A Great Hero of the People
– Dr Lim Hock Siew

Shi Jian


  He was handsome, kindhearted, generous and gentlemanly, with piercing eyes that could penetrate into others' mind. His cordial demeanor would often imbue others with warmth and kindness. He displayed through his cultured discourse, an open mindedness that came with great modesty. The extreme bravery in him had been amply manifested by what he had set out to do with sterling results. One saw in him immense resoluteness and gallantry, and his tenacious personality commanded great respect in people around him. The resolute will in him saw him brave through undercurrents without fear and with a generous benevolence. His magnanimity and tolerance saw his boundary and he would laugh heartily on those who were humorous. He would silently go into deep thinking, with a subtle smile that exuded open-mindedness and warmth which is characteristic of an elegant and confident intellectual. He would deal with every event with a high degree of self-discipline and resourcefulness, radiating alertness and wisdom throughout and projecting an imposing figure. His care for his comrades was meticulous. Being studious and staying true to his profession, he was well respected for his services to the poor people at the Rakyat Clinic. All these have left a deep and unforgettable imprint in Dr Lim's companions and those political prisoners who had been imprisoned together with him. These have in fact have become their eternal collective memory.

  The kindness and perseverance of his parents had made a huge impact on him so that he started to shoulder the responsibility of helping with his household chores since he was a teenager. The life of a poor family had tempered him to be more tenacious than others and had also hardened his fighting spirit. The strict family upbringing and constant guidance had embedded a steadfast ethos deep in his heart. Dr Lim was born on 21st February 1931, when the whole world was undergoing an era of grave economic crisis. He grew up during the time when the Japanese fascists launched the war of aggression, invaded Singapore and Malaya, and ruled with bloody terror. The people were plunged into dire suffering and had to survive in immense hardship. Such painful and tormenting environment had molded his unyielding personality and indomitable spirit.

  After the war, he proceeded to complete his English primary education. In 1946 he was accepted into Raffles Institution with his excellent results. It was during this period that he started to display personal wisdom and charisma, becoming a member of the editorial committees of the school magazine and the combined schools' magazine. During those years, South-east Asia witnessed an unprecedented surge in the ideological trend of socialism. This had impacted the heart and mind of this intellectual, and greatly enriched his thought. Meanwhile, the surging tidal wave of anti-colonialism among the people of the world had raised his political awareness and also changed his outlook of life. With the missionary zeal of an intellectual in him, and compelled by a strong sense of responsibility, the youthful Dr Lim was fully prepared to make contributions to the society and the country when the tide of the era came calling. In 1951 he studied in the medical college of the University of Malaya in Singapore and took part in the students' activities actively, having been chairman of the students' union and editor of the students' magazine (University of Malaya). In 1953 he became a founder of the (University of Malaya Socialist Club) and was the editor of its magazine (Fajar). He read widely at the university and studied socialist works such as those of Karl Marx's philosophy and Adam Smith's economic theory. Being very studious and able to comprehend succinctly, his reading of those works had elevated his understanding of socialism and strengthened his belief. He said: "The founding of the Socialist Club of the University of Malaya came at a time when the colonized people of the world were crying out loud and struggling for national independence. Being a university student, I had a compelling sense of obligation and responsibility to join in the struggle of the people of our country…." "What we were concerned about was not only in how we should shake off the colonial rule of our country, but also in how we should resolve the key issues of social and economic difficulties that would confront our people after independence." He wrote in an incisive and vivid style that could clearly express his belief. Every argument that he put forth was stated in great detail and the articles he wrote came with a patriotic passion that were both forceful and easy to understand. His writings and speeches are crystallization of his thoughts that exuded both expansiveness and sharpness. One can feel his personality and his thoughts through these. The day on 13th May 1954 saw a blood shedding incident in which the colonial government resorted to using violent means to suppress unarmed Chinese school students who were demanding for exemption from military service. This shocked and enraged Dr Lim. He stated: "In Singapore's political history, this day marked a turning point in our people's struggle for political freedom and social justice". He realized that the timing of this turning point had created the necessary and sufficient conditions for forming a serious anti-colonial political party to represent the interests of the people, especially the workers and the ordinary folk, in the fight for the country's independence. PAP was founded in this year. But his enthusiasm seemed to have been stifled when he could only become an ordinary member of the PAP. In spite of this, Dr Lim persevered and remained deeply rooted in his own country. He moved on towards his aspirations with a will that was unflinching and firm, and actively assisted the party in its contests in the legislative assembly election in 1955.

  After graduating from the university in 1957, he served at Singapore General Hospital and the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

  An election was held under the "Linde Constitution" in Singapore on 31st May 1959. The leadership of the PAP refused to field two outstanding medical doctors Dr Lim Hock Siew and Dr Poh Soo Kai as its candidates. Both were marginalized instead. Holding on firmly to their socialist ideals and belief, they nevertheless took part actively in the election activities and helped the PAP win the election. In spite of all these, both were eventually expelled by the PAP. One could not but feel extreme regret for the fact that their latent sparks of political ideas temporarily could not continue to sparkle. Though devoid of the opportunity to make a greater impact under the circumstances at that point in time, Dr Lim had left a clear imprint that is still visible today.

