Li Dexin and Lee Kuan Yew

April 4th, 2013
in Op Ed, syndication


The image above shows Li Dexin, my late father, and Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore. Are they similar? Yes, in some ways - Hear me out …

By the time this article is published, I’ll be in China. April 4th (or 5th, depending on the Chinese calendar) is Qingming Festival in China. It is a national holiday to remember the departed, especially your relatives, by visiting their final resting places. In my case, it means to commemorate my father by visiting his tomb, as shown below (the picture was taken on February 9, 2013, the eve of the Chinese New Year).

Follow up:

Since so many people will be doing the same on this day, all cemeteries will be very crowded. “Tradition” dictates you must visit on this day of Qingming Festival the first year only. In other words, after this year, it’s not necessary to visit again on this day and add to the crowds. Instead, any day around that time is fine.

All this is new to me for two main reasons:

  1. My father’s death was the first death of a family member I have ever experienced.

  2. I remember Qingming Festival, but had no memory of such a tradition with so much delicacy, as I left China in 1982. It turned out that it was a long-standing tradition, but Mao had destroyed it under his rule (1949-1976). Many similarly eradicated traditions have been restored since Mao’s death in 1976.

I already wrote about my father upon his death almost one year ago (My Father Li Dexin). Allow me to remember him this time by comparing him with Lee Kuan Yew, about whom I recently wrote (Lee Kuan Yew) too. The two main reasons for this comparison:

  1. My father admired Lee very much. He had nothing but praise for Lee.

  2. Having visited China twice a year over the past eight years, I was able to spend some quality time with my father (and mother). To strike a good conversation and to please him over the last two years, I often compared him with Lee. He liked it and laughed loudly …

It’s time to make a public comparison!

1. Li and Lee are alike

  1. They were born four months apart. Li was born in January 1924, while Lee was born in September 1923.

  2. Li and Lee both loved/love their own country, which is China and Singapore, respectively.

  3. Li and Lee both were/are politicians, with outstanding achievements.

2. Li and Lee are different

  1. Li was a real Chinese, born in China and dying there too. Lee is of Chinese descent, having spent his entire life outside China.

  2. Li was a communist, although by name only later in life. Lee was, may still be, an anti-communist.

  3. Li is not internationally known, while Lee is.

3. Li had greater success than Lee

  1. Li turned around two “districts” in China: Jinhua and Hangzhou; each is far larger than Singapore. For example, Hangzhou (district) has at least twice more the population and geography than are found in Singapore! As for the importance of the city of Hangzhou, here is a tip: when President Nixon visited China in 1972, he visited three cities: Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, in that order!

  2. Li helped develop and served in a political system with term-limits, while Lee ruled like a king for 30 years. Note that term-limits may be bad for individuals, but it’s almost always good for the long-haul, system-wise. For more, read: Towards An Ideal Form of Government.

  3. None of Li’s children entered politics – They have all become self-made men (and a woman)! Lee’s son is now the Prime Minister in Singapore - nepotism, perhaps?

4. Lee did better than Li

  1. Singapore is a world-class city/country today, coming from nowhere in 1959, when Lee took over. Hangzhou is not even close to that status.

  2. Lee enjoys huge popularity worldwide, while Li remains totally unknown outside of China (More on Li Dexin).

  3. Lee’s son is now the Prime Minister in Singapore, while none of Li’s children is even in politics at all.

5. My father and me

Here is an old saying: “when people age, they tend to revert to their childhood.” I noticed that in my father! For example, about a year before he passed away, he murmured, out of the clear blue, to my sister: “I think my mom should be very proud of me, right?”

What was he thinking as an 87-year-old man then? He was reflecting upon his entire life, starting from the expectations of his parents!

Oh, my God, that's me, in some 35 years! So let me best prepare myself for that ...

Here is a conversation he and I had in November 2011:

Son: “What was your biggest achievement?”

Dad: “Turning around Hangzhou, obviously.”

Son: “Will that be good enough for you to be in (Chinese) history?”

Dad: “No. How many people can really make history?”

Son: “I think I can.”

Dad: “How?”

Son: “With my pen, writing about politics.”

Dad: “Oh, yeah, good luck!”

Note the sarcasm? Behind that was a high expectation, to me, at least! So for me, writing about politics is not just a hobby, but a way to please my father! What’s better? I think I am part way there already! Any doubt? Compare the two books shown below, and you will see the differences between Lee Kuan Yew and me: my view of China, the U.S., and democracy is simply far superior to Lee’s - You be the judge!

6. Closing

Both Li Dexin and Lee Kuan Yew had substantial lifetime achievements! They both rose to the occasion, and left (or will leave) the world a better place than they found. What about the rest of us? Shouldn't we all strive for the same, at least?

Now, to my fellow Americans: if you are reasonably astute, you should know America is deeply in trouble. If you are minimally patriotic, you should read my book (Saving America, Chinese Style), in which I have provided the most accurate diagnosis for America, as well as the best solution. You be the judge!

As for me personally, I hope to have better things to report to my father in April 2014 ... Meanwhile, rest in peace, Dad ...

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