Centennial Reflections: 100 Inspirations from Lee Kuan Yew

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Inspirations from Lee Kuan Yew



As we commemorate the 100th Birth Anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, this book stands as a testament to his enduring influence. In honoring his legacy, the Young PAP together with Young NTUC, commits to embracing his values and working with Singaporean youth to propel our nation forward. Within these pages, discover inspiring speeches and quotes that reflect Mr. Lee’s indomitable spirit, guiding us toward a brighter Singapore. With gratitude to all contributors, we invite you to embark on this journey, drawing strength from Mr. Lee’s wisdom as we forge ahead together.

Contents PAGE











Personal upbringing and development

Leadership for a successful nation

Cornerstones towards cultivating a successful nation

Values and culture towards maintaining a successful nation

A resilient workforce for a successful nation

EDITORIAL & DESIGN Angela Kwok Cheyenne Tan Chua Wei-Shan Denise Lim Dexter Chan Jacey Meredith Yeo Jonathan Chua Lee Yong Quan Maximus Tan

Our thanks to the assistance of Allen & Gledhill LLP



Mr Lee never stopped learning from others, and likewise all of us have never stopped learning from Mr Lee. The more we learn from him and about him, the more we respect him, and are inspired by him until today, and for long time to come. Mr Lee showed the world how good policies can transform a country from third world to first in one generation; and how good politics can unite a nation of ordinary people to achieve extraordinary progress for all. Above all, Mr Lee showed the world how selfless leadership can make a true difference to the sustainable development and progress of a nation and its people, in his lifetime and beyond. Mr Lee has left behind countless unforgettable quotes, and this compilation of 100 quotes is special since these are selected by our young Singaporeans who find them especially appealing. As we mark LKY100, I hope Singaporeans of all ages will continue to be inspired by Mr Lee Kuan Yew: our most PRO-SINGAPORE Singaporean of all times.

Lim Swee Say


Mr Lee’s vision for the future of Singapore and Singaporeans was bold at the time and continues to inspire us today. Making the vision reflected in these quotes come alive required the hard work and dedication of activists, comrades, and Singaporeans across the generations. I am grateful that the youth wing of our Party, Young PAP, working with the Young NTUC committee, continues to drive forward to make Singapore better for all of us. The work exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between the NTUC and PAP in moving Singapore onward as one. My thanks to the activists and volunteers that put together this book, Mr Lim Swee Say for his uplifting foreword, NTUC for their steadfast partnership, and many previous Young PAP Activists and Chairs that have helped the PAP work for a better future for Singapore.

Janil Puthucheary CHAIRMAN, YOUNG PAP




But, those of you who do not consider life, or are not prepared to allow life to be, one great game of chance, will do well to remember this – that learning never stops.

As long as you live, you learn. As long as there is life in you, you change. For that is the essence of life.

I cannot say that I planned my life. That’s why I feel

life is a great adventure:

exciting, unpredictable, and at times exhilarating. To make life worthwhile, never lose that joie de vivre, that zest for life, to watch the sun go down and wake up to a new day rested and refreshed after a good night. – Speech at Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s 80th Birthday Dinner held at the Shangri-La Hotel, 2003

– Speech at a Convocation Dinner at the University of Singapore, held at Adelphi Hotel, 1967

Never be depressed, never be deflated by setbacks. We suffered setbacks. And we do not pretend to ourselves…We face facts. And this is one of the greatest strengths about Singapore –

its willingness to face reality

– “Facing Facts and the Willingness to Face Reality.” Speech at the National Day Rally at the National Theatre on the Eve of National Day, 1966


A people is as good as they think they are. If you do not think you can make the grade, if you have not got that confidence, then you will never succeed. If you have faith in yourself and give of your best, then, given a great deal of hard work and a modicum of good fortune, we shall succeed.

And success begets success. – “Trusting Singaporeans with National Service” Speech at the Dinner in Honour of National Serviceman at Tanjong Pagar Community Centre, 1968

The basic unit with all Asian cultures is the family. The family is sacred.

