A Letter to Lee Kuan Yew

17 Apr

This was a letter written by a mate/ friend in my facebook account. I think it’s one of those letters that deserves to be read by a larger audience (henceforth, obtaining permission from him to reproduce in this blog). His letter reflects growing sentiments among Singaporeans who increasingly feel as if they are a minority in their own country.

In my opinion, the problem is not the fear of a sudden increase of Chinese immigrants but rather, the manipulative effects of the policy – to maintain a majority ethnic Chinese population so as to ‘suppress’ the demographics , and henceforth, the rights of other racial minorities.

Moreover, this deliberate increase of immigrants will cause a unnecessary disruption to the social fabric of Singapore. These immigrants bring with them their own culture which will inevitably invite local resentment . They may also be perceived as ‘opportunists’ or people that take their jobs away.

I am certainly not advocating against the movement of people across national boundaries or even immigration per se. What I am objecting to, is the motives of this government…

Tian Jing’s letter reproduced below:


Attn: Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Prime Minister’s Office
Istana Annexe, Orchard Road, Singapore 238823

Dear Mr. Lee,

I applaud your son’s recent comment on SMRT’s crowded train and SMRT’s diligent move to increase trains schedule. But it is still a pack during non peak hours. It would be a good opportunity for your son to come and ride on the public buses and MRTs again. Perhaps your son may learn a thing or two on public image, from Taiwan President Ma Ying Jeou by visiting neighbourhood retail shops, to witness another social isssue at hand. This time involving Chinese immigrants.

I no longer think it is a fluke when Chinese people in the service sector serve with a bad attitude.

I no longer think it is abnormal for Chinese people to be loud in public places. I no longer believe that I can live here with that for too long.

I no longer think that it’s funny when an entire section of my BMT platoon consists of Chinese students. I no longer hold much regard for this pink IC, because at the end of the day anyone can get it by serving NS.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with Chinese people. I have a great Chinese buddy from BMT and I wish to visit his hometown some day.

I recognise that Chinese who come over are contributing to the economy. To what limit is there on emphasis on economy and to what extent will the govt bring in these people to artificially boost the economy and the population?

I cannot believe my eyes and my ears each day when I take the public transport everyday. To commoners like us, it is nothing like what you imagine we put up with.

Lee Kuan Yew, this is not just your country. Single-handedly, you have upheaved Singapore culture by banning dialects on television media.

But let’s move on from there. 20 years on, when people are about to get settled, and Singapore is slowly beginning to form our own sense of identity and we’re beginning to develop some feeling our unique Singapore flavoured culture, you find the burning need to infuse to hundreds of thousands of Chinese people, from an entirely different social conditioning and background, into Singapore society which was just beginning to take some shape.

In National Service, I raised the issue of why young Singapore males don’t have a sense of belonging and are unwilling to fight for their country, to the then Chief of Defence, LTG Desmond Quek. He could only ask me back with a blank, “Is that really happening?”

I now know the answer to that question.

The Uniquely Singapore campaign that the government has been promoting of late? You can flush that down the drain.

I believe your grandson has just finished his national service, why don’t you try asking what his peers think about this country now? Why not try conducting a poll among young people to have a feel what is on the ground? But of course, I don’t expect you to do that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter how we Singaporeans feel, lah. It’s how the new Singaporeans feel that really matters.

Anyway, Singapore no longer feels like my country.

When people outside Singapore do ask, I will tell them it is a province in China.

Yours faithfully,
Teoh Tian Jing


20 Responses to “A Letter to Lee Kuan Yew”

  1. Handsome Robert April 17, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    i agree with you.. i support you!! \m/

  2. Sheila Devi April 17, 2009 at 11:03 pm #

    Hey hey! I read ur blog post. I sort of relate to your sentiments about Singapore’s recent ‘surplus’ of PRCS. I empathize with you because I have had my fair share of PRCs in the service sector who can’t speak our main language, English. It’s really frustrating. I do believe that you are trying to be very tolerant with them. However, we (including me) need to remember that migration is something unavoidable around world and every nation’s people have a hard time getting used to foreigners. Pardon me for saying this… But what do you thing the Aussies think of Singapore (Asians) migrating.. They have difficulties with us. Trust me, I have seen my share of racist attacks there. My bestfriends are chinese and malay. And obviously I am an indian. We were all attacked verbally with racist slurs in Perth.Apparently,they are annoyed with us… But,heck! it is inevitable and our darn right to migrate to somewhere where opportunity strikes.
    Perhaps… You could have highlighted that the government needs to focus on assimiliating the rapidly increasing PRCs with us locals. Work on schemes that allow us to accept them better… This assimiliation thing goes both ways.. So yup!
    Best regards! Cheers!

