by Augustine Low
The diminutive Deng Xiaoping only stood at 1.52 metres but he easily towers above leaders like Lee Kuan Yew – both as a man and a political icon in modern history.
Reading the biography “Deng Xiaoping – A Revolutionary Life” by Alexander Pantsov, I was struck that Deng was big enough during his lifetime to concede his mistakes and even asserted that in future he “could be rated fifty fifty in merits and demerits.”
Here was this colossus of a man who masterminded the ascension of China to global superpower and yet took pains to point out that any authoritative biography on him “should include both good and bad things – even the mistakes one has made.”
When did LKY ever admit to making mistakes? Have the PAP not whitewashed all mistakes and acts that went against the grain of human decency?
Deng and LKY shared common traits. Both were authoritarian and dictatorial and brooked no dissent. For both, the end always justified the means and people were important only as instruments for achieving their goals. For both, there was also no such thing as presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
All great leaders – from Abraham Lincoln to Nelson Mandela – have got definitive biographies written on him. There is none on LKY. Will there ever be one?
An outstanding biography needs to capture the person warts and all – not just the accomplishments but the struggles, foibles and failings. To that end, access to archival sources and interviewers who speak with no-holds-barred candor is crucial. Without that definitive biography, something is incomplete about the life and times of LKY, about his place in modern history.
LKY described Deng as a “giant among men” – and paid him the compliment of being the most impressive leader he ever met. That Deng, despite his astounding achievements, rated himself only “fifty fifty in merits and demerits” puts him in a class of men who knew their worth and did not have to whitewash mistakes and failings.
The PAP would have everyone believe that LKY was the perfect specimen who could do no wrong and was infallible, when in fact perfection is never a human quality. Deng Xiaoping, on the other hand, was big enough and human enough to admit that he did “bad things” in his lifetime.
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