Chinese edition of Men In White available at major bookstores

It was a "historic handshake" with far-reaching consequences.

At the 2009 book launch of Men In White on the history of the People's Action Party, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew shook hands and took a group photograph with former political rivals like Barisan Sosialis leader Fong Swee Suan.

It created waves among many former leftists and trade unionists who, like others of their generation, were Chinese-educated.

They wondered if the book, like the handshake, marked a form of closure to a tumultuous episode of Singapore's history, which led to many being detained or exiled by the PAP government, said Mr Sonny Yap, one of the book's authors, yesterday.

Now, they can read Men In White in Chinese, with the launch of the 656-page book over the weekend.

Besides the former leftists, the book also appeals to older Chinese-educated readers who lived through the events of the 1950s and 1960s, said Mr Yap, 63, at a meet-the-authors session yesterday.

A former deputy political editor of The Straits Times, he co-wrote Men In White with ST senior writer Leong Weng Kam, 58, and copy editor Richard Lim, 63.

They did about 300 interviews with key players from both sides of the political divide and wove together a journalistic account of the PAP's history.

It ranges from the birth of the PAP in 1954, its internal rifts which led to the founding of Barisan Sosialis in 1961, to the PAP's decades in power and its political strategy and governance to the present day.

The Chinese edition was translated by a team of current and former political journalists from Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, headed by associate editor Yee Kong Hwa, 60.

It includes a new introduction by Mr Han Fook Kwang, managing editor of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspapers Division, and an end note by ST opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong that gives an update of events up to the watershed General Election of 2011.

Mr Han said the English edition, which has sold more than 50,000 copies, was a success because it revealed intriguing details of the early political battles from many different sources.

"We wanted a story told not just by the winners but by all involved, including those who had to leave Singapore subsequently," he said in a statement.

"There is considerable interest among the Chinese-educated in this story because many of the leading personalities then were from this community and their accounts form a substantial part of the book," he added.

Mr Leong said Men In White was also significant as it incorporates many views of opposition politicians in what some regard as a "mainstream narrative" of Singapore's political history.

The book is part of a wave of publications in recent years, some written or edited by former detainees, which aim to provide alternative histories, Mr Leong noted.

Added Mr Yap: "After the launch of the book in 2009, one former leftist told me, 'Now we dare to write without being sued by the Government'."

Some former leftists from as far afield as Macau are already reading the Chinese edition. They include Mr Chan Sun Wing, who was parliamentary secretary to Mr Lee before he joined the Barisan and now lives in Hat Yai, Thailand. "I'm sure he will give his feedback," said Mr Yap.

The Chinese edition of Men In White is available at major bookstores for $39.90 (before GST).

ANDREA ONG