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Lee Kuan Yew: The Man, The Legacy

Although he may be gone, his work and mark on modern day society will never be forgotten.

Lee Kuan Yew left us with an international legacy on the 23rd of March, 2015, at the age of 91. As prime minister for Singapore’s first three decades, Lee Kuan Yew raised and developed a poor third world country to the first world in a single generation. As it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a nation, Singapore today is an ultra-modern metropolis with a higher per capita GDP than the US, and, Southeast Asia’s richest, most advanced economy. The credit of all the achievements that attributed to the transformation to a successful nation, goes to Lee Kuan Yew who proves to be a disciplined and visionary role model for leaders all over the world.

Lee Kuan Yew, circa 20th century. (Jamal Rafaie)
Lee Kuan Yew, circa 20th century. (Jamal Rafaie)

Singapore has always worked smoothly (unlike countries such as China), and its people were prosperous under the care of Lee Kuan Yew. It was mentioned that Lee insisted that governance was first and foremost about results. His exact words were that “the acid test of any legal system is not the greatness or the grandeur of its ideal concepts, but whether, in fact, it is able to produce order and justice.”

Singapore before Lee Kuan Yew transformed it. (Skyscraper City)
Singapore before Lee Kuan Yew transformed it. (Skyscraper City)

The second most important role of the government according to Lee, is moral leadership. A good government requires its leaders to put the public’s needs and good unquestionably above their own personal interests.


The third lesson is equal opportunity. Successful societies guarantee equal opportunities for all individuals and are still realistic about the fact that this will have complications and that full equality will be near impossible to reach. Lee believed that the essence of a successful society was the competition that came from the same level of playing field which would allow each individual to achieve his or her maximum fairly.

Singapore today. (World Finance Conference)
Singapore today. (World Finance Conference)

Fourth, Lee chose to take the route of discipline rather than democracy—that it’s better to nurture a nation rather than let it be. He had serious reservations about liberal democracy as in the US, and he dismissed the fact that being liberal was a part of improving lives. He believed that Asia simply wanted a better life though equality in society.


Lee Kuan Yew, no doubt, left a significant influence on not only Singapore and its people, but also governments and leaders around the world. His legacy will continue to endure. As tens of thousands of people line the streets of Singapore to bid farewell to the founding father of their city-state, it is time for global leaders to question whether what they’ve been doing, testing ideology, is the right way to govern and nurture their nations.


– Hyun Jung Choi ‘16

Header: M. Chan 1973
Captions: Faith Choi (’16)

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