  On 17th September 1961, Barisan Sosialis was founded. Dr Lim was elected a member of the central committee. He was soon tasked with a heavy responsibility of leading a think tank comprising graduates of the University and Malaya and the Nanyang University, to prepare for the elucidation of the party's policies and documents. He became the editor of the English edition of the (Barisan) magazine. In the same year both Dr Lim and Dr Poh Soo Kai resigned from the government hospitals and set up the Rakyat Clinic at Balestier Road to serve the impoverished masses. In July 1962 he was elected as a member of the joint action council of the opposition parties and went to the United Nations to declare that the British had gone against the wishes of the people of Singapore in their opposition to PAP's merger plan. During the public debate with Lee Kuan Yew on the eve of the referendum on 2nd September 1962, Dr Lim said: "in our struggle for the genuine unification of Singapore and Malaya, PAP's merger plan is a step backward rather than a step forward." On the referendum for the merger, Dr Lim criticized harshly that: "The referendum is a scam cooked up by the government, who set out to deceive the people of Singapore with unprecedented ways and means. This has clearly shown that the ruling party is prepared to hold on to its power by all possible means." "The conduct of the PAP is only meant for its short term political interests. This will only lead to the total regression of the momentum of the unification movement, culminating in the break up between Singapore and Malaya." The actual outcome later has been so true. The process of uniting Singapore and Malaya had suffered a very serious setback. "The harm that they had done to the unification of our country is in actual fact a calamity, something that may need to take a few generations of our people to heal."

  During the notorious Operation Coldstore on 2nd February 1963, because of his opposition to the unfair and unequal merger plan, Dr Lim was arrested under the so called Public Order Preservation Act. He was to be detained, without trials in court, for a long period of time. It was in the prison that he was subject to endless suffering and torments, both physically and mentally. Armed with a steely will, Dr Lim waged an extremely hard and bitter struggle in the defense of truth, democracy, human rights and justice. Dr Lim, together with his jailed comrades, conducted hunger strikes to demand for improvement in the food provided. They were later to conduct an even more arduous hunger strike to protest against "reform by labor" which had been unreasonably and brutally imposed on the political prisoners. The political prisoners in the end won the struggle.

  In order to assuage the pressure coming from the Amnesty International, the PAP regime in 1978 fabricated a falsehood of release by transferring Dr Lim from the Changi Prison to Tekong Island and continuing with his detention. This solitary confinement was to last for 4 more years, leaving him to live in isolation and loneliness. However, his towering presence had attracted widespread attention, but he was to remain steadfastly fearless as he had been before. Dr Lim demonstrated his deep love for his country and the people while on the island. Being the only medical doctor on the island, he provided sincere medical services for the people living there, something he cared about deep in his heart. That was the eternal beauty in him and Dr Lim was to continue to live on with his wisdom and resilience.

  During the protracted and harsh prison life, Dr Lim spent endless sleepless nights tossing on his bed. He was detained without trial for close to 20 years. He was eventually freed from the prison on 6th September 1982, successfully upholding truth, justice, and maintaining human dignity. Dr Lim paid a very heavy price for his belief and ideals. Aloud he said: "Considering my situation, it is completely without basis to arrest and detain me. I will never accept any theory of legitimacy for my arrest." He was to say with firmness: "The painful sacrifices had further solidified our firm determination". Dr Lim went on to say: "My firm conviction in Barisan Sosialis's stand on the issue of merger had to a great extent helped me endure the protracted prison life, strengthened my will to overcome all sorts of tribulations and triumphed over all tactics to demolish me. History has proven that my stand and Barisan Sosialis's stand has been correct."

  After his release, in view of the political reality and with his rich experiences in social activities, he had come to a conclusion that the fight must continue in a firm but moderate way. The rebel in him was in tune with the times when the wave of resistance was a reflection of the rising tide in the country and he looked forward to achieving a higher objective to validate himself. Dr Lim was to reinforce his vitality with a gentle and mature bearing. He surged forth continuously and accumulated richer experiences, sailing off again as a politician who was quick witted, sharp, mature, unyielding and serious. Dr Lim, by his moving forward fearlessly and calmly under cloudy storms, has left an indelible mark in our time. In the twilight years of his life, he had marked out a clear thread of history and endeavored to show the way, with his knowledge and experiences, to a better tomorrow.

  Dr Lim lived for a mission to eradicate all inequalities so that a new era could usher into the society. Deep inside him he knew that all the new social systems originate from idealism, and this awareness will arouse the people to long for a new society, as well as imbue in them with a sense of mission. He longed for the setting up of an egalitarian social order and he looked forward to a socialist Singapore that do not exploit and oppress the working class. The story of struggle against colonialism and the fight for social reform of the people of Singapore has been embodied in Dr Lim.

  He provided motivation in a special way to the young people of Singapore with his characteristic warmth and rigorousness. Dr Lim stated in firm conviction: "no political situation can remain stagnant in this world. The day will soon come when the people of Singapore will shake off the political persecution that has lasted for half a century."

  Like a ray of righteousness Dr Lim has provided us with new breath of life and given us new strength. We are able to listen to his enlightening thoughts residing deep within him and come to the realization about the meaning and the value of life. He longed for the youths of our country to step forward boldly, while the tide of history alternates between flows and ebbs.

  In the last few moments of his life, Dr Lim had witnessed the birth of new forces from among the youth, and that gave him immense gratification. His life was full of tribulations but was one that sparkled with light that would never extinguish. We are deeply moved and motivated by his unflinching love for the country and the people. A chapter in history was written with his unparalleled mental strength and his upright righteousness. His legacy of unyielding struggle for the truth and unflinching nobility will pass on from generation to generation.

  Dr Lim passed away on 4th June 2012 at the age of 81.

  Eternal glory to Dr Lim Hock Siew our great hero of the people! Your name will be forever etched in the history book and you will be always remembered by the people!

  Dear Dr Lim Hock Siew, you will forever live in the heart of the people!

The People's Hero: Commemorating the 5th anniversary of the passing of Dr Lim Hock Siew, pp.162-168, January 2017.)

自强不息 力争上游

2017年3月12日首版 Created on March 12, 2017
2017年3月12日改版 Last updated on March 12, 2017