Childhood & Early Life
Lee Kuan Yew was born on 16 September 1923, to Lee Chin Koon and Chua Jim Neo. He has three brothers: Dennis Lee, Freddy Lee and Lee Suan Yew, and one sister, Monica Lee. The family was prosperous, and his father received an English education.
He studied at the prestigious Raffles Institution, and stood first in Singapore and Malaysia in the Senior Cambridge exams. Awarded an Anderson Scholarship to Raffles College, he studied there between 1940 and 1942.
When World War II ended, he went to study in England. He graduated with a rare Double Starred Law Degree from Fitzwilliam College, affiliated to the University of Cambridge.
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Lee Kuan Yew returned to Singapore in 1949. He gained invaluable experience in politics as the election agent to the pro-British Progressive Party leader, John Laycock in whose law firm he was employed.
Along with some English-educated middle class men, he founded the People's Action Party (PAP) as a facade for the illegal Malayan Communist Party, and was supported by pro-communist trade unions.
In the 1955 elections, he secured the Tanjong Pagar seat and became the Opposition leader. He represented the PAP in two discussions over the future constitutional status of Singapore, in London.
PAP swept the 1959 elections, gaining an absolute majority by winning 43 of the 51 Legislative Assembly seats. Singapore achieved self -government status, and Lee was sworn in as its first Prime Minister.
He inherited numerous problems in the various sectors. In 1960, he established the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The board undertook steps to provide affordable homes on war-footing.
He supported Malaya Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s proposal to form of a federation consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. A referendum in 1962 validated the federation.
Singapore declared complete independence from the British in 1963 to become part of the Federation. But it was expelled two years later, owing to widespread racial riots between Chinese and Malays.
On August 9 1965, the Republic of Singapore was born. As the Prime Minister of the tiny fledgling republic, the fundamental problem was in managing its limited natural resources.
He ensured that Singapore was accepted to the United Nations in 1965, and to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) two years later. He declared a policy of neutrality and non-alignment.
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He assigned the task of creating the Singapore Armed Forces to the then Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Keng Swee, which he did with international assistance. In 1967, compulsory military service was introduced.
English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil were accorded official language statuses. ‘The Speak Mandarin Campaign’ was initiated in 1979, to promote Mandarin among Chinese-speaking people who spoke different Chinese dialects.
To encourage the use of English language, he ordered the Chinese- language Nanyang University be united to the English-language University of Singapore to form the National University of Singapore.
The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was strengthened by successive legislations and was given the power to make arrests, investigate bank accounts and income tax related information of suspected individuals.
Alarmed by the trend of Singaporean men not accepting graduate women as life partners, he established the Social Development Unit in 1983, to encourage the mingling of men and women graduates.
In 1990, he resigned as Prime Minister in favor of Goh Chok Tong, but continued to be influential as a Senior Minister in the cabinet in an advisory role.
In 2004, Goh Chok Tong resigned from prime ministership, in favor of Lee’s oldest son Lee Hsien Loong. Lee Sr. was appointed Minister Mentor in the new cabinet.
In 1961, the Economic Development Board was established. It succeeded in industrializing Singapore by drawing foreign investment through tax incentive, providing highly skilled and cheap manpower, and modern transport systems and communication network.
Between 1965 and 1985, Singapore’s economy developed eightfold and its per capita income improved fourfold. The percentage of families living in poverty reduced to 0.3%. Homelessness and unemployment were completely stamped out.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lee married Kwa Geok Choo in 1950, and has three children–Hsien Loong, (the current PM), Dr. Wei Ling (heads the National Neuroscience Institute), and Hsien Yang (presides over the telecommunication giant, SingTel).
Lee Kuan Yew died of pneumonia on 23 March 2015, at the age of 91.
He authored many books in his lifetime. These include: ‘The Singapore Story’, ‘From Third World to First: The Singapore Story’, ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew’, and ‘One Man's View of the World’.
This Asian leader is an avid reader, and likes to occasionally read Tom Clancy novels which are famous for espionage and military science stories.
This Asian statesman declared, “Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless”.