I believe that a substantial number of readers of this blog are Chinese readers, and they have expressed their strong opinions (sometimes politely, others offensively) with regards to the importance of learning Chinese to preserve one's racial and cultural identity. The comments have included here:
It is indeed shameful when you bare a Chinese surname but do not know any Chinese.And here:
I totally agreed with the argument that every chinese must at least have six years of chinese education. Personally I do not agree to send my kids to international school at the primary level just because want to master in English, as you still can learn english even you are stufy in the local school. Remember, do not be proud if you are fluent in English and it is really shameful if you know nothing in Chinese ('banana' man).Hence when Anita Anandarajah-Lee wrote in the New Straits Times on the 21st February about "Losing Our Tongues", I thought it relevant to pen down some of my personal thought about the issue. By the way, February 21st is the International Mother Language Day as observed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It is celebrated to promote the recognition and practice of the mother languages of the world, especially those of minorities.
I remember when I was 15, I actually laughed at a friend, a fellow Asean scholar for not being able to even write his Chinese name properly. And I believe I was as patronising as some of the quotes above, that a "banana" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) man is to be looked down upon.
Looking back, I clearly regretted the incident and I'm proud of the fact that I no longer have such bigoted opinions. While I do not yet think that we are living in a world without borders, I do think that framing the context of our society and community purely in terms of race and language (and religion) is a decidedly reactionary view of us as a nation. I strongly believe that these same views contribute significantly towards preserving the way politics is shaped in our country, whereby parties and government positions are distributed by "race" factors.
Make no mistake, I do believe that my kid should pick up the Chinese language and be as proficient in it as she possibly can. However, that doesn't mean that she must attend a Chinese primary school. Neither does it mean that other Chinese children who do not pick up a Chinese education is any less Chinese, or worse, any less "human". In fact, the yardstick in which I would judge a person as a "worthy" Chinese is purely in his character and deeds. If a person is generous, kind and contributes immensely to the society in a just and equitable manner, then he or she will be a model Chinese, and not his or her proficiency in Chinese.
Parties who are particularly militant with regards to preserving the language and culture also fails to take into consideration that culture evolves over time constantly infused by new practices as a result of globalisation and changing trends. One only have to pay a visit to different parts of China to realise how "different" these Chinese are from one another and from us in terms of cultural practices or even languge norms. I, for one, am a believer of "culture" being what we want to make of it, rather than what should be shoved down our throats. I am certain we can all cite a fair few "Chinese" practices, cultural or otherwise, which we are more than happy to see dumped to pages of forgotten practices.
For Malaysian Chinese, we just so happened to have been "migrated" from China in large numbers to be able to "preserve" a larger portion of our cultural and language practices. How about those Chinese whose ancestors migrated to further a far where a Chinese education is non-existent - Europe, South Africa, America etc.? Are they then not Chinese?
There are clearly those who believe one should receive no less than a 100% Chinese-based education for six years (actually, why not the full 12 years or more?) and there are of course those who are not as rigid in terms of Chinese requirements and there are obviously those who think that there is no such need at all. My personal opinion obviously lies in the centre but that is not to say that there is a clear cut right and wrong answer to the above question. What's probably more important is the availability of Chinese language education to Malaysians.
To quote Anita:
It is vital that the learning of another language is not seen to threaten our national language. Preserving the multitude of cultures would create security amongst the races who know that theirs is a caring government.To put it simply, the quality of education (and that's not just purely academic) which my child will receive will definitely be more important than if the education is purely in Chinese. See also my post on "The English Language Debate Continues (II)".