FORMER People's Action Party old guard and Singaporean diplomat Lee Khoon Choy has launched a new book tracing the history and influence of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and South East Asian natives in the region.
Mr Lee, 89, said his book, Golden Dragon and Purple Phoenix, draws on his lifelong interest in the concept of assimilation and how Chinese immigrants had intermingled and assimilated in various ways across the different South East Asian nations. The 584-page tome studies these multi-ethnic descendants - such as the Peranakans in Malaysia, the Tayoke Kabya in Myanmar and the Lokjins in Thailand - in 10 countries.
The book was launched at the Star Performing Arts Centre on Wednesday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The guest list included dignitaries from the academic and diplomatic spheres, as well as Mr Lee's contemporaries like former senior minister of state Ch'ng Jit Koon and ex-MP and diplomat Joe Conceicao.
Mr Lee, a former senior minister of state who was a PAP MP from 1959 to 1984 and Ambassador to various countries including Indonesia and Japan, also called for more research to be done on inter-racial assimilation in the region. Books on overseas Chinese tend to focus on the Chinese schools and associations the immigrants form rather than the deeper blood ties that have evolved, he said.
Mr Lee also hopes his book will spark more interest, especially among the younger generation, in finding out more about one's roots. "Society has transformed and Singapore has become Westernised," he said, noting that many young Singaporean Chinese do not know their dialect group or the district in China where their ancestors hailed from.
"Our dialects have been killed...the Nanyang University, gone, Chinese schools, no more, dialect, no more, so naturally they are Westernised. That is not a good thing," said Mr Lee, who had been a key player in connecting the PAP with the Chinese-speaking ground in the past. "I think every human being should know his own roots. A tree without roots cannot grow. Human beings are the same."