Letter of the day

Forum: Bullying of dance troupe goes against Singapore's pluralism

Behind the scenes filming session of a unique Lion Dance performance for the upcoming digital Chingay 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

The incident with Dance Spectrum International's (DSI) rendition of lion dance brought me back to a conversation I had with a friend in Tokyo (Dance troupe withdraws from Chingay 2021 after criticism, Dec 30).

Its conclusion was that despite our supposed "multiculturalism", Japan has a substantially more diverse society than Singapore does. The outcry over DSI's proposed Chingay performance illustrates this phenomenon.

In decrying it as an "insult" to Chinese culture, we effectively make Chinese culture exclusive.

This is opposed to an inclusive culture which considers various ideas based on their merits.

Perhaps this is a result of pigeonholing our cultures according to the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others (CMIO) framework.

Unfortunately, in categorising cultures so linearly, we defeat the very diversity our nation was founded upon.

Moreover, these voices of condemnation have a negative impact on artistic licence.

They strike fear in artists, silencing them and thereby depriving our arts scene of its much-needed vibrancy. A polity may survive on its economy and laws alone, but a nation cannot.

Going back to the conversation in Tokyo, Japan's social diversity is seen in its willingness to accept new ideas into its culture.

To quote a recent example, it is not uncommon to find kimchi in many Japanese dishes nowadays.

Even ramen, which is known as Japanese food worldwide, found its roots in Chinese noodles. Should ramen be labelled as an insult to Chinese culture too?

In many online conversations, I have seen analogies being drawn to black face in the United States.

This analogy is fundamentally flawed. One is clearly offensive due to the historical exclusion of African-Americans from show business.

Can DSI's proposed rendition be said to be of such a repulsive form or magnitude?

I believe it is high time we stopped pigeonholing our cultures, and hence ourselves.

Not everything has to be demarcated according to the CMIO framework.

Let us not forget the pluralism our nation was founded upon.

Edward Nicholas Ong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2021, with the headline Forum: Bullying of dance troupe goes against Singapore's pluralism. Subscribe