Chinese Clans and Dialect Associations of the Past and Present Day Singapore

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Chinese clan or dialect associations in past and present day Singapore 1.Introduction

Ever since the immigration of the Chinese into Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century, they had started grouping themselves into different types of traditional organizations. In even a small country like Singapore, a respectable number of organizations were set up. There were clans, dialect associations, hui kuans, guilds, bangs and secret societies. These traditional organizations served a variety of functions and often overlapped one another in their roles. There are several reasons pertaining to their setup namely which were for self help, protection, leadership, identity and also continuation of their culture and tradition. This list is not exclusive and the interesting point is that not all the organizations that were formed perpetuate till today and if they do, their roles have changed over time. Throughout the history of Singapore, some were disbanded, some forgotten1, but there are some that merged to form bigger ones. One would ask, when were the more crucial times in history that when these organizations were affected to change? It is difficult to just isolate clans and associations for studies because all the other organizations are interlinked and intertwined by the social network, guanxi. Each rise and fall of the various traditional organizations would directly or indirectly affect one another. One would also have to look at the brief history of the Chinese society in Singapore and the subsequent events that unfold. Hence, the first part of the essay will briefly look into the types of organizations in past Singapore and what they have evolved into since then. The second part of the essay will examine some of the important periods in history that help paved the way for clans or associations to what they are today. The significant time frames are 1) Influx of the types of Chinese into Singapore during the British Colonization period 2) Support for China and anti- Japanese activities during World War 3) Post war rebuilding of Singapore. The last part of the essay will look into how the roles of these organizations have changed.

1.1.Types Of Traditional Chinese Organizations

In Singapore, many traditional organisations were established with overlapping roles but each one had their own identity and function. One might hold several memberships because the Chinese shared a common social network through guanxi. The following are the various types of organisations that were formed.

Clans are voluntary organizations set up based on kinship and blood ties. The members involved are usually of the same surname and shared the same ancestor. However in Singapore context, common surnames could allow the Chinese to be granted affiliation even if they were not biologically related. This is because the immigrants did not come to Singapore with their whole clans or villages from China. The local Chinese population was very diverse and it would make more sense for the locals to relate to one another by common surnames.

Dialect Association as its name implied, were formed more on the basis of people speaking the same dialects. Surnames and the origins of their hometown were not the basis of memberships. The more prominent dialects2 group since the 19th century were the Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese, Hainanese and Hakkas eventually brought the rise of their own dialect organizations. Hui- Kuans is another broad term given to associations. In China they were formed by people of the same village or province. Locally, they were believed to be the subsequent form of secret societies or KongSi, after the British banned secret societies. However not all Hui- Kuans were of the similar origins. Some are reputable associations like the Hokkien and Teochew hui-kuans.

Guilds memberships are based on same occupations and trade. These organizations are usually formed by people of same dialect groups. This is because each dialect...
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