Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education, at the Opening of the International Society for the Studies of Overseas Chinese (ISSCO) VII International Conference on Friday, 7 May 2010, at 9:30am, at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Auditorium, Nanyang Technological University
Dr Su Guaning,
President, Nanyang Technological University, and Board Chairman, Chinese Heritage Centre,
Professor Leo Suryadinata,
ISSCO president and director of Chinese Heritage Centre
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you here today for the opening of the 7th International Conference of the International Society for the Studies of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO). This is an important international academic conference on the Chinese diaspora. I am pleased to learn that this is the first time that the conference is being held in Singapore. Singapore, especially the Nanyang Technological University and the Chinese Heritage Centre, is honoured to host this prestigious event.
Singapore—A Choice Venue
It is appropriate that this conference is being held in Singapore. We are a migrant nation with a relatively short history, and our multi-ethnic society includes a large number of ethnic Chinese. About 74% of Singapore citizens and permanent residents are ethnic Chinese. Many of us are descendants of the early Chinese migrants who left China to seek a better life in Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Chinese came to Southeast Asia before the Europeans. They had come to this part of the world firstly as traders and craftsmen and later they came as labourers, especially in the mining industry and plantations, after the Europeans colonized Southeast Asia. There were also many Chinese intellectuals who came to the region in the last century, injecting greater changes to local society. The Chinese, together with other ethnic groups, have made significant contributions to the development of modern Southeast Asia. In Malaya and Singapore, for instance, they formed a significant proportion of the local populations and contributed to the social and economic development of the two countries. Many of these Chinese returned to China after they had made their money, but many more stayed on in Malaya and Singapore, and made it their homes. While they might have sunk roots here, many contributed generously to their communities in China, built schools and universities, and supported China in the Second World War against Japan.
Early Singapore has benefited tremendously from the Chinese diaspora’s work ethics, values, and generosity. In Singapore, a number of Chinese traders and industrialists made their fortunes and contributed their wealth to the further development of Singapore and its people. Prominent Chinese figures such as Tan Kah Kee, Lee Kong Chian, Lim Nee Soon, Tan Chin Tuan and Tan Tock Seng, to name but a few, are leading examples of philanthropists whose efforts and contributions will be remembered by the nation. They set up schools, hospitals, and many more institutions that laid the foundations for modern Singapore and that we still see around us today. In more recent years, we have seen a steady stream of Chinese migrating to Singapore to seek jobs and education. These new migrants have enriched our society, culture and economy. They could be research scientists, teachers, artists, music instructors or sports coaches.
As a young nation, Singapore has benefited from learning about overseas Chinese communities. This offers us deeper insights into how our forefathers and today’s Chinese diaspora have been able to maintain a strong attachment to their culture and their collective identity despite living in countries where ethnic Chinese are in the minority.
Today, China is a fast growing economy. Many Chinese are returning to China for economic reasons. The Chinese diaspora serves as linkages and bridges between the local communities and China. Many diaspora would play the role of interlocutor or “bridge”, as many understand and share the same values, the same language, and most certainly the same heritage. So it would not be surprising to see many overseas Chinese returning to China. The impact of this are probably still being studied closely, but this phenomenon will mark an important milestone in the history of the Chinese diaspora.
The ISSCO scholars gathered here today have come from a number of countries and nationalities, offering their perspectives on issues affecting the overseas Chinese in their parts of the world. I believe that their shared experiences in scholarship will not only help us to better understand our own situation here in Singapore, but will also enable us to better understand present developments on a global scale.
Please allow me to say a few words in Chinese.
In closing, I wish the Conference every success, and to our guests from other parts of the world, I wish you a most pleasant stay in our Garden City.
Thank you. 谢谢。