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The CMIO system is 100 years old and needs an update

Categorising Singaporeans by race is useful for tracking and research purposes, but we must allow flexible identities to evolve beyond the four categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others

This year is the 100th anniversary of the origins of the CMIO system that categorises ethnic groups in Singapore into Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (for Eurasians and other communities).

Such a race-based classification began life in colonial times as a convenient way to manage the disparate population which included migrants from China, the Indian subcontinent and the Malay archipelago, who were physically and occupationally segregated.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2021, with the headline 'The CMIO system is 100 years old and needs an update'. Subscribe