Why Chinese nationals and Singaporeans don't get along

In a recent Lianhe Zaobao article, Dr Ji Yun points out that Singapore continues to be misunderstood by the Chinese from the People's Republic of China (henceforth 'Chinese') in various ways. Specifically, he notes how ordinary Chinese show the tendency to conflate those who are geopolitically Chinese (zhongguo ren) and those who are cultural-ethnically Chinese (hua ren). Unfortunately, he did not elaborate on this point, as his article was focused on other issues.

Drawing on my ongoing doctoral research, I would like to offer a few thoughts and observations on the misunderstandings between Singaporeans (here, I am primarily concerned with those of Chinese ethnicity - henceforth 'Chinese Singaporeans') and the Chinese, as well as the implications of such misunderstandings with regard to social cohesion.

As Dr Ji Yun's article points out, one first and foremost way in which the Chinese misunderstand Singapore, especially in the case of those Chinese immigrants who are relatively new to the city-state, has to do with the discrepancy between the Chinese and Singaporeans' respective ethno-national imaginations.

Many Chinese find it somewhat problematic to conceive of a sufficient distance between Chinese citizens on the one hand and those that are considered 'ethnically Chinese' on the other. This is not to say they simply cannot distinguish the two, which is rarely - if ever - the case; instead, it is about how much distance they are consciously and subconsciously able to put in between the two categories.

This tendency on the part of the Chinese is in no small measure due to the nationalistic ideology that has long saturated China which often obfuscates the line between political status/belonging and ethno-/racial identity-an ideology that is very much in active service in relation to, for instance, the Taiwan problem. In other words, the nationalistic ideology in China operates by trying to shorten or omit the hyphen in 'nation-state', among other things.

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