Heritage centres have even bigger role today in building a shared identity: DPM Teo

SINGAPORE - The Chinese Heritage Centre opened 20 years ago, but its mission has become more important than ever in a world that is getting more inter-connected.

"Singaporeans are exposed to many information flows and different influences. Even as we are plugged into the world, it is important for all of us, especially our young, to remember our roots and understand our own history, culture and values, and how we came together as a people, as we build a stronger sense of national identity," said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Saturday as the centre marked its 20th anniversary with a fund-raising dinner at The St Regis Singapore.

Located at the Nanyang Technological University, the centre was set up to promote the awareness of Chinese history and culture among all of Singapore. Similar roles are played by the Malay Heritage Centre, the Indian Heritage Centre and the Eurasian Heritage Centre in helping spread understanding of different cultures.

"Today, Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world, yet we live in harmony," said DPM Teo in his speech at Saturday's event. "But maintaining our multi-racial, multi-religious harmony takes continuous hard work, based on give-and-take, mutual trust and understanding, and treating everyone fairly - regardless of race or religion. And, we must always stay watchful of the danger of accentuating differences that could divide us.

"I am glad that the Chinese Heritage Centre has been making continual improvements to reach out to Singaporeans of all races, especially young Singaporeans."

He highlighted how the centre has held public lectures and exhibitions honouring pioneer Singaporeans. It has also started to digitise its Early Textbooks Special Collection to help research on the Chinese community in Singapore and the region. The collection features teaching materials that were used in China and Chinese schools in Southeast Asia during the 20th century.

"If done well, these and other initiatives will facilitate more conversations and deepen understanding about our heritage, culture and tradition, as a community, and also as part of the larger Singaporean identity," said DPM Teo.

But the "unique" experience of Singapore's Chinese community can also be relevant to those abroad.

"Singapore is the only independent country in the world whose population is majority Chinese. But this was not always the case. In fact, the Chinese community in Singapore has lived through the entire range of experiences that a Chinese overseas community can face," he said.

"The Chinese community here during the early colonial times was an extension of China. It retained its loyalties and links to China. Subsequently the Chinese community in Singapore was a minority community pledging its loyalty to an independent multi-racial Malaysia. And after Independence, the Chinese community in Singapore became the majority community in a multi-racial Singapore, determined to build our own nation as one united Singapore, and take our future in our own hands.

"These experiences have shaped the Chinese community along with all communities that make up Singapore. They also hold useful lessons for communities of Chinese overseas in other parts of the world, who may be going through experiences which at one time or another in our history, the Chinese community in Singapore has gone through."