Lim Chin Siong

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Lim Chin Siong
Lim Chin Siong 1950s.jpg
Native name 林清祥
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 Qīng Xiáng; 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. He was detained without trial twice in his life: first under Lim Yew Hock's government from 1956-1959, and subsequently under Lee Kuan Yew's government from 1963-1969 during Operation Coldstore. Lim was released in 1969 after announcing that he would withdraw from politics.

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.


Lim was detained without trial twice: first under Lim Yew Hock's government from 1956-1959, and subsequently under Lee Kuan Yew's government from 1963-1969.

In 1955, Lim, with some close associates, were alleged to have instigated a labour strike by bus workers that resulted in the violent Hock Lee bus riots.[2] Lim denied this charge throughout his life. He was further accused of leading the Chinese Middle School riots in 1956 that led to 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 of organising multiple strikes in a lead-up to the riots. Historian Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, however, notes that a transcript of Lim's speech shows that far from inciting violence, Lim used humour to defuse the tension, reminding the crowd that the police were employees and did not deserve anger.[3] 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”,[4] The Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock suppressed the riots aggressively. Despite the lack of concrete evidence for his involvement, Lim Chin Siong was arrested without trial. The PAP promised to release Lim as one of its promises to the electorate to gain support, and freed 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 on 17 September 1961. After Singapore's referendum affirming merger with Malaysia, Lim Chin Siong and many opposition party members were detained without trial 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. Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, later Minister Mentor of Singapore, maintained that Lim was communist[citation needed]. To date, it has not been proven if Lim was a communist, or allied himself with any communist group. Lim had on 31 July 1961 written a forum letter to the Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, and said categorically, "Let me make it clear once and for all that I am not a Communist or a Communist front-man or, for that matter, anybody's front man."[5]

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.[6] 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”.[7]

Description of Lim Chin Siong's politics from declassified British documents[edit]

Various British colonial despatches before the Malaysia-Singapore Merger in 1963 assessed Lim Chin Siong as a communist leader in Singapore.

Lim was involved in the 1956 riots:

"Riots in Oct 1956 (arising from a crisis in the Chinese middle schools and leaving 13 dead and 123 injured) had resulted in hundreds of arrests. The detainees including leading communists with whom Lee Kuan Yew was closely associated: Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Devan Nair, James Puthucheary, Sidney Woodhull and three others" Sir William Goode, UK Commissioner in Singapore[8]

Lim was a leader in trade union communist united front activities:

"The danger of the TUC pursuing an independent and aggressive line comes not from the pro-Communist element alone led by Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan, but rather from a combination of this element with other left wing members of the Secretariat led by Woodhull, Bani, Dominic Puthucheary and Jamit Singh. The Government is, however, still contemplating sterner measures against pro-Communists elements in the unions to defeat the Communists." Joint Intelligence Committee[9]

Lim was uncomfortable in denying he was communist:

"Lord Selkirk emphasised that if Singapore were to survive, she had to solve her economic problems and this could be achieved if stability were maintained. He asked Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee suan whether they were Communists. They seemed to be embarrassed by this question and failed to give a clear reply. Mr Woodhull, on the other hand, stated categorically that he was not a Communist." Office of the UK Commissioner-General [10]

Lim's plans for a communist Singapore:

"Once Lim Chin Siong becomes convinced that the people of Singapore are going to support Merger, then I suspect he may well revert to the original long term policy of the M.C.P. - a Socialist Government throughout Malaya. The opportunity of over-throwing Lee Kuan Yew and achieving a Communist-manipulated Government in Singapore seemed, in July, to be so golden that Lim Chin Siong could not resist it." UK Deputy Commissioner P B C Moore[11]

Lim Chin Siong's Biography, Comet in our Sky[edit]

Lim in his memoirs wrote that labelling one a Communist was the quickest way to justify a detention without trial. 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 left the PAP to spearhead Barisan Sosialis. In addition, Lim wrote that Lee imprisoned him 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 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.[12]

To mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence, a second edition of the book has been published.[13]


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]

Lim Chin Siong is remembered as a talented orator who held broad appeal amongst both the English and Hokkien speaking demographics during the 1960s. Some historians have used Lim's detention during Operation Coldstore to draw attention to the Internal Security Act that is still operational today.[14]

Cultural depictions[edit]

In 2010, author Meira Chand's historical novel A Different Sky (Harvill Secker) featured Lim getting elected, along with fellow People's Action Party candidate, Lee Kuan Yew, to the Legislative Assembly at the climax.[15]

In May 2015, comics artist Sonny Liew released the graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Epigram Books), featuring Lim, his life story and his political rival Lee. Upon its release, the National Arts Council withdrew a $8,000 publishing grant as it found that "the retelling of Singapore's history in the graphic novel potentially undermines the authority of legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions".[16]

In July 2015, actor Benjamin Chow played Lim in The LKY Musical opposite Adrian Pang's Lee Kuan Yew, directed by Steven Dexter. The Straits Times' critic Corrie Tan noted that "the musical's designated anti-hero, Lim Chin Siong, is thankfully not relegated to the ranks of villainy and one-note declarations... the charismatic left-wing leader, with his compelling oratory and rapport with the common man [is portrayed]".[17] During the musical's run, actor Chow published a blog post, later removed, on how the writers had been “extremely open to input” from the Ministry of Communications and Information, the ministry in charge of censorship.[18]

In September 2015, Jonathan Lim's Chestnuts 50 The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition live parody sketch show featured a 'bromance' between Lim and Lee.[19]

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. ^
  4. ^ "Lim Chin Siong and that Beauty World Speech: A Closer Look". Institute of Policy Studies. 8 May 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  5. ^ The Straits Times 31 July 1961 "Lim Chin Siong says: I'm not a Communist"
  6. ^ "Lim Chin Siong and that Beauty World Speech: A Closer Look". Institute of Policy Studies. 8 May 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  7. ^ "Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs Of A Malayan Communist Revolutionary". Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre. 2008. 
  8. ^ CO 1030/652 no 103 26 June 1959 [People's Action Party government of Singapore]: despatch from Sir W Goode to Mr Lennox-Boyd
  9. ^ DO 169/18 no 11 17 Mar 1961 The outlook in Singapore for the next twelve months: report (DCC(FE)61/90) by the Joint Intelligence Committee (Far East) for the British Defence Coordinating Committee (Far East)
  10. ^ CO 1030/1149 no 127E 18 July 1961 [the Eden hall tea-party]: note (dated 31 July) by the office of the UK Commissioner-General of a meeting held at Eden Hall at 4.30 pm on 18 July of Lord Selkirk and P B C Moore with J Puthucheary, Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and S Woodhull
  11. ^ CO 1030/986 no 959 18 Oct 1961 Singapore and merger: letter from P B C Moore to W I J Wallace, assessing the PAP's attitude to 'Greater Malaysia' and the prospect of the Barisan overthrowing Lee's government
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ The Star Online 'Lim Chin Siong in Singapore history - 9 August 2015
  14. ^
  15. ^ "The LKY Musical". Meira Chand. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 
  16. ^ Yong, Charissa (3 June 2015). "NAC pulled grant from comic as it 'potentially undermines the authority of the Government'". The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  17. ^ Tan, Corrie (25 July 2015). "Theatre review: Adrian Pang turns in a stirring performance in The LKY Musical". The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 14 December 2015. 
  18. ^ Qin, Amy (14 August 2015). "Singapore's History Put to Song". The New York Times Company. The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 
  19. ^ "CHESTNUTS 50 THE UNBELYEEVABLE JUBILEE EDITION". 18 September 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

Lim Chin Siong was wrongfully detained, by Dr. Thum Ping Tjin