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Chinese netizens weigh in on Lee Kuan Yew’s death

March 25, 2015 by Blog Editor

Lee Kuan Yew, a well-respected Asian politician as well as the founding father of the Republic of Singapore has passed away on March 23rd. Embracing a jump in GDP per capita from $427 in 1960 to $55,182 in 2013, Singapore, a country with limited natural resources, population and land gradually established itself as one of the wealthiest countries in the world.


Lee Kuan Yew meeting Deng Xiaoping in China, November 1978

Lee, Singapore’s first Prime Minister from 1963 to 1990, faced criticism on issues of political freedom throughout Singapore’s past 50 years of being under a one-party system since independence in 1965. However, many gave credit to his unique style of “soft authoritarianism” that brought efficient bureaucracy, high home ownership, low unemployment and an outstanding school system to the island country. For a long time, the Chinese leaders looked up to Singapore’s success as they wondered if China has the potential to do the same – controlling tightly on medias and dissents while producing high GDP growth.

The presence of another Asian country succeeding in economic development without adopting western democracy seemed to have given China a boost in confidence: in 1978, Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and showed appreciation of its rapid economic development produced by a regime under ‘soft authoritarianism’. A recent paper published by Mark Thompson and Stephan Ortmann from the City University of Hong Kong also showed that a estimation of 22,000 Chinese officials were sent on study visits to Singapore between 1990 and 2011.

Netizens: Mixed Reactions

When it comes to Chinese Internet, however, netizens are more prone to think along a nationalistic line. Weibo user @郭松民 said:

“The biggest mistake Lee Kuan Yew had made is that as a leader of a country of Chinese ethnics, he used the power of the state to prevent Singaporeans to accept Chinese culture and make them recognize American and British cultures as mother culture.

As a consequence, he made Singapore a ‘banana republic’ and cause schizophrenia of many overseas Chinese. These banana men (people have ‘yellow’ skin but a ‘white’ heart) are more discriminative towards Chinese than white people, splitting global Chinese community and harming the interest of every Chinese”.

Weibo user @司马平邦 seemed to get some simple facts wrong:

“Lee Kuan Yew dictated presidential office in Singapore for more than 50 years and invented caning, this is some ‘original sins’ he can never run away from. Now Lee Kuan Yew’s son has become a Prime Minister as well, will he become Singapore’s Chiang Ching-kuo? I saw a news yesterday, saying that another statue of Chiang Kai-shek was pushed over in Taiwan. Today Lee Kuan Yew has been grieved over, tomorrow his will just become a Singapore’s Chiang Kai-shek”.

An official comment made by Chinese Foreign Ministry described Lee as “a uniquely influential statesman in Asia and a strategist embodying oriental values and international vision”.

No matter what Chinese nationalists say about Lee, his political legacy will be remembered by a prosperous, safe and law-abiding Singapore for a very long time.

By Shirley Zhang




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