Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Singapore is not China

Despite a large percentage of the population (over 70%, apparently) being ethnically Chinese, Singapore bears absolutely no resemblance to China.

OK, there are a lot of people that speak Mandarin (or possibly Manglish – it’s much more likely to have English strewn at various points in the sentences) but they absolutely do not think of themselves as “Chinese”.

To that end, there is a survey in the (Singapore) Sunday Times that reflects Singaporeans views of Mainland Chinese workers.

1. Hardworking
2. Rude
3. Greedy

(it’s not a very scientific survey but they could have picked honest, intelligent, selfish, condescending or sophisticated. By contrast Indian and Filipino migrant workers are Hardworking, Intelligent and Honest).

Chinese Talent (it doesn’t define the distinction but I can safely say that “worker = blue collar, talent = white collar) doesn’t fare much better as they are perceived of as:
1. Hardworking
2. Intelligent
3. Rude
3. Greedy

So, more intelligent but otherwise unrefined.

The article does then go on to interview someone to justify why these perceptions are too harsh and suggests that if you ask a Chinese worker what salary they are looking for they may say “The more the better” when what they’re really saying is “If it can be just a bit higher than the market rate that would be great” and that “with greater business dealings and cultural exchanges between Singapore and China, the misconception will surely disappear over time”.

To suggest that the idea that some Chinese people are not ‘greedy’ or ‘rude’ and that this is a misconception would seem to be reaching realms of fantasy.

A lot of the characteristics people harp on about (spitting, constantly trying to rip people off, not caring if you live-or-die) of the older, less-educated, less well travelled people must serve to embarrass the younger, more professional types. I’ve had many a conversation over the last few years with Chinese of all ages who hate the pushing and shoving rather than queueing, the spitting, the complete disregard for others and the attempt to rip people off.

Obviously this survey is creating a gross generalisation here. A similar survey right now might suggest that "working class" people in the UK are all foul-mouthed, ignorant, ill-educated, ill-mannered racists who can't pronounce "Shilpa". But the point of gross generalisations is, of course, that you notice the people who have these characteristics more than you don't (for example, you can't miss the people that spit but you don't pay attention to the 10 other people that don't).

Yet again, it is another PR problem. People don’t necessarily know who the ‘Chinese’ talent are (apart from the fact they probably speak slightly more standard English without the Singlish sentence structures) but people can spot a gang of Chinese construction workers easily enough. That way the perception quickly comes that ‘all Chinese people are…’.

I don’t think that increased business dealings and international exchanges can change people’s perceptions because it is a fact that some Chinese people have these characteristics. Just like the recently published guide for Chinese tourists acknowledges that some behaviours have damaged "the image of China as a civilized country". Hopefully business dealings and international exchanges can change people’s actions to prevent these perceptions coming about in the first place.

So, what about us Europeans? What do Singaporeans think of us? Apparently we're

1. Intelligent
2. Creative
3. Condescending

Ah, OK. I guess given the character traits of the average expat in the business community, that's probably about right...

1 comment:

NewsElephant said...

Have English football fans ever been to Singapore?