Lim Yew Hock

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Tun Lim Yew Hock
2nd Chief Minister of Singapore
In office
8 June 1956 – 3 June 1959
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Sir Robert Black (1955–1957)
Sir William Goode (1957–1959)
Preceded by David Marshall
Succeeded by Lee Kuan Yew (as Prime Minister)
Personal details
Born 15 October 1914
Straits Settlements Singapore, Straits Settlements
Died November 30, 1984(1984-11-30) (aged 70)
Saudi Arabia Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Political party Labour Front (1955-1958)
Singapore People's Alliance (1958-1963)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Lim.

Haji Omar Lim Yew Hock (15 October 1914 - 30 November 1984), born Lim Yew Hock (Chinese: 林有福; pinyin: Lín Yǒufú; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lîm Iú-hok), was a Singaporean and Malaysian politician of Chinese descent, who served as a Member of the Legislative Council and Assembly from 1948 to 1963, and the second Chief Minister of Singapore from 1956 to 1959.

In his early years, Lim worked as a clerk upon graduating from the Raffles Institution. Following the end of World War II, he joined the labour movement and later began his political career, joining the Progressive Party (PP) in 1947. In 1949, he became a member of the Labour Party. He founded the Labour Front (LF) with David Marshall. The Rendel Constitution was implemented in 1955 due to political instability and greater demands for independence in post-war Singapore. LF won the Legislative Assembly election, with Marshall as Chief Minister. Lim was appointed Minister for Labour and Welfare, and served as his deputy during his term of office.

However, after talks with the Government in London for self-rule failed, Marshall resigned as Chief Minister, and Lim took over. In order to gain trust from the British, Lim suppressed leftist movements. He led an all-party delegation to re-negotiate in talks for self-rule, enventually reaching a agreement with the British for a new constitution granting internal self-rule in 1959. However, Lim lost the support of the Chinese majority due to his oppression of pro-communists, especially the crackdown of teachers and students in Chinese schools for being left-wing. This led to the increase in support for the People's Action Party (PAP), then opposition, led by Lee Kuan Yew.

Lim's Singapore People's Alliance was defeated by the PAP in the 1959 election, causing him to step down as Chief Minister, while Lee succeeded him as Prime Minister. Since then, he was less involved in Singaporean politics and left the Assembly in 1963. He was appointed Malaysian High Commissioner in Australia by the then-Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. However, he dropped out of Malaysian politics in advance due to his disappearance in 1966 during his term of office. Lim converted to Islam and led a low profile in Saudi Arabia in his late years.


Early years[edit]

Lim Yew Hock was born in Singapore of the Straits Settlements, on 15 October 1914.[1] With Fujian ancestry,[1] he was the third generation of overseas Chinese in Singapore, and son of Lim Teck Locke.[2] Lim was the eldest son in his family and has a brother and two sisters. He was English-educated in Pearl's Hill School and Outram School from young.[2] He obtained excellent results and received a four-year scholarship. He was admitted to the prestigious Raffles Institution and completed his secondary education in 1931.[3]

Lim had planned to study Law in the United Kingdom upon graduation, and was ready to sit for Cambridge entrance examinations. However, his father's sudden death made him stay.[3][4] He was only 37 years old when he died, so the assets he left behind was put under supervision of Lim's uncle, while Lim was being further mistreated.[2] As the Great Depression greatly impacted Singapore's economy, he had to give private tuition after his secondary education to support his family, made up of his mother and younger siblings.[4]

Soon after he was employed as a junior clerk of the Imperial Chemical Industries in 1934, he transferred to Cold Storage as a junior clerk,[1] stabilising his income. Later, he was promoted as stenographer because of his outstanding working performance in writing shorthand.[4] During World War II, Japan launched the Pacific War in December 1941, leading to the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Lim lived on selling charcoal, until the end of Japanese occupation and Singapore's revert to British rule in 1945, when he returned to Cold Storage as private secretary.[2][3]

Early political career[edit]

Lim got involved in trade union activities right after the war. He resigned from Cold Storage and worked as full-time Secretary-General of the Singapore Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union (SCAWU).[3][5][6] In March 1947, he became the first Singaporean to receive the British Council scholarship, to study local trade unions in Britain.[7]

