Singapore is a swamp-to-riches story. For centuries the island at the foot of the Malay peninsula was little more than a mangrove swamp. Only Malay fishermen paid it much heed. In 1819 the legendary Sir Stanford Raffles of the British East India Company, impressed by the island’s harbor possibilities, built a trading post there. The island soon became a British colony, noted for its middle-man role in international trade. Immigrants poured in, mostly from southern China, to work in rapidly developing rubber and tin industries. Self rule came in 1959. A two-year experiment as a member state of the new nation of Malaysia ended in 1965 when leaders concluded that the island could make out better on its own.

Singapore today is a booming modern metropolis and Southeast Asia’s leading port, the fourth largest in the world. It is the queen city and garden spot of the Orient. The government is fairly clean, and so is the social exterior. The well-groomed downtown streets, lined by trees and scrubbed frequently by afternoon tropical showers, are not marred by the seamy bars and massage parlors that plague many other big cities. Pockets of poverty exist within the city republic’s 226 square miles, but the per capita income of its 2.3 million residents—75 per cent of them Chinese—is the largest in Southeast Asia. The city is also a beehive of Christian activity, and what is happening among Christians there may have important significance for all of Asia.

About half of the Chinese population (English and Hokkien Chinese are the main languages) is identified with traditional Chinese religion, including Buddhism. Ten per cent or so of the Chinese profess Christianity, but the majority of the other Chinese are not associated with any faith. ...

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