The past week saw two big religious festivals taking place in Singapore: the Deepavali for Indian Hindus and Hari Raya Puasa for the Muslims. As a result, every where you went, it was easy to spot the traditional costumes for these two cultural groups. However, believe it or not, come Chinese New Year time next year it will be extremely difficult to see a similar array of traditional Chinese costumes on the road, except among the elderly.

Why, you ask? Given that the Chinese culture is similarly steeped in tradition and rich in religion and arts, I really can’t understand this discrepancy as well. Is this because the Chinese race is in general more forgetful of its roots? Hard to believe it when many of the Confucian (earliest ones over two thousand years ago) values are still very strong and alive today. Also, the recent very vocal protests in past few months would seem to indicate a reasonably strong patriotism!? Nevertheless, national costumes remain the exception rather than the rule.

In comparison to Japan – another Far East culture – the national costume is held in high esteem and the attire of choice for official/important occasions. Despite the well-publicised rebellious younger generations in Japan, there are still very strong traditional bonds. As a matter of fact, Japan adopted Western culture much earlier than China, and yet it is clear while both have embraced it at a similar pace subsequently, one seems to have lost more of its traditional roots, at least outwardly.

Could it be that the loss during the Second World War led to a more heightened sense of nationalism?