You don’t fool around with the family because that is the basic brick of society. – Interview with Mr. Alexander Thomson, Southeast Asia Bureau Chief, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1990

Societies which do not educate and use half their potential because they are women are those which will be the worse off. – The Challenges of Getting More Women into the Workforce, 1975


You cannot bring up a child with a computer or virtual reality. For hundreds of thousands of years, it’s the warmth of the mother and the child and the supporting father that brings up children and they learn what’s good, what’s bad, how to react with other people, how to be loyal, how to be friendly, not to be distrustful, not to be wicked, not to be cruel.

The only differences between men and women workers are the physical and biological ones.

Women are equal to men in intellectual capacity. – The Challenges of Getting More Women into the Workforce, 1975

I do not yet know of a man

who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course. – The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013

– Interview with CNBC Asia at the Istana, 1999


In our youth of today are the leaders and citizens of tomorrow. It is for you to teach them and make them

homogeneous and united people of tomorrow. the

– “Responsibilities of Teachers” Speech at the Education Ministry’s Rally of Teachers at the Happy World Stadium, 1959

I would have achieved much less if I didn’t have my wife to carry more than half the load of the family. She earned the money. I was a poorly paid prime minister, and she brought up the children. – Interview with Dalton Tanonaka, The Cable News Network at the Istana, 2001

You lose nothing by being polite. The answer is ‘No’, but please say it politely and give the reasons... Explain to me why ‘No’. Don’t change ‘No’ to ‘Yes’. Don’t be a fool.

If there was a good reason why it is ‘No’, it must remain ‘No’, but the man must be told politely. – “Civil Servants at the Victoria Theatre. Lee Kuan Yew in his own words, 1959-1970”, 30 Sept 1965

The task of the leaders must be to provide or create for them a strong framework within

which they can learn, work hard, be productive and be rewarded accordingly. And this is not easy to achieve. – Excerpt from The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, 1999 Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission


Leadership is forged in adversity.

When times are bad, workers are worried and confused because the way ahead is clouded. They need leaders to guide then out of a morass. Those who can take them through unpleasant and difficult terrain and bring them out to high ground, they become trusted leaders. – May Day Message, 1986

Ability is easy to identify; what is difficult is to see beyond ability; into the heart of the man for otherwise ability may mask selfishness and opportunism.

Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up.

This is not a game of cards. – Excerpt from Third World To First, 2000. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission

You must feel for your people those who could not make it to the top.

Only that sense of commitment will enable you to carry them with you in the difficult decisions your generation must take before Singapore becomes a totally homogeneous people. – Higher Education and Singapore’s Future, 1977

– Strengthening the Symbiosis Between Government and Unions, 1979


We can’t make anything better of ourselves than what we are but

we can make the next generation better and that is what our minds are on all the time. – “University Autonomy, Academic Freedom and Social Responsibility.” Address at the Historical Society, University of Singapore, 1966

Technology will keep on changing but human nature has not. To write off the tried and tested wisdom of generations is to

start from ground zero.

We have to give our own people the orders. And you have to throw up a whole generation

capable of that leadership, conscious of its responsibilities, jealous of its rights, not allowing anyone to bully it and push it around, prepared to stand up and fight and die. That kind of a generation will endure till the end of time. And that is what we can do and will do.

– Speech at Queenstown Community Centre, – “Confucian Values in the Information Technology Age.” Address at the Commemoration Conference of Confucius’ 2550th Birthday and the Second Congress of the International Confucian Association in Beijing, China, 1999


10th August 1966

Fine words do not impress me when they camouflage poor ideas

– the clarity of your ideas is what is going to impress me. – The Importance of Simple, Clear Written English, 1979

And it is this as yet unascertainable or rather as yet

unmeasurable quality called ‘character’

which, plus your mental capacity or knowledge or discipline, makes for leadership. – “The Problem of Succession: How to Create a Self-Continuing Structure.” Speech at a Meeting of the Consultation of Youth and Leadership Training, Sponsored by the East Asia Christian Conference and Held at the Queen Street Methodist Church, 1967

To be trusted by the people as the older leaders have been trusted, the younger leaders must learn to translate these figures and hard-headed analyses of complex problems into

warm, simple and human terms, terms which the ordinary people can understand. – Lessons Learnt from the Defeat at the Anson By-Election, 1981

Youths not only decide the leaders,

youths become the leaders.

