Beijing Native-turned-Singapore National Shooter: Schooling Story is Idealistic, Singaporeans are Xenophobic

Former Singapore sportswoman Zhang Jingna has lashed out at Singaporeans for foreigner-bashing. The former national shooter who represented Singapore in air rifle shooting said that foreigners, even when they represent Singapore, face much prejudice.

Zhang, a China native, moved to Singapore at the age of 8 and enrolled in Raffles Girls’ School when she was 14.  She represented Singapore in shooting for 6 years, breaking a record at Commonwealth Shooting Championships in 2005 and winning a bronze at Commonwealth Games in 2006.

In 2004, Zhang dropped out of school to pursue a degree in fashion design. She is now working as a photographer and based in New York.

“I thought the xenophobia I experienced as a child was just a number out of a pool of random experiences. Surely, I would grow up to be in better company than the strangers who told me I was about the same as shit, or that I would always be of the lowest classes of citizens compared to local-born Singaporeans. I was wrong.

The hating on foreign nationals on my feed has reached a point where I am beginning to feel sick. To realize that some of these people are ones that I had once worked with makes it all the more painful.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the various threads of conversations that have come up, from the other side.

1. “The government should have spent more money on people like Schooling”

Joseph’s story is a golden and idealistic one. It’s really incredible, no doubt. But in hindsight, it is of course easy to say all of these after he has already achieved what he has. But it doesn’t always start and end like this. I know of local-born Singaporeans on scholarships overseas who never came back. If, for example, Joseph was indeed sent to the US on Singapore’s dime and a) didn’t win, b) never came back, or c) quit. I bet a lot of people would change their tune, and blame the government for wasting money on a Singaporean who wasn’t trained on Singapore soil, by Singaporean coaches.

2. “We should just cultivate locals”

This is casual and easy to say. But it’s not so simple. There is a lot of prejudice against kids who want to pursue a career in sports or the arts. I’m certain that even someone who lives under a rock knows that, for we have long talked about how talents like Stephanie, Kit and JJ only managed to become super hits because they did not stay in Singapore.

If you had children, chances are that most of you would hesitate to believe and invest in your child to go into such careers, because it’s risky, unproven and with little chance of returns. You want them to have a stable, happy life, a secure job, that’s only natural.

As someone who tried to pursue what I loved since young, I have been called uneducated because I deferred my studies to prepare for the Commonwealth Championships and Games. I have been called stupid by a teacher in front of class in art school, for leaving RGS to pursue art. Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to actually cultivate locals, when the whole society scoff and look down upon them and tell them how stupid they are to think about it. The government is not the only problem—the people hold the key.

So what the government probably thought was that if the locals didn’t want to do it because they saw no hope for their children in pursuing these fields, then maybe, if we had some medal winners, these parents might change their minds. That once we set a precedent, perhaps slowly, some of these parents would allow their children to pursue their dreams, now that that we have set up an environment for them to learn, train, and could possibly excel in.

Certainly, it may not have become the outcome, and the government might have had other choices and had not picked the best one, but faced with this type of dilemma, you should not be surprised at the path taken.

3. “I’m a purist, I will never be proud of someone born elsewhere”

I sure hope your grandparents and theirs don’t hear you saying this. It’s heartbreaking.

The greatest thing about Singapore is that we tell people that this is their home, that we accept everyone regardless of race, language or religion. When my American friends ask me about Singapore, I used to tell them proudly that we are a multi-racial and accepting country. I am saddened that I might have been wrong, that my experiences as a child were not merely flukes, and that the xenophobia and discrimination has only proliferated through social media. We all came from somewhere, we all benefited from the immigrants that our parents, grandparents and forefathers were. So let’s stay civilized and not use racist and discriminatory words like ‘purist’.

4. Foreign Talents

People do things for a multitude of reasons—a better quality of life, a better career; family, love, fame, money, passion, excellence, whatever it may be, there is not much to achieve by hating on someone who is just trying to do their best.

