The Singaporeans are not an ethnic group, but simply citizens of the Republic of Singapore, which was established in 1959. Before that time Singapore was a part of Malaysia, one island at the southern tip of the peninsula. The term "Singaporean" was little-used in the literature before independence.
The name "Singapore" was adopted on 23 February 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles to designate the town he had founded. It was, however, a name of considerable antiquity, for in the form of "Simhapura," Sanskrit for "lion-city," it had been applied to a trading town of some importance in this locality since about the fourteenth century, when it had been established by Malay or Javanese settlers. (Other etymologies have been proposed.) Although Singapore was originally a name for both the island and Raffles's town on its southern coast, spreading urbanization in the twentieth century has now covered almost the entire island with the city, a total area of 544 square kilometers.
The climate, like that of Malaysia, is one that formerly supported a tropical rain forest. Ethnically, the population of 3,062,000 (1992) is about 76 percent immigrant Chinese, and it is these people who, settling there for trade purposes over the past 150 years, now dominate the population. Malays, who were the original inhabitants of the area, are today only a small minority in Singapore, and Islam is consequently a minority religion (16 percent of the population). Nearly a fifth of all Singaporeans (18.7 percent) are Christian, while the great bulk are—like Chinese elsewhere—followers of a mélange of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucian philosophy. In addition to these faiths, 4.9 percent of Singaporeans are Hindus of Indian origin, and there are also small communities of Sikhs and Parsis.
The small country has four "official" languages, Chinese, Malay, English, and Tamil, and owing to excellent schools and universities it can boast one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. This achievement reflects the fact that good schooling is available in all four of the official languages. The standard of living is also one of the highest in Asia.
Although there is considerable unemployment, nearly all those who do work are employed in service industries, commerce, education, and administration, and very few in agriculture. Singapore is in fact one of the world's great commercial centers; the impending reversion of Hong Kong to China in 1997 has had the effect of moving many industrialists with their families and capital from there to a new home in Singapore. The republic's government has naturally been very supportive of all movement for further economic growth.
See also Chinese in Southeast Asia
Blaut, James M. (1953). "The Economic Geography of a One-Acre Farm on Singapore Island: A Study in Applied Micro-Geography." Journal of Tropical Geography 1:37-48.
Chan, Hong Chee (1971). Singapore: The Politics of Survival, 1965-1967. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
Maday, Bela C, et al. (1965). Area Handbook of Malaysia and Singapore. Washington, D.C.: American University, Foreign Studies Division.
Milne, R. S., and Diane K. Mauzy (1990). Singapore: The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Moore, Joanna (1960). Singapore: City of the Lion. Singapore: D. Moore, for Heinemann.