Lee Kuan Yew
1923 - 2015
Lee Kuan Yew, was a Singaporean politician. Born 16 September 1923. He was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, governing for three decades. He is widely recognised as the founding father of modern Singapore and also "Architect of Modern Singapore".
As the co-founder and first Secretary-General of the People's Action Party (PAP), he led the party to eight victories from 1959 to 1990, and oversaw the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965 and its subsequent transformation from a relatively underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources into a "First World" Asian Tiger. He was one of the most influential political figures in Asia.
Singapore's second prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, appointed him Senior Minister in 1990. He held the advisory post of Minister Mentor, created by his son Lee Hsien Loong, when the latter became the nation's third prime minister in August 2004. With successive ministerial positions over 50 years, Lee was also one of history's longest-serving ministers. On 14 May 2011, Lee and Goh announced their retirement from the cabinet after the 2011 general election but Lee remained a Member of Parliament. Lee died of pneumonia at Singapore General Hospital on 23 March 2015.
According to his autobiography, Lee was a fourth-generation Singaporean. His Hakka great-grandfather, Lee Bok Boon, who was born in 1846, emigrated from Dabu County, Guangdong province, China, to Singapore in 1863.He married a shopkeeper's daughter, Seow Huan Nio, but returned to China in 1882, leaving behind his wife and three children. Lee Bok Boon built a little manor in his home village, and bought himself a mandarinate, but he died just two years after his return.
Lee Kuan Yew's grandfather was Lee Hoon Leong, born in Singapore in 1871 and a British subject. He was educated in English at Raffles Institution to standard V, which is equivalent to lower secondary school in Singapore today. Lee Hoon Leong then worked as a dispenser, an unqualified pharmacist, and later was the purser on a steamship of the Heap Eng Moh Shipping Line, then owned by an ethnic Chinese businessman, Oei Tiong Ham.
While working as a purser, Lee Hoon Leong, age 26, married Ko Liem Nio, age 16, in Semarang, Java, Indonesia.It was an arranged marriage, as was then the custom. Both families were middle-class, and the bride and groom were both English-educated. Lee Hoon Leong's maternal grandfather owned the Katong market, a few rubber estates and houses at Orchard Road.Lee Hoon Leong eventually became managing director of the Heap Eng Moh Steamship Company Ltd.
Lee Hoon Leong had two wives, which was common at that time, and fathered five daughters and three sons. His son Lee Chin Koon, also English-educated and a British subject, would marry Chua Jim Neo, who gave birth to Lee Kuan Yew in 1923, at 92 Kampong Java Road in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew had three brothers: Dennis Lee, Freddy Lee and Lee Suan Yew; and one sister, Monica Lee.
Lee Kuan Yew's grandfathers' wealth declined considerably during the Great Depression, and his father, Lee Chin Koon, became a poor shopkeeper. Lee Kuan Yew's aunt, Lee Choo Neo, was the first female doctor to practice in Singapore.
Like Lee, his brother Dennis read law at the University of Cambridge, and they set up a law firm, Lee & Lee. Edmund W. Barker, Lee's close friend, also joined the law firm. Lee and Barker later left the law firm to enter politics. Lee's brother Freddy became a stockbroker; another brother, Suan Yew, read medicine at the University of Cambridge and opened a successful practice.
Lee and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, were married on 30 September 1950. Both Lee and Choo spoke English as their mother tongue. Lee started learning Chinese in 1955 at age 32, before which he was illiterate in Chinese. Lee also learned Japanese as an adult and he worked as a Japanese translator during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Kwa Geok Choo died on 2 October 2010 in her sleep. Lee and Kwa had two sons and one daughter.
Lee's eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, a former Brigadier-General, became Prime Minister of Singapore in 2004. Lee Hsien Loong was educated at the University of Cambridge as well, where he studied mathematics and computer science. He graduated as a Wrangler, where he scored 12 more alphas (an alpha is one problem solved) than his nearest competitor, which had never been seen in the history of the Tripos at Cambridge. He later went on to Harvard University to gain a Master in Public Administration.
Several members of Lee's family hold prominent positions in Singaporean society. His youngest son, Lee Hsien Yang, was also a former Brigadier-General and former President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SingTel. Lee Hsien Yang was also educated in the University of Cambridge, where he read engineering and graduated with first class honours. He is currently the Non-Executive Director and Chairman of Fraser and Neave Ltd and Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).
Lee's daughter, Lee Wei Ling, runs the National Neuroscience Institute. Lee Hsien Loong's wife, Ho Ching, is the Executive Director and CEO of Temasek Holdings.
Lee was born a British subject in 1923 at 92 Kampong Java Road in Singapore. According to his memoirs, Lee was first educated at Telok Kurau Primary School. He described his primary students at Telok Kurau as poor and not very bright and advantaged. He then attended Raffles Institution (RI). In RI, Lee had difficulties keeping up because he met the top 150 students from all over Singapore. He made an effort to get into the top class and joined the Scouts for three years. He also played cricket, tennis and chess and debated for the Institution. During his junior Cambridge years, he obtained several scholarships and subsequently came in top for the School Certificate examinations, obtaining the John Anderson scholarship to attend Raffles College (now National University of Singapore). Lee was the top student in Singapore and Malaya.
Lee's university education was delayed by World War II and the 1942–1945 Japanese occupation of Singapore. During the occupation, Lee learnt Japanese and first worked as a clerk in his grandfather's friend's company—a textile importer called Shimoda. Lee then found work transcribing Allied wire reports for the Japanese where he listened to Allied radio stations and wrote down what they were reporting in the Hodobu office (報道部 – a Japanese propaganda department). Towards the end of the war, by listening to Allied radio stations, he realised the Japanese were going to lose, and fearing that a brutal war would break out in Singapore as the Japanese made their last stand, he made plans to purchase and move to a farm on the Cameron Highlands with his family. However, a liftboy in his office told him his file had been taken out by the security department, and he realised he was being followed by Japanese security personnel (which continued for three months), so he abandoned those plans as he knew that if he went ahead, he would be in trouble. Lee also ran his own businesses during the war to survive, among which, he manufactured stationery glue under his own brand called 'Stikfas'.
During the occupation, Lee was asked by a Japanese guard to join a group of segregated Chinese men. Sensing that something was amiss, he asked for permission to go back home to collect his clothes first, and the Japanese guard agreed. It turned out that those who were segregated were taken to the beach to be shot as part of the Sook Ching massacre in Singapore.
After the war, Lee went on to study in England. He briefly attended the London School of Economics before moving to the University of Cambridge, where he read law at Fitzwilliam College and graduated with a rare Double Starred (double First Class Honours). (After leaving Cambridge, Lee decided to omit his English name, Harry, and simply be known as Lee Kuan Yew, although until the end of his life, old comrades and English friends would still refer to him as Harry Lee.) Lee was subsequently made an honorary fellow of Fitzwilliam College.
In England, Lee campaigned for a friend named David Widdicombe, who was in the Labour Party. He drove Widdicombe around in a lorry and delivered several speeches on his behalf. After seeing how the British had failed to defend Singapore from the Japanese, and after his stay in England, Lee decided that Singapore had to govern itself. He returned to Singapore in 1949.
Lee, in his memoirs, recounted how he had to sing four national anthems in his lifetime: first, God Save The King when Singapore was a British colony; second, Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem during the Japanese occupation; third, the Malaysian national anthem Negaraku, when Singapore was part of Malaysia for two years; fourth, Majulah Singapura, the current national anthem of Singapore.