Les valeurs culturelles et les entrepreneurs immigrés : les Chinois à Singapour - article ; n°2 ; vol.10, pg 87-118

-

Documents
34 pages
Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus

Description

Revue européenne de migrations internationales - Année 1994 - Volume 10 - Numéro 2 - Pages 87-118
Les valeurs culturelles et les entrepreneurs immigrés : les Chinois à Singapour
Kwok Bun CHAN et See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
Cette étude des premiers entrepreneurs de Singapour montre que les valeurs confucéennes jouent un double rôle dans le développement de l'entreprenariat chez les immigrés. Au niveau individuel, elles orientent les valeurs et les attitudes personnelles. Au niveau communautaire, elles régulent les relations interpersonnelles et les activités commerciales. Les valeurs éthiques et culturelles s'appliquent non seulement à l'activité professionnelle, mais aussi aux personnes, aux familles et à la communauté dans leur vie quotidienne. Enracinées dans les villages en Chine, mais réactivées en terre étrangère, ces valeurs sont des ressources ethniques dynamiques, porteuses de la mentalité de changement que les entrepreneurs ont mobilisée pour développer le capitalisme chinois. L'article montre que l'auto-organisation et le contrôle de soi ont contribué à son succès, mais l'entrepreneur n 'est pas analysé comme un héros solitaire qui a réussi. C'est un « marchand confucéen », dont le moi est lié aux « autres » (la famille, la parenté, le clan, la communauté) par un réseau de relations primaires et secondaires, ces dernières ayant été «familiarisées » avec succès, ce qui implique le respect et la confiance, la loyauté et des obligations.
Cultural Values and immigrant entrepreneurship: the Chinese in Singapore
Kwok Bun CHAN and See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
This study of early entrepreneurs of Singapore shows that Confucian values served two important functions in the development of immigrant entrepreneurship. Internally within the individual, they directed the immigrant's personal orientations to life; externally within the community, they regulated inter-personal relationships and commercial activities. Ethics and cultural values were applicable not only in business, but in everyday migrant living, in their personal, family and community living. Rooted in the villages in China, and re-enacted on foreign soil, these values served as dynamic ethnic resources, containing the transformative spirit which immigrant entrepreneurs exploited and maximised for the development of Chinese capitalism. Self-agency and self-control were important personal orientations to success, but the immigrant entrepreneur is not romanticised as a solitary hero having succeeded in this world alone, but is conceptualised as a « Confucian merchant » whose self is linked to « the other » — the family, kin, clan and community — by a web of primary and secondary relationships, the latter having been successfully « family-ized », thus invoking respect and trust, loyalty and obligations.
Valores culturales y empresarios imigrantes : los Chinos en Singapur
Kwok Bun CHAN y See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
Este estudio de los primeros empresarios de Singapur muestra que los valores confucianos desempeñan un doble papel en el desarrollo de las empresas de los inmigrados y se aplican no solamente a la acividad profesional, sino también a las personas, a las familias y a la comunidad en su vida cotidiana. Enraizados en los pueblos de China, pero reactivados en tierra extranjera, estos valores son recursos étnicos, portadores de mentalidad de cambio que los empresarios han mobilizado para desarrollar el capitalismo chino. El artículo muestra que la autorganización y el control de sí mismo han contribuido a su éxito, pero el empresario no es analizado como un heroe solitario que ha triunfado. El es un « mercader confuciano », cuyo ego está ligado a los « otros » (la familia, la parentala, el clan, la comunidad) por una red de relaciones primarias y secundarias, estas últimas habiendose « familiarizado » con éxito, lo que implica el respecto y la confianza, la lealtad y obligaciones.
