Lim Chin Siong

Lim Chin Siong (b. 28 February 1933, Singapore - d. 5 February 1996, Singapore) was an influential trade union leader and a prominent left-wing political figure in the history of Singapore. As a founder member of the People's Action Party (PAP), Lim was elected as Assemblyman for the Bukit Timah constituency in 1955 at the young age of 22. An intelligent man and a charismatic speaker, Lim was especially popular with the Chinese working-class. However, Lim's pro-Communist stance brought much turbulence to his political career. Marked as one of the key left-wing leaders in the PAP, Lim was expelled from the party in 1961 and arrested for political dissent in 1963. Upon his release from prison, Lim went into exile in London.

Early Life
Lim was born to a shopkeeper at Telok Ayer Street in Singapore. His family subsequently moved to Kampong Ramban near Pontian, Johore in 1936 because of the Great Depression. A few years after the Japanese Occupation ended, Lim came back to Singapore to further his studies.

Lim entered Pei Chun Primary School in Pontian in 1939. He studied there until the school closed in 1942 as a result of the Japanese invasion. Lim resumed his education in 1945, after the Japanese surrendered. In 1949, Lim enrolled at Catholic High School in Singapore, and transferred to Chinese High School one year later. In Chinese High School, Lim became involved in the Singapore Students' Anti-British League (SSABL), an organisation with pro-Communist tendencies. Lim pointed out that he was not aware of the SSABL's communist affiliations when he first entered the organisation, stating that he only saw it as an agency that was anti-colonial and anti-British in nature.

In 1951, Lim, as a cell leader of the SSABL, organised a class boycott. As a result, he was detained and brought in for questioning by the police for a week. In the following year, Lim attempted to stop the introduction of a new Junior Middle III examination, and was subsequently expelled from school. Thereafter, Lim worked as a part-time teacher while attending English evening classes.

Involvement in Trade Unions
In 1953, Lim became a paid secretary for the Changi Bus Workers' Union. Towards the end of 1954, he was made secretary of the Singapore Bus Workers' Union (SBWU) as well as the Spinning Workers' Union. Shortly after, he was elected Secretary-General of the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union (SFSWU). Under his leadership, the membership of the SFSWU grew from 375 in April 1954 to approximately 30,000 at the end of 1955.

Lim also took an active interest in the development and improvement of Chinese education in Singapore. As the Chairman of the All Singapore Chinese Schools Parents' Association and representative of sixteen trade unions, Lim participated in a meeting convened by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce on 27 May 1955 to seek equal treatment for Chinese schools. At the meeting, Lim also provided specific strategies to improve the conditions of Chinese schools and, more generally, Chinese education in Singapore.

Political Leadership
In 1954, Lim, along with his Chinese High senior, Fong Swee Suan, was introduced to Lee Kuan Yew. Despite their ideological differences, the three men knew that they shared one common goal to bring about full independence for Singapore. Together with Lee and others, Lim and Fong became founder members of the PAP on 21 November 1954.

In April 1955, Lim was elected as Assemblyman for the Bukit Timah constituency. Then 22 years old, he was and remained the youngest Assemblyman ever to be elected into office. The following year, Lim and Lee represented the PAP at the London Constitutional Talks, which ended in failure-­ the British declined to grant Singapore an internal self-government. On 7 June 1956, David Marshall, disappointed with the constitutional talks, stepped down as Chief Minister, and was replaced by Lim Yew Hock.

Social Unrest
In the struggle for independence, a series of riots between the people and the government broke out in the mid-1950s. Three of the most significant ones were the May 13th incident in 1954, the Hock Lee riots in May 1955, and the Chinese Middle School disturbances in October 1956. Lim and Fong played a key role in these demonstrations, both being active participants and key instigators for the latter two riots. In particular, the Chinese Middle School disturbances led to island-wide rioting, causing more than 10 deaths and over 100 people injured. The police arrested more than 1,000 people, amongst them were Lim and Fong, as well as other left-wing members in the PAP.