With his trade union background, Lim joined the newly formed Singapore Progressive Party (PP) led by Tan Chye Cheng to start off his political career.[2] In fact, there was a major change in politics of post-war Singapore. On one hand, there were increasing calls for independence,[2] and on the other hand, the Straits Settlements was dissolved in 1946 by the British Government, while the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements was restructured in 1948 as the Legislative Council of Singapore.[2] In March 1948, Singapore held its first Legislative Council election to elect its six out of the 22 Councillors; Three out of five PP candidates won in the election.[2][8] Lim did not participate in the election, but was appointed as an unofficial member in April, representing the trade union in the Council.[3][5]

Lim left the PP in July 1949 and joined the Labour Party of Singapore (LP), whom Lim shared a similar political stand with. Later in June 1950, he was elected LP's Chairman, and was chosen to serve as Chairman of the SCAWU in July of the same year.[2] Under support of the union, he contested in the Keppel constituency during the Legislative Council election held in April 1951, and was successfully elected as a Councillor.[2] In this election, the number of elected seats increased from six to nine; The PP won six, LP won two, while the remaining seat was won by an independent candidate.[2][9] In May 1951, Lim founded the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC) and appointed himself as Chairman.[1] In the same year, he was funded by the United States Information Agency to study the labour movement in the US. However, LP's internal struggle among the different factions got worse and worse.[7] The faction led by party's Secretary-General Peter Williams successfully coerced Lim to step down as Chairman. He eventually left the party.[2]

Labour Front[edit]

Soon after leaving the party, Lim was appointed as member of the Rendel Commission, chaired by British diplomat Sir George Rendel, which was formed in July 1953 by Singapore's colonial government to provide advice on constitutional development in Singapore.[1] The Commission subsequently submitted a report in February 1954 for major changes in constitutional law of Singapore, heading towards self-rule.[2] At the same time, Lim formed the Labour Front (LF) with Francis Thomas and well-known barrister David Marshall, with Marshall as Chairman.[2]

In February 1955, a new constitution, the Rendel Constitution was implemented. Singapore would create its first Legislative Assembly with majority of the seats popularly elected, to replace the existing Council.[10] 25 out of 32 seats would be elected by the general populace, four seats would be allocated to Governor-appointed unofficial members, three seats taken by ex officio members, respectively the Chief Secretary, Attorney-General and Financial Secretary, while the remaining seat would be for the unofficial Speaker of the Assembly nominated by the Governor.[10] Moreover, the post of the Chief Minister was added, which would be assumed by the leader of the majority party in the Assembly, sharing the responsibility with the Governor.[10] The Governor continued to take control over areas such as external affairs, internal security, defence, broadcasting and public relations, whereas the power of policy-making for the people's welfare lied in the hands of the Chief Minister.[10][11]

The existing Executive Council was replaced by the newly formed Council of Ministers, chaired by the Governor, composed of the three ex officio members (Chief Secretary, Attorney General, Financial Secretary) and the remaining six unofficial members, inclusive of the Chief Minister and five other members from the Assembly.[10] Although the Governor presided over the Council of Ministers, the Chief Minister could lead discussions, whereas the other Council members who was also Assemblymen would also take up different ministerial posts, similar to the Westminister and parliamentary system.[10][12]

Lim won in the Legislative Assembly election of 1955, representing Havelock constituency, and was appointed Minister for Labour and Welfare. The photograph shows the former Legislative Assembly House of Singapore

Subsequently, in the Legislative Assembly election held in April 1955, Marshall-led LF won in the election with 10 seats.[10] The remaining seats were taken by the PP (four), Singapore Alliance (coalition of UMNOMCASMU, three), People's Action Party (PAP, three), Democratic Party (two) and three independent candidates.[13][14] After the election, Marshall became Singapore's first Chief Minister, but as the LF did not obtain absolute majority, he formed a coalition government with the Singapore Alliance, and appointed two pro-LF unofficial nominated members into the Assembly under the help of Governor Sir John Nicoll.[15] Lim was elected as Havelock constituency's Assemblyman. He was the only popularly elected Legislative Councillor who transit over to the Legislative Assembly.[1][4]

After the election, Lim was appointed by Marshall as Minister for Labour and Welfare, while he resigned his chairmanship from the STUC.[3][16] Then, workers were on strikes one after another, often escalating into riots, so Lim, as Labour and Welfare Minister, had to meditate and assist in subsiding such strikes.[2] He had handled the April–May 1955 Hock Lee bus strikes,[17] May–July 1955 Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association strikes,[18] and also strikes from hotels, City Council of Singapore, Singapore Traction Company, etc.[19][20][21][22] The Hock Lee bus strikes turned into a riot in May 1955, killing four and injuring many, including two police officers who died.[23]

