Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”

See #14 to see which minister described the PAP as shouting “Fire” while committing arson.

Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”

by T. J. S. George (1973)

Link: Amazon | NLB


1. Pugnacity: Inclined to quarrel or fight readily; quarrelsome; belligerent; combative (Dictionary).

Excerpts from Book:

1) The Lees are Hakkas. And that is worth remembering. . .[Hakkas] are strong individualists, known for their pugnacity. (Pg-16)

2) [During World War II], LKY learned Japanese and obtained work as a translator in the official Japanese news agency, Domei. . .during his years in power he has shown a pronounced contempt for Singapore’s journalistic fraternity and has ensured that newspapers in the island were run much as Domei was run by the Japanese army. (Pg-22)

3) LKY’s concept of ‘Singaporeanism’ [is] a way of [making] a society in his own image — the projection on to the national scene of an individual’s complex psychological problems. (Pg-30)

4) [Lee’s group formed] its own party. They chose the name People’s Action Party (PAP). It appealed to them ‘mainly because this political party was meant for the people’. (Pg-36)

5) Elections to the central executive [section of the PAP] were restricted to cadre members — and cadre members were chosen strictly after screening by Lee Kuan Yew. As Lee himself once justified it, “The Pope chooses the cardinals and the cardinals elect the Pope.” (Pg-45)

6) Lee remarked later that “to lose would mean that a bunch of rogues would form the government and ruin the country and also fix the PAP.” It was a characteristic comment which summed up Lee’s own personality — his self-assurance, contempt for others, tendency to equate himself with the country and [indicated] Lee’s readiness to “fix” others once he got hold of the reins of power. (Pg-46)

7) Cassandra of the Daily Mirror [likened] LKY to Goebbels. The Daily Express angrily editorialized: “To such men Britain entrusts independence. Greedily they seize their new freedom for themselves and deny it to the people for whom it was intended.” (Pg-51)

8) Ong [Eng Guan] protested that the meeting was being converted into a trial. [He said]: “This is not the first instance of cloak and dagger plots in the party and it will not be the last.” (Pg-55)

9) In the days when LKY was in opposition, in 1956, he gave a vivid description. “I’m told [repression] is like making love — it’s always easier the second time. The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course, with constant repetition, you get more and more brazen in the attack and in the scope of the attack.” He became, and has remained, a striking example of what he was then condemning. (Pg-65)

10) [In Operation Coldstore], the important figures were put away [and] the Barisan Sosialis became a headless body. (Pg-68)

11) In Lee’s reckoning no one else in Singapore was, or could be, right. What he achieved in the process was a one-man party and a one-party state. (Pg-71)

12) Tunku [Abdul Rahman]’s responses sprang from the heart and from his identification with the people; Lee’s from the mind and his studied aloofness from the crowd. The Tunku was utterly human, Lee a machine. (Pg-77)

13) Lee’s policies have often ended up as counter-productive because they were unrelated to the human factors surrounding them. (Pg-84)

14) Malaysian Finance Minister Tan Siew Sen described the PAP as a party which shouted “Fire, fire” while committing arson. (Pg-86)

15) The West (its notions of post-war Asia swinging between anti-communism and the thirst for profitable investment) seemed grateful to Lee for what he projected as the Asianization of democracy — which in fact meant reducing people to digits; or to the letters GNP. (Pg-110)

16) Systematic destruction of political opposition and suppression of the trade union movement were the outstanding features of this policy [of rigorous internal repression]. The government also completely ‘officialized’ the education system, beat the mass media into subjection and instituted other programmes aimed at casting a generation of Singaporeans in a carefully prepared mould. (Pg-112)

17) Given this approach to detention and the rule of law, Lee never bothered to change — except to make it more repressive — the Internal Security Act which he inherited from the colonial administration he had fought. (Pg-116)

18) The treatment of political prisoners involves spiritual and political torture. The process of solitary confinement and interrogation, etc. continue until the prisoners are broken down or try to commit suicide. Those who cannot be broken are left to rot in prison. (Pg-119)

19) Amnesty International naturally showed concern about the fate of political prisoners in Singapore — only to get condemned as a meddler and barred from the republic in early 1971 (Pg-121)

20) People whose governments straightforwardly admitted to being communist or military at least knew where they stood. In Singapore, where professions were democratic while practices were dictatorial, the tragedy was compounded. . .[Lee and his cabinet] projected the dangerous thesis that an efficient Asian government could not also be democratic or humane. (Pg-128)

21) In November 1971, the Sunday Times said: “But for two great British universities to honour [LKY] as a Doctor of Laws devalues the degree and dishonours the first principle of university life — that ideas shall be freely exchanged.” (Pg-130)