– “Youth and Politics in Afro-Asia” Speech to the Political Society of the Singapore Polytechnic, 1961





I want my successor to build Singapore on the foundations that my generation has laid,

and to enable Singaporeans to develop to their fullest in standard of living, quality of life, and levels of culture. In other words, he must mobilise and lead Singaporeans to achieve these goals. – Interview with Japanese Journalist based in Singapore, before the Prime Minister’s Departure for Japan, 1986

No, I don’t need power.

My job was to make quite sure that Singapore can work without me. That is the final triumph. – Interview with Mr. Alexander Thomson, Southeast Asia Bureau Chief, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1991

My job was really that of a conductor of an orchestra.

To make music, you must have good instrumentalists. I chose them. They were good people and they made the music. – Interview with China’s Talents Magazine at the Istana, Singapore, 1997

I do not believe that a popular government means you have to be popular when you govern. It means that at the end of your term, those unpopular policies which you have had to implement have produced results that enable you to win the popular vote again. – Interview with Ann Morrison, Asia week at the Istana 2000


A nation is great not by its size alone.

It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people and the quality of their leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history. – The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013

Leaders must be prepared for such scrutiny to keep the system clean.

We have to keep our own house clean. No one else can do it for us. – “Ethical Leadership: A Competitive Advantage.” Address at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s World Ethics and Integrity Forum 2005 in Kuala Lumpur, 2005


You must have confidence in what you are doing as the right thing for your people. Never mind what the world thinks. The world is not going to come to your rescue. Your government will come to your rescue. Remember that. – Dialogue at the Tea Session with Muslim Community Leaders at the Raffles Hotel, 2003

Nobody owes us a living.

The world does not owe us a living. – Interview with Lee Duk-Yul, Managing Director, The Manhwa Broadcasting Corporation, 1991

… I’m determined if I decided that something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and soul to it.

So, life is a happenstance.

The whole ground can be against me but if I know it is right, I will do it. That is the business of a leader.

There is a series of events which happen and how you react to those events determines not only your future but the future of those around you and how much of those around you, maybe your family, maybe your tribe, maybe, in my case, with my friends, the whole of Singapore.

– Public Event with the Indonesian Forum Foundation on Vision 2030 in Jakarta, 2007

– Question-and-Answer Session at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture, 2002

You can’t buy intelligence. You can buy knowledge; the question is whether you can absorb it. – Seeking Feedback on How to Improve the English Language Immersion Programme, 1979


You live once, you die once.

For my colleagues and myself, we went through a traumatic experience, of seeing the world that were brought up in crash at a very impressionable age. In 1942, I was just reaching 19 and the world that I knew just blacked out. We were under Japanese Occupation and I can tell you it was an unnerving experience. You then ask yourself, ‘Why has he got the right to do this to me?’ – Question-and-Answer Session with at the Nanyang Technological University Students’ Union, 2003

Shed the embarrassment and you will make progress; veil your ignorance and you never will.

– The Importance of Simple, Clear Written English, 1979


The bigger the gap between thinking and doing, the less the results.

You must first think, then you speak and mobilise opinions, then you do. And that is the only way to get things done. – Interview with Professor Italianda at the Istana, Singapore, 1976

Singaporeans seldom try because they fear failing. One said: ‘No risk, no failure’ is the Singapore Kiasu motto.

Instead, Singapore’s motto should be ‘Who Dares Wins’... – Question-and-Answer Session with at the Nanyang Technological University Students’ Union, 2003

My job is to get what I am doing done well.

My motto in life is if you have decided to do something, then do it well or don’t do it at all. So whatever I do, I try to achieve and achieve it at a high level.

– Dialogue with Students at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum at University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore, 2009

I have had quite a few crisises in my life. I have made it a practice when faced with a crisis not to waste time wrangling

but to concentrate on what can be done to overcome it. my hands in regret,

– Interview with Huang Chao-Sung, Chief Editor, The China Times (Taiwan) at the Istana, Singapore, 1993

What would I like to be remembered for? As someone presented with an awesome challenge, managed to keep the place alive, and found a younger group of people to

continue to keep the place going, to improve on it and to prosper

after he and his colleagues were too old to do it. That’s about it. – Interview with Mr. Dale Van Atta, Syndicate Columnist from the United States of America at the Istana, Singapore, 1986

I have experienced national difficulties, I have grown up singing four national anthems of the United Kingdom, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. During the Pacific War, I was nearly killed by the Japanese soldiers.