Don’t look down on Jiawei just because she said she hated table tennis. How many of you knew what you wanted to do as a kid, are still doing it, and continue to have passion? I can assure you that the conversion rate is not 100%.

I know plenty of people who hate their jobs but continue to do it for a long time. Those of you who know me may be surprised, but I am also one of them. We are human and we change. Sometimes we start on a path early in our days, get good at it, and want to strive for the best. But along the way, we get tired or jaded. 18 years is a long time to be doing one thing, over and over again.

Sometimes, we also get hurt by the people we encounter, and eventually this passion becomes something we loathe and loathe ourselves for because we can no longer tolerate it. To overcome that is strength, but not all of us are strong enough to remain unbroken. So if we wanted to do something else? I don’t think that’s so wrong.

I was on the national team for close to 6 years. I broke a record at the Commonwealth Shooting Championships and just wanted to focus on getting better. I wanted to go to the Olympics one day, too. But when things went bad, I was told to figure it out myself when I asked the sports council for help. I eventually quit the team.

I suffered from traumatic stress and was suicidal even years after. So whether it’s due to a sense of duty or to just keep surviving by having a job, Jiawei’s 18 years of commitment to table tennis is no easy feat. I admire her for that.

Joseph Schooling and his family did a great thing for our country and I am bloody proud that he won. But that is the achievement of Schooling and his family. Not the society who would have judged his family for spending over a million dollars as stupidity, or him for pursuing something that seemed like an impossible dream as poor choice and irresponsible parenting. However, he did draw Singapore in the place-of-birth lottery, and it makes me wonder how different the narrative would have been had he not been born here.

As a child I kept quiet because I thought the insensitive and hurtful words were what I deserved, for being born where I was despite being raised in Singapore. As an adult, I know now that these comments are not right.

Before you pass judgement the next time, please remember that people don’t get to choose where they were born or what skin color they were born with. At the end of the day, we are all the same on the inside—flesh and blood and bones, and a heart that’s only trying to find our places in the world.”







  1. Walter

    August 16, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    You’ve nailed it..

  2. Nelson

    August 16, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Jinga, I am a Singaporean living in the US, and would like to apologize on behalf of (some of) my countrymen for their racist behavior. Singapore is a country essentially made up of immigrants and I am always surprised that some of them can be so xenophobic. I maintain hope that these people are the minority but who’s voices are magnified over the anonymity of the Internet. Singapore society can also be very judgmental and anyone who goes out on a limb to chase his or her dreams often become a target. Ultimately, it’s your life and you have to do whatever fulfills you. Good luck to you.

  3. Corey Manders

    August 17, 2016 at 12:40 am

    Who read this? Incredibly well conceived and written.

  4. Alex Chen

    August 17, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Most of your experiences have nothing to do with foreign prejudice. The locals do to each other what they do to you. Trust me – I’ve been on the receiving end of the same rubbish locals spout.

    I think what people truly wanted to say have been twisted out of proportion because of the sweeping way they’ve said it.

    For example – I have never, ever, minded having foreigners. It was only when the numbers became alarmingly large, that we had to squeeze and push on trains and buses, and I witnessed many foreigners being mean, some even violent, towards locals, that I started to feel that maybe a large influx wasn’t such a good idea.

    In my lower secondary school days, my buddy was British. Upper secondary, Taiwanese. My best friend is Indonesian. I am the Godpa of his children and I love them with all my heart.

    I don’t hate foreigners, certainly not all of them, but who would feel comfortable if their house suddenly became exceedingly crammed?

    Xenophobia happens in many countries – not just Singapore. In Australia, in UK (look at Brexit), in China itself. However, if you were to look deeper into it – is it truly xenophobia? If the numbers were much, much smaller, and home prices weren’t sent sky high because of foreigners, jobs equally shared, this wouldn’t be happening. So, the real issue isn’t xenophobia. It’s simply numbers. And it’s numbers caused by a government.

