7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:
I’m not an easy respecter of persons. No crushes on seniors; have never been a fan of any pop group or personality; constantly set the nit-pick on prominent theologians. But in the last few months, death has claimed two of the few people I’ve respected: Teo Soon Hoe (who was known only to a few within his industry) and today, Lee Kuan Yew (known by a nation, and more globally).
Flags are flying at half-mast everywhere in Singapore. And there is a certain sad stillness and muffledness to the day. Perhaps I have never observed this before but the piped-in music in shopping centres and supermarkets seems muted as Singapore starts its 7-day period of national mourning.
Walking past Parliament House, I saw condolence messages being written and put up on boards, and bouquets of flowers being laid in front of the compound:
Here are at least 7 reasons for respecting LKY and 7 reasons why his family* should be proud of having a father/grandfather like him. The mix is potent – intelligence and power without integrity gives you a very cunning dictator; integrity and incorruptibility is nice but useless for a politician without intelligence:
He was clear-thinking, straight-talking, and astute in international affairs:
“UK Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher said Lee had a way of “penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our time and the way to tackle them”, while US diplomat Henry Kissinger said no world leader had taught him more than Lee Kuan Yew.” (BBC News, Lee Kuan Yew: Life in pictures, 22 March 2015)
from Lee Kuan Yew Collection
“Lady Thatcher once said that there was no Prime Minister she admired more than Mr Lee for ‘the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead’. His place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world’s foremost statesmen.” (UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement following the death of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew)
“He was not at all a charmer. He was not a flatterer. He had developed his point of view. He would present it with great intelligence and eloquence – not in order to get you to do something specific, but to understand the nature of the world in which you were living…Because afterall, Singapore as a country did not represent a major force. It was the intelligence of the leaders and the ability of its population to do standards of performance that exceeded those of its neighbours. Otherwise, it would have been drowned.” (Henry Kissinger, Business Times, 23 March 2015)
He was clear-thinking, straight-talking, and astute in domestic affairs:
““To understand Singapore,” he said, “you’ve got to start off with an improbable story: It should not exist.”
It is a nation with almost no natural resources, without a common culture — a fractured mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians, relying on wits to stay afloat and prosper.
“We have survived so far, 42 years,” he said. “Will we survive for another 42? It depends upon world conditions. It doesn’t depend on us alone.”
This sense of vulnerability is Mr. Lee’s answer to all his critics, to those who say Singapore is too tightly controlled, that it leashes the press, suppresses free speech, curtails democracy, tramples on dissidents and stunts entrepreneurship and creativity in its citizens.
“The answer lies in our genesis,” he said. “To survive, we have to do these things. And although what you see today — the superstructure of a modern city — the base is a very narrow one and could easily disintegrate.”” (The New York Times, Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils, 2 September 2007)
“Younger people worry him, with their demands for more political openness and a free exchange of ideas, secure in their well-being in modern Singapore. “They have come to believe that this is a natural state of affairs, and they can take liberties with it,” he said. “They think you can put it on auto-pilot. I know that is never so.”
The kind of open political combat they demand would inevitably open the door to race-based politics, he said, and “our society will be ripped apart.”” (The New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)
He did not take bribes:
“The Americans should know the character of the men they are dealing, with in Singapore and not get themselves further dragged into calumny… You do not buy and sell this Government.” (as far as we know and at least in this case – see a newspaper article on the Rusk affair)
He had strong feelings for the right people (you don’t need someone wearing his heart on his sleeve):
“People think about him as an austere, logical and cerebral sort of person. I think he has strong feelings about quite a number of things, and also in his personal relationships with my mother, with the kids, he may not show it, but he feels it.” (Lee Hsien Loong, Today, 2012)
by Kwa Kim Li
“He brushed aside the words of a prominent Singaporean writer and social critic, Catherine Lim, who described him as having “an authoritarian, no-nonsense manner that has little use for sentiment.”
“She’s a novelist!” he cried. “Therefore, she simplifies a person’s character,” making what he called a “graphic caricature of me.” “But is anybody that simple or simplistic?”” (The New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)
See also A Love Story (The Sunday Times, Lee Wei Ling, 20 Jun 2010).
And Lee Kuan Yew: The Last Farewell to My Wife (The Star/Asia News Network, 10 October 2010)
And also ‘Without her, I would be a different man’: Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s love affair (Channel News Asia)
And again, The Love of His Life (Today – Special Edition, 23 March 2015)
With the sort of power he had, it was amazing that he was not corrupt and did not line his own pockets:
according to this page, this is what his Oxley Rise living room looks like.
“GROWING up, my family used to bathe using large dragon-motif ham dan gong, or salted egg jars in Cantonese. We would fill them up with water and ladle it out to wash ourselves at our home on Oxley Road.
My parents did this for almost six decades since my father moved into the house in 1945, and my mother, in 1950. It was only after my mother had her first stroke in 2003 that a shower was installed in their tiny bathroom. I think it was in part because they were so set in their ways. But it was also because my father neither cared for material things, nor coveted them.
He lived in a simple spartan way; his preoccupations and priorities lay elsewhere. Some people collect watches, shoes, pens, rare books, antiques or art, but not my father. When people gave him all sorts of gifts, he kept almost none of them. … How would I like my father to be remembered? Well, he never worried about winning any popularity contest. He would speak his mind. He fought for what he believed was best for the country and the people of Singapore. He always had the best interests of the country at heart. And at home, it was always the interests of his children and our mother.” (Lee Hsien Yang, The Straits Times -Special Edition, 23 March 2015)
and this is consistent with him being pragmatic, not for his own power, but for Singapore’s future:
“Singapore’s secret, Mr. Lee said, is that it is “ideology free.” It possesses an unsentimental pragmatism that infuses the workings of the country as if it were in itself an ideology, he said. When considering an approach to an issue, he says, the question is: “Does it work? Let’s try it, and if it does work, fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one.” The yardstick, he said, is: “Is this necessary for survival and progress? If it is, let’s do it.”” (The New York Times, Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils, 2 September 2007)
““I’m not saying that everything I did was right,” he said, “but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.”” (New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)
“There are those who believe that development was bought at the price of personal freedom and often cite Lee’s penchant for suing media organisations who disagreed with him.
But Mr Lee stood by his record until the end. “I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that’s all,” he said in a 2011 collection of interviews.
“At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”” (BBC News, Obituary: Lee Kuan Yew, 22 March 2015)
He was not always thinking about his legacy, which troubles loads of other people, petty actors as they may be on life’s stage:
“Interviewer: How would you want him to be remembered?
PM: He never troubled himself with that question either. But I don’t know what to say. He is a father, he is a father of the nation, and he made this place.” (Lee Hsien Loong, Today, 2012)
Singapore newspapers have put their special features online:
Various obituaries and eulogies and opinion pages from all around the world, from friends and critics:
Henry A. Kissinger: The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew (Henry A. Kissinger, The Washington Post, 23 March 2015)
Lee Kuan Yew, Asian statesman – obituary (The Telegraph, 23 March 2015)
How Kuan Yew turned tragedy into a blessing (Zainuddin Maidin, 23 March 2015)
Can-Do Lee Kuan Yew (Roger Cohen for The New York Times, 23 March 2015)
And of course, there are several Facebook groups:
PS: Also, he was a cheeky kid. See Top Performer with a Playful Streak from a defunct Raffles Institution magazine, ONE.
*Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Yang, Li Xiuqi, Li Yipeng, Li Hongyi, Li Haoyi, Li Shengwu, Li Huanwu, Li Shaowu etc.)