But I think I am lucky to be a Singaporean.

– Interview with Dr. Hong Seok Hyun, Kim Young Hie and Lee Hyo Joon, The Joong-Ang Ilbo at the Istana, Singapore, 1998


Only those basics that have proved sound in the past should not be changed unless necessary.

Amongst them are honesty and integrity, multi-racism, equality of opportunities, meritocracy, fairness in rewards in accordance with one’s contribution to society, avoidance of the buffet syndrome where for a fixed price you can take or eat as much as you want. – Speech at the Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency Chinese New Year Dinner Held at the Tiong Bahru Community Centre, 2006


And you can say it’s luck, happenstance, serendipity but I tell you what is the difference between my friends and I and the average contemporaries I had.

We had a determination to do certain things and nothing was going to stop us even at the risk of our lives. That’s why we got here. – Question-and-Answer Session at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture, 2002

A society to be successful must maintain a balance

between nurturing excellence and encouraging the average to improve.

What I fear is complacency.

When things always become better, people tend to want more for less work. – Speech at the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of the Jalan Tenteram Community Centre, 27 June 1970

– The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013

Amazingly, throughout most of the contemporary Western world leaders in government require no special training or qualification.

Many get elected because they sound and look good on television. The results have been unhappy for their voters.

You know the Singaporean. He is a hard-working, industrious, rugged individual. Or we would not have made the grade.

But let us also recognise that he is a champion grumbler. – The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013

– The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013


If, in the four different languages of instruction, we teach our children four different standards of right and wrong, four different ideal patterns of behaviour, then we will produce four different groups of people and

there will be no integrated, coherent society. – “Responsibilities of Teachers” Speech at the Education Ministry’s Rally of Teachers at the Happy World Stadium, 1959

Finally, never forget that our greatest asset is our youth. Ours must

be a robust and rugged society. […] for them we must build a solid foundation – give them the best in training, equip them in order to make a success of what we have started out to build, a more just, a more equal society, a society which gives one and all a meaningful life. – “A Shifting Gears for the Second Year of Independence” Address on the Eve of National Day, 1966


Our aim is a multiracial, multi-religious, and multilingual society which can eventually become a tolerant nation. We believe in equal opportunities, regardless of race, language, or religion. Our objective is national integration, not assimilation of minorities by the majority race, culture, or language.

– “SAF - A Credible Force Against External Aggression.” Speech at the Singapore Armed Forces Day Dinner held at the Istana, Singapore, 1987

The critical factor for Singapore is the central core of Singaporeans born and bred, the hard disk.

guarantors of the values,

They are the

the continuity and the sense of commitment that cannot waiver in any crisis. I see that as our major threat, not so much the attraction of talent coming in but the loss of talent attracted out. – Dialogue at the Singapore Perspectives Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel, 2008

This is what counts:

The education of our children is our only and best resource. Shouting

slogans about empowering the people is mindlessly imitating the West. You empower people when you give them stability, security, and economic opportunities and a better future and the right to choose their government – “The Promises and Practices of Key Opposition Personalities.” Speech by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the People’s Action Party Rally at Hougang, Singapore, 1996

Some people think that Singapore was destined to succeed. I do not think so. And I ought to know. I was responsible for Singapore, and in the years from 1959 to 1968, when the British decided to withdraw,

At the end of the day,

what kind of society we become really depends upon what the sum total of us, all of us, are able to contribute but when we add a social glue, it is the prerequisite of being a nation.

If we do not have that and we are just so many individuals, we will not survive. – “Chase a Rainbow” Special Youth Forum in Singapore Television Corporation of Singapore, 1996

I often feared for our future. – “Transition to a Younger Generation Leadership During a Good Year.” Eve of National Day Message, 1984





And I don’t think it’s the numbers in the opposition which counts.

