That would be the best response to his passing, says Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter
On April 6 a journalist from the Chinese evening paper Lianhe Wanbao sought to interview me about my father Lee Kuan Yew.
This was two weeks after Papa died, yet the outpouring of adulation from usually unemotional and often undemonstrative Singaporeans remained unabated. There were long queues to see Papa’s memorabilia at the National Museum. Stories and anecdotes about Papa continued in the media.
One example was a short telegram Papa sent home telling when he would arrive and a cryptic one word, “battleship”, which he used to tell his family he wanted steamboat for dinner. Unfortunately, no one understood what he meant and there was no steamboat for dinner. While it was entertaining, I found the story neither newsworthy nor educational.
One village in Tamil Nadu is planning to build a statue of Papa, another a museum, while a third wants to devote a memorial hall to honour his memory. If Papa were not cremated, he would be turning in his grave in shock and distress.
Papa had worked hard to prevent any personality cult from growing around him. It would most certainly go against what he would want and what he stood for in life, such as service to Singapore and Singaporeans, because that was the right thing to do, without any ulterior motive, least of all self-promotion.
In life, Papa had to face publicity as he galvanised Singaporeans and put his views across to them, to persuade them to accept his decision about what needed to be done for their own welfare. He never courted publicity merely for the sake of publicity. When I wrote articles that mentioned him, I always checked with him before doing so, and his reply would be, “OK, but no hagiography”.
His reply to an ex-MP’s suggestion to name a monument or public structure after him was simply: “Remember Ozymandias.”
Ozymandias was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt. A sonnet by the 19th-century English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley refers to a huge but fragmented statue of Ozymandias with these words carved on its pedestal: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
But nothing remained except the desert. Shelley’s moral was that all prominent figures and the empires they build are impermanent, their legacies doomed to decay into oblivion.
The best response to Papa’s passing is to honour the spirit of what he stood for, which is the welfare of Singaporeans. There is much that we can all work towards for this purpose.
Similarly, to fuss over Papa’s personal objects or portrait defeats the purpose that he had strived for so diligently in life, which was the welfare of Singaporeans.
Yet, what I am told is stirring up Singaporeans is the house Papa lived in which was built more than 100 years ago. In his book, Hard Truths, he said he wanted it demolished because it was too expensive to preserve.
That he did not want the house preserved is obvious from his will which states: “It is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, Kwa Geok Choo, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter Wei Ling would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the house. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the house be carried out.
“If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants.
“My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my will is private.”
Fellow Singaporeans, let us move on in a post-Lee Kuan Yew era and continue to behave with kindness and consideration towards each other and work for a better Singapore for Singaporeans.
If we, by the way, also benefit fellow humans who are not Singaporeans, that would not be a bad thing either. We are all born into this life and we shall all eventually die. Our existence between these points in time would be more meaningful and fulfilling if we can help other fellow human beings.