S'poreans must preserve unique multicultural identity: Minister

Influences on one another have added new elements to way of life

Singaporeans must preserve and celebrate their unique heritage and identity in the context of its multicultural society, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong.

He said that Singaporeans have influenced one another, adding new elements to the uniquely Singaporean way of life.

"This has created a very distinct Singaporean identity that is vibrant, special and certainly worth celebrating," he added.

For instance, he said, Singaporeans mix and match words from different languages and dialects to convey their meaning. For example, they use "ba sha" in Mandarin, "pasar" in Malay and "pak sak" in Cantonese interchangeably to mean "market".

Mr Tong was speaking at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award ceremony at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) yesterday evening.

He presented the award to Chinese orchestra music pioneer Tay Teow Kiat and Mandarin children's theatre performing arts group Young People's Performing Arts Ensemble (YPPAE).

For the Singapore Chinese culture to further develop, Singaporeans need to take steps to deliberately strengthen that identity and preserve it, Mr Tong said.

To do so, they need to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their cultural roots. Interactions between different communities here must be encouraged. Engagement with the next generation also has to be strengthened.

To this end, SCCC will set up a dedicated research team on Singapore Chinese culture which will work with the community to produce publications and content that can be accessed via a dedicated website and other public channels.

The annual culture award, into its fifth edition, recognises individuals and organisations that have made extraordinary contributions to the promotion, enrichment, and development of the Chinese Singaporean culture.

This year, SCCC received a record 60 nominations, including two for non-Chinese candidates. The submissions also cover sectors beyond the performing arts, such as martial arts and design.

Nominations for next year's award opened yesterday, and can include for-profit organisations.

Mr Low Sze Wee, SCCC chief executive officer, said this ensures that the award is more comprehensive in coverage. The for-profit nominees will be assessed alongside the non-profit ones under the "organisation" category.

Dr Tay, the award winner in the individual category, attributed his win to "luck".

The 75-year-old, who received the Cultural Medallion in 1993, said in Mandarin: "I am just one among the many who have made contributions to Chinese culture in Singapore. I am receiving this on behalf of the local Chinese orchestra sector."

The conductor is president of the Singapore Chinese Music Federation, emeritus music director of Ding Yi Music Company, and music director of the City Chinese Orchestra, Dunman High Performing Arts Centre and Chinese wind percussion ensemble Reverberance.

He hopes to nurture young talents and encourage local compositions with a distinct local flavour.

Ms Ma Gyap Sen, artistic director of YPPAE, the winner in the organisation category, said in Mandarin: "We spend at least eight years training our young members before they go on stage. Nurturing young talent is not something that can be accomplished in one or two years. We believe that the development of YPPAE today will nourish and enrich our culture in the future."

Founded in 1973, YPPAE has more than 50 students in training, 22 in its performing arts group and more than 10 veteran performers.

Some have been with the group for about 40 years, joining when they were as young as six years old.

In 2017, YPPAE teamed up with young people from China and the United States to stage the play Mr Magnolia, which was named Best Production for the Young at the ST Life! Theatre Awards in 2018.

Winners of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award receive a trophy and a $10,000 cash prize, along with additional funding for their projects - up to $10,000 for individual winners, and $20,000 for organisations.

Yesterday's award presentation was part of SCCC's Cultural Extravaganza 2022 opening ceremony, with xinyao musical Shadow Moon kick-starting the annual fiesta.

Back for its fifth year, the event will feature 14 digital and on-site programmes, including musicals, concerts, interactive exhibitions and dance productions, over 38 days, till June 19.

Go to ce2022.singaporeccc.org.sg for the full programme listings.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2022, with the headline S'poreans must preserve unique multicultural identity: Minister. Subscribe