It’s the quality of the alternative

which you put before the people. – Transcript of ABC “Four Corners” Segment No.855, For Assembly in Sydney, recorded in Melbourne, Australia, 1965

[on being a political leader] It consumes your whole life, so you got to feel for people in order to go through this tribulation. In other words, have you got convictions

this thing is worth doing because it is going to be good for the country, it is going to be

I always tried to be correct,

not politically correct.

– The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, 2013

The election is not fought now;

the election is fought every day, all the time. – Hear Out the Opposition But Vote in Your Interests, 1976

that, you know,

good for the society and is the man morally strong because then he can set an example.

I make no apologies

that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP. – Petir, 1982

– Interview with Dan Gillmor, San Jose Mercury News at the Istana, 2000

… there is one thing which a Singaporean voter expects and has been made to expect -

absolute integrity on the part of those in office.

– Interview with Mr. Ludovic Kennedy of the British Broadcasting Corporation, 1977


So what is it we’re trying to do for the opposition? We’re not trying to block them, we’re trying to force them to collect a group of Members of Parliament, of candidates that will

equal us in integrity and competence so that when the time comes, if we fail, they have a team that’s equal to us that can take over. – Question-and-Answer Session after the Speech at the Economic Society of Singapore Annual Dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, 2008

I think whatever we do, we should leave the opposition alternative open because that will

keep the government on its toes.

If you have a one-party state, like in Africa, then you only join the PAP to be elected and there is nobody else who can contest in an election against you, then immediately, they say, “Well, let us not bother”, and then we slide downhill. – “Will Singapore be Another Slow-Growing Developed Nation?” Speech and Questionand-Answer Session at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 1996

We have not met to outshine each other in rhetoric but to

appreciate each other’s problem

and to hear what plans and proposals there can be to make this one interdependent but unequal world less unequal. – A Priority of Global Issues and their Impact, 1975

No government implements tough policies for the sake of being tough. But a government, which flinches from tough decisions when the issues are crucial, has abdicated its responsibilities and will leave the country in trouble…

– Speech to the NUS Student’s Political Association at National University of Singapore, 1990

To be in charge means to exercise authority and, from time to time,

do the unpleasant but the unavoidable. it means having to

– Getting the Best and Brightest to Study Law, 1977





At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore.

What have I given up? My life. – Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, 2011

Because Singapore is an open, cosmopolitan society that accepts and

welcomes talent, so we have continued to thrive and prosper. – “Singapore - One of the Best Places to be in.” Speech at the Tanjong Pagar 39th National Day Celebration Dinner at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club, 2004

People wrote us off in 1965; they said no chance. We couldn’t accept that verdict.

We decided to make it.

– From Talent Pyramid to Expertise Pyramid and Improving it, 1979


And remember – the destiny of a people is determined not by the size of its population or the girth of its territory.

It is the quality of a people,

that tremendous reservoir of stamina and vitality and determination that makes a people fight on under very difficult, sometimes indomitable, odds. And we are such a people in Southeast Asia. – “To Seek Enduring Peace and a Future” Speech at Bras Basah Road Community Centre to celebrate the First Anniversary of National Day, 1966

…what cannot change is that

our future cannot be taken for granted.

That Singapore has succeeded despite the odds of limited space and resources does not mean that she has safely arrived and that Singaporeans . can now coast along. – New Year Message, 1989

I think the best is yet to be.

There was a series of very severe tests, any one of which would have tripped us up and finished us off. We sailed through. – Interview with the Local Press at the Istana, 2005

…what we have tried zealously to avoid is any stratification of our society on the basis of status, of parents, different schoolings, different types of schools, of different accents and, therefore, diminishing social tensions.

Everybody is a citizen and what he is, is what he makes of his God-given gifts.

– Television Interview with Chancellor Helmut of West Germany by Dr. Winfred Sharlau, 1978

For myself, if there is one lesson I’ve learnt, it’s to surround myself with good, strong men. The stronger the men around me, the abler they are, the more expertise they bring with them, the more likely am I to resolve the problems that confront me.

Strong leadership does not depend just on one’s own personal strength. It depends upon the strength of the people you gather around yourself in a total leadership. To be able to use other people’s strengths is at the heart of any leadership.

