Chinese Privilege

After reading the website on Chinese Privilege yesterday, and after blogging, I have been fascinated with the whole concept. I have been reading as many articles as I can get my hands on (partly because we are studying the chapter on ethnic diversity in school and this is such a rich topic for discussion)

I have picked out a whole bunch of examples that have been cited as evidence of the manifestation of Chinese Privilege and some questions I have about them.

Note: I am NOT denying the existence of a majority privilege, nor am I defending Chinese in Singapore. I am merely trying to rationalize why it is called a privilege as opposed to a natural phenomenon that takes place in ANY multi-ethnic society.

“Chinese privilege is when my Chinese friends use the word ‘mud’ casually (a pejorative for a stereotypical Malay individual) to dehumanise their personhood, while laughing and joking about it.”

Firstly, a bit concerned that I don’t know the meaning of pejorative. Need to read up on that.

Secondly, fair point, that is incredibly racist and derogatory. However, what about when the Indians and Malays refer to the Chinese as manjans? Is that ok? Are the Chinese expected to be ok with having derogatory terms hurled at them because there are so many of them and hence they can form support groups and sit around and cry about it together, while the Indians and Malays, by virtue of the fact that they are minorities would have no such outlet and hence have their, um, personhood dehumanised?

“Chinese privilege is when my aunt claims they are not a racist, yet they would definitely be horrified if they found out that one of their kids married a non-Chinese.”

I actually know of many Indian mothers who would cry bloody murder and threaten to inflict various unspeakable acts of harm (all inspired by various mega serials from Sun TV) on themselves should their children suggest marrying out of the race, religion or worse, caste.

Chinese privilege is when all those silly PAP town council banners i see hung around the towns have this token Malay or Indian kid smiling in the background who probably isn’t really smiling inside when one of their classmates called them a racist term”

This one so problematic lah ok? Put photo also got problem, never put photo also got problem.

Never include minority: Gahmen biased. Racist.

Include minority: Drama only lah. Put for the sake of putting.

Minority never smile: Because suffering, struggling. Gahmen biased. Racist.

Minority smile: Actually fake smile. Inside hurting.

Suda lah.

Chinese privilege is having the ability to go through one entire day in Singapore without being reminded that you are an ethnic Chinese.”

Not sure about this. Sometimes I go through the whole day not being reminded that I am Indian and I end up wondering if perhaps I am an oompah loompa.

Indian men who date Chinese women are desperate to assimilate. They instinctively realize the privilege of being Chinese, and unable to access it any other way, aspire to marry a Chinese woman. “

Really? I see why my own thoughts about it were so far-fetched. I always thought it was because, you know, they fell in love with them or something. No? It is because they want to assimilate? Ok then.

“You get to form the ethnic majority in a housing estate without it being called a ghetto” 

Hmm, I don’t know. What then? If you form 70% of the country’s population, isn’t it inevitable that you WOULD form the majority in housing estates no matter how fair or equitable distribution is? Unless the author is suggesting the EIP is abolished and Malays and Indians be allowed to form ethnic enclaves. I don’t know how much better that is for racial relations in Singapore to be honest.

“You have a whole slew of media dedicated to you. 3 Newspapers, 3 Radio Channels and 2 TV Channels.”

This is pure economics no? How would 10% of Indians be able to sustain more than 1 newspaper, TV and radio channel each? Would it even be profitable for media organizations to invest so much of resources in order to cater to such a small group of people? Is it logical to expect the same number of entertainment channels to be provided for 70% vs 10% of the population?

“You don’t have to keep zooming down to the same one or two stalls every time you head to the food court”

Again, same point. Should the proportion of stalls in the food courts be representative of the number of people likely to eat at their stalls? What is the point of opening so many different stalls to cater to a small group of people, and result in the owners of the stall losing money due to a lack of profitability?

“Chinese privilege is when it is even necessary to come up with an article ‘is Singapore ready for the first minority PM?’ (Tharman)”

This was one of the first valid points I read. I don’t quite care if my PM is an Indian, a Malay, a Chinese or a bottle of Nutella, as long as he is competent, I personally feel Tharman is long overdue a role that would allow him to contribute to Singapore in a much bigger capacity than he already is and I think most Singaporeans also don’t quite care about the race of their leader, as long as he is not a moron.

You get higher clearance in the army and get posted to more sensitive vocations”

I won’t even pretend to know what happens in the army, nor would I pretend to know why the government does what it does. However, are the Chinese privileged because of this? Do incompetent Chinese Singaporeans get high ranking positions in the army because they have an edge over their counterparts? I hardly think so. In which case, is it appropriate to label this as a privilege accorded to the Chinese, or would it be more accurate to label this as a form of discrimination which should be addressed on an institutional level?

You get to have your numbers topped up by migrant workers from China when your birth rate falls”

I irrevocably agree with this. I am frustrated that I repeatedly have to use sign language to communicate my orders at certain restaurants or other establishments, simply because the person behind the counter speaks less English than my neighbour’s cat. But again, given the tension between the local Chinese and foreign Chinese, given that the current generation of local Chinese are far more competent and comfortable speaking in English, is this a privilege?

