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Speech By Mr Liang Eng Hwa - SIM University - Beijing Normal University Graduation Ceremony

Speech (English) By Mr Liang Eng Hwa, Member Of Parliament For Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency At The SIM University – Beijing Normal University Graduation Ceremony On 5 March 2009 At SIM University

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, SIM University;
Dr Tian Hui, Vice President, Beijing Normal University;
Madam Zhou Jianping, Counsellor for Education, Embassy of the People's Republic of China;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;


  1. Good afternoon.

  1. Let me start by congratulating all graduands. Today is a day of celebration. We celebrate the fruit of your commitment to lifelong learning while balancing career, family and personal needs. Many of you would have had to overcome personal difficulties and make sacrifices on many fronts in order to complete your studies. You have persevered and succeeded. Congratulations to you and your loved ones!

  1. Today is also a day of celebration for UniSIM. Not only is this the graduation of yet another cohort of students, the 7th batch of undergraduates and the 2nd batch of master students, this is also the 10th anniversary of the collaboration between UniSIM and BNU. BNU is one of China’s top 20 universities and the degrees offered here are recognised by China’s Education Ministry. This successful partnership has helped more than 600 students, including all of you here today, graduate with the coveted BNU degrees.

  1. I was told that this collaboration with BNU to offer Chinese programmes was started with the strong encouragement from the Singapore Ministry of Education. Since then, UniSIM has gone on to offer language and literature programmes in all four official languages including Chinese, English, Tamil and Malay. It is commendable that to date, UniSIM is the only tertiary institution in Singapore to offer the full suite of MOE-approved language and literature degree programmes. These programmes have enjoyed strong support from adult learners, particularly from teachers interested in enhancing their language proficiency and enthusiasts of language and literature studies. In fact, I was told that about half of you graduands here hail from the teaching profession. Your passion for the Chinese language, history, culture and literature is indeed commendable!

  1. Although we are a multiracial society, Chinese language and culture are deeply rooted here in Singapore, even till this day.

  1. I remember in the 1970s when I was in primary school, there were two Chinese newspapers in circulation: Sin Chew Jit Poh and Nanyang Siang Pau. Majority of the Chinese gained access to important news through these two papers. Back then, there were also Chinese schools that taught Chinese as a first language. In addition, Mandarin was the medium of instruction for conducting Maths and Science lessons. Mandarin TV channels were also the more popular ones. Another example of the stronghold of Chinese in Singapore then was 'xinyao' locally composed, Singapore-styled Chinese songs. I recall in the early 80s, when I was at the polytechnic, 'xinyao' was immensely popular. There were fans aplenty in the schools. During the 70s and 80s, I, too, remember the exciting inter secondary school debates broadcast on TV. The war of words was captivating and these programmes were extremely popular too.

  1. I am inclined to opine that the foundation of Chinese language was stronger and the environment more conducive then. In those days, not only could the students speak the Chinese language, they could read and write as well. And by 'write', I don't mean inputting pinyin via computer programs and 'writing' Chinese; rather, I am referring to the elegant characters, conscientiously handwritten.

  1. Back then, the motivation for learning and using Chinese stemmed from a deep interest in the Chinese culture, history and values. In those days, the Chinese studied the language with enthusiasm, so that our roots and tradition may be preserved.

  1. Today, even though the use of Chinese is still common in our everyday life, it has gradually altered in nature. With the rise of China in the past two decades, economics has become the primary impetus for learning Chinese. China has become the world's third largest economy. Together with Hong Kong, China and Taiwan have created countless pop stars. The success of movies and the entertainment industry have prompted many youngsters to pick up the Chinese language.

  1. From what I know, Channel 8 remains the most watched TV channel in Singapore, and Chinese pop music continues to be immensely popular, topping the charts and attracting huge numbers of fans.

  1. MediaCorp's Xindong Wang is yet another popular website where Singaporeans at ease with using the Chinese language air their views and interact online. In my office, I notice my colleagues using Mandarin often, be it for casual chatting, or for formal discussion. Interestingly, I think when they use Mandarin, there is a special kind of warmth and consequently, problems are more readily resolved. When they supplement discussions with Chinese, there are fewer miscommunications. Many Singaporeans now visit China for business, sightseeing or a round golf. As reported in the newspapers, China was the number one choice for many visitors to the NATAS Travel Fair held over the weekend.

