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Confucianism, the Singaporean Way of Life

The World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) rank Singapore number one in the world for ease of doing business. Competitive tax rates and a strategic location make it a preferred destination for businesses looking to expand in the Asia Pacific region that is on the tip of an economic boom. Lots of companies opting for listing in Singapore due to its high standards of corporate governance

However, doing business in Singapore is not without some challenges. Aside from tough competition, increasing business costs, and a squeezed labour market, you also face intercultural challenges.

Primarily Chinese

There are three major ethic groups in Singapore: Chinese, Malay and Indian. The Chinese are the largest ethnic group in Singapore, making up almost three-quarters of the country’s population. They are well represented across different segments of society – from politics and business to sports and entertainment circles.

Chinese culture – from the language and food to entertainment and festivals – features prominently in Singapore.

While their traditional culture has since been blended with other local ethnicities and Western influences, the festival of Chinese New Year is still celebrated with much gusto; a raucous reminder of what it means to be Chinese.

Confucianism, Understanding The Singaporean Mind

Confucianism was a source of national pride for the Diaspora Chinese community living under British colonial rule in Singapore. To understand the Singaporean mind you have to understand Confucianism. Confucianism is not a religion in the Western sense, it is the way of life — one that values hierarchy, group orientation, and respect for age and tradition — propagated by Confucius.

Confucius is about societal order and harmony. The stability of society is based on unequal relationships between people. Confucius distinguished five basic relationships: ruler-subject; father-son; older brother-younger brother; husband-wife; and senior friend-junior friend (the only horizontal relationship). Mankind would be in harmony with the universe if everyone understood their rank in society and were taught the proper behaviours of their rank.


As a collectivistic society, the concepts of group, harmony, and mutual security are more important than that of the individual. Relationships are emphasised strongly in Singapore, which means the process of doing business shouldn’t be rushed and based on personal development at first, rather than the facts and figures of corporate life.

Singaporeans claim they are an egalitarian society, yet they retain strong hierarchical relationships that can be observed in the relationship between parents and children, teachers and students, and employers and employees.

Culture in Singapore is largely defined by peace, justice, and social and religious harmony. Harmony is found when everybody saves face in the sense of dignity, self-respect, and prestige. At the social level, males and females are treated very equally.

Singaporeans are very informal people, friendly yet quite reserved. No touching is expected except for the first handshake. Tone of voice should be kept on a moderate tone. Speaking too loudly is construed as rude.

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