When "Beijing" is hip
By Chen Hwai Liang (来源：英语杂志 http://www.EnglishCN.com)
The Straits Times recently carried a series of reports on major cities in China. It was notable that the reporters kept using the word “hip” to depict what they had seen and heard.
The word “hip” means trendy and keeping up with the latest fashions. It is truly refreshing to read the English-language daily describe a country with an ancient civilisation as “hip”.
This brings to mind a phenomenon here in buzzing Orchard Road. It is not uncommon now to spot young people wearing T-shirts with the word “Beijing” or “Shanghai” printed on them. While most of the time “New York” and “London” are still preferable, these young people seem to have noticed that the world is changing and a little oriental flavour has been added to their sense of what is fashionable.
Popular culture may be shallow, but it often means a much more fundamental change in social trends.
When young people start leaving home in T-shirts bearing the word “Beijing”, it is evident that Singaporeans have begun to view the waking dragon in a fresh, new perspective.
In the past, when China was mentioned, whether by English-educated or Chinese-educated Singaporeans, it was usually with a heavy heart, though the reasons that caused the feeling were different.
About 10 years ago, the government announced that Chinese-language signs would be put up at the airport and other public places to provide an oriental feel. Yet the decision that seemed innocuous enough sparked a heated debate.
A Straits Times columnist argued against the move, saying that it would arouse suspicion in our neighbours and they might mistake Singapore as “Third China”. The article led to a debate between the English-educated and the Chinese-educated in the press, with each camp maintaining steadfastly its position.
Similar wars of words concerning language and culture have taken place repeatedly in the last few decades, resulting in a divide between English-educated and Chinese-educated Singaporeans.
Fortunately, there are signs that we are fast putting this era behind us.
In a recent interview with Lianhe Zaobao, Trade and Industry Minister BG George Yeo said that the complex historical ties of almost a hundred years between Singapore and China had come to a close. He said that Singaporeans had developed a sense of national identity and could now celebrate the connection between the two countries in a more relaxed way.
Feedback from some members in the cultural circles was that BG Yeo’s comments had far-reaching significance and indicated a breakthrough in overcoming a certain mental barrier.
Many Chinese-educated Singaporeans had avoided talking about the tortuous history of the Chinese community that had seen many setbacks. One of the reasons is that the quarrel between English-educated and Chinese-educated Singaporeans has quieted down for some years - people do not want to rake up the past and rekindle the debate.
However, a third-generation political leader has now taken the initiative to re-define this part of our history and make a more positive assessment of future development.
While the minister’s remarks could not rid them of the sense of angst, they said they did feel a lightening of the load on their shoulders.
Of course, it does not mean all is well now with the growth of Chinese culture. The nature of our society has not changed, we will always be walking on a tight rope to maintain a balance between ethnic culture and national identity. A careless move may well trigger an all new debate and conflict.
For the Chinese-educated, what is more important is that the Chinese culture - much like a pool of stagnant water - will now be able to flow again and even get connected with its source. The future may not be a bed of roses, but neither will it be as hopeless as it used to be.
（The writer is a Senior Correspondent of Lianhe Zaobao’s Political Desk. Translated by Yap Gee Poh.）