Singapore, 20 November 2011
– Lianhe Zaobao and The Straits Times will jointly launch a new book by Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Nov 28 at the Singapore Conference Hall.
The book, My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, is published in separate but similar Chinese and English editions. The 400-page Chinese edition is by Lianhe Zaobao and the 388-page English one by The Straits Times Press.
Each copy of the book comes with a DVD of extracts from relevant speeches made by Mr Lee - in English, Mandarin, Hokkien and Malay – over the past 50 years.
The book consists of two parts. In the first part, Mr Lee recounts his lifelong quest to learn Mandarin and to get the bilingual education policy right. The second part features essays by Singaporeans on their individual linguistic journeys. There are 18 essays in the Chinese edition and 22 in the English edition.
My Lifelong Challenge is the story of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s 50-year struggle to transform Singapore from a polyglot former British colony into a united nation where everyone, while knowing English, knows at least one other language, his own mother tongue. The founding prime minister of Singapore tells why he did away with vernacular schools in spite of violent political resistance, why he closed Nanyang University, why he later started Special Assistance Plan schools, and why he continues to urge all ethnic Chinese Singaporeans today to learn the Chinese language.
The reader learns not only about the many policy adjustments but also the challenges Mr Lee encountered – from Chinese language chauvinists who wanted Chinese to be the pre-eminent language in Singapore, from Malay and Tamil community groups fearing that Chinese were given too much emphasis, from parents of all races wanting an easier time for their school-going children, and even from his own Cabinet colleagues questioning his assumptions about language.
My Lifelong Challenge is also the story of Mr Lee’s own struggle to learn the Chinese language, which began when he was six years old and his Hakka maternal grandmother enrolled him in a Chinese class with fishermen’s children. In evocative detail, the man born to English-speaking parents recounts his own feelings of rebellion and humiliation at different points in his life, when faced with the Chinese language and his own inadequacy in it. This book describes in matter-of-fact yet vivid fashion his steely determination to improve his Chinese and reclaim his Chinese heritage right up to the present when he is well into his eighties.
The persons whose essays appear in the second part of the book include current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, pop star Stefanie Sun, educator Chew Cheng Hai and American-born billionaire investor Jim Rogers, who chose to live in Singapore so that his daughters can receive a bilingual education. The writers recount their own language journeys, giving flesh and blood meaning to policy measures wrought over five decades.
Mr Robin Hu, Senior Executive Vice-President of Singapore Press Holdings’ Chinese Newspapers and Newspaper Services divisions, headed the editorial committee that worked closely with Mr Lee on the book. He said: “It was sheer pleasure for the team to have worked on this project over a period of two years. We learned many things through a series of nail-biting encounters with the author.”
“What stands out for me is that the bilingual journey is not about arriving at a final destination, but about different points of arrival as we continue to journey amid changing circumstances,” added Mr Hu. “Among other things, this book is about a young nation’s destiny as envisioned by a tenacious mind.”
On why there are two separate Chinese and English editions rather than a translation of a single work, Mr Hu said: “The readerships of the two editions, particularly those 45 years and above, are different. They attended schools of two different language streams and hold quite different perspectives of the bilingual policy.’’
“In order to speak to the two readerships, the author decided that although the content should be similar, the approach would be slightly different. For example, in chapter one on the differences between the Chinese and English school students of the 1950s, the Chinese edition dwells at greater length on the Chinese student riots and the education problems faced by the Chinese community than does the English one."
Mr Patrick Daniel, Editor-in-Chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English and Malay Newspapers Division, said: "This book recounts an important facet of Singapore’s history. It contains insights, borne of experience, about the challenge of ensuring that each community preserves its own language and culture in a multiracial nation, while adopting English as the working language. It comes at an opportune moment too, as the world sees its centre of gravity shifting from West to East. I am glad that The Straits Times has had a part in bringing out this book.”
My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey has received enthusiastic reviews from both foreign and local luminaries.