32 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

Sujets

Informations

Publié par
Publié le 01 janvier 1994
Nombre de visites sur la page 97
Langue English
Signaler un problème

Kwok-Bun Chan
See Ngoh Claire Chiang
Les valeurs culturelles et les entrepreneurs immigrés : les
Chinois à Singapour
In: Revue européenne de migrations internationales. Vol. 10 N°2. pp. 87-118.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Chan Kwok-Bun, Chiang See Ngoh Claire. Les valeurs culturelles et les entrepreneurs immigrés : les Chinois à Singapour. In:
Revue européenne de migrations internationales. Vol. 10 N°2. pp. 87-118.
doi : 10.3406/remi.1994.1409
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/remi_0765-0752_1994_num_10_2_1409Résumé
Les valeurs culturelles et les entrepreneurs immigrés : les Chinois à Singapour
Kwok Bun CHAN et See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
Cette étude des premiers entrepreneurs de Singapour montre que les valeurs confucéennes jouent un
double rôle dans le développement de l'entreprenariat chez les immigrés. Au niveau individuel, elles
orientent les valeurs et les attitudes personnelles. Au niveau communautaire, elles régulent les relations
interpersonnelles et les activités commerciales. Les valeurs éthiques et culturelles s'appliquent non
seulement à l'activité professionnelle, mais aussi aux personnes, aux familles et à la communauté dans
leur vie quotidienne. Enracinées dans les villages en Chine, mais réactivées en terre étrangère, ces
valeurs sont des ressources ethniques dynamiques, porteuses de la mentalité de changement que les
entrepreneurs ont mobilisée pour développer le capitalisme chinois. L'article montre que l'auto-
organisation et le contrôle de soi ont contribué à son succès, mais l'entrepreneur n 'est pas analysé
comme un héros solitaire qui a réussi. C'est un « marchand confucéen », dont le moi est lié aux «
autres » (la famille, la parenté, le clan, la communauté) par un réseau de relations primaires et
secondaires, ces dernières ayant été «familiarisées » avec succès, ce qui implique le respect et la
confiance, la loyauté et des obligations.
Abstract
Cultural Values and immigrant entrepreneurship: the Chinese in Singapore
Kwok Bun CHAN and See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
This study of early entrepreneurs of Singapore shows that Confucian values served two important
functions in the development of immigrant entrepreneurship. Internally within the individual, they
directed the immigrant's personal orientations to life; externally within the community, they regulated
inter-personal relationships and commercial activities. Ethics and cultural values were applicable not
only in business, but in everyday migrant living, in their personal, family and community living. Rooted in
the villages in China, and re-enacted on foreign soil, these values served as dynamic ethnic resources,
containing the transformative spirit which immigrant entrepreneurs exploited and maximised for the
development of Chinese capitalism. Self-agency and self-control were important personal orientations to
success, but the immigrant entrepreneur is not romanticised as a solitary hero having succeeded in this
world alone, but is conceptualised as a « Confucian merchant » whose self is linked to « the other » —
the family, kin, clan and community — by a web of primary and secondary relationships, the latter
having been successfully « family-ized », thus invoking respect and trust, loyalty and obligations.
Resumen
Valores culturales y empresarios imigrantes : los Chinos en Singapur
Kwok Bun CHAN y See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
Este estudio de los primeros empresarios de Singapur muestra que los valores confucianos
desempeñan un doble papel en el desarrollo de las empresas de los inmigrados y se aplican no
solamente a la acividad profesional, sino también a las personas, a las familias y a la comunidad en su
vida cotidiana. Enraizados en los pueblos de China, pero reactivados en tierra extranjera, estos valores
son recursos étnicos, portadores de mentalidad de cambio que los empresarios han mobilizado para
desarrollar el capitalismo chino. El artículo muestra que la autorganización y el control de sí mismo han
contribuido a su éxito, pero el empresario no es analizado como un heroe solitario que ha triunfado. El
es un « mercader confuciano », cuyo ego está ligado a los « otros » (la familia, la parentala, el clan, la
comunidad) por una red de relaciones primarias y secundarias, estas últimas habiendose «
familiarizado » con éxito, lo que implica el respecto y la confianza, la lealtad y obligaciones.87
Revue Européenne
des Migrations Internationales
Volume 10 - N° 2
1994
Cultural Values and
Immigrant Entrepreneurship
the Chinese in Singapore*
Kwok Bun CHAN
See Ngoh Claire CHIANG
It is the intent of this paper to examine the interrelation
ships between early socialisation into core Chinese cultural values, international
migration and Chinese immigrant entrepreneurship. The scholarly discourse on
what contributes to successful Chinese entrepreneurship has identified a number of
factors, ranging from historical, macro socio-structural variables to cultural, orga
nisational, and interpersonal ones. Our paper adds to the discourse by conceptualis
ing cultural values as dynamic, internal resources nurturing, developing and struc
turing Chinese capitalism. This approach examines culture as a creative resource
immigrant entrepreneurs have learnt to exploit to transform their environment.