    The problem is not the locals – the problem is when policies become uncontrolled. Think of a fish tank, or even a castle with endless people. Overcrowding causes death in one and discomfort plus lack of control in the other. I agree that we should not hate, but whilst it isn’t right to use discriminatory words, people can’t help feeling what they feel. It is the policies that should change.

    You’re scolding locals – but have you considered how it feels for us? Would you be happy if 60 people went to your home, dirty your toilets, push you around and force you to have to spend much more, in your own home?

    • Sophina Kuan

      August 18, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Well said, Alex Chan. I fully agree with you. I started being nice n friendly to FT but later changed my attitude when i witnessed how they hv disregarded Singapore. They peed openly in the public, littered the place and then badmouthed Singapore. They were the ones who outstayed their welcome by exhibiting such anti-social behaviours.

    • Anonymous

      August 18, 2016 at 8:24 pm


  5. Surely

    August 17, 2016 at 9:36 am

    You make me tear. I am a proud Singaporean. But I am also a proud citizen of the world.

  6. Suhaimi Lazim

    August 17, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Ms Zhang. I applaud you for your frank opinion and saying it for what it is!!!

  7. Maria Lai

    August 17, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Zhang is wrong to assume it was the people’s attitude who influenced government’s decisions. It is actually the other way round. For a long time, the government didn’t focus on sports because the emphasis was on educating the people for the economy. Prestigious scholarships were set up for those academically bright. Even after the country became more prosperous, the academic emphasis remains. Then the government thought that it would be nice to have some sports achievements to complement the economic growth. But sports have always been relegated to the sideline, so how? Let’s import some foreigners from other countries then. After some brainstorming, decided to import the Table Tennis players from China.
    Zhang said she was hurt by nasty remarks made at her. And she thinks the same nasty remarks were not made to Singaporeans who decided to pursue arts, sports instead of academics? Sure it’s mean of some Singaporeans to insult the Table Tennis players but this is also a backlash against the government for seemingly pumping in money on foreigners rather than nurturing locals. The truth is, for a long time, Singaporeans are made to feel inferior to foreigners. It’s not until schooling won the gold medal that really uplifted the confidence of the people.
    And pleased don’t be presumptive to think the people will sneer and complain about the government spending money on local talents who may not be yielding results. There are always a small minority of crazies in every societies.
    Also, let’s not forget that Singapore is a very small market and it’s inevitable our talents have to go overseas to make it big. This is just the way economics work.

    • Jimmy Tan

      August 17, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Yes, i fully agreed with you.

  8. Garry

    August 17, 2016 at 11:57 am

    In order to for you, Jingna, to understand what you term as “foreigner-bashing” you’ll need to be local, thoroughly local.

    While I wholly disagree with our governments approach towards “buying” foreign talents with promises of citizenship and monetary rewards, it does not mean I can’t show my disdain.

    Call it what you want, spin it any way you like, Singapore is a land where foreigners have overstepped the mark and are becoming full of themselves. I’m not about to be spoken to like a second class citizen in my own country and this is no different.

    To be polite, go home if you can’t accept our attitude. Remember, nobody made you decide your allegiance at gunpoint.

    • CK Ong

      August 17, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      As a “thoroughly-local local”, I feel sick reading what you have just written. In return I would like to show my disdain towards you and anyone who thinks the same way as you do.

      To be very polite, the world does not need you, Donald Drumpf-wannabe.

    • Kelto

      August 18, 2016 at 5:34 am

      I hope you took time to read the article. She came to Singapore at the age of 8, studied in our schools and represented Singapore in the Commonwealth games. Can non-Singaporeans represent the country in sport? Stop being a xeno and educate yourself. She deserves to be treated with fairness and dignity just as much as the next person on the street.

    • barainblitz

      August 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      CK Ong you are just confirming what she has written. lol

  9. John Choo

    August 17, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    A truly frank opinion from a sportsperson who has done Singapore proud… Thank you for being so frank with your opinion. Don’t be bothered or be affected by what others have to say… it is really not about you but the person who has made the comments. Do be cheerful and work towards to your dreams instead.

  10. CY

    August 17, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Ignore those hurtful people. Not all Singaporeans are like them.

