Why is Republic's Chinese culture unique?

Clan federation chief executive Choo Thiam Siew (left) and exhibition adviser and curator Toh Lam Huat at a section of the show at the Singapore Conference Hall on Thursday. The multimedia showcase uses both English and Chinese text as well as photos, illustrations and videos.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

What precisely is the culture of Chinese Singaporeans?

An answer is to be found in Blooms Of Vitality, Colours Of Life - A Touch Of Singapore Chinese Culture, which is a multimedia exhibition showcasing the cultural lives of Chinese Singaporeans, including the values they hold, language and dialects they speak, as well as the food they eat.

The show, presented by the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC), will be opened by Parliamentary Secretary (Culture, Community and Youth) Baey Yam Keng at the Singapore Conference Hall (SCH) today at 6.30pm.

It uses both English and Chinese text, about 300 photographs and illustrations, and two panorama video shows to trace the evolution of the Chinese culture here, brought by Chinese immigrants from the 19th century or earlier.

The Hungry Ghost Festival as it is celebrated here and the tossing of yu sheng during Chinese New Year or hawker fare such as bak kut teh and Peranakan cuisine are all part of this evolution.

SCCC chairman Chua Thian Poh said the exhibition, which cost $550,000, is the centre's first large-scale cultural project since it was set up by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) in 2014.

Mr Chua, 67, who is also SFCCA president, explained: "We aim to enhance the understanding and interest of the general public, including youth and new immigrants, of our unique local Chinese culture through novel and lively presentations."

The SCCC's 11-storey, $100 million building - now under construction next to the SCH in Shenton Way - which includes a 500-seat auditorium, is due to be completed by the end of this year.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu will officiate the building's topping-out ceremony on Jan 17.

SCCC chief executive Choo Thiam Siew, 64, said the exhibition is a general introduction to what constitutes local or Chinese Singaporean culture.

He added: "When our building is ready, we will show their different aspects and characteristics in greater depth, with thematic exhibitions and talks to promote and develop them further."

Retired Chinese newspaper journalist Toh Lam Huat, 63, who is adviser to and curator of the exhibition, said it took him a year to put the show together.

He said: "Culture is something which evolves over time and space and so has the Chinese culture brought here by the early immigrants."

He believes the unique Chinese culture in Singapore is the result of integration between Chinese culture - with its language and surnames as fundamental elements - and the early Chinese immigrants' spirit of industry.

This, and their desire for peaceful co-existence with one another, as well as the national values they absorbed, derived from the early years of nation building in multiracial Singapore.

"All these can be seen in the language or dialects they speak, their behaviour and colourful lives, including the food they concocted," said Mr Toh, who is also a member of the SCCC board of directors.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a series of talks and cultural performances will be held at the SCH every Sunday, starting with a talk on Nanyang Coffee by Mr Pang Lim, founder of foodcourt operator Koufu, tomorrow at 2pm.

Blooms Of Vitality, Colours Of Life - A Touch Of Singapore Chinese Culture, on the ground-level concourse of the SCH, will be open to the public from tomorrow till Jan 31, between 9am and 9pm daily. Admission is free.

This article was first published on Jan 9, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.