    • Maomee May 14, 2009 at 11:28 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more with Sheila ^_^

      On the other hand, this article is biased. For example, you mean, all the people talking so loud and making noises are from PRC? Since when we Singaporeans have become so modest? Geez… I strongly agree that immigrants must try their best to blend in our society, but then again, it doesn’t mean we can just blame all the disturbingly problematic behaviour which has already been “thriving” among we locals on them. It only makes us even much uglier.

      Remember, respect is supposed to be mutual. When we are treating others with biased mindset, we lose our own stand.

  3. Charles Stewart Lee April 18, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    I agree with this article. A Taiwainese student I work with says he does not need english when he goes to Singapore.
    Didn’t LKY always accuse Mahatir about artificial propping up a particular race? Sounds like a bit of mutual projection on LKY’s part.
    Bag out another to assuage one’s own insecurity.
    Some PRCS strut around Singapore like they fully own the place. It is a serious put-off for visitors like me.
    BTW, I was born in Singapore and lived there 10yrs before coming to Perth.

    Sheila. You on FaceBook?
    Lets chat about the situation in Australia. I am in contact with the Policy advisor for the Minister of Cultural Affairs about this exact same issue and how it is manifesting itself in various ways. Would you believe his comments have been ……….”How is this racism?”

  4. Charles April 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    I think Tianjing’s letter touches a raw nerve.

    With regards to Sheila’s comment on assimilation, I’m not sure if that’s the strategy that governments should adopt when it comes to immigration. Certainly, the kind of multiculturalism that we are witnessing in Australia or perhaps UK is not about making everyone conform to a certain ‘Aussie type’ but rather to encourage different communities to be tolerant and contribute to the country’s cultural diversity. It wasn’t too long ago that Australia was openly afraid of the ‘yellow peril’, categorised aborigines as non-humans or had a distinctly ‘white immigrant’ policy. Things have changed for the better (definitely room for improvement). There is currently a human rights consultation (for enactment of a human rights act) currently going on Australia-wide and this might be a good opportunity to further stress the importance of multiculturalism.

    Coming back to Tianjing’s point, this deliberate PAP policy of maintaining a majority Chinese population, unlike the multicultural policies of say Oz or UK, undermines the very concept of multiculturalism (not that the Singapore government practises that).

    If the PAP government is serious about being equal or even-handed towards all immigrants, then it should be equally generous in handing out PRs or citizenships to other races (which of course, is not happening).

    Instead, what we see, in Singapore, is the shameful treatment of migrant workers, possibly detaining, caning and even deporting ‘illegal immigrants’ who might be refugees facing death or persecution back at home.

  5. Charles Stewart Lee April 18, 2009 at 10:54 pm #


    Maybe, it is because I am in Perth and not in Melbourne or Sydney

    I hope I have read your initial point correctly as my stance is that there has to be give-and take on both sides; locals and new Australians.

    While I’d really like to agree with you on you point……..

    Certainly, the kind of multiculturalism that we are witnessing in Australia or perhaps UK is not about making everyone conform to a certain ‘Aussie type’ but rather to encourage different communities to be tolerant and contribute to the country’s cultural diversity.

    The reason for a lot of the backlash is because a lot of the locals here are saying that there is NO assimilation or little effort to take up Aussie values.
    How is this possible, when the Australian identity is so up in the air that many local born Aussies don’t have much of a clue as to what our identity is supposed to be?
    Heck, some are even looking for any reason to have a crack at a visitor/newcomer, simply because his/her accent is not Aussie enough !
    By visitor, I am referring to International Student who happen to be Australia’s 3rd largest source of income. They are essentially propping up the Australian economy (and supporting he tertiary institutions with their fees- 3 times a local student) doing the jobs that very few of the locals are willing to do yet, Students are restricted to working only 20 hrs a week.
    Do you know what their impression of their University experience is ? One of unfairness and being taken advantage of……. I have worked with many over the last 15 yrs and this is a common theme.

    Yes, things have changed for the better ……..slightly, as there is slowly a willingness to discuss aspects of multiculturism but there is definately more room for improvement.