Only when cultural values intrinsic to a people are activated and used — not
simply « lived », in a « rule-like » manner — for the purpose of wealth creating,
would they in reality contribute to entrepreneurship. It is through a developmental
socialisation process by which these values are articulated in family and kin ne
twork dynamics that social organisations begin to develop and define what is
popularly understood as the « Chinese way of doing business ». We argue that
among the overseas Chinese, this way of doing business must be viewed historically
and developmentally, as it is intimately intertwined with transmigration expe
riences and their consequences in shaping values necessary for the emergence and
development of entrepreneurship.
* Paper presented at International Symposium on Confucianism and its Contemporary Value (27-30 June,
1992) in Deyang, Sichuan, People's Republic of China. The authors would like to thank the Oral History
Department, the Ministry of Information and the Arts and the Government of Singapore for their support in
this research project. :
88 Cultural Values and Immigrant Entrepreneurship the Chinese in Singapore
THE LITERATURE ON CHINESE BUSINESS AND
ENTREPRENEURSHIP
The scholarly literature on the Chinese diaspora is a long-standing, extensive
one, but the search for salient factors that contribute to Chinese business success is
a contemporary concern. Lim (1983) succinctly identified certain structural fea
tures in the Chinese community as explaining why the Chinese as a group are
commercially superior to the dominant host majorities in the Southeast Asian
context. Their immigrant origins and minority status, their acquisitiveness and
« fortune-hunting » impulses orientated them toward business, and in particular,
trading, as a quick and sure way of wealth accumulation. Their middlemen role in
nineteenth century Southeast Asia coincided with expanding opportunities presen
ted by increasing commercial production in the colonial economies. Their strong
« identification and support » for their own countrymen, their « clannishness »
and pride in being Chinese, provided them « access to capital and credit, through
family and kin groups, and associations based on common dialect group, clan or
surname, and locality or origin in China », and helped forge market, information
and referral business networks, hence placing them as a commercially more
competitive group than the indigenous populations (Lim, 1983 : 2-7).
Historical, political, social and cultural circumstances hence created a thriving
« overseas Chinese merchant culture » nourishing and motivating many busines
smen and traders who in traditional Chinese social hierarchy, were looked down
upon (Wang, 1990 : 3-4). Wang argued that the shape of a Chinese merchant
culture was less apparent within China because of negative societal stereotypes
— « cunning, greedy and uncouth » — toward the merchant class. However, out
side China, the merchant class articulated a set of values which did not deny the
Confucian ethos espoused traditionally by the literati class, but also included
others that distinguished them as a special group. Wang conceptualised the « Chi
nese merchant culture » in terms whereby its members recognise the family as the
primary unit of economic competition, believing the Confucian rhetoric as « a
most practical and effective way to get business started and to expand and defend
that business » (Wang, 1990 : 7) ; belief in thrift, honesty, trust, loyalty and indus-
triousness as rational and practical values enabling them to share a common
culture with literati, peasants and artisans ; endorse profit-seeking and risk-taking
as distinct values necessary for generating wealth ; manage their business organisa
tions like a family ; use philanthropy and community service to gain respectabil
ity ; and most important of all, organise themselves around traditions of
« defence, protection, welfare, recreation and philanthropy » to defend their
common interests (Wang, 1990 : 8-13).
Redding (1990 : 2) pointed out that overseas Chinese do not psychologically
disengage themselves easily from China and its Confucian ideals. Although they
operate in different environments, they « have remained in some deep and signif
icant sense still Chinese ». The Chinese value-system, labelled as Confucianism,
unites the Chinese, helps them to overcome effects of being displaced and provides
them with a capacity to cooperate. The tenacity with which overseas Chinese, in
particular Chinese businessmen, adhere to the Confucian value-system, as argued
by Redding, « says something about the vitality, validity and fundamental good Kwok Bun CHAN, See Ngoh Claire CHIANG 89
sense of the set of traditional beliefs and values which unites Chinese people »
(Redding, 1990 : 2). The spirit of capitalism which animates economic
culture must, therefore, be understood in terms of the sets of values and beliefs to
which Chinese businessmen are exposed and subsequently adhere to in their eve
ryday economic behaviour (Redding, 1990 : 10-16).
