Language

The Chinese community in Singapore has developed in a way that is unique to its time and place. (SPH)

Trees in a forest: Becoming Chinese Singaporean in multicultural Singapore

A metaphor used by playwright Kuo Pao Kun and recently mentioned by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong says that different cultural communities are trees in the forest, each separated at the trunk, but nourished by the same soil and cross-pollinating high in the sky at the leaves and branches. Low Sze Wee, CEO of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, extends the metaphor, noting that Chinese Singaporeans have developed distinct cultural identities from Chinese elsewhere. Their way of life is a combination of what they brought with them, their interactions with others, and the policies they live under with their fellow citizens.
My English teacher taught me that one had to change their usual ways of expression when learning a foreign language. (iStock)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: My English teacher called me Pei-kai Cheng

Unlike the rote-learning of today, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai remembers his English classes to be fun-filled vocabulary “battles” and games. He credits his teacher, Mr Fu Zhou, for teaching his students not to fear a new language but to get comfortable with it, like wearing a second skin.
This picture taken during a government organised media tour shows a seller holding a portrait of the Chinese President Xi Jinping next to pictures of the former Chinese leader Mao Zedong at Dongfanghong Theatre in Yan'an, the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party from 1936 to 1947, in Shaanxi province on 10 May 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

From ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ to ‘lovable China’

At a study session on international communications for the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on China to build an image of a “credible, lovable and respectable China”. Putting aside the euphemism, says Zaobao associate editor Han Yong Hong, what is most important is how the goal can possibly be achieved in China’s current diplomatic context.
A good understanding of the Chinese language must begin with an appreciation of the importance of its writing system. (iStock)

How the 'tree' of Chinese writing united dialects, culture and people through the millennia

From the oracle bone scripts of the past to the Modern Standard Chinese script of the present, the written Chinese language is pictorial and highly evocative. What’s more, its unchanging nature gives it the power to preserve the unity of Chinese culture. While regional dialects vary, the written script remains the same. Teo Han Wue explores the characteristics of and philosophy behind the Chinese writing system.
Tourists taking photos in front of a statue of Deng Xiaoping in Lianhuashan Park, Shenzhen, China. (iStock)

Was Deng Xiaoping Hakka?

The Hakka people, or “guest people”, are Han Chinese who were mostly northerners that migrated to the south of China to provinces such as Fujian, Guangdong and Sichuan. Some say that a common heritage and language, more than a specific region ties them together. Deng Xiaoping from Guang’an, Sichuan was not known to be one of the Hakka people, but arguable bits of history point otherwise, and some continue to insist on his Hakka ancestry.  
The current issue regarding the learning of English in mainland China is not whether to remove English as a core subject. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

How to solve the Chinese headache of learning English

Wu Guo asserts that the current piecemeal way of learning English, focusing on exam questions and answers, will not help the Chinese get very far in mastering the English language. Will they be willing to take the longer but likely more rewarding path of appreciating the language in its entirety?
Zall Bookstore’s black-and-white design is inspired by calligraphy and the architecture of Jiangnan Watertown, with a circular arch resembling a river bridge. (SPH)

Chinese bookshops in Singapore: Art salons of the 1970s and 1980s

With the arrival of a swanky new Chinese bookshop/gallery/cafe in the heart of town, Teo Han Wue recalls that such integrated spaces are hardly new in Singapore’s history. Several Chinese bookshops in the past held art exhibitions within their premises and were often the stomping ground of artists and the arterati. What were these art salons of days gone by like?
A picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping overlooks a street ahead of the National People's Congress (NPC), in Shanghai, China, 1 March 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Why Southeast Asia has a love-hate relationship with China

The State of Southeast Asia: 2021 Survey Report shows that many acknowledge yet fear China’s economic dominance. What is behind this enigma of a Southeast Asia that welcomes yet worries about China? Lee Huay Leng assesses that it is a confluence of factors, both external and internal to China. A change in tone, mindset and behaviour is in order if China is to be truly understood by the people it seeks to influence.
People wait at a traffic light on a street in Phnom Penh on 11 January 2021. (Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)

Confucius Institutes accepted in SEA and embraced by Cambodia, unlike in the West

China’s Confucius Institutes have been vilified in the West, but they have gained much traction in Cambodia. This is not surprising, given that Cambodia is one of China's closest allies in Southeast Asia. ISEAS visiting fellow Vannarith Chheang explains why.