Confucius Confounded: The Analects of Lee Kuan Yew


A book about Lee Kuan Yew that the Straits Times is not promoting heavily.  The Star:

THE founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, is a man who tends to elicit extreme reactions. While some praise his city state as an efficient modern metropolis with cosmopolitan aspirations, other decry the more authoritarian aspects of its political structure.

Former solicitor-general Francis Seow is one of the few dissidents who challenged Lee’s invincible People’s Action Party – and he paid for his beliefs, having spent more than two decades in exile, following a period of detention in Singapore.

This book attempts to portray the development of Lee’s Singapore not through a narrative or historical exposition, but, rather, through a series of quotes from the man himself.

While Seow has authored works like To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison (Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1994) and Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary (Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 2007), this book contains very little commentary and leaves the reader to make his own judgements. …

Lee’s skill as an English-educated lawyer who manipulated the working-class leaders of his own country reveals a ruthless streak that gives lie to his fantastic rhetoric about building a just and egalitarian society when speaking as a Malaysian parliamentarian. One can only wonder what Lee’s defeated foes made of Lee’s erstwhile passionate pleas for liberty once he asserted his tight control overhis island state. …

While there is no doubt that Lee was a talented politician and a brilliant man, it’s a little sad that at this point in his life, Seow is still so obsessed with him. After all, at 88, surely even the shadow Lee casts over his little corner of the world is shrinking.

Ultimately Seow’s book offers little that is new to any student of Singapore’s political history. And let’s face it: that history has been rendered increasingly tame and boring by the population’s docile acceptance of Lee’s doctrines.

While one surely has to admire the accomplishments of Lee’s Singapore (the public transport system and relatively low crime rate for starters), it is obvious that they go hand in hand with the contradictions that are, perhaps, a reflection of the man himself. For all Lee’s talk of independence when he was a young man, it is arguably the subservient and sycophantic relationship with the United States (WikiLeaks anyone?) that best sums up the path that Singapore has taken to prosperity. Confucius Confounded points out that Lee seemed to feel compelled to assert, in 1995, that, “We are not a client state of America”.

As for Seow’s book, it is not essential reading and certainly lacks cohesiveness as a historical work. But neither is it wholly without charm or purpose. It is definitely worth picking up if you’re looking for eloquent albeit somewhat passe political theatre that’s presented in palatable doses.



One Response to “Confucius Confounded: The Analects of Lee Kuan Yew”

  1. 1 Frederick

    Once he quits, hope he doesn’t try to confound god to let him live another 80 more years as the great Sage of Singapore.

    Politics is never fair, it’s always going to end up with one person’s decisions over another.

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