Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew Edited By Shashi Jayakumar and Rahul Sagar

I was under the impression that I've reviewed Men in White and Hard Truths, but I can't really find them on the blog. Oh well, I know I read them, so when I go back to Singapore next year, perhaps I'll re-read them. Anyway, for those of us that don't have the patience or time to go through all the books about Lee Kuan Yew, there's always The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew.

I picked this book up on the way back to Japan. It seemed interesting, and well, after a week of non-stop narration about his life (incredibly educational, by the way. If I had it during O'Levels, I would have probably brought my combined Humanities score up), I wanted something that was a bit shorter and a bit more about his policies. Hence, this book.

The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew is divided into 5 parts of 2 opinion pieces per part. The first part are the personal reminiscences, but the next four cover "Law and Politics", "Governance", "Society and Economics" and "Foreign Affairs".

My favourite pieces were "Bilingualism: A Never-ending Journey" and the two in "Foreign Affairs", namely "Small State Survival" and "Playing Chess". All were interesting and informative, but these three stood out for a couple of reasons.

The first (and quite possibly largest reason) is purely personal. I like learning languages, and I've went through the bilingual policy by virtue of having grown up in Singapore. When I read the piece, I learnt things I didn't know, like the fact that Mr. Lee was the Minister for Education in 1975 (for four months, which means that he had hands-on experience with the MOE (Ministry of Education). As for the foreign affairs pieces, it's because I used to be in MUN, and so have slightly more interest in things like these.

My favourite story about Mr. Lee and international politics isn't the one by Dr. Kissinger, or any of those in the two foreign chapters (even though the anecdotes about how he worked to help US-China relations was interesting), but the one about his first official visit to China in 1976. In that visit, he was given a pro-China book about the Sino-Indian War of 1962. When told that "this is the correct version of the India-China war", Mr. Lee handed the book back to the then Chinese premier and said, "Mr. Prime Minister, this is your version of the war. There is another version, the Indian version. And in any case, I am from Southeast Asia - it's nothing to do with us." I think he had a lot of guts to do this on his first official meeting.

This book is by no means comprehensive, but if you want a distilled primer of Lee Kuan Yew's policies, I think this is a good book to get.

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