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11/21/2011

Kuan Yew Lee’s struggle with the Chinese Language

His new book touches on a very controversial subject in the history of this little island. The use of the Chinese Language or Mandarin instead of Hokien, was a battle among the Chinese intellectuals, the literati and the hoi polloi, the majority Hokien speaking Chinese, and to an extend the other dialect groups. Mandarin was not their mother tongue, spoken by the northern Chinese and used as the potong hua of China, its national language. There must be tension with competitive chauvinism of the various dialect groups feeling that they have been short changed to be forced to learn a new language. The Ah Kongs and Ah Mahs were the primary victims.

Tension was also built up among the minority communities, the Malays, Indians and Eurasians. All the talks about Speak Mandarin Campaigns and the promotion of Mandarin did not come down easy on them. Some fear that Mandarin was going to replace English as the lingua franca of the country. Of course this was unfounded and for all practical purposes not workable.

Kuan Yew Lee’s struggle to learn the language transcended all of two generations of his life time. In the process, transforming a baba into a China man, to reclaim his Chinese heritage which I think he is proud of, but at the same time being the quintessential Singaporean that he represents. He has rediscovered his roots and himself through this journey of learning the language once again.

In my last few articles on the writing of Chinese names, I was being provocative and teasing at the lackadaisical approach of Singaporean Chinese in how they fool around with this fundamental pillar of a civilization. The language is one of the key foundation of a culture and embraces many tangible and intangible aspects of the people that use it as a communication tool. There are some logic, some structure and of course a lot of room to play with as it develops over time. There were many changes to this language since the time of the Qin Emperor. The simplified written form was a major departure from the past. But as a single unifying and common language, it still serves that purpose effectively and efficiently.

At this juncture I shall disband my cheeky editorial policy of writing Chinese name in the western format. It is nonsensical and silly to do so. It is not only rude and insulting to the individual, it is an affront to a well structured and developed ancient language and culture. Kuan Yew Lee shall be Lee Kuan Yew and so will Chok Tong Goh be Goh Chok Tong. This format of writing Chinese name is deep in culture, history and philosophy and must not be taken lightly and be dismissed by the duckweeds of the Chinese civilization, be they called themselves Singaporean Chinese or Chinese Singaporeans, Malaysian Chinese, American Chinese, Indonesian Chinese, Thai Chinese or whatever Chinese.

Chua is my family name dating back to the Zhou Dynasty, and Chin Leng in my individual name. Incidentally, the Goh, Chew, Chua,Ong, and Tsao were from the same family tree.

20 comments:

Programas De Chino said...

Hello,

The Chinese language is the most widely spoken language in the world with 1.1 billion speakers. It is the second most widespread language on the internet, with 14.7 percent of internet users speaking Mandarin Chinese, according to George Weber. Thanks.

Matilah_Singapura said...

The colour of your skin, or angle of your eyes...or any other physical trait should not be the 'standard' to which you automatically accede to when it comes to the language you speak.

Forget the Chinese for a minute, let's talk about the chap cheng kias. Chap chengs are great examples to prove that culture is LOCAL -- i.e. you are culturally 'fixed' in and by the local culture and environment you grow up in.

So we know that many chap cheng's have European nemaes -- e.g. Del, Da D' Costa, Van , Fitz/ Mac/Mc , plus the north European names e.g. Sorenson,Svensen, Adamsen, etc. Many of these chap chengs have noticeble European physical traits too -- light eyes, light skin, light hair.

Do you think that many of these folks with the physical traits and and fancy names speak more than a few words of their ancestral tongue??

Gimme a break. You are more likely to hear these folks speaking 'pasar' malay and Hokkeien if they are Singaporeans.

So don't be so hard on someone who looks Chinese, grew up in an English speaking household as 'odd' just because he can't speak Chinese.

不要感到羞耻

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi Programas De Chino, welcome to the blog. It may be the most widely spoken language, but confined mainly to the Chinese. Still far from being an international language like English.

Matilah, the Eurasians have their own unique problems to deal with. Here I am talking about how some Chinese are confusing the world with their self debasing way of writing their Chinese names.

The Eurasians don't have such a problem unless the other half is Chinese and has to cope with how to incorporate Chinese and European names in one go. And they are doing quite well in this area.

I am not being hard on someone looking Chinese but are of mixed blood. The main culprits are the Chinese Singaporeans or Singaporean Chinese. The LPPL. They are the most confused lot. The mixed parentage don't have such problem as they know who they are.

Last night I watched a programme about an Eurasian cricketeer from then South Africa but was banned from playing for South Africa because of apartheid. And they was an idiot who post earlier accusing the Chinese of being the worst racist. I take strong offence at that kind of accusation without facts.

