Sixteen students applied for the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) scholarship this year, the highest number since the scholarship started in 2011.
Four of them clinched scholarships to study at China's prestigious Peking University and Tsinghua University from next month.
The bond-free scholarship is meant for undergraduate studies in top China universities. There were 13 applicants last year, six of whom were successful.
At the scholarship ceremony yesterday, SFCCA president Tan Aik Hock noted that the increase in applicants over the years has resulted in stiffer competition.
"I hope that in the coming years, we will see more applicants from different backgrounds and nurture them to be the future leaders of Singapore," he said in his opening address delivered in Mandarin.
He told The Straits Times that the rise of China may be a factor for the higher number of applicants in recent years. "The value of the Chinese language has increased and Singapore has also been emphasising the development of bilingual talents," he said.
Among the recipients this year is Ms Grace Chong Qiao Yi, part of the first graduating cohort of Eunoia Junior College and therefore the first from the school to receive the scholarship. She will be studying Chinese language and literature at Peking University.
"I feel very passionate about the language. I feel our generation and the younger generations are becoming less and less in touch with Chinese," said Ms Chong, 19.
Call to be careful about remarks that may sow discord
Singaporeans have to be careful about comments that may stir up tensions and disrupt social harmony, Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) president Tan Aik Hock said yesterday.
He was referring to a controversial rap video by YouTuber Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas, made in response to a "brownface" ad with Chinese actor Dennis Chew.
On the sidelines of a scholarship ceremony at the SFCCA's Toa Payoh headquarters, Mr Tan told The Straits Times that with social media, such remarks spread very quickly.
"Whether it was their intention or not, their comments (on Chinese Singaporeans) may result in panic or the public may ascribe other meanings to them," he said, adding that he agreed with the Government's response.
The video was titled K. Muthusamy, after a character Mr Chew portrayed in the ad, a man with visibly darker skin. The actor also portrayed a woman wearing a tudung.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam has said the video "crosses the line" and is unacceptable. The Infocomm Media Development Authority also issued take-down notices for the video.
SFCCA scholarship recipients shared their views. Mr Loy Wei Peng, 21, said: "Some may find the video provocative, but it also encourages us to remember it is important to understand differences in a multicultural society."
Ms Jazlin Tan Kaiqian, 19, said: "The incident is a reminder that there are always fault lines in society, and we shouldn't aggravate them."
Mr Ng Joong Hwee, 21, said while the Nair siblings had good intentions, he disagreed with the way the message was delivered. "It would definitely become a slippery slope if people insult others' race or religion in the name of trying to bring up provocative issues."
The fourth recipient, Ms Grace Chong Qiao Yi, 19, said everyone has a role to play in improving race relations.
The other three recipients are Mr Ng Joong Hwee, 21, Mr Loy Wei Peng, 21, and Ms Jazlin Tan Kaiqian, 19, all from Hwa Chong Institution.
Hwa Chong has historically taken most of the scholarship spots - 15 out of 23 in the past five years - and all four scholarship recipients in 2017 were from the Special Assistance Plan school.
Mr Loy, who will be studying economics and finance at Tsinghua University, said the scholarship offers many opportunities at the SFCCA, such as networking with members. "It is also a good chance to interact with new immigrants in activities conducted by the federation, to learn more about them and also help them to learn more about Singapore's culture," he said.
Mr Ng and Ms Tan will be studying international relations at Peking University.
Since the scholarship was started eight years ago, 39 students have benefited from it, 21 of whom have graduated. They have gone on to jobs in the public service or in multinational companies, or to graduate studies.
The scholarship - given to Singaporeans or permanent residents - funds up to $15,000 an academic year, including airfare, school fees, accommodation, insurance and living expenses.
While there is no bond, scholarship holders are expected to contribute 55 days of service to the SFCCA and its related organisations.