In a study of the Iloilo Chinese community in the Philippines, Omohundro
(1983 : 66) argued instead that « simply to be a Chinese, to live among the many
structural advantages mentioned above, does not confer business success » and
that such structural analysis does not explain why within the same group, some
Chinese businessmen failed and others flourished. He identified social networks as
the key variable for explaining such observed disparity. Social networks consist of
a wide variety of persons — « consanguineal kinsmen, in-laws, persons from the
same hometown, classmates and others » — who offer favours, loans, emergency
assistance or inside information, to reinforce one's commercial advantage in a
competitive environment (Omohundro, 1983 : 67-8).
In different situations, at different stages of their business development,
Chinese businessmen in the Philippines activate their wide range of social rela
tionships in order to respond to emerging challenges and obstacles in their
commercial environment. Omohundro argued that choosing which social links to
utilise and to divest, choosing how to utilise the social resources, limit their exten
sions and resolve emerging structural conflicts — are interpersonal issues requiring
continued attention. The network web is constantly changing, adjusted and trans
formed, reflecting « incremental choices all individuals are making to secure their
security and livelihood » (Omohundro, 1983 : 80).
However, it is not only kin connections that are activated. In the Philippines,
Omohundro showed that successful merchants use their non-kin social connect
ions in business more than unsuccessful ones. Therefore, as pointed out by other
scholars, « Chinese social organisation is neither necessary nor sufficient as an
explanation of Chinese economic dominance or monopoly of particular lines of
business in Southeast Asia » (Lim, 1983 : 6). It simply gives Chinese businessmen
an economic advantage in their access to labour, credit, information, market
outlets and security. But such access could also be obtained in non-Chinese rela
tionships. The salience of family and clan ties, it was argued, could perhaps have
been exaggerated.
However, other studies (see, for example, Light and Bonacich, 1988) have
documented the utility value of family in nascent entrepreneurship. Committed to
values of filial piety, family obligations and mutual assistance, family members
often serve as willing resources to be exploited. They are perceived as the cheapest,
readily available and most trustworthy workforce, at least in the early stages of
business development. Limited by availability of credit, as well as linguistic and
cultural skills in a colonial setting, families, clans and associations become the
natural resource support for wealth creating activities. In early job introductions
and first set-ups in business, family members are the primary supporters, followed
by friends, then banks. Only when entrepreneurs become more successful would
they include more « outsiders », perhaps even foreigners. :
90 Cultural Values and Immigrant Entrepreneurship the Chinese in Singapore
The ancestral shadow, the family and blood ties as well as the primitive
instincts of possessiveness, territoriality and acquisitiveness contribute greatly to
the shaping of « entrepreneurial familism » which casts the family as a unit in
economic competition, a cultural dynamic still strong and supple despite the
threats of individualism (Wong, 1990 : 30). Wang Gungwu (1990 : 15) argued that
however adventurous and entrepreneurial any man can be, « he could not have
started in business without some degree of family backing or without belonging to
a family or an adopted family business network, including artificial brotherhoods
operating as members under family discipline ».
One could argue that in many instances, it is more often the limitation of a
finite number of family and clan members rather than a conscious choice, that
force businessmen to seek alternative resource support outside the family. Where
family members are available, they serve as labour, partners, managers or co-
-owners. When business relationships have to be articulated with non-kin, Chinese
businessmen very quickly « family-ize » the relationships. Entrepreneurs see their
firm as a family tree, whose growth requires their continual personal nurturing.
Hence, the personal control of a Chinese firm is like that of a benevolent pater who
leads by developing his social networks in ever-widening concentric circles of
« family-like » working partnerships, in which he, as the head, makes all the major
decisions. This form of « centripetal authority », however, has a low degree of
delegation of authority and responsibility (Tong, 1989 : 4-5). The organisation
form may adopt impersonal features similar to those in the West, a development
necessitated by size and functional prerequisites ; but the interpersonal linkages
make the firm « feel » like a family, with strong paternalistic control by the head of
the organisation (Yong, 1992 : 7-9 ; 112-9).