This cricketeer eventually migrated to UK and represented UK. And when UK played against South Africa, the latter boycotted when he was field.

Today, Eurasians are much better accepted in the world of the whites. The whites always regarded them as their inferior. They have no problem integrating or living among the non whites.

Anonymous said...

Dear redbean
Ref your comment "duckweeds of the Chinese civilization, be they called themselves Singaporean Chinese or Chinese Singaporeans .... "

In that comment holds the lock that has been hindering the progress & flowering of the Chinese culture for the last millenium.

The inability to accept new ideas as "Chinese".
It is only "genuine" Chinese if it is 3,000 - 5,000 years old.
That there is only ONE type of pure & true Chinese culture.
But what that is has never been defined.

Never mind that China has 56 ethnic groups.
There are 20 million Muslim Chinese in China. They have been there for the last 1,400 years.

Until Chinese can embrace change, our culture will not flourish.
Culture is a living present day phenomenon.

Culture is not a dead antique to be preserved. Culture is to be lived.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi Anon, I am not trying to define Chinese here but take it as a generic term for all those whose ancestry came from China, and it includes the muslim Chinese, mongolian,manchu Chinese, and all who regard themselves as Chinese or through ancestry.

For the duckweeds, I am referring to those that have very short roots or forgotten that they have roots, like those that claimed that their origins are from Singapore and no where else.

The emancipation of the Chinese in China and the opening up is liberating the minds of the new Chinese in China. Mao tried to free them from the chains of the past through the destructive Cultural Revolution.

Today, all people, the Chinese included, are given the chance to see the world and to embrace change that are good for them. It is therefore a new ball game. And the new Chinese are learning and learning much faster than the daft Singaporeans.

And yes, the Chinese culture will evolve.

Anonymous said...

From history view point, all those south china dilates are actually the main ancient Chinese languages spoken in the middle kingdom few thousands years ago. That is why some Japanese sound like Cantonese. Also, you could recite Chinese Tang poets much fluently and beautifully with Cantonese as compared to mandarin. There is some link there too. The Mandarin is actually spoken by non-Han in the North East region only but because of Qing dynasty which is the most recent dynasty and affected the modern time.

LKY is not really a Chinese and he does not really know the Chinese culture. This is just like US president Obama who appears to be black but his culture and thinking are never black but while. Stripping off their skin, Obama is no different from the white American or European. LKY is same as any Ang Moh. We do not try to cheat ourselves. In fact many Singkies appear as Chinese but their culture and thinking are like Ang Moh. This is the so-called banana.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi, anon 4:06, thanks for your input on the Chinese dialects and language. Over the centuries, and the different dynasties stretching from the north to south and east to west of China, there must be many languages spoken. The nan yin is reputed to be a court language of one of the major dynasties, can't remember. And this is very similar to the min nan hua or hokien.


But the language has evolved and practical reason is a key mover of the present form. Ideally there should be on language spoken by everyone so that all can understand each other and not be divided by language. Blame that joker for making humankind speak in diverse languages. He is or was the selfish old man that some believe to be the wisest of the wise.

Today the world is struggling with all kinds of languages and dialects and trying to cope with the diversities and problems caused by it.

Vivir En China said...

The Chinese language, unlike the English language, breaks down into a number of dialects, which are different ways of speaking the same language. Mandarin, the most popular form of Chinese, and also the official dialect of China, is just one of the dialects. Thanks a lot.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi Vivir En China, welcome to the blog.

There are 48 ethnic groups in China. Language is important for many reasons and people should be proud of their own language. Then there is the need to communicate to acquire knowledge etc etc.

People should be free to choose their own language and how many languages they want to learn. Nations would have a different problem to deal with and may want to have on national language for all and with flexibility for people to learn more.

Lewis said...

From history view point, all those south china dilates are actually the main ancient Chinese languages spoken in the middle kingdom few thousands years ago. That is why some Japanese sound like Cantonese. Also, you could recite Chinese Tang poets much fluently and beautifully with Cantonese as compared to mandarin. There is some link there too. The Mandarin is actually spoken by non-Han in the North East region only but because of Qing dynasty which is the most recent dynasty and affected the modern time. LKY is not really a Chinese and he does not really know the Chinese culture. This is just like US president Obama who appears to be black but his culture and thinking are never black but while. Stripping off their skin, Obama is no different from the white American or European. LKY is same as any Ang Moh. We do not try to cheat ourselves. In fact many Singkies appear as Chinese but their culture and thinking are like Ang Moh. This is the so-called banana.

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