Interview with Mr. Pranay Gupte, Managing Editor, International Commentary Service, 1989


…we have no natural resources, we have two million highly motivated, achievement-oriented, spry, dexterous, and relatively intelligent human beings. And we are going to be there a thousand years from now.

I played centre forward or striker from 1959 to 1980; I moved and played half-back or midfielder from 1981 to 1984, leaving the position of striker for younger men… They have had the time and opportunities to take the measure of each other and add up the pulses and minuses for each. The team has settled for a

I shall now play goalkeeper.

new striker; – “Two Million Highly Motivated People” Address to the Far East America Council Commerce and Industries, 1967

– “Political Transition: From Striker to Goalkeeper.” Speech at the Swearing-in of Cabinet at the Istana, Singapore, 1985

I am proud of what Singapore has become.

We are Singaporeans. We have to change but, as far as possible, the change must be consonant with our cultural and our habits as Chinese, Indians, and Malays. – Interview with Ms. Barbara Crossette at the Istana, Singapore, 1986

To be honest, our cultural heritage has been a major asset. We live by a set of values which promotes education, thrift, hard work and achievement: all this explains our quick development. – Interview with Francis Joyaux, Professor at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, 1987


…the business of the government means having to balance the requirements of organized living and the making of a living with the desires of the individual to fulfil his own wishes and

we do that to the best of our ability. – Interview with Mr. Roland-Pierre Paringaux of Le Monde at the Istana, Singapore, 1978

…we have kept politics clean. We have weeded out all the black sheep amongst the MPs, even one minister of state.

My greatest achievement is that there is a Singapore and that it is still working after the new guard has taken over. It means that we have placed adequate institutions and systems for a capable team to take over. – Interview with Abdullah Ahmad, New Straits Times at the Istana, 2000

Anybody around whom there is a slightest taint of corruption or dishonesty is removed. – “Can the One-Man-One-Vote System Continue to Work for Singapore?” Speech at the National Day Celebration of the Tanjong Pagar Community Centre, 1984


For the young, let me tell you the sky has turned brighter. There’s a glorious rainbow that beckons those with the spirit of adventure. And there are rich findings at the end of the rainbow. To the young and to the not-so-old, I say,

look at that horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it.

– “Picking up the gauntlet: Will Singapore Survive Lee Kuan Yew?” Speech to the Singapore Press Club at Raffles Hotel, 1996

It is the young that will determine what happens to this society.

what we do now that determines what they can be. And it is we and

– Speech at Queenstown Community Centre, 10 August 1966

And we must make use of the asset that we have – an active vibrant, vital generation. We must nurture them, give them the stuffing that

make them men of girth and guts,

will Slowly, we must educate a generation able to stand up,

able to identify its collective interests, able to defend it to the end. And when people know we are prepared to defend it, then we will live in peace.

– Speech at Queenstown Community Centre, 10 August 1966

with the vitality and the industry which already are there. – Speech at Queenstown Community Centre, 10 August 1966

I do not think there is anything

more important than to breed a generation

that is conscious of what it has and what it must do to preserve and improve upon what it has. – Speech at Queenstown Community Centre, 10 August 1966


The idealism is a natural and desirable quality in the young.

If you have no idealism when you are young, then you must become an intolerable cynic long before you get old. If, when the whole world is before you, you are unable to think in terms of absolute perfection and strive to achieve these ideals, then you cannot make much contribution to the leavening-up of our society. – “The Role of Students During Confrontation” Speech at the Opening of the Conference of National Union of Federation Students at the College of Agriculture, Kuala Lumpur, 1964

I have every confidence, watching this younger generation grow up, that they will stand up and fight for themselves,

and this is very important because once people believe you will stand up and are prepared to be countered, then the chances are you may never have to fight. But if people believe that they can just push you down and step over you, you are in for a lot of trouble. – “Singapore Taking Shape: The Emergence of a Confident Younger Generation” Speech at the Third Boxing Anniversary and National Day Celebrations of Tanjong Pagar Community Centre, 1968


Much depends on our younger generation, your generation.

