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, a Communist United Front entity.[1]

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 a labour strike by bus workers that resulted into the violent Hock Lee bus riots.[2] He later led[citation needed] the Chinese Middle School riots in 1956 with further violence. Devan Nair recalled that, although the dispute resolved, Lim argued that “the anger of the workers must first be allowed to explode”, leading Acting Governor William Goode to accuse Lim organising as multiple stikes in a lead-up to the riots. Chief Minister David Marshall reprimanded Lim and his extreme leftist compatriots, noting that the “pattern of developments” closely conformed “to the Communist technique in seeking to foment industrial unrest on any excuse and to obstruct peaceful solutions”,[3] 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]

Questions about Communism[edit]

Questions 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]. Although Lim claimed that he had not known the Anti-British League he joined had communist ties, the Special Branch's notes of Lim's activities contradicted this, such as Lim giving a talk in commemoration of Communist leader Joseph Stalin’s death to his ABL subordinates. Philip Moore, the deputy high commissioner in Singapore, stated in confidential correspondence in September 1961 that Lim Chin Siong “was a really clever United Front Communist operator”. Official records of a meeting between Moore's boss, George Douglas-Hamilton, S. Woodhull and James Puthucheary of Barisan Sosialis, Lim and Fong Swee Suan also stated that when Lim and Fong were asked if they were communists, they failed to give a clear answer.[4] CPM leaders such as Fang Chuang Pi claimed to have been in clandestine contact with Lim, asserting in his memoirs that they had a “special relationship”.[5]

Claims made in Lim Chin Siong's Biography, Comet in the Sky[edit]

According to Lim's memoirs, Lim had stated that he felt that labelling one a Communist was the quickest way to justify a detention without trial. In Lim's memoirs, Dr Greg Poulgrain of Griffith University observed that the British Governor of Singapore and his Chief Secretary in their declassified reports to London stated that the police found no evidence to establish that Lim was Communist. According to Lim, British and anticommunist Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock was the one who incited riots among the unionists and students during his rallies. Lee Kuan Yew then allegedly used these incidents as reasons to imprison Lim under the charge of Communism, after Lim split from PAP to spearhead the Barisan Sosialis. In addition, Lim alleged that Lee imprisoned under the request of Brunei Sultan, Sir Omar Ali Saifuddin because he had met the leader of the Brunei Revolt, A.M. Azahari and promised his party's support to him and the PRB(Brunei People's Party). Lim's jailing and exile also allegedly ensured that Lee would have no competitors for Singapore's premiership. The secretary general of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng, never acknowledged Lim to be a party member, and that the party had never controlled and manipulated Lim or Barisan Sosialis, contrary to Lee's claims; while the MCP in Southern Thailand had also stated that they did not exercise direct control over the Singapore left.[6]


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. ^ "Lim Chin Siong and that Beauty World Speech: A Closer Look". Institute of Policy Studies. 8 May 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Frost, Mark (2009). Singapore: A Biography. Singapore: Didier Millet Ltd. pp. 359–361. 
  3. ^ "Lim Chin Siong and that Beauty World Speech: A Closer Look". Institute of Policy Studies. 8 May 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Lim Chin Siong and that Beauty World Speech: A Closer Look". Institute of Policy Studies. 8 May 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  5. ^ "Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs Of A Malayan Communist Revolutionary". Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre. 2008. 
  6. ^ 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