No let’s assume that OK, we do in fact classify ALL of the above as a form of privilege accorded to the Chinese, then what?

What sort of change needs to be affected?

On an institutional level? Definitely. Policies that are explicitly discriminatory need to be revisited and reviewed with the current social, economic and geo-political context in mind.

What about the rest? Do we really need an equal number of food court stalls? TV channels? Do we need to nit-pick everything that the government does (e.g. advertisements) and bring the racial issue to the forefront even though it has no relevance to the topic of the ad?

Should we start to assume we are all-knowing and know the rationale behind inter-racial marriages? Behind why a family prefers to have their children marry within their racial group?

Debate and discourse is fantastic. Singapore’s political landscape has changed so much over the years and is more vibrant that I have ever seen it to be. There are so many young Singaporeans fearlessly stepping forth to critique and question and willing to effect change. However, whilst we do that, we need to be mindful of what why when where and how.

What is our objective? Is it to stir up controversy for the sake of it or is it to effect meaningful, significant change?

Is there a constructive purpose in mind, or is it because it is trendy to be anti-establishment?

In which case, are the methods in line with achieving those objectives?

Are the methods responsible?

As an educator, this is what I would tell my students. I could be wrong, I could be outdated, but it is what I strongly believe in.



5 thoughts on “Chinese Privilege

  1. I don’t think you’ve spelt the term correctly in this statement – “Chinese privilege is when my Chinese friends use the word ‘mud’ casually (a pejorative for a stereotypical Malay individual) to dehumanise their personhood, while laughing and joking about it.”
    Do you mean ‘Mat’ pronounced as “Mart” with a silent “r” rather than “Mud” which, sorry to say, sounds a lot more pejorative (not that I approve of any of them)? There was a children’s program showed on Suria way back some time ago entitled “Aksi Mat Yoyo”. Alfian Sa’at makes mention of it here


  2. It is “mat” not “mud”, stereotype occurs everywhere, like office, school, family and your spouse. It is a biological effects inbuilt into human to predict outcome.


  3. Someone got to the “mud-mat” thing I wanted to comment on… so can I say instead,

    “Non-Chinese Privilege is thinking Chinese refer to Malays as “mud” when they are saying “mat”?”

    But thank you for your even tone on this. There are some privileges that comes with being a member of the majority ethnic group, as you note, and this may simply be a matter of logistics and statistics (e.g. food court). But “Chinese” isn’t as homogeneous as a non-Chinese may think.

    Some may consider me a “banana”. I prefer the more modern term, “Minion” – yellow on the outside, unintelligible when I try to speak Mandarin.

    As an “insider”, there are two groups of Chinese in Singapore. One is the Anglophone Chinese (a.k.a. “banana” or Minion). We speak mainly English. Think in English. And consider the rise of China with curiousity lightly (or more heavily) seasoned with apprehension.

    Then there are the Sinophone Chinese, who speak Mandarin, think in Mandarin, and take pride in the 5000 year of Chinese civilisation. They look forward to the re-emergence of China on the world stage and they proudly defend the actions of China in the South China Sea as merely restoring the glory of the Middle Kingdom. (Be afraid. Be very afraid).

    These Sinophone Chinese (or Nanyang Chinese), I suspect, consider themselves Chinese first, and Singaporeans second. Well, maybe I am a little biased. Or racist against my own race (there should be a word for that… endo-racist? Mustafa Security Guards? Nope. That’s 3 words.)

    I am also concerned with the Chinese foreign labour coming to SG. But mainly because of the assimilation problem (they don’t), and their perspective that Singapore is a Chinese Province, or slightly better (but not by much), a Chinese country. Some of them do realise that they are in a different country and they need to learn to do things differently, but the culture shock is not sufficient, and they get too comfortable. But, I digress.

    Back to Chinese Privilege. “Chinese Privilege is being told that “Money No Enough” or “Ah Boy to Man” are quinessential Singaporean movies… with an all-Chinese cast”

    My Indian friend (see! I’m not racist! I have an Indian friend!) shared that with me and then I realised I was racist for thinking that Money No Enough was quite good. So I didn’t watch Ah Boy to Man. (Chinese Privilege Guilt?)

    One more point about the non-homogeneous Chinese in Singapore: When Low Thia Khiang first won Hougang and all the GEs since, his rallying cry to the Hougang voters was “wa si teo chew nang!” – “I am a Teochew!”

    When he handed over to Yaw Shin Leong, Yaw also had to declare that he’s Teochew.

    Not that there is Teochew privillege… Teochew porridge yes. Privilege… not so much. The point being that Chinese in Singapore is not one homogeneous group. As the population ages and there are fewer dialect speakers, the natural division along dialects will blur. But as our education system unites us, the Chinese will be more likely to be divided along sinophone and anglophone. And the Anglophones may lean more towards western liberal values, and the sinophones will look forward to the rise of their China overlords.

    Or something scary like that.

    And I find I have no idea what is the point of my comment. So thank you for reading my rambly comment. I just came to say, thanks for being even-minded. And funny too, especially re the token smiling minority in community banner.(and others).


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