The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew

The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew

Best known as the founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew is credited with turning an insignificant island in Southeast Asia into a booming global metropolis.

Once Singapore gained its independence from the UK in 1963, Lee Kuan Yew became the first Prime Minister of the sovereign city-state. After governing Singapore for over three decades, he is also the longest serving prime minister.

A visionary thinker and transformational leader, Lee Kuan Yew is widely considered to be one of Asia's most influential political figures and credited with leading Singapore to transition from the third world to first world in a single generation. Thanks to his overwhelming parliamentary control at every election, Lee oversaw Singapore's transformation from a British colony with a deep harbor to an Asian Tiger economy.

As he instilled the principles of meritocracy and multiculturalism into the city-state, Lee made English the common language with the purpose of integrating its immigrant society and encourage trade with the West. Under his rule, Singapore became more a more cohesive nation since promoting bilingualism in school allowed students to preserve their mother tongue and identity while not favoring any language over another.

Here are some of his most memorable quotes from different points of his career.

“Even from the sickbed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel that something is wrong, I will get up. Those who believe that after I have left the government as prime minister, I will go into a permanent retirement really should have their heads examined.” - National Day Rally of 1988, two years before his rule ended.

Lee's rule was criticized for curtailing civil liberties - such as media control - and bringing libel suits against political opponents. Despite the protests, Lee argued that such measures were necessary to achieve political stability and rule of law which are essential for economic development.

“I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn't be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters - who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.” - National Day Rally of 1986.

“I'm no longer in active politics. It's irrelevant to me what young Singaporeans think of me. What they think of me after I'm dead and gone in one generation will be determined by researchers who do PhDs on me, right? So there will be a lot of revisionism. As people revised Stalin, Brezhnev and one day now Yeltsin, and later on Putin. I've lived long enough to know that you may be idealized in life and reviled after you're dead.” - “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going.”

“If Singapore is a nanny state, then I'm proud to have fostered one.” - “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story - 1965-2000,” written by Lee and published in 2000.

“At the end of the day, what I cherish most are the human relationships. With the unfailing support of my wife and partner I have lived my life to the fullest. It is the friendships I made and the close family ties I nurtured that have provided me with that sense of satisfaction at a life well lived, and have made me what I am.” - A speech in 2003.

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” - “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story.”

“So when the graduate man does not want to marry a graduate woman, I tell him he's a fool, stupid. You marry a non-graduate, you're going to have problems, some children bright, some not bright. You'll be tearing your hair out.” - “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going,” written by Lee and published in 2011.

“When I visited Madame Tussauds as a student in the 1940s... there were two groups of figures: the famous and the notorious, either British kings and famous leaders, or notorious murderers. I hope Madame Tussauds will not put my likeness too close to the notorious.” - “The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew,” a collection of his quotes published in 2013.