Lim Chin Siong

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Lim Chin Siong
Born (1933-02-28)28 February 1933
Died 5 February 1996(1996-02-05) (aged 62)
Cause of death
Heart attack
Nationality Singaporean
Occupation Politician
Political party
People's Action Party
Barisan Sosialis
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Lim.

Lim Chin Siong (Chinese: 林清祥; pinyin: Lín Qīngxiáng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lîm Tshinn-siông; 28 February 1933 – 5 February 1996) was an influential leftwing politician and trade union leader in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s.

Early life[edit]

Born in Telok Ayer Street, Lim studied first in Johor, before entering Singapore's Catholic High School and The Chinese High School in 1949 and 1950 respectively. He was later expelled for engaging in subversive activities in the Anti-British League.

Political career[edit]

Lim's influence in politics stemmed from his union work as a paid organiser of the Singapore Bus Workers Union and the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers Union. Together with his strength in Chinese oratory which was a critical factor for tapping the support of the Chinese-speaking masses.


Lim co-founded the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954 with Lee Kuan Yew . His popularity rose rapidly and he became the leader of Chinese workers, trade unions and Chinese middle school students in the 1950s. He was slim, youthful, dedicated, and had a handsome boyish face. His oratory as a speaker in the Hokkien dialect, among the Chinese masses was legendary. In his political memoir The Singapore Story, Lee Kuan Yew offered deserved praise to Lim's "hypnotic" oratory:

"...a ringing voice that flowed beautifully in his native Hokkien. The girls adored him, especially those in the trade unions. Once he got going after a cold start at the first two meetings, there was tremendous applause every time he spoke. By the end of the campaign, Lim Chin Siong was seen as a charismatic figure and a person to be reckoned with in Singapore politics and, what was of more immediate concern, within the PAP."

At the young age of 22, He was elected into the legislative assembly as a member for Bukit Timah in 1955 and together with Lee, represented the PAP in the 1956 constitutional talks in London.


In 1955, Lim and his close associate Fong Swee Suan (方水双)instigated[citation needed] a labour strike by bus workers that resulted into the violent Hock Lee bus riots.[1] He later led[citation needed] the Chinese Middle School riots in 1956 with further violence.[citation needed] The Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock suppressed the riots aggressively and Lim Chin Siong, with many other leftists, were arrested. The PAP promised to release Lim as one of its promises to the electorate to gain support, and thus honoured that by freeing Lim in 1959 after winning the first General Election.

Lim later exited the Lee-led PAP which was trying to eliminate its own left-wing sections. He then formed the Barisan Sosialis in 17 September 1961. After Singapore's referendum affirming merger with Malaysia, Lim Chin Siong and many opposition party members were detained under the Internal Security Act by the ruling PAP government via the notorious Operation Coldstore on 2 February 1963.

The Barisan Sosialis contested the 1963 general election while Singapore was a state of Malaysia. Though they put up a fierce fight, crippled by Operation Coldstore, they lost. This loss began Barisan Sosialis's eventual decline.

During detention, Lim was reported to be depressed and suicidal. He was finally released from prison on 28 July 1969 after forcibly renouncing politics and went into exile in London. He returned to Singapore in 1979 with his family. The Barisan Sosialis merged with the Workers' Party in 1988. Lim Chin Siong died of a heart attack on 5 February 1996.[1]

Disputed Communism[edit]

Doubts have surfaced about Lim Chin Siong's status as a communist. The erstwhile Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, later Minister Mentor of Singapore, maintained that Lim was communist[citation needed], but this claim had been denied by Lim[citation needed]. Lim had also stated that he felt that labelling one a Communist was the quickest way to justify a detention without trial[citation needed]. The secretary general of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng, never acknowledged Lim to be a party member[citation needed], while the MCP in Southern Thailand had also stated that they did not exercise direct control over the Singapore left[citation needed]. Lee Kuan Yew had once introduced Lim Chin Siong as "our future Prime Minister"[citation needed]. He had also perceived Lim to be a challenge to his authority[citation needed].

Declassified British documents[2] have stated that Lim was not actually a Communist. However, history textbooks in Singapore have stated that he is one. Dr Greg Poulgrain of Griffith University has also observed that the British Governor of Singapore and his Chief Secretary in their reports to London stated that the police found no evidence to establish that Lim was Communist. During Lim's rallies, the British and anticommunist Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock incited riots among the unionists and students in attendance[citation needed]. Lee Kuan Yew later used these incidents as reasons to imprison Lim under the charge of Communism[citation needed], after Lim split from PAP to spearhead the Barisan Sosialis[citation needed]. Lim was imprisoned not because of what he knew about Singapore. He was imprisoned because he had met the leader of the Brunei revolt, A.M. Azahari. He had promised his party's support to A.M. Azahari and the PRB. The then Brunei Sultan, Sir Omar Ali Saifuddin who was rebelled against by the PRB was furious. At his instigation, Lee Kuan Yew did the bidding of the Brunei Sultan to lock up Lim Chin Siong. This was so that the true history of the Brunei revolt would never be known. The complete story of this revolt in 1962 is not known even until today despite the passing of more than sixty years. Part of his jailing was to ensure that Lee Kuan Yew also had no competitors for the premiership during the early days of Singapore's establishment. Because of Lim Chin Siong's exile Lee was able to stay as premier of Singapore unchallenged for a longer time. The political survival of Lee Kuan Yew was furthered by Lim's exile. Lim later resided in England[citation needed]. Chin Peng, the leader of the MCP, stated that the Malaya Communist Party had never controlled and manipulated Lim Chin Siong[citation needed] or Barisan Sosialis[citation needed], in contradiction of the claims of Lee Kuan Yew[citation needed].


Lim and his followers' contribution to Singapore's political development was that their dedication and selfless dedication to their cause helped to ensure that the ruling PAP also had to make sure that incorruptibility and integrity were central to their political legitimacy in Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew wrote of Lim in his obituary:

“I liked and respected him for his simple lifestyle and his selflessness. He did not seek financial gain or political glory. He was totally committed to the advancement of his cause…Because of the standards of dedication they set, we, the English-educated PAP leaders, had to set high standards of personal integrity and spartan lifestyles to withstand their political attacks. They were ruthless and thorough. We became as determined as they were in pursuing our political objectives.”[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quotes on Lim Chin Siong
  2. ^ The Abortion of a Prime Minister : Singapore's Lim Chin Siong
  3. ^ The History of PAP (Part IV)-Lim Chin Siong


  1. ^ Frost, Mark (2009). Singapore: A Biography. Singapore: Didier Millet Ltd. pp. 359–361. 
  2. ^ Comet in our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History Editor: Tan Jing Quee & Jomo K. S. Publisher: Selangor Darul Ehsan (Malaysia) 170 pp. B&W photos. Paperback ISBN 983-9602-14-4