A predominant theme in Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs is his personal fight against Communism in Singapore and the Federated States of Malaya. He not only uses the goal of creating an independent, non-communist, Singapore to manhandle policy, but he does it to discredit individuals.
In one description of a meeting with a fellow named Peng, who he adjudged was the head of the Communists in Singapore, Lee lists four demands he received from Peng.
- Democratic rights;
- Cultural freedom
- Freer import of books from China
- Freer immigration rules
Of these four, Lee quickly pointed out that they would of necessity prove to expand the influence and power of the Communists in Singapore.
This I refute.
Having lived in two ostensibly Communist countries (Vietnam and Laos) I am familiar with the heavy burden of censorship and the efforts to discredit opposition by limiting access to all of these things, whether they be considered as human rights or Communist propaganda.
I find it interesting, too, that Lee frequently makes the distinction between anti-Communist and non-Communist, as if one of them was simply anathema and the other, which did not support Communism but didn’t refute it either, somehow acceptable.
At the time, I can understand Lee’s reasoning. He is confronted with demands for more democratic rights and cultural freedom. These would later, according to Lim, be appropriated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) to develop an artificial nationalism in Singapore and create a system that would allow the multilingual population of the island to feel apart of something bigger than just being an immigrant group.
The others, however, seem to be arbitrary. On one occasion when living in Laos, I ordered several books at one time, a box from Amazon of approximately three hundred dollars worth. I never saw that box, but I do know they tended to open the bigger boxes and investigate what was inside. I suspect what happened was that the Post Office censors opened my box and saw the two volume Historical Dictionary of African-American Riots and proceeded to condemn the entire shipment.
I cannot live without books. It is a truism. I am simply built that way. And that is one of the reasons that I respected Singapore despite its autocratic rule. They had an entire mall dedicated to books, and that only a block away from an eight story building full of books and study nooks.
I thought that this was a sign of democratic development, but apparently not. Books, according to Lee, were dangerous and Communist. I have also read several theses written by Singapore students out of NUS. They rarely challenge established wisdom and tend to be the kind of repetitive twaddle (and yes, I just used the word twaddle) that is historically Mandarin/Confucian. That rather than discover new information and develop new interpretations, they repeat the classics, and the better they are at quoting the classics, the higher they get in the administration.
And immigration, well, that’s a global issue, and possibly the only one that I agree might be a serious challenge to an honest and upright government. Singapore is small, approximately 720 square kilometres, and has little room for crowds of refugees or uneducated masses. But to turn them back. . .hurts. I’m not going to dive into a discussion of immigration today, but needless to say, I can see how–in Lee’s situation–immigration from China might effect his standing as a “non-Communist” leader.
Picture of Changi Beach, eastern Singapore.
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