  1. Although most of us ordinary folk, even the youngsters, use Mandarin widely in our everyday life, our foundation of the language is in no way comparable to our seniors. I feel that many young Singaporeans these days have yet to develop a deep understanding of Chinese history and values. This might be related to the different underlying motivation for learning Chinese.

  1. Here's an amusing illustration. Movies are becoming increasingly entertaining and convincing. So much so that, many youngsters mistakenly believed that the movie character Huang Feihong of Foshan really was acquainted with Mr Sun Yatsen, and even played a key role in the 1911 Revolution.

  1. There are yet others, obsessed with Louis Cha's "The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre", who actually believe that there existed a Ming Cult leader by the name of Zhang Wuji, who gave up the throne to Zhu Yuanzhang, all because he was in love with Zhao Min.

  1. In my opinion, if we are interested in the Chinese language because of pop culture or for economic reasons, it would be a great pity, for we would then lose an invaluable and unique heritage, one of more than five thousand years' worth of history, values and wisdom.

  1. Hence, I am heartened by the support for a tertiary education programme with such high standard and depth, and the batch after batch of outstanding graduates it produces. At this juncture, allow me to quote from Director Jack Neo; in my eyes, each and everyone of you here are not only the "jingying" (elite) of our nation, but also our "jinghua" (essence), ie, you fully appreciate the essence of Chinese.

  1. Be it in Singapore, or in the countries in our region, learning Chinese is all the rage now. And we enjoy all the favourable conditions: timeliness, referring to the rise of China; geographical advantage, referring to Singapore’s proximity to China; and harmonious human factors, referring to our being the descendents of early Chinese migrants and now playing hosts to new migrants from China.

  1. In the Zhenghua Constituency for which I am a Member of Parliament, there are many new migrants from China. I am inviting them to set up Chinese learning and social clubs under the umbrella of my grassroot organisations. First of all, this could help them integrate into our communities. Secondly, they could help with the enrichment of our residents’ understanding of the Chinese language and culture.

  1. Besides the practical benefits to be gained from studying the Chinese language, let us not forget the pleasure and satisfaction that this can bring. Our oldest graduand this year is a 76 year old gentleman, Mr Tan Woo Teck. Mr Tan’s active engagement in learning at university level should inspire all of us, and to his credit, while he is receiving his Bachelor’s degree today, he is also currently pursuing his BNU Masters degree at UniSIM.

  1. Also graduating today is Mr Leong Horn Kee, a former Member of Parliament and current Ambassador to Mexico. Mr Leong came from an English educated background but enrolled in the programme to improve his Mandarin and knowledge of the Chinese culture and literature. Interestingly, Mr Tan and Mr Leong knew each other way back in the 80's when Mr Tan was Mr Leong's Mandarin tutor. Mr Leong's enrolment in the BNU programme then piqued Mr Tan’s interest to enrol as well. The moral of the story is never underestimate the influence a teacher can have on his students nor can you underestimate the influence a student can have on his teacher. Their mutual respect for, and encouragement to, each other, and their common passion for the Chinese language is indeed inspiring.

  1. Mr Tan and Mr Leong are the best embodiments of the spirit of lifelong learning. Even during these tough economic times, the Singapore Government is sparing no effort and expenses to encourage and incentivise Singaporeans to train and retrain. The motive is of course largely practical and for survival. But as we all know, learning is basic to the long-term survival of the human race and if we enjoy learning, the journey will be easier and more meaningful.

  1. Finally, as a parting note, I would like to encourage all of you to keep in close touch with your alma mater. As adult learners, you have benefited from the opportunities offered by UniSIM. I hope this will motivate you to want to give back to UniSIM your time and experiences in order to help others like you to realize their dreams. I believe UniSIM through its alumni provides many avenues for you to be engaged with them and with other adult learners.

  1. Once more, congratulations, and thank you for inviting me. I wish you good health, success and a bright, fulfilling future.

  1. Thank you.
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