Redding (1990 : 3) argued that family business is a unique form of organisa
tion developed by the overseas Chinese to « guard against incursions from outside
influence ». By adopting managerial practices characterised by nepotism, benevol
ent paternalism, personalism and flexibility, the family business effectively creates
« a work environment which matches the expectations of employees from the same
culture ».
Inherent in all network constructions, internally within the firm or externally
with other business firms, is the notion of trust. Used as a basis for determining
social distance in relationships, trust defines social networks by a system of discr
iminatory rankings ranging from close kin to non-Chinese, who are differentiated
as « insiders » and « outsiders » (Landa, 1983 : 90-3). However, such sharp demarc
ations between kin and non-kin are not always practical, hence the Chinese
notion of jia (the family) being flexibly enlarged to « family-ize » non-kin by
marriage alliances and inter-firm linkages, or by activating a broad range of weak
ties that are not kin-based. A series of guanxi (interpersonal relationships) follow,
with varying degrees of ganqing (affection) in each set, ranging from close kin,
fictive kin, agnatic and affinal kin to collégial networks at the work place or peers
at trade associations and other club memberships which businessmen can activate
for business transactions (Greenhalgh, 1984 : 529-52).
Working « as in a family » thus becomes a creed, an ethos of « familism »,
furnishing « an ethical framework for Chinese businessmen to spin their business Kwok Bun CHAN, See Ngoh Claire CHIANG 91
webs, provide the idiom for economic interaction, and generate the blueprint to
construct personalised linkages » (Wong, 1992 : 12). Fundamental to these efforts
in « family-izing » all social relations is the Chinese businessmanth's attempt to
control leave in environment. By activating values such as trustworthiness — that
can be evaluated and validated by behaviour and actions — they draw the business
community into a coherent moral order. Despite the emergence of « system trust »
which streamlines and contractualises all business relationships, personal trust, as
argued by Wong (1992 : 15-22 ; 1990 : 25-32), is not substitutable. Even where
business expansions necessitate enlargment of the family firm, there will be a
strong demarcation between ownership (which is strictly family-centred) and
management, which can include outsiders and is more formalised (Tong, 1989 :
14-5 ; Yong, 1992: 119-27).
Hamilton (1991 : 48-65) identified kinship and its hierarchy of ordered rela
tionships — wulun (the five relationships specified in Confucian writing) — and
native place collegiality as constituting the « institutional medium » through which
the overseas Chinese create organised networks. Sets of social relationships
(guanxi) are developed with varying degrees of trust, reciprocity and obligations,
as well as a flexibility to contract and expand according to specific conditions of
time and place. These networks, Hamilton (1991 : 61) argued, underpin all Chinese
market institutions, and « the ethics of these relationships formed the rules of the
economic game » such that no businessman attempts to seek unfair advantage and
jeopardise the trust which he has developed in the market situation. Through the
continual expansion of these networks, which are built on reciprocal economic
advantages, Chinese businessmen expand their commercial opportunities thereby
guaranteeing people's livelihood and maintaining economic harmony (Hamilton,
1991 : 53-4).
We have identified in the above literature review the cogent factors related to
Chinese business success. In this paper, we look more closely at the entrepreneur
himself, as an actor, a social product of a long process that has socialised him into
adopting a set of values that will enable him to carry out gradually his project of
entrepreneur in a step-by-step manner. To say that man is the driving force is
stating the obvious. Yet viewing man as an agent of social actions and socio-eco
nomic change is a perspective which received little attention in the scholarly di
scourse on Chinese entrepreneurship. How did the entrepreneurs in our study who
had no previous experience in profit-seeking or risk-taking in their homeland,
learn to do business in Nanyang and Singapore ? Our paper looks back to their
early socialisation experiences, their acquisition of cultural values and their efforts
that have led to success.
As a fundamental principle in the sociology of action, ours is the view that
positions the individual as an active agent, capable of structuring and reconstruct
ing his social references. The entrepreneur, an actor at the centre of life, is seen
always structuring and « using » his social structure as much as he is being
constrained by it. « Freedom » and « choice » are both personal and beyond the
actor, allowing him autonomy to construct, image and negotiate his social world
(Chan and Chiang, 1994 : 1-18). Nevertheless, his social actions are shaped in turn
by a moralist world view that constrains him and requires him to conform to the :
92 Cultural Values and Immigrant Entrepreneurship the Chinese in Singapore
« society » he withholds. This world view, whether called Confucianism, or the
« Chinese merchant culture », is a decidedly relevant one in inducting him into the
« way of doing business ».