Soon after, Marshall led an all-party delegation with Governor Sir Robert Black to London, UK in March 1956, to negotiate with the British for self-rule in Singapore.[10] However, talks failed by May 1956, and in his return to Singapore, Marshall resigned as Chief Minister on 6 June.[10] His deputy, Lim, who was also Minister for Labour and Welfare, took over on 8 June and became Singapore's second Chief Minister.[4][24][25]

Lim's Council of Minister was similar to that of Marshall's. Besides continuing to serve as Labour and Welfare Minister, while the other members include his deputy Abdul Hamid bin Haji Jumat (Minister for Local Government, Lands and Housing), J. M. Jumabhoy (Minister for Commerce and Industry), Francis Thomas (Minister for Communications and Works), Chew Swee Kee (Minister for Education) and A.J. Braga (Minister for Health).[25] Marshall, former Chief Minister, later left the LF and founded the Worker's Party.[26] In March 1958, Lim was chosen as LF's Chairman.[7]

Chief Minister[edit]

Chinese schools riots[edit]

After Lim succeeded as Chief Minister, his top priority was to achieve full self-governance for Singapore from the British Government.[2] The British had taken to account Singapore's future early during Marshall's tenure as Chief Minister. The British had agreed to Malaya's (Malaysia's predecessor) independence, and due to the strategic value of Singapore's geography, the British wanted to continue taking control over foreign and defence affairs of Singapore. Hence, the British are inclined to granting Singapore self-governance instead of independence.[27] Though Sir Robert Black, the then-Governor had taken a more open and friendly approach to self-governance for Singapore, as compared to his predecessor Sir John Nicoll, he believed in gradual self-governance. If the handover of power were to be carried out too hastily, self-governing political leaders might not have sufficient experience in governing.[28]

The Chinese middle schools riots in October 1956 broke out at The Chinese High School

When Marshall led a delegation in March to May 1956 to negotiate talks with the British for self-rule, Black emphasised the priority of internal security issues,[10][12] while anti-colonialist LF was ineffective in suppression of the series of riots incited by the communists. As a result, talks broke down and complete self-rule was refused.[10]

To enhance the internal security, Lim arrested the leftist trade union members, teachers and students under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance, in September to October 1956 and August 1957 upon taking office. Some of them were deported.[29] In addition, alleged pro-communist organisations such as the Singapore Women’s Association, the Chinese Musical Gong Society and the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students Union were banned by the authorities.[30] The series of raids prompted the teachers and students from Chinese schools in October 1956 to launch sit-in protests at Chung Cheng and The Chinese High School, eventually escalating into riots.[29][30]

Under the support of Black, the riot police were dispatched by Lim to clear the school grounds. The Government also imposed a curfew from 26 October to 2 November, suppressing the riots effectively.[3][24][29][30] However, the riots killed 13 and injured hundred more in the five days.[30][31] Hundreds were arrested, including assemblymen Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and Devan Nair, who were radicals from the opposition PAP. They were released when the PAP came to power in 1959.[30][31]

Negotiation for self-rule[edit]

British Government was assured of Singapore's internal security due to Lim's tough stance against the communists. This allowed re-negotiations for self-rule from December 1956 to June 1958.[2] Under Lim's leadership, a delegation of representatives of political parties headed to London in March 1957 to commence talks with the British for self-rule.[24][32] They reached a consensus in April, while Lim signed a new constitutional agreement with Secretary of State for the Colonies Alan Lennox-Boyd on behalf of Singapore.[32][33] Representatives from Singapore drafted a new constitution;[33][34] In August 1958, the British Parliament passed the State of Singapore Act.[34] Based on the agreement, there would be a great increase in the number of Legislative Assembly seats to be contested in the 1959 election, where all seats would be popularly elected;[32] Singapore would become a self-governing state, with the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers being replaced respectively by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Singapore, in charge of all affairs except defence and diplomacy; The Yang di-Pertuan Negara would replace the existing Governor.[32][33]