Wrote former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an old friend of Mr Lee's: “Lee Kuan Yew’s memoir of his journey toward recognition of the value of state-supported bilingualism for his polyglot nation is a fascinating chapter in the life and lessons of one of the most innovative and successful leaders of our time. Candid and illuminating, it has valuable insights for many countries struggling to absorb an unprecedented flood of new immigrants.”
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand noted that Mr Lee’s lifelong experiences and dedication to Singapore shines vividly in the book. A frequent visitor to Singapore, she also wrote that “Now that I am studying Chinese, he sometimes prefers to talk to me in Chinese.”
Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Company, said: "This book comes at an important time for Singapore, which continues to rigorously examine its language policies as it sets a course for its next stage of development. It also comes at an important time for the rest of the world -- as other countries confront their own choices as they overhaul their educational systems to take advantage of a globally connected world.
In Singapore, former senior minister of state for community development Ch’ng Jit Koon said: “To this day, some people do not approve of the bilingual policy as a foundation stone of the nation. This book describes fully, accurately and clearly the background to these policies, helping us to understand why he did what he did. Whether the bilingual policy is right or wrong, history will be the judge. But if he had not done what he did, our country would not be what it is today.”
Mandopop singer Stefanie Sun, who had to brush up her Mandarin in order to break into the Taiwan pop music market, said: “As the world gets "smaller", our red dot fights for its mark on the global community. If you ever wondered how we got this far or what makes Singaporeans tick, this book explains a lot through the eyes of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”
Chairman of the United Overseas Bank Group Wee Cho Yaw, who is mentioned in Chapter 3 of the book, wrote: “To many people of my generation Nantah is more than a university. It represented the aspirations and idealism of the Southeast Asian Chinese. The Nantah “spirit” of self-reliance and strength in unity cut across social classes and national borders. In the closing line of the Nantah chapter, Mr Lee Kuan Yew advised that the spirit which inspired it (the university) deserves to be treasured and embraced by future generations of Singaporeans. I totally agree.”
Both the English and Chinese editions of the book will be available at leading bookstores at $39.90 per copy (inclusive of GST) from 5pm on the day of the launch. The book can also be purchased online from Straits Times Press Online Bookstore at www.stpressbooks.com.sg
on the same day and time.
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For more information, please contact:
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Singapore Press Holdings Limited
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Singapore Press Holdings Limited
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Ms Irene Ngoo
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Mr Peter Ong
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Incorporated in 1984, main board-listed Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH) is Southeast Asia’s leading media organization, engaging minds and enriching lives across multiple languages and platforms including newspapers, with 18 newspaper titles in four languages; 100 magazine titles in Singapore and the region; book publishing subsidiaries Straits Times Press and Focus Publishing; internet and mobile portals; stakes in broadcasting companies MediaCorp TV Holdings Pte Ltd, MediaCorp Press Limited and SPH UnionWorks Pte Ltd; events and outdoor advertising through their wholly-owned subsidiary, SPH MediaBoxOffice Pte Ltd; and other properties including Paragon, The Clementi Mall, and Sky@eleven, developed by SPH's wholly-owned subsidiary, Times Development Pte Ltd.
About The Straits Times
The Straits Times, the English flagship daily of SPH, has been serving readers for more than a century. Launched on July 15, 1845, its comprehensive coverage of world news, East Asian news, Southeast Asian news, home news, sports news, financial news and lifestyle updates makes The Straits Times the most-read newspaper in Singapore.
The Straits Times also has an online presence at www.straitstimes.com. The site features top stories, blogs and an online forum threads. Also under The Straits Times' umbrella are citizen journalism site Stomp and online television service RazorTV.
About Lianhe Zaobao
Lianhe Zaobao, the Chinese flagship newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings, is the most comprehensive, contemporary Chinese daily that reflects current issues, expert insights, lifestyles and developments in the local and global Chinese community. It is a trusted and respected source of news and opinion for both Singapore readers, as well as the region’s Chinese literate community. With an extensive correspondent network in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo, Lianhe Zaobao gives readers timely and in-depth coverage of significant events taking place in the region and beyond.