This paper is organized into four themes : first, migration and the familial
calculus, noting the centrality and salience of the family in the Confucian philoso
phy, as well as the role of the family in deliberations of migration ; second,
articulation of central Confucian values (self-control, hard work, frugality, att
itudes toward learning, and trustworthiness) that underpinned the making of a
Chinese entrepreneur ; third, the world view or cognition of a Chinese entrepre
neur — specifically in terms of his propensity to « family-ize » social relations as
an interpersonal as well as business stratagem ; and fourth, Chinese entrepreneurs
thinking about, talking, and doing good — the language, morality, and etiquette
of merchants as a class of social actors. In delineating these four themes, we wish in
this paper to attempt a characterization of the « Confucian merchant » as a perso
nality type, as well as a conceptualization of the « Chinese entrepreneurial spirit ».
This paper draws from indepth interviews with 5 1 businessmen conducted
in 1980 by the Oral History Department of the Singapore Government. See
Appendix for the methodology of this oral history project and our own study.
MIGRATION AS FAMILY CALCULUS
Why and how did the Chinese migrate from China, their homeland ? In
answering this question, Wang, a historian and leading authority on the overseas
Chinese, posed a most complex dilemma. On the one hand there is the « Chinese
ideal of not leaving the ancestral village, of the self-sufficient rural community held
together by strong kinship ties and especially by filial loyalty to parents ». On the
other hand there was the enormous migratory « southward expansion » of millions
of Chinese at the beginning of his century. In making sense of this dilemma, the migration literature has evoked explanations ranging from « broad inte
rpretations of the southward migration in Chinese history to the vivid stories of
personal tragedies and entrepreneurial opportunism which led certain individuals
to leave home » (Wang, 1983 : XIX). Among the push and pull factors associated
with the emigration of Chinese from the Southern provinces of China to Southeast
Asia, the demographic and economic ones were the most prominent (Chan, 1991 :
11-3). Over-population, shortage of basic food staples and inflation combined to
force Chinese peasants to look elsewhere for their livelihood. These problems were
aggravated by disastrous natural calamities and civil wars (Yen, 1982 : 1-22),
« which plagued the southern and central provinces for more than a decade,
greatly dislocated agricultural production and drove tens of thousands off the
land» (Chan, 1991 : 5-11).
In order to meet their daily subsistence needs, peasants were willing to pay
very high rents to till the farmland of large landowners ; share cropping rents were
so exorbitant that they sometimes amounted to 60 percent of the harvested crop
(Yen, 1982 : 2). On top of this, there was very little governmental relief. Instead,
increasing land and head taxes placed further pressure on the already heavily
indebted peasants. The tax policy was enforced with widespread injustice against Kwok Bun CHAN, See Ngoh Claire CHIANG 93
the peasant class, particularly during the end of the nineteenth century and the
beginning of the twentieth century when China had to collect funds from its people
to pay off huge war indemnities incurred after defeat by foreign powers.
It was against this background of a distressed society — a failing economy,
tenant exploitation by landlords, gross social insecurity and absence of opportunit
ies — that the desire to emigrate germinated. Compared to some Western count
ries in a similar stage of growth, Chinese industrial development was fragmentary
and lacking in overall focus. The path toward industrial capitalism was truncated
by the intrusion of imperialistic capitalism, leaving China economically deficient,
stagnant, dependent and, in some poorer regions, economically paralysed. Such
underdevelopment was characterised by a great disparity in economic development
between cities and the countryside, persistence of cottage industries, low capital
investment, and the prominence of small trading businesses which, nevertheless,
were not equipped to serve as an impetus for economic growth.
Among those who had left China earlier, some managed to come back to their
villages to build bigger houses and buy up more land. For those who did not
return, regular remittances sent back to China were telling signs of prosperity and
hope overseas. Upward social mobility began to take shape among those families
who had relatives abroad, thus creating a situation of relative deprivation among
those families without migrants overseas.