  11. kai

    August 17, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Great read. Wished more youths from Spore are able to express themselves like you.

  12. Tit for Tat

    August 17, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Don’t worry, snobby Singaporeans get to have a taste of their own medicine and then some when they’re in foreign land such as Australia. Trust me.

  13. Jyanzi

    August 17, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    I’m was a colonial singaporean (left 1956). Lived in different parts of the world and recruited back in 1985 as an academics. There were times we had gone overseas but somehow we came back. The people isn’t the same in various contexts but it’s hard to generalise. One thing for sure is the sound governance under the solid leadership of LKY who saw things differently from the populace whose world view can be quite narrow.
    All of us, one way or another has faced discrimination from different sources but my own experience, (learning from the world)is that one simply must live positively in a world that is becoming more and more negative, Singapore included.

  14. Stan

    August 17, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    There is simply no excuse to demean anyone. The IF’s and But’s of these xenophobic Singaporeans are only justifications to their narrow mind. These scums grew up being criticized themselves so the only thing they know is to condemn.

  15. Mark

    August 17, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Theres this bunch of Singaporeans that only speak behind a keyboard. don’t bother. I can only hope these minority realise that it is them with a tunnel vision and can’t do much.

    All the best!

  16. max

    August 17, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    So black guy goes the China what happens?.

  17. GY

    August 17, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    And… this is why I will never want my children to grow up in Singapore.

  18. Lawrence Cheong

    August 17, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    I think many of us prefer the govt to support and focus more on local citizens that want to excel in sports and not get foreign sport talents to become citizens just to fill that particular sport. We dont need to win medals for the sake of winning. If the best local volleyball player we have is not able to win anything in international tournaments, support him/her becuase of his/her passion. We dont need to get a talented brazilian to convert to Singaporean for a better chance at gold. To add on, if you were a singaporean before taking interest in shooting, then i apologise for those who were prejudiced against you cause I for one would support you.

  19. Damon Chen

    August 18, 2016 at 12:29 am

    Life is not a bed of roses. Strong swords need to be forged in fire. If we have had things easy at the nurturing stage. We wouldn’t be where we are at. Or at least be not appreciative of what we have. Which is the problem of the people who have been complaining about everything whenever they find a chance to do so. Haters will always be in every luring corner of our lives. They hate because they are jealous of your achievements. The indigenous of Singapore is the Malay race. In fact, a good percentage are gen2/3 migrants from neighboring countries. The national anthem is in Malayu. The regimental commanding language is also in Malayu. With a 51yrs old independence status only country. It’s still a long way from being completely development enough to focus on advance level of social and academic development. Pardon the small minority of fools who have been throw discriminating remarks. But they are too insignificant to hold you back to chase your dreams. If thigns don’t work out

  20. TW

    August 18, 2016 at 4:06 am

    there will always be haters at the end of the spectrum who are more emotionally charged n driven to make such comments. i believe the discontent stems from sg govts programs to bring in foreign athletes n developing them.
    SG is proud of u JN. ignore the haters!

  21. May

    August 18, 2016 at 6:11 am

    There are many self-centered people in this world who think they are the best, who want to associate themselves with the best. Judge people and themselves base on results and class. All part of the rat race. Self-sustaining. Gunning for ‘gold’. Crunching numbers. Very hardworking, productive people who are not aware that they can end up destructive at many different levels. When a place is full of self-centered people, high class, low class, middle class, we know what it is like. Toil, toil, more toil. The world is in danger. We have a security issue here on earth. The earth implodes. The earth cries : “Perils of growth, industrialisation, globalisation!” RATS! GSTE! People, can we all get to self-actualisation without stepping on fellow earthlings? Schooling, are you the darling of this earth after getting your million(s) or are you going to rip it bare too? Time will tell. People just care about their business, their economy. These are sad things that entrap People. There is disGRACE everywhere. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wharton-donald-trump_us_57b2371be4b0a8e15024e6b8?
    Toss some gold make People gaga.
    Toil make People’s head spin.
    Fame keeps them going in rounds for more.
    Truth is : Earth is not spinning fast enough for its’ People.