Meanwhile, Lim prompted the Assembly in October 1957 to pass the Singapore Citizenship Ordinance.[24] The Ordinance defined Singapore citizens as those who were born in Singapore, who were born outside Singapore whose fathers were born in Singapore and did not hold foreign nationality, who were born in Malaya and had been living in Singapore for at least two years, who were British citizens living in Singapore for at least two years, and who were foreigners living in Singapore for at least ten years.[35] In recognition of his performance, the University of Malaya conferred Lim the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in September 1957,[7] while he was presented the rank of Seri Maharaja Mangku Negara (S.M.N) in August 1958 by Malaysian King Tuanku Abdul Rahman, therefore being granted the title of Tun.[7]

Acknowledging Nanyang[edit]

For the first time in 1958, Nanyang University was funded by the Government

Lim had taken a friendlier approach to the Nanyang University prior to the creation of a self-ruling state in June 1959, in order to gain the support of the Chinese majority.[36] Nanyang was the first university with Chinese as its main medium of instruction, which was funded and set up by Tan Lark Sye and other Singaporean businessmen with Fujian in 1953.[37][38][39] However, Nanyang had been disfavoured by the Government due to the latter's English-first policies and the former's alleged CPM involvement.[38] During Marshall's rule, the-then Minister for Education Chew Swee Kee said in May 1956 that degrees conferred by Nanyang would not be recognised by the Government.[39]

Ever since Lim took over as Chief Minister, the Government had taken a positive attitude to Nanyang's development despite its policies of non-recognition to Nanyang's degrees.[36] The building of Nanyang's campus was completed in March 1958 and Sir William Goode, the-then Governor was invited to host the institute's opening ceremony.[37] In October 1958, Lim's government announced that it would provide financial assistance to Nanyang, where half of the $840,000 (Straits dollar) would be used for Nanyang's expenditures while the other half would be used for student bursaries. This was the first time Nanyang received government funding.[36] Lim had the Assembly pass the Nanyang University Ordinance in March 1959, officially granting Nanyang university status.[36]

Lim also reassessed the possibility of full acknowledgment of Nanyang's university status. He formed the Prescott Commission in January 1959, chaired by S. L. Prescott to evaluate the standard and recognisability of Nanyang's degree.[36]

Loss of support[edit]

Malaysian politics[edit]

Late years[edit]

Lim met with a traffic accident and was badly injured.[40] Despite having made a full recovery, he had occasional health problems, for instance, before his disappearance in June 1966, he had undergone two months of medical treatment earlier on.[41] After resigning from the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Lim initially settled in Malacca,[6] until he met with a broken marriage with his wife, when he chose to convert to Islam and emigrated to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to start a new life. He adopted an Islamic-sounding name, Haji Omar Lim Yew Hock.[6]

In his late years, Lim moved to Jeddah. He joined the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and worked as a special assistant to the President of the Islamic Development Bank.[6][42] He died on 30 November 1984 at his Jeddah home, at the age of 70, and was buried in Mecca that night.[6] His autobiography, Reflections, was published after his death in Kuala Lumpur in 1986.[1]


Lim made such an evaluation about himself in his autobiography published after his death:

Personal life[edit]

Lim married Chia Kim Neo in 1937. They had one son and three daughters.[2] After having been through his disappearance in 1966 and resignation from the Malaysian Government in 1968, Lim's marriage with Chia broke down.[2] When he converted to Islam and was living in Saudi Arabia in his late years, he remarried ethnic Chinese Hajjah Hasnah Abdullah, another Muslim convert. Both of them had a daughter with the name of Hayati.[2]

Appendix: Life experiences
  • Junior Clerk, Imperial Chemical Industries
  • Junior Clerk, Cold Storage; Later promoted Stenographer and Private Secretary; Lived on selling charcoal during the fall of Singapore
  • Secretary-General of the Singapore Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union
  • Singapore Progressive Party member
  • Unofficial member of the Legislative Council of Singapore
    (April 1948 - April 1951)
  • Singapore Labour Party member
    (July 1949 - December 1952)
  • Chairman of the Singapore Labour Party
    (June 1950 - December 1952)
  • Chairman of the Singapore Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union
    (July 1950 - 1955)
  • Singapore Legislative Councillor for Keppel constituency
    (April 1951 - April 1955)
  • Chairman of the Singapore Trades Union Congress
    (May 1951 - 1955)
  • Member of the Rendel Commission
    (July 1953 - February 1954)
  • Labour Front member
    (April 1954 - November 1958)
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly of Singapore for Havelock constituency
    (April 1955 - June 1959)
  • Member of the Council of Ministers
    (April 1955 - June 1959)
  • Minister for Labour and Welfare
    (April 1955 - June 1959)
  • Chief Minister of Singapore
    (June 1956 - June 1959)
  • Chairman of the Labour Front
    (March–November 1958)
  • Chairman of the Singapore People's Alliance
    (November 1958 - September 1963)
  • Singapore Minister for Education
    (March–June 1959)
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly of Singapore for Cairnhill constituency
    (June 1959 - September 1963)
  • Malaysian High Commissioner to Australia
    (January 1964 - July 1966)
  • Deputy Secretary (Special Duties), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia
    (August 1966 - August 1968)

