Singapore’s cultures can grow stronger by evolving, learning from each other: Tharman

SINGAPORE: “Xiang hu jing zhong”. As he uttered these words, which mean “respect for all”, former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam received cheers and applause on Sunday (Jul 9) at his first public event since he left his government posts.

Clad in a signature batik shirt alongside his wife who donned a similarly ochre-coloured outfit, the presidential hopeful was at the Zhen Ren Gong Temple in Redhill Close to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Singapore Sheng Gong Cultural and Folklore Beliefs Festival. Devotees from more than 100 temples across Singapore had gathered there.

In his speech at the event, the former Coordinating Minister for Social Policies said that he hopes to see a strong Singapore culture that is not simply a blend of different cultures, but also cultures that have “learned and absorbed” something from each other. 

He gave an example using the three traditions celebrated at the event – the Bao Gong, Bao Sheng and Sheng Gong cultures – and how they represent Singapore’s openness and acceptance of different beliefs. 

“They summarise the values of Singapore culture – which is not just about duty to ourselves – but duty to others, duty to our elderly, support for the poor, support for a stronger society,” he said.

Mr Tharman was expanding on a theme he had touched on during his speech at the National University Heart Centre Singapore’s 15th anniversary on Friday, where he outlined his vision of a country in which everyone takes responsibility for the welfare of others.

On Sunday, Mr Tharman spoke about how Singapore can grow stronger.

“Because I was coming to this event and I know there are many Chinese speakers here, I learned the translation for ‘respect for all’, which was ‘xiang hu jing zhong’ … That’s the most important value,” he said.

“Respect for all, openness to all. I’m sure I didn’t pronounce it perfectly, it needs a bit more practice. 

“But in all our cultures, you find the same value – but that’s how we strengthen Singapore culture. 

“Respect every individual regardless of what they’re doing, respect every culture, respect different viewpoints. That way we become a stronger Singapore and our identity becomes stronger.” 

Mr Tharman said that Singapore should not “just be about (having) different cultures”, but that the country should strive to “evolve” these cultures as well. 

“We can mix up all our four cultures – Chinese culture, Malay culture, Indian culture, the Eurasians … To some people it will appeal to them intellectually, but it will not appeal to the heart and we will also slowly become weaker, our identity will become weaker,” he said.

“But we cannot just keep separate cultures exactly as they are. We must keep evolving.”

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