SINGAPORE: Singapore's racial, religious and cultural diversity has allowed each race to retain and evolve its own culture and heritage, while at the same time be influenced by the traditions of others.
This has led to both distinct variants of different cultures as well as a growing Singaporean identity, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the official opening of the much-awaited Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) on Friday (May 19).
And for the Singaporean Chinese person, it has meant he is both proud of his Chinese culture, but at the same time is increasingly conscious of his difference from the "Chineseness" of those in Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.
Mr Lee, who was the guest-of-honour at the event, said in his speech in English: "Indeed, we can now speak of a Singaporean Chinese culture. In the same way, I think we can speak of a Singaporean Malay culture or a Singaporean Indian culture. For a country that is just over 50 years old ... this is quite an achievement."
And the government also plays a role in fostering culture, which includes supporting the idea of the SCCC when it was first proposed by the Chinese community.
"I hope the SCCC will strengthen the Singapore Chinese arts and culture scene; make it accessible to all races and appeal to all ages; and ensure that Singaporeans remain rooted in our multicultural identity for many years to come."
Continuing in Mandarin, Mr Lee described the opening of the SCCC as a new milestone in Singapore Chinese culture.
"It represents Singaporeans’ affinity with and confidence in our own culture. (And) Chinese culture is an important part of it," he said, adding that the Singaporean Chinese have developed a distinct cultural identity.
He cited the inculcation of positive traditional values, the embrace of multiculturalism, and bilingualism as three key factors.
But in defining Singapore Chinese culture, one should note the nation's collective experience.
"We would therefore call ourselves Singaporean first, before identifying ourselves by race. So we are Singaporean Chinese," he said.
And this specific culture has a lot to offer. Mr Lee cited a range from the Nanyang Style in art that blends East and West, to Mandopop artists such as Stefanie Sun and Kit Chan, and other performing groups and filmmakers such Royston Tan and Anthony Chen.
Mr Lee said the Chinese culture that SCCC will promote will be a Singaporean-centric one, citing its programmes that range from Mandarin ones to traditional operas in the different dialects to xinyao for the younger generation.
"I hope those in the cultural scene will make use of SCCC to organise activities, showcase your works, and encourage more people to learn about Chinese culture," he added.
The opening ceremonies included performances that highlighted Singapore's diverse and vibrant Chinese culture, including a lion dance and a xinyao performance.
Mr Lee was also brought on a tour of the SCCC premises, including a preview of an exhibition by local artists on Singapore Chinese identity.
Located at Shenton Way adjacent to the Singapore Conference Hall, the 11-storey centre comprises a gallery space, a recital studio, an auditorium, a multipurpose hall, a rehearsal space, a rooftop garden, and an open-air concourse for mass events.
Conceived by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, the SCCC was established in 2014 and construction was completed last December.
Designed by DP Architects, it was built to the tune of S$110 million, mainly through government funding, but also through donations from clan associations, companies and individuals totaling S$29 million.
Since January, the centre has hosted more than 50 events, such as concerts, dance performances, plays, and exhibitions.
In his opening address, SCCC chairman Mr Chua Thian Poh said the centre aims to complement and be an alternative venue to existing large-scale performing arts spaces, such as the Esplanade, and Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.
“We look forward to working with schools, arts and cultural groups, organisations and individuals to come up with exciting new initiatives to engage a wider group of audience to appreciate the Singapore Chinese Culture.”
He added: “The centre will also become a platform for new immigrants and other ethnic communities to appreciate our local Chinese culture. By encouraging interaction with other races, we hope this will inspire more creative works and contribute to the richness of Singapore’s multi-cultural society.”
To mark the centre’s opening, there will be an eight-day Cultural Extravaganza. It begins tomorrow and comprises performances, workshops, lectures, and an exhibition.
The inaugural Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award will also be given in recognition of individuals and groups that have helped develop and promote Singapore Chinese culture.
Festivities kick off tomorrow with the multimedia production Voyage, which combines holograms with live performances by the likes of THE Dance Company dancers, music group TENG Ensemble, getai singer Lee Pei Fen, and actors Desmond Tan and Li Yinzhu.
The festival will close on May 27 with a music concert featuring xinyao and pop singers such as Liang Wern Fook, Gentle Bones, Tay Kewei, among many others.
Throughout the festival, there will also be an art exhibition, as well as the screening of Singapore’s first dialect short film anthology 667, which is produced by Royston Tan.