    Granted, its not as shameful as what is going on in Singapore regarding non-caucasian migrant workers. What is practised in Singapore is pretty much a form of reverse- racism regarding the large majority of caucasian workers. I still don’t understand how a caucasian worker working the exact same job in the same position as a local is paid more than the local.
    This is a common gripe amongst a lot of Singaporeans. Is it Singapore’s way of saying…….”look, we are not racist, we treat the majority of our people worse than Foreign Talent inthe same jobs?”

    Thanks for your other comment………….

    There is currently a human rights consultation (for enactment of a human rights act) currently going on Australia-wide and this might be a good opportunity to further stress the importance of multiculturalism.

    Who do I speak to regarding this ?

  6. Charles Stewart Lee April 19, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    There is currently a human rights consultation (for enactment of a human rights act) currently going on Australia-wide and this might be a good opportunity to further stress the importance of multiculturalism.

    Where might I ask?

  7. Charles April 19, 2009 at 9:47 am #

    With regards to the comment about Aussie values, there is a lot of debate and differing viewpoints on what that constitutes. For example, the Australian accent? should that include the understanding of aboriginal history? whether Australian’s National Day be considered Invasion Day? whether immigrants should accept ‘human rights’ values such as tolerance and acceptance of minorities including gays and lesbians? As you point out, even Australians may not be in consensus on all of these issues.

    I posted a blog on one of the public forums that I attended a few weeks ago in Sydney (https://aussgworldpolitics.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/public-forum-on-national-consulation-human-rights-to-act-or-not-to-act/).

    You can download the human rights toolkit from the Australian Human Rights Commission at (http://www.hreoc.gov.au/letstalkaboutrights/info.html) and the official website is at (http://www.humanrightsconsultation.gov.au/). I am sure there will be forums or events consultation in Perth.

  8. mary ann April 21, 2009 at 4:03 am #

    I’m currently residing in the united states, but my boyfriend is in spore, and he’s been telling me about how the number of China students in NUS is such that everywhere he goes on campus, he runs into them. I’m wondering if the universities have increased their overall intake or just that of international students from China at the expense of our local students who cannot afford to study abroad.

    Also, I think it’s unfair for China guys to get spore citizenship just by serving NS. i can understand if they receive spore citizenship because they sign on to the armed forces and serve a considerably long period of time there, but not if it’s just from two years of NS. maybe I’m not well-informed about this, but this is just my 2 cents worth.

    hahaha… chinapore…. love it!

    • Maomee May 14, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

      “I think it’s unfair for China guys to get spore citizenship just by serving NS.”… Anybody (from whatever country) who would like to apply for Singaprean citizenship will have to be a PR first. If it’s a guy, he then will have to serve NS. SO, the statement above is far from truth.

  9. Rajesh Lukas Godfrey Upadhya April 28, 2009 at 4:53 am #

    Teoh Tian Jing, as a non-Chinese citizen of Singapore, i never imagined a Chinese coming to terms about the reality of averse racism apparent in the PAP. I sincerely hope more educated Chinese Singaporeans will help create an awareness of what is actually happening in Singapore over the past 3 decades – Speak Mandarin Campaign, HDB racial quotas, job ads that demand “Mandarin speaking” individuals, etc.

  10. redfist May 8, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    finally, a true Singaporean who is Chinese has spoken up. as a guy who was born in the 80s and had no problem socializing and befriending people of other races, i’m proud to say that i have an assortment of Malay, Chinese and Indian friends (even Russians and Americans too). but ever since i start seeing more China-born people coming here with their cheap pink ICs and their rude behavior and their notion that this country somewhat belongs to China too (which greedily took Hong Kong and Taiwan), as a Malay, i feel threatened and sad to see my homeland in this part of the region is being assimilated into the China mainland mentality and social structure. long gone are the days that we Singaporeans truly feel like Singaporeans. One people, one nation. I don’t have a problem with foreigners. I have a problem with my country being foreign to me. now, more and more Singaporeans feel that they’re just Singaporeans by place of birth, not by identity. but hey, if the Govt likes the idea so much, why don’t they just hold their GEs in Shanghai or Beijing? it’s the motherland, right?

  11. E. Johari May 8, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks for sharing.

    As a ‘quitter’ Sporean- labelled by my own government, every time I go back to visit my motherland, I feel more and more displaced. I heard so many complaints about my Singapore being no longer what she is. I get confused thinking about wanting to go back home knowing that it is so different multiculturally when I left 10 years ago. I feel uncomfortable more and more even though I have always been a minority and have never complaint or have qualms about it.