Do you have the guts and gumption that your parents and grandparents displayed when they faced the stark choice of either working together to make Singapore succeed or face the humiliation of failure, wishing we had never been ousted from Malaysia? Amid the comfort and affluence of present-day Singapore, do you feel that urge to stay ahead of the pack in order to maintain our lead? – “What has the Future in Store for your Generation?” Speech to the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University Students at the Nanyang Auditorium, NTU, 2003

At the end of the day, the test is whether you feel, having been educated, you should take your chances and get the best job in the safest place in the world and opt out, or that this is your people, this is your society, they sustain you and it is your job to make sure that they have a future and if you want to know what moved us? Well, somewhere along the way,

we decided that we owe it to ourselves that we live up to this obligation, and my friends and I have never regretted it. – Question-and-Answer Session with students at the Nanyang Technological University Students’ Union, 2003






This decision to represent the postmen was to be

a turning point in the history of the trade unions and constitutional mass action. Little did I know that I would be guiding union leaders in a strike that in two weeks changed the political climate. It put the colonial government on the defensive and encouraged workers’ militancy. The press exposure and publicity enhanced my professional reputation. I was no longer just a brash young lawyer back from Cambridge with academic honours. I had led striking workers, spoken up for them and was trusted by them. – Excerpt from “The Singapore Story - Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew”, Times Editions Pte Ltd, 1998. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission

To be a good and effective trade union leader

is no longer a matter simply of getting the workers to unite and fight the employer. And if the employer refuses to settle, then to squat and suffer collectively at the factory gate and hope to make the employer’s business also suffer until he settles or closes down. – Speech by then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at May Day Rally, on Sunday, 1 May 1960

We must avoid slipping into a situation where trade unionism is the practice of protecting the weakest and the slowest worker

and, with everybody being paid the same wage, no worker will have any incentive to work harder than the weakest and the slowest. – Excerpt from “From Third World to First – Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew” – Times Editions Pte Ltd, 2000. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission


In Government, I have never forgotten that it is in the interest of the workers and their unions

strive for growth and development. In other that we must

words, growth is meaningless unless it is shared by the workers, shared not only directly in wage increases but indirectly in better homes, better schools, better hospitals, better playing fields and, generally, a healthier environment for families to bring up their children. I am glad that since I stood down as Prime Minister, successive Prime Ministers, first PM Goh Chok Tong, now PM Lee Hsien Loong, both had the same policies — pro-worker, pro-trade unions. – Speech by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew Guest-of-Honour at NTUC’s 50th Anniversary Dinner, Marina Bay Sands Grand Ballroom, 13 May 2011

We made it illegal for a trade union to take strike or industrial action without a secret ballot. If it did so, the union and its officers would be liable to prosecution. This stopped the practice of voting by an open show of hands where dissenters were intimidated into acquiescence. – Excerpt from “Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years” by Alex Josey, 1980. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission

NTUC nearly lost to SATU (Singapore Association of Trade Unions), then communist led. They were mainly the Chinese-speaking trade unions.

Fortunately, they lost or the history of Singapore would be changed for the worse. – Speech by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew Guest-of-Honour at NTUC’s 50th Anniversary Dinner, Marina Bay Sands Grand Ballroom, on Friday, 13 May 2011


In multi-racial countries like ours,

trade unions have a special role in building up this spirit of camaraderie amongst the workers.

Developing the economy, increasing productivity, increasing returns, these make sense only when fair play and fair shares make it worth everyone’s while to put in his share of effort for group survival and group prosperity. – Excerpted from “From Third World to First – Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew”, Times Editions Pte Ltd, 2000. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission

Every one of you must know that never in the history of Singapore has there been a government

more sympathetic, more actively sincere in trying to better the working class. – Excerpt from “Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years” by Alex Josey, 1980. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission


The close co-operation between the political and the union leadership made modern Singapore. It is both history and today’s reality. We have advanced because the Government and the unions moved in tandem. Promising unionists were fielded by PAP to be Members of Parliament. And PAP Members of Parliament with no union experience have been inducted into union activities. The future of Singapore depends on our strengthening this symbiosis between Government and unions.

strengthen then these relationships to make the future secure.

We must

– Excerpted from “From Third World to First – Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew”, Times Editions Pte Ltd, 2000. Credits to Marshall Cavendish, reprinted with permission





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