migrant workers are treated as a transient presence because their visas are tied to fixed-term contracts and they do not have the option of applying for long-term residency status. For this group the policy goal has been to minimize alleged social problems; in comparison, highly skilled or capital-bearing foreigners are treated as subjects to be socialized into Singaporean norms and values.

This chapter is based on 28 interviews conducted with 20 immigrants during 2014-2015 (we conducted repeat interviews with a selection of interviewees). The interviewees comprised 12 male and 8 female immigrants, and their ages ranged from 35 to 65. All of them held Singaporean permanent residency status or citizenship. They had immigrated through the employment-pass scheme or as entrepreneurs and investors. The interviews were conducted in Mandarin and lasted for 45 minutes to two hours. The interviewees were recruited through personal contacts initially and subsequently through snowballing contacts. We are both Chinese- Singaporeans born and bred in Singapore but we have forged strong personal and professional networks in mainland China. We situate our analysis of immigration and integration debates in a wider ethnography of Singaporean society and its transnational links with China. Additional analyses of newspaper reports and policy were carried out to set the interview data in a policy context and a social context.

The next section contextualizes integration debates in Singapore’s history of immigration and nation-building. As a country built on past immigration flows, Singapore is facing new immigration today that challenges its approach to managing both ethnic diversity and coethnic relations. The section discusses government initiatives to encourage integration and the expectations of Singaporean society of immigrants. The subsequent section discusses the attitudes of new Chinese immigrants to the expectation that they will integrate. It highlights the platforms for integration they have used, in particular the links they forge with new Chinese clan associations in Singapore that are distinct from the pioneer clan associations associated with the Chinese immigrants of yesteryear. The section highlights the intraethnic tensions manifested among the different cohorts of ethnic Chinese in Singapore. Distinctions are drawn not only between Chinese- Singaporeans who consider the country their birthplace and see the newer arrivals as outsiders, but also among new Chinese immigrants according to their period of immigration. These dynamics underline the variegated nature of the Chinese diaspora.

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