Chinese Family and Marriage in Singapore

Chinese Family and Marriage in Singapore

Chinese Family and Marriage in Singapore

Chinese Family and Marriage in Singapore

Excerpt

My assignment in Singapore was based upon recommendations embodied in paragraphs 53 and 54 of Professor Raymond Firth Report on Social Science Research in Malaya. It was originally intended that the study of Chinese family should be carried out in the Federation of Malaya with an initial enquiry in Malacca; but, for reasons apparently arising out of the emergency conditions created in 1948, the Government of the Federation refused my services, and, after some discussion, the Government of Singapore agreed that I should conduct my research in the Colony instead. I arrived in Singapore in January, 1949 and left in November, 1950. During that time I was able to make brief trips into the Federation of Malaya (to Malacca, Penang, and Negri Sembilan) where I made some cursory observations which help me to generalise, to a limited extent, from my work in Singapore to the problem of Chinese family in Malaya as a whole.

During my stay in Malaya I was informally attached to the Department of Social Welfare, Singapore, which generously put an office at my disposal and made some clerical help available. I wish to express my gratitude to those of the officers and subordinate staff of the Department who helped me both in my practical worries and in providing material. In particular the services of Mr. Ho Ah Koon were of great value to me. Various other government and municipal departments responded to my requests for help and information. I am reluctant to single out special names for mention, but I cannot allow this opportunity to pass of making public acknowledgment of my gratitude to the late Mr. Homer Cheng, M.B.E., the Chinese Assistant to the Secretary for Chinese Affairs, and to Mr. H. C. Tinsley of the Singapore Improvement Trust. I enjoyed fruitful relations with the University of Malaya and wish to express my thanks in particular to Professor T. H. Silcock. Over the remainder of this Report hangs a discreet blanket of anonymity and pseudonymity which must shroud the warm and friendly relations which I was fortunate to establish with many Chinese. I break this general silence only to name Mr. Tan Yeok Seong, whose help and encouragement kept me many times from despairing in the arduous task of observing and analysing an extremely complex and heterogeneous kind of society. My other friends will, I hope, recognise from what I have to say in this Report the magnitude of their services.

The Problem

The most general problem I am concerned with in this Report is the part played by kinship in the ordering of social life in a colonial offshoot of the society of China. In Western eyes the leading characteristic of Chinese civilisation has often been the extent to which it has been organised on a family basis. Both its virtues and its vices have been laid at the door of the family principle, which appears to have run right through society in China. When Europeans have spoken of China they have tended to emphasise the values inherent in its family organisation as major determinants of the behaviour of individuals. Ancestor worship . . .

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