  22. KT

    August 18, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Agree with the message but needs to rethink on the delivery. Xenophobic is largely caused by too little empathy. Immigrants have many reasons to leave their place of birth. It’s never an easy decision.

    Please have more empathy towards those who bear ill feelings towards immigrants. They, too, are victims of the circumstances. Many had suffered due to the actions of a few immigrants. They made the mistake of labeling and blaming all immigrants due to these experiences.

    Two wrongs do not make a right. Please forgive them, and in turn seek forgiveness of most Singaporeans who are not xenophobic. Just as it is wrong to be xenophobic, it is also wrong to judge a whole nation by the voices of a few. They do not represent us.

  23. Annah

    August 19, 2016 at 9:09 am

    First of all, this is a well written piece of article.
    I believe, anywhere we go people are all fighting for success and in doing so affect the people around them. This is reality that we have to deal with. Whether you are a foreigner or local of any country, at some point you will feel discontent. Either you decide to stay or move on, do what makes you happy! That’s all that matters. Cheers!!

  24. Tan

    August 19, 2016 at 9:34 am

    All i can say is author did not experience what we local Singaporeans are facing. Please do not say we are xenophobia until you see how locals being treated as in their own country. A lot of changes happened while author are staying at NYC, especially after 2006 onwards..

  25. Lyn

    August 19, 2016 at 10:33 am

    I’m sorry you were made to feel this way. But the issue is not really just a simple xenophobia. There’s a lot of history behind this outrage.

    I think what appears to be foriegner bashing is really a disguised form of government bashing.

    Those of us who have been here several generations have felt the personal impact of government policies over the course of the years, and especially those who have lived through the pre PAP era will be able to tell you about all the changes that have happened since the “good old days”. And manyof these changes have left many Singaporeans bitter and angry. After all, who doesn’t remember the “Stop at 2” campaign?

    In the past, singapore had a pretty lively entertainment and sports culture. We had our own bands, films, races and all that going on. But over time, doing these things professionally became difficult. Then it became impossible. Not just because of a lack of support but because of policies, and government actions. Like sometimes, then infrastructure was totem down and not replaced so that the activities just couldn’t continue.

    Then suddenly, they want to be an arts hub. After thumbing down the arts scene many years ago, and for many years, until you only have the very few last men standing who made it through sheer grit, will and pure defiance of whatever direction the government had decided to go, suddenly, oh foriegners compassion that there’s nothing to see in Singapore. It’s not cultured enough. So they build the Esplanade. Where international acts can come to perform. But local talent continues to barely get any support.

    Same with sports. We had sportsmen pretty much being chucked into the corner for the longest time, and suddenly for some reason, they decided that we need to be on the Olympic platform. So they hire/buy players from everywhere while Singaporeans are still given next to zero support.

    The situation is just not right.

    I’m sorry that you’re caught in the worst of both worlds. Being given so little support by the government Thanks to the fact that you’re not brought in as some international superstar, and facing all that unfair judgement for being not born here.

    I’m sorry that because you came here, you had to deal with a people who were taught by the government that sports and arts would amount to nothing, and had such blatantly rude things to say to you.

    I’m sorry that you got caught in the cross fire as a human shield for all the viciousness and anger that was meant to be directed at a government that cares about economics and image more than anything else by a people who feel cheated, abused and hurt by a government that constantly touts that it takes care of its citizens and is the best in the world, and so deserve the highest salary in the world.

    Anyway, you can be sure that proud as we are of Joseph Schooling, we’re just as mad that the government seemed to have done virtually nothing to support him, but also seems to want to take credit for all his achievements. Because the victory parade is hollow when the ones who arranged it would be just as happy to throw you under a bus as an example of why you should not waste money pursuing a sport should you have gone all the way and returned with nothing to show for it.

  26. Pingback: “Xenophobia” is but a convenient accusation. – @RoyPhang

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