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Beyond being a bastion for Chinese culture, the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations leads its members towards a larger goal: a harmonious and cohesive Singapore.

If you were a migrant arriving in Singapore from the shores of Fujian or Guangdong a hundred years ago, you would probably join a clan association to make friends, find a job or get a roof over your head. 

Singapore Clan Associations

New members for clans

Fast forward to today, many clan associations are still playing their original role and welcoming newcomers as members. Though no longer reliant on clans to meet their basic needs, these new members tap on clans for opportunities to network and get to know Singapore better.

The Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), an umbrella body of 231 Chinese clan associations, culture-based clubs and immigrant associations, views this trend positively.

Mr Patrick Lee, Secretary-General of the SFCCA explained, “New immigrants are likely to approach places where they feel comfortable in terms of language and lifestyle habits. Therefore, clan associations are effective and natural entry points for them to look for friends.”

SFCCA has been encouraging clan associations to open their doors to newcomers while new immigrant associations such as the Kowloon Club and the Tianjin Association have joined the federation and are actively participating in its events. Clan associations benefit from gaining more members, especially younger ones, who rejuvenate the “old gentlemen’s clubs” which clans are perceived to be.

However, because immigrants came from different places and at different times, cultures, values and habits may still differ between “old” immigrants – those who have settled in Singapore generations ago – and “new” immigrants who have yet to adapt to the host nation. More interaction between the local Chinese and new arrivals aids mutual understanding, but it takes time to narrow the gaps.

Deepening connections

“Integration needs to take place naturally and gradually. It progresses and gains depth through four levels: connection, understanding, appreciation and embracing of Singapore’s core values in a multi-cultural society,” shared Mr Lee.

SFCCA’s efforts to integrate locals and immigrants are built around these four levels. Bringing clan members, new immigrants and members of the public together is the first step. These are usually through SFCCA’s major events such as the Spring Reception and the Youth Sports Carnival which involve more than 1,000 people each time.

Thereafter, more targeted and differentiated events such as academic seminars and local film appreciation workshops are organised for smaller groups to get together, share and deepen their understanding of Singapore and each other.

Heritage Visit to the Eurasian HouseTo promote appreciation of the diversity of local culture and values, SFCCA organises many visits to different Chinese clan associations, the Malay and Indian Heritage Centres, and Eurasian House. Such learning journeys are popular with both locals and immigrants.

“In the long run, sustainable integration must lead to the Singapore society embracing a set of common values. This includes treasuring the uniqueness of Singapore as a multi-cultural society where people of different ethnic groups live, work and play together in harmony,” said Mr Lee, on how SFCCA views integration.

Different background, common interest

Although SFCCA’s primary focus is on promoting and preserving local Chinese heritage, it is not uncommon to see people from different ethnic communities coming together in its events. They could be participants in its programmes, hosts of learning journeys at the various heritage centres or speakers in
SFCCA’s seminars. In fact, many of SFCCA’s events are open to the public and use English to be accessible to non-Chinese participants.

One of the participants was Kevin Prasad, who took part in the Youth Sports Carnival’s soccer tournament together with his buddies. “We were having our usual soccer session near a Chinese temple in Hougang when someone approached us to suggest that we take part in this tournament. At first, I wondered if it would be an all Chinese event. But to my delight, we found many teams comprising players from different ethnic groups. It was really fun and we made new friends,” he said.

Reaching out to youth members is also important for clan associations’ renewal and for social integration. Among the ten teams which participated in the soccer tournament, three were fielded by youths from new immigrant associations. Immigrant youths were able to socialise with local youths easily, and were very comfortable using both English and Chinese to communicate with each other. Indeed, having a common interest helps bonds to form naturally. 

Teams at the Youth Sports Carnival’s soccer tournament


Looking ahead

Will the Singapore society eventually embrace a common set of core values? Mr Lee remains hopeful. “Singapore has a short history as a nation. It takes time for a common identity and a set of core values to take shape,” he said.

To reach that goal, the SFCCA is always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to reach out to newcomers.  Whether it is through the use of social media such as WeChat and mobile apps or tailoring seminars and dialogue sessions that are of interest to newcomers, one thing is for sure:

From the pioneers arriving via the oceans a century ago to those landing at Changi Airport today, clan associations can still perform the role they were initially set up for: help newcomers settle in and settle down after they reach our shores, and in time to come, embrace a common Singaporean identity.