National Day Rally 2016: Make adjustments to ensure Singapore's social fabric is not compromised, says PM Lee

Performers at NDP 2016.
Performers at NDP 2016.PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - It was important to make adjustments to make sure that the country's social fabric is not compromised, while ensuring that each group can preserve its own culture and identity, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at his rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

Speaking in Mandarin, he underscored the importance of multi-racialism given that the "serious problem" of terrorism could rend the country's social fabric. He added that even though the country has made a lot of progress with racial harmony over the last 50 years, it must still watch for emerging problems and deal with them in good time.

The social harmony Singapore enjoys today is the result of the Pioneer Generation, especially the strong commitment from the Chinese community, he said.

"We have always worked hard to strengthen multi-racialism, while ensuring that each group can preserve its own culture and identity," he said.

He pointed to how the Chinese community and media have promoted Chinese language and culture, such as how director Eva Tang's documentary, The Songs We Sang, resonated with many Chinese-educated Singaporeans and ignited interest among the young in xinyao. Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao also organised a Xinyao Singing and Composition Contest.

Said Mr Lee: "I encourage more such activities, so that a new generation can be interested in xinyao and Singapore Chinese culture."

But even as such groups promote Chinese culture and language, so must other cultures be included, he said.

Citing how the Chingay parade held every Chinese New Year started out as a Chinese activity, Mr Lee said it is one which all races participate in today: "As a result, it is today a vibrant multi-cultural parade celebrating our unique multi-racial society."

He added that Chinese community groups not only help Chinese, but also other racial groups.

The Chinese Development Assistance Council, for example, offers some of its programmes - like job placements and tuition - to other races, while the Singapore Buddhist Lodge helps everyone, regardless of race or religion.

"The Chinese community instinctively understands the importance of multi-racialism, and the need to be inclusive and to compromise so as to maintain our social harmony. Indeed, this has become the second nature of all races," he said.

He gave several examples: how Chinese Housing Board residents burn joss paper in special burners, instead of in the open, during the Seventh Month Festival, how mosques take care not to disturb their neighbours by lowering the volume of the azan (call to prayer), and how during the Hindu Thaipusam festival, musicians perform at fixed points rather than walk alongside the devotees.

Such accommodation can also be seen in how the food requirements of various race and religions are handled during activities, "so each can eat what he likes and not impose on someone else", he said.

He pointed to his own rally's reception and said, to laughter from the audience, that his colleagues "did a lot of homework to make sure there is something for everyone": soto babat for the Muslims, chapati for the Indians, kong bak bao for the Chinese, baked salmon with curry for the Eurasians.

"We also have vegetarian and international cuisine, there are soft drinks and beer, but please don't drink and drive!" he quipped.

"But when we can share fruits, for example durians, there is no problem," he said.

Pointing to a durian party he attended at MP Gan Thiam Poh's ward last year, Mr Lee said: "I remember the durians were very fragrant, and all of us, from all races, enjoyed ourselves, even our foreign friends.

"I hope all races will eat with each other frequently and stay in touch."