    It is though quite interesting to know that majority of the Chinese Singaporean can emphatise with how most of the minorities feel living in Singapore in general. I am in no way being negative but it is the reality of most countries where more and more Chinese from China are invading the system- be it through economy or education. I have seen it even here in Australia and it is something we cannot stop.

    Most probably, in 50 years. China-Chinese will dominate the world population and then the World will be called CHORLD.

    But it is time for Singaporeans to stand up for the love of Singlish, Lah, Rojak, Prata, 8 Jalan Ampas, Nasi Lemak, Peranakan Culture and Char Kway Teow. I am sure there are more TRULY SINGAPOREAN stuffs I left out, but we all know what they are. 🙂

  12. Corinne May 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    Great letter.. was it really sent to LKY and did he actually reply?

    I second the thought of having TRULY SINGAPOREAN stuffs being defended… be it Chicken Rice, Singlish or whatever a true blue Singaporean holds dear to his/her heart.

    I live on campus at NTU and the amount of China-accented Mandarin that I hear all the time is just incredible. At times, I do feel like I’m living in a China province (try taking the campus bus during peak hours and you’ll understand)! Almost all the canteens have at least 1, if not more, PRC-Chinese food. A number of stalls have menus written only in Mandarin and a number of canteen workers are PRC who can speak only Mandarin and cannot even understand very simple English. I wonder how the non-Mandarin speaking locals and foreigners on campus survive!

    In the past year or so, I’ve more often than not been made to feel inadequate for being Chinese yet not able to hold a decent conversation in Mandarin. For this reason, I now think that being able to speak Mandarin in Singapore has now become indispensable, as opposed to being able to survive solely on good English and a smattering of Mandarin in the past.

  13. Maomee May 14, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

    And last but not least, we all emphasise that Singapore is a multiracial country, where we celebrate racial harmony — this is something I really love about Singapore. But then, in this article, it seems the immigrants’ cultural background actually determines our attitude towards them. Is this fair? I remember once there was this very nice old Mr Cabby (Tamil) said to my husband (your so-called true Singaporean) and me (Your so-called new immigrant from Taiwan, has converted into a citizen for a few years now): “Sorry to say this. But you know? Among all the Chinese in the world, be it Taiwan, HK, China or Malaysia, are all very nice to us, only the locals give us trouble.”…

  14. izel May 15, 2009 at 7:49 am #

    as much as we comment about this issue.
    i feel that it’s up to each individual to make a change.
    if it’s becoming a problem as the increasing number of Chinese nationals migrating/working in Singapore, guess what, people are moving everywhere around the world. and if it’s not comforting to have them talking loudly, well, maybe those affected should just stay at home.
    i just feel that, such things, we Singaporeans have been complaining too much, and yet no action, and we are really becoming good at it.
    So if u feel that, such issues are of increasing concern, why not voice it out to the MPs, Grassroots leaders.
    No we don’t do that, in front of them, we become a YES man usually.
    See, eventually, it all boils down to us.

    Simply said, If you wanna change the world around ya, why not change yourselves before hand…

  15. Shai73 June 7, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    This is the dilemma that almost all Singaporean are facing. But hey… What can we do. Sometimes i do feel that we have to obey what ever they say or do and that really sucks sometimes…

  16. Brenda Low July 27, 2009 at 11:40 pm #

    This is my experience …. I was born and raised in Singapore. I loved my country and still do to a certain extent but not what its becoming now. Its lost its soul. I don’t feel comfortable there any more largely because its so difficult to be understood as I don’t speak Mandarin although I speak a dialect. I’ve had racist remarks made against me because I don’t look traditionally Chinese and after living in Australia for 6 years, I can honestly say that generally people here are nicer and I’ve never had one racist remark made against me and neither have my family. I have Aussie neighbours and friends and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer lot of people to be surrounded with. On the street we live, we all look out for each other. I m sure there are racists here as well but there are racists everywhere and I’ve encountered more racism in Singapore then here in Australia and if you ask me where the best place to live is, its definitely Australia.

  17. James Chan October 28, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    It’s important for any debate on preserving our Singapore-ness to eliminate politics and focus on the issues at hand. Looking for a boogeyman is not going to help the matter. I’d much rather the article be one that lists constructively the challenges and seeks everyone’s suggestions on how we can make things better.

    In case anyone hasn’t realised, we Singaporeans (or at least most of us) are also a bunch of highly pragmatic people. There’s more idealists amongst us now (counting myself) with strong opinions, and not enough committed individuals who have the tenacity to make a difference in fields that they are able to.

    Talk (complain) less, do more, change the world.

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