Lee Kuan Yew 1923–

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Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew is a fourth-generation Singaporean. Just nineteen when the Japanese invaded Singapore, he learned Japanese and found work as a translator. In 1946 Lee left to read law at Cambridge University, where he succeeded brilliantly. Decolonization and leftist policies helped to form Lee's views. Practicing law after returning to Singapore in 1950, Lee was also a founder of the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954. Preaching socialism and an end to British rule, the PAP gained the support of Singapore's majority Chinese-educated and China-oriented population and won the 1959 parliamentary elections. Lee served as Singapore's prime minister from independence in 1959 to 1990.

Singapore inherited a successful economy and a stable and efficient administration. Lee and the PAP built on Singapore's superb geographical location and historic development as a highly globalized, successful free port. Economic progress was exceptionally rapid, and manufacturing by foreign multinationals exporting to the West and Japan became important. Singapore's post independence development in many ways resembled the city-states of twelfth- to fifteenth-century Italy, above all in the large role of trade (Singapore's trade is 3.5 to 4 times its GDP, the world's highest ratio) and a stable currency.

The PAP still rules Singapore, and Lee, after stepping down as prime minister in 1990, became senior minister. He has argued for a semi authoritarian, state-directed strategy of economic development said to encompass "Asian values." Lee's son, Lee Hsien Loon, became prime minister in late 2004, and other family members hold several other important government jobs.

SEE ALSO China; Developmental State, Concept of the; Empire, British; Free Ports;Nationalism;Singapore.


Huff, W. G. The Economic Growth of Singapore. Cambridge; New York: Cambrdige University Press, 1994.

Lee Kuan Yew. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. (Singapore: Singapore Press Companies, 1998)

Lee Kuan Yew. From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.

W. G. Huff