22) The Statesman of India said: “In nine years of near-autocratic rule Lee has created a society of soulless conformists. . .a submissive press and the lack of an opposition have enabled Mr Lee to strut about his inconsequential stage and see himself as a Southeast Asian leader.” (Pg-130)

23) The opposition Barisan Sosialis was not banned — though every leader showing any potential was either jailed or exiled. (Pg-130)

24) Lee’s favorite word when referring to Singaporeans is, characteristically, ‘digits’. (Pg-132)

25) Professor D.J. Enright wrote in The Times in 1969 [of Singaporean students]: “This is the drawback to the exhortatory method of nation building: the simple-minded, the second-rate and the merely self-committed come to the top while the intelligent and idealistic feel there is no place for them in a world which is new but not very brave.” (Pg-132)

26) No boy or girl can enter a university in Singapore without written political clearance from the government, appropriately called a Suitability Certificate. A student-applicant’s educational qualifications and academic record have no bearing on his ‘suitability’, which is determined on the basis of his and his family’s political background. (Pg-133)

27) Soon the government took the official position that expatriates should keep out of local issues — and local issues could include everything from Singapore art to traffic congestion. (Pg-137)

28) The contradiction between the noble sentiments Lee aired in Kuala Lumpur where he was in the opposition, and the suppression he practised in Singapore where he was in power, did not seem to occur to him. (Pg-146)

29) Lee conjured up a patriotic halo round the denial of civil rights to an entire people. It was not merely a case of freedom being denied; it was also a case of minds being cast in a government-ordained mould. It was totalitarianism without the saving grace of honesty. (Pg-155)

30) [To most Western correspondents and visitors], Singapore’s apparent glitter has been impressive enough. (Pg-136)

31) Lee has never been impressed by charges of cruelty towards political prisoners in Singapore: according to his book, he was doing them a favour by letting them live. (Pg-191)

32) Singapore in the 1970s mirrors not the collective aspirations of a people or a generation but the ideals, convictions and prejudices of LKY. (Pg-200)

33) Post-1959 elections have been largely empty exercises, as shown by the deceptive ‘choices’ given and the methods employed for the referendum in 1962, the mass arrests of opposition leaders prior to the general election in 1963 and the hundred per cent PAP control of parliament since. (Pg-203)

34) One of the dangers that Singaporeans face is the temptation to live soullessly in order to make money. The prospects of becoming a society which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing is among the points of criticism Lee’s adversaries raise. (Pg-202)

35) The prosperity Lee has brought about has been accompanied by deterioration in the quality of life. (Pg-214)

36) Democracy simply means a government respecting the governed and being accountable to them. It is a political means to fulfill the human potential. (Pg-212)

37) LKY seems to assume that a sense of national identity can be created from television sets, apartments and jobs, disregarding the citizen’s right to respect and equality: that basic right which enables each ‘digit’ in a social whole to stand up and express his views. (Pg-215)

Source: “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore,” by T. J. S. George (1973)

* * *


T. J. S. GEORGE is a former political editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the founding editor of Asiaweek (Hong Kong). He is a writer and biographer who received a Padma Bhushan award in 2011 in the field of literature and education. A veteran senior journalist and one of the best known columnists in India, he continues his fight against social injustice, corruption and political anarchies through his columns.

T. J. S. George Online: Blog | Wikipedia

* * *

More Information:

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (Amazon)
Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (NLB)
Book Review (blog)

3 thoughts on “Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”

  1. In the book. ‘ The Lees are Hakkas.’ The Lee family was not known to be Hakkas until Lee Kuan Yew found that he needed a clan base from which he could operate. Before his discovery that they were Hakkas, the whole family spoke not a single word of a Chinese dialect but pidgin Straits Chinese English and adopted the ways and means of the Straits Chinese which represented the first wave of Chinese to settle in the British Straits Settlements. The Babas and the Nonyas had their heyday when the British were at their prime in the Straits Settlements in the late 19th and the early 20th century. This was the first generation. By the third generation which was Harry Lee Kuan Yew’s, the Straits Chinese were nearly all gone in prominence. They were squeezed out by the late arrivals from China. Strange to say, even though I am not a Straits Chinese, I sponsored the very first Straits Chinese Exhibition of Gold Jewellery at the National Museum, Singapore in 1992 which the Permaisuri Agong (Queen) Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew attended together with all his Parliamentarians and his Pyramid Club. 28,000 Singaporeans also visited the Exhibition which apparently was the catalyst of sorts to trigger a revival of Straits Chinese cuisine, arts and crafts which were previously defunct to the present time.


Comments are closed.