Internal Party Split
In 1959, the PAP won 43 out of 51 seats in the general elections, and Lee Kuan Yew requested that Lim and the rest of the PAP leftists who were arrested for the riots in 1956 be released from prison to form the new Cabinet. Lim and Fong were subsequently appointed Political Secretary to the Minister of Finance and Political Secretary to the Minister for Labour and Law respectively.

However, the PAP left-wingers clashed with the moderates again in 1961 over the issue of merger with Malaya. The moderates saw merger as a chance for self-independence; at the same time, they believed that it would bring about greater political and economic stability for Singapore. Lim and the other radicals in the party suspected the moderates of conspiring against them with the anti-communist Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Further rifts in the party eventually led to the expulsion of Lim's faction from the PAP on 26 July 1961.

The expelled party members gathered their supporters and went on to form the Barisan Sosialis, which held its inauguration on 17 September 1961. Debates over the issue of merger between the PAP and the Barisan Sosialis intensified through rallies and over the media. On 1 September 1962, a national referendum for merger was held and the option proposed by the PAP won the majority vote.

Detention and Exile
After the PAP's victory in the referendum, Lim and the Barisan Sosialis began to stress for a Greater Malaysia and called for the coalition of anti-colonial left-wing forces in the Southeast Asian region to oppose all neo-colonialist influence. At the same time, Lim also urged for better relations with the Indonesian archipelago. This latter statement put the Barisan Sosialis in an unfavourable light when on 20 January 1963 the Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Subandrio declared Konfrontasi, or a policy of confrontation, against Malaysia.

On 2 February 1963, the Internal Security Council launched a security operation code named Cold Store which saw the arrest of Lim, Fong, and more than 100 leaders and activists of political parties and trade unions. These individuals were detained under the Prevention of Public Security Order (PPSO). In prison from 1963 to 1969, Lim was reported to have suffered from depression. Upon his release, Lim went into exile in London. Wong Chui Wan, his fiancée and one of his close colleagues in the General Employees Union, accompanied him.

Lim and Wong got married in 1970. The couple had two sons, one in 1973 and another in 1977. In 1979, Lim and his family returned to Singapore.

While travelling in China in 1980, Lim suffered a heart attack and was admitted to a hospital in Shanghai for 20 days. On 4 September 1982, he underwent a coronary bypass surgery at St. Vincent Hospital, Sydney.

Lim died from a heart attack in Singapore on 5 February 1996.

Father: Lim Teng Geok
Mother: Ang Sai Neo
Brothers: Chin Kiat, Chin Joo, Cheng Hoo, Ching Ho, Cheng Hock and Cheng Chai
Sisters: Siew Luan, Siew Hong, Siew Tee, Siew Kea and Siew Hoon
Wife: Wong Chui Wan
Sons: Ziyi and Zi Kuan

Wong Hongyi

Chew, C. T. E. and Lee, E. (Eds.). (1996). A History of Singapore (p.130-7, 141-3). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS)

Lam, P. E. and Tan. Y. L. K. (Eds.) (1999). Lees lieutenants: Singapores old guard (p. 169-90). St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.
(Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)

Moore, D. (1969). The first 150 years of Singapore (p.687-8, 695-7, 699-700). Singapore: Donald Moore Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 MOO)

Pan, L. (Ed.) (1998). The encyclopedia of the Chinese overseas (p.210-1). Singapore: Landmark Books & Archipelago Press: Chinese Heritage Center.
(Call no.: RSING 304.80951 ENC)

Tan, J. Q. and Jomo K. S. (Eds.) (2001). Comet in our sky: Lim Chin Siong in history. Selangor Darul Ehsan: INSAN.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 COM)

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A History of Singapore: 1819-1988 (p.261-5, 278-9). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Further Readings
Chin C. C. and Hack, K. (Eds.) (2004). Dialogues with Chin Peng: New light on the MCP. Singapore: Singapore University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5104 DIA)

Lee, K. Y. (2000). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders
Politics and Government
Lim, Chin Siong, 1933-1996
Labor leaders--Singapore--Biography
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership

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