List of Ministers[edit]




Honorary degrees[edit]


  • Lim Yew Hock (15 October 1914 - August 1958)
  • Tun Lim Yew Hock, SMN (August 1958 - November 1968)
  • Lim Yew Hock (November 1968 - 1972)
  • Haji Omar Lim Yew Hock (1972 - 30 November 1984)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Corfield (2011), pp. 159-160.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Lau (2004)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Man who thumped the Reds" (1 December 1984)
  4. ^ a b c d e Tan, Guan Heng (2007), p. 141.
  5. ^ a b Mukunthan (2004)
  6. ^ a b c d e "Lim Yew Hock dies in Jeddah" (1 December 1984)
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Morais (1965), p. 234.
  8. ^ "LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL GENERAL ELECTION 1948",, retrieved on 12 January 2013.
  9. ^ "LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL GENERAL ELECTION 1951",, retrieved on 12 January 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ng (2009)
  11. ^ Quah, p. 37.
  12. ^ a b Sutherland (2010)
  13. ^ "LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY GENERAL ELECTION 1955",, retrieved on 12 January 2013.
  14. ^ "Singapore Legislative Assembly General Election - 1955" (2010)
  15. ^ Wong (2002), p. 82.
  16. ^ "MARSHALL NAMES HIS MEN" (7 April 1955)
  17. ^ Tan, Kevin (2008), pp.269-270.
  18. ^ "DOCKS BOSS SIGNS THE AGREEMENT" (7 July 1955)
  19. ^ "GOVT. ASK ILO AID ON LABOUR TROUBLES" (31 August 1955)
  20. ^ "Hotel strike inquiry" (7 October 1955)
  21. ^ "CITY COUNCIL WORKERS TO STRIKE" (15 August 1955)
  22. ^ "STC strike: Mr. Lim has a plan" (28 December 1955)
  23. ^ Lee, Edwin (2008) , p. 107.
  24. ^ a b c d Corfield (2011), p. xxv.
  25. ^ a b c "THE NEW CABINET WITH SIR ROBERT" (9 June 1956)
  26. ^ Trocki (2008), p. 118.
  27. ^ Lee, Kuan Yew (September 1998)
  28. ^ Tan, Kevin (2008)
  29. ^ a b c Lee, Edwin (2008), p. 137.
  30. ^ a b c d e "1956 - Student Riots" (1999)
  31. ^ a b Lee (2008), p. 138.
  32. ^ a b c d Lee (2008), p. 139.
  33. ^ a b c "11 April 1957: Britain agrees to Singapore self-rule" (2005)
  34. ^ a b Corfield (2011), p. xxvi.
  35. ^ Yeo (1973), pp. 152-153.
  36. ^ a b c d e Wong (2000), p. 69.
  37. ^ a b Nor-Afidah (2005)
  38. ^ a b "戰後馬來亞地區閩南人與華文教育之發展" (26 November 2006)
  39. ^ a b "南洋大學的歷史事略" (13 September 2012)
  40. ^ "Tengku takes the pulse of Tun Lim Yew Hock" (27 September 1961)
  41. ^ "A Forgotten Past – The Curious Case of Lim Yew Hock" (2012)
  42. ^ Lim (1986), p.125.
  43. ^ Tan, Guan Heng (2007), p. 142.
  44. ^ "FRANCIS THOMAS RESIGNS" (1 February 1959)
  45. ^ "Chew Resigns" (4 March 1959)
  46. ^ "A busy day for Lim" (7 March 1959)
  47. ^ "I knew it was coming says Yew Hock" (30 November 1968)
  48. ^ "Issue 42414", London Gazette, 18 July 1961, p.4.




External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
David Marshall
2nd Chief Minister of Singapore
June 1956 - June 1959
Succeeded by
Lee Kuan Yew
(as Prime Minister)