The Malayan vision of Lim Chin Siong: unity, non-violence, and popular sovereignty
ABSTRACT Lim Chin Siong was the undisputed political leader of the anticolonial and Malayan left-wing in Singapore until his detention without trial in 1963 ended his political career. That he had a major impact on Singapore’s decolonisation is beyond dispute – indeed, both Tunku Abdul Rahman and Lee Kuan Yew formulated merger policy specifically in response to Lim’s politics and his values. Yet Lim remains a poorly understood figure because of a lack of sources and a historiography written almost entirely from his opponents’ perspectives. Reassessing existing literature in view of recently declassified British archives, this essay pieces together Lim’s articulation of three tenets in the political thinking that guided his tactics for social mobilisation: anticolonial unity, non-violence, and popular sovereignty. Lim put these principles into practice with great success, becoming the leader of the largest and most formative nationalist movement Singapore has ever known. Understanding Malayan nationalism in Singapore – and its successor, Singaporean nationalism – is thus impossible without understanding Lim Chin Siong.
KEYWORDS: Malaya, Malaysia, Singapore, sovereignty, politics, nationalism, Lim Chin Siong
Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia, and a Research Fellow in History at the University of Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, PJ’s work centres on decolonisation in Southeast Asia, and its continuing impact on Southeast Asian governance and politics. His most recent book is Living with Myths in Singapore (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2017), co-edited with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Meng-Tat Chia. He is creator of “The History of Singapore,” a weekly radio show on BFM89.9 in Malaysia, also available as a podcast at www.thehistoryofsingapore.com or on iTunes.