Benefits of emigration thus became discernible in the subsequent creation of
economic inequities between families. Families that received remittances were
more comfortable in their livelihood than those who had no sons abroad. A new
social status system was created alongside the old one based on land ownership,
inheritance, age and sex. Emigration equalised to some degree traditional social
status by providing opportunities for social mobility to sons of poorer families, a
condition not readily attainable earlier. It then became possible to envisage a
situation where a poor farmer's son could one day become the « nouveau riche »
alongside his landlord's son. It thus became the hope of many fathers and mothers,
of « almost every household having one person abroad », to « break through the
class barriers », as in the words of one of our entrepreneur-interviewees, Tan Yan
Huan(').
Our entrepreneurs' accounts of the conditions of life in their villages were ones
of chaos, insecurity, and tumultuous changes in family and village organisations.
However, ironically, in more ways than one, this disorderly state encouraged a
collective search for a new way of life, for new ideas, new role models, new
behavioural norms, and new challenges. Sociologically speaking, it is always
contradictions and conflicts, not conformity nor homeostasis, that lead to change.
The great leap overseas was psychologically traumatic because the migrant had to
break away emotionally « from an intertwining network of relations » (Hsu, 1963 :
155). Ironically, this same experience of disengagement was a precondition for
liberation, for « stepping out » of history and social structure, for « unbonding »
so as to « bond with » a new frontier environment (Chan and Chiang, 1994 : 4).
This act of disengagement from the familiar, unmoving environment was indeed a
necessary precondition for reconstituting a new identity and commitment. :
94 Cultural Values and Immigrant Entrepreneurship the Chinese in Singapore
However, we must hasten to point out that this disengagement was never
total ; the male migrant did not go overseas as an individual, free, autonomous
and unfettered by social structure, tradition, ancestry, history and culture. He was
« under the ancestors' shadow », bounded and bonded to family and kinship. His
achievement and glory would also be his family's ; his shame and downfall would
also be his family's. The desire to protect and further the name of the family was
his higher priority. In so far as this « family phantom » continued to haunt, shame,
and remonstrate him, it became ironically, in turn, a powerful ideology, an effec
tive means of social control, an unyielding source of motivation. In the Confucian
tradition, the living and the dead locate the individual in his family, culture, and
history — he will carry « the family phantom » with him and his responsibility will
always be familial rather than personal.
Migration was thus as much a familial as a personal experience : the decision
to migrate or not, and the deliberations on who should migrate, when and how,
were all undertaken within a broader familial context — the family arranged for
the passage money, sent the son overseas to join another family or kin member,
and integrated him into pre-existing family, kin or clan networks which had a
« watchdog » responsibility to « keep an eye » on him — thus enacting and di
scharging an all-important role of social control.
The son-migrant was to send remittances home to uphold the family left
behind, to thus discharge his filial duties and avoid incurring his parents' contempt.
His obligations to the family collective continued whilst overseas. He was to seek
betterment and improvement of the conditions of life of the family, to ensure its
prosperity. Migration was thus his first step toward change, progress and outward
expansion — the migrant was to begin to engage in his « transformative » func
tions, which, to the Confucianist Yu (1987 : 61), are at the core of the Confucian
ethics. The neo-Confucianists posited a duality of « natural rationality » (tien li)
and « human desires » (ren yu), suggesting an intrinscially eternal co-existence and
tension between them. In parallel with this duality is that of or reason
(li) and force (chi), yet insisting the former is always weaker than the latter, thus
underscoring the enormity and gravity of the tension in « this worldliness » (ci shi).
The virtuous and the good originate from //, whilst the evil and the bad, from chi. predominance of chi over // must be corrected but requires incessant self-
improvement. Contrary to Weber, this world, according to the neo-Confucianists,
is hardly the best possible world of all worlds : one is to work at it to improve or
transform it, to change the not rational (wu li) into the rational (yu li), the world
without principles (wu dao) into the world with principles (yu dao). As a result,
this world is a grave burden to the individual, a source of personal anxiety and
tension. To the individual as well as society at large, political climate, cultural
ethos and customs can only be changed through the transformative efforts of the
individual and the collective. The ideal goal of the individual is oriented toward a
series of not processual achievements : self-cultivation (xiu shen), regulating the
family (qijia), rightly governing the state (zhiguo) and bringing peace throughout
the world (ping tian xia) ; each achievement requires change, albeit at different
levels, personal, familial, national, and global :