Cohort Distinctions among New Chinese Immigrants

Deepening the variegations of the Chinese diaspora found in Singapore are cohort distinctions drawn by the new Chinese immigrants themselves, who consider those who arrived in the 1990s (lao xinyimin) to be different from those who arrived from the mid-2000s onwards (xin xinyimin). The earlier cohort moved to Singapore as educational and skilled migrants and they differentiated their experiences of integration from the later cohort of entrepreneurs and investor migrants, as well as from the skilled migrants who left China after its economic boom. Zhong reflects thus:

[First] the earlier cohort of new Chinese immigrants definitely have a better understanding than those new Chinese immigrants who just came. Secondly,

I think the difference in age is quite significant too. It is essentially two different generations of immigrants who are coming to Singapore, and differences already exist in their background and how they are being brought up. Even as you are speaking about Chinese immigrants, those who came twenty years ago, and those who came five years ago, they are very different people. If you put these two groups of people back in China’s setting, differences still exist between them. This is with reference to their education background, economic background and the influences they have when growing up.

The earlier cohort of new Chinese immigrants arrived as students on scholarships or as skilled professionals. Their socioeconomic status was modest compared with that of the later arrivals, who came as entrepreneurs or investors. Several new Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 1990s said they lived in HDB estates when they first arrived (many continue to do so) and found this to be helpful in interacting with local Singaporeans. Echoing similar views, Jia Jia (female, permanent resident) said: [1]

This discussion underlines the heterogeneity of the Chinese population in Singapore, suggesting that social distinctions exist not only between Chinese-Singaporeans and the new Chinese immigrants, but also among new Chinese immigrants. The earlier cohort of new Chinese immigrants maintain that they made a stronger effort to integrate into Singaporean society through their work and housing choices, as well as the local schools they sent their children to (entrepreneurs or investors can afford to have their children educated in private schools known locally as “international schools”). Such social distinctions are tied to policies that have attracted new Chinese migrants from different socioeconomic backgrounds across the decades, as well as to the changing social and economic conditions of emigration in rising China.

  • [1] have some new Chinese immigrant friends, they took such a long time tointegrate despite having the chance to interact and be exposed to the Singapore society. A lot of them always fall back on the thought of how life used tobe like [in China], and how life has changed over here [in Singapore]. Yes,when they feel this, it impedes them from integrating easily [...] These peoplemay be well taken care of at home, so their parents’ influence is very strong.Maybe people of my generation, our parents cared for us but not to such alarge extent. We have to sort out a lot of things for ourselves, especially afterwe graduate from university. Now it is not like that, now the parents take careof everything for them! As such the mentality and beliefs of their parents willhave some influence on them, but for our generation we are the ones whoinfluence our parents! Another thing is [...] These people when they are backin China, a lot of times their conditions are really different from ours. A lot oftimes money is a form of power, so they may feel that they are rich [andpowerful].
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