Lim Chin Siong

I am currently reading Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore by T.J.S. George. If my schedule permits, I should be able to post a review in a week or two (I am a slow but thorough reader…).

The chapter I was reading today contained several mentions of Lim Chin Siong (included in the first excerpt below), which reminded me that I wanted to do a post on him quite some time ago.

Described in a sentence, Lim Chin Siong was “a young rising star in Singapore’s political firmament in the 1950’s and 1960’s,” who was arrested and detained during Operation Coldstore (1963).

I have very strong feelings about Operation Coldstore and Operation Spectrum, because the destructive element in them is dark and depressing.

The first time I heard about these events was early last year. The more I read about it, the more I came to realise the reason for The Straits Times’ reputation as a government mouthpiece. (That reputation is also mentioned in this Contemporary World History academic text published by Cengage Learning.)

I have an interest in history and historical accuracy because I don’t like being lied to, especially when it’s a “deeply personal topic” such as the political history of one’s birth country. It’s the same with trust in any kind of relationship — in the case of governance, nation-building can’t be fostered if there is a lack of genuine trust between a nation’s citizens and its leaders.

These are some excerpts on Lim Chin Siong from books and online resources. I hope the snippets are easily understandable for people who would like an introduction to the side of Singapore and/or a portion of its history that runs contrary to the official state narrative (so far).

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Artwork on right by Captain Ness

1. Chapter 3: The Making of a Prime Minister

“[Lee Kuan Yew] was afraid. Lim Chin Siong had qualities that made him a formidable political rival, and he was superior to Lee as a human being. First, his, charisma and mass appeal were embellishments evidently beyond Lee Kuan Yew’s reach. Second, his interest in general reading to Lee’s inclination then and now to avoid everything that was not immediately and directly relevant to his job (some say he stopped reading when he left Cambridge). Third, Lim was widely recognized as being utterly selfless.”
(– T.J.S. George, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore1973 / Pg-47)

2. Feature: Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History

“Lim Chin Siong [is] the vanquished other hero of Singapore’s political history. . .Lim’s bright career however, was abruptly destroyed before he could realise its full potential.

It was during his third imprisonment, says his friend Dr M.K. Rajakumar, that Lim was “destroyed, both psychologically and politically”. He had a nervous breakdown, became depressed and suicidal. In 1969, in this state of depression, he was released from detention after announcing that he would quit politics.”
(– Cheah Boon Kheng,, July 2001)

3. Former President of Singapore Devan Nair’s 1988 Letter to Lee Kuan Yew

“Memorable words of your own, uttered 27 years ago, will attest to the fact that this is not the first time I have been the victim of a total smear, a furious attempt at utter demolition. I quote from a radio talk you gave to Singaporeans in 1961, when you and I were fighting real enemies, and not tilting at windmills as you are doing today:

. . .Lim began to fight Devan Nair relentlessly and ruthless, by fair or unfair methods, by smears and intimidation, to destroy every influence that Devan Nair had with the workers and the unions. His personal friendship for Devan Nair meant nothing. I knew that this was what one must expect of a good Communist.

Well, the Lim Chin Siong of 1961 turns out to be an incompetent juvenile in the art of demolition compared to the awesome efficiency displayed by the Lee Kuan Yew of 1988.”
(– Devan Nair, 1988 Letter to LKY)

4. Youth of Singapore: It’s Time to Rise

“The Student Movement gave rise to leaders like Lim Chin Siong who co-founded the PAP, [and] Dr Lim Hock Siew, Soon Loh Boon and Dr Chia Thye Poh, just to name a few.

The movement was thriving in Singapore and it gave birth to a new dawn after a successful fight with the colonial rulers. That is, of course, until the PAP themselves started clamping down on student activism more ruthlessly than what the colonial rulers did. They witnessed the power of the students first-hand and they were afraid of it.”
(– Ariffin Sha, July 2014)

5. An open letter to Lee Kuan Yew

“…a response to open records of the National Archives of UK which contained testimonials that contradict the government’s long-held assertions that Mr Lim Chin Siong and the detainees of Operation Coldstore were engaging in communist activities.”
(– Martyn See, June 2014)

6. Lim Chin Siong was never a communist…?

“As much as LKY wanted him to be a communist, he could never prove Lim Chin Siong as one, conclusively. Even if he was one, he would never publicly admit to being a member of the Communist Party of Malaya as that would land him in jail. The CPM was an outlawed organisation.”
(– Kampong Academic, October 2014)

7. What Is History

“If Kumar Ramakrishna, author of Lim Chin Siong and that Beauty World speech: A Closer Look had only identified himself as Associate Professor and Head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University, I would not have bothered with his article at all.”
(– Hong Lysa, June 2014)

8. The Sobering View of an Ex-ISD Officer

“It was a well-known fact that Lim Chin Siong, the former general secretary of the powerful Singapore Factory & Shop Workers Union, was the undisputed leader of the communist united front and controlled the mass base. Lee Kuan Yew could not have been unaware of this fact and knew that he had to depend on Lim Chin Siong and his mass base to advance his political ambition.”
(– Former ISD Director Mr. Yoong, December 2009)

9. Lim Chin Siong vs Lee Kuan Yew

“But in his memoirs, The Singapore Story, published in 1998, Lee Kuan Yew condescendingly described Lim [Chin Siong] as “modest, humble and well-behaved, with a dedication to his cause that won my reluctant admiration and respect.”
(– SDP Blog, July 2007)

10. An annotated bibliography of Operation Coldstore

“. . .to consider how Lim Chin Siong’s contribution to Singapore lay in his ability to harness international and local forces to build a strong multicultural alliance against British colonialism. . .”
(– Loh Kah Seng, New Mandada, Jan 2015)

11.  Lim Chin Siong was wrongfully detained

“For over five decades, the official government narrative of Singapore’s history has justified Lim Chin Siong’s detention by asserting that he was a communist who advocated violence and subversion.”
(– Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, The Online Citizen, May 2014)

12. Chapter 4: Living in a Time of Deception

“Detaining Lim Chin Siong was always in the cards. Following the PAP defeat in the Hong Lim by-election, the British high commissioner, Lord Selkirk, reported:

He [Lee Kuan Yew] seemed to accept that this [the detention of Lim Chin Siong] was a desirable end and in fact, claimed that he himself had suggested this to S.B. [Special Branch] a year ago [i.e. early 1960 not long after Lim’s release] that the best way to deal with Lim was a direct attack, but that S.B. had persuaded him to adopt the alternative policy of detention of prominent trade unionists near to Lim.”
(– Poh Soo Kai, The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore, 2013 / Pg-172)

13. Message via email (this does not mention Lim Chin Siong, but contains an important message to younger generations)

“Whatever the political activists achieve presently are always built on things done by the generations before them over the decades. I remember Dr Ang Swee Chai (the widow of the ex-exile Francis Khoo) said at a small private gathering followed her husband’s memorial service in Singapore. She said she would like the younger generations to know that it was not that their generation didn’t try — they tried so hard and so many of them ended up in jail or in exile…”
(– CMX, sent to me via email, December 2014)

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