Mr Lee tells language agitators to 'pipe down'

He says push for Chinese language status 'dangerous' in multiracial Singapore

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke out against language agitation forcefully and repeatedly this week, after the Chinese Chamber of Commerce pushed for a constitutional guarantee of the status of the Chinese language.

"I would like to hear the end of all this," Mr Lee said on Oct 6, 1965. "Language, culture, religion: they are not political issues. We have defused the big bomb."

Earlier, the Chinese Chamber had asked the Government to guarantee the status of the Chinese language as one of the official languages here.

They wanted this safeguard to be written into the Constitution of a newly independent Singapore.

The Chinese Chamber argued that official recognition of the Chinese language would provide more effective government and promote greater harmony, as the language is used by the majority of the people in Singapore.

THE SMELL OF A BOMB

To me, the smell was similar to that of firecrackers being let off. When I made a remark on this to my companion, also a housewife, she retorted it smelled more like a bomb. I didn't realise how near she was to the truth.

MRS JOAN HARRISON, survivor of the MacDonald House bombing on March 10 1965. She was a witness at the trial of the two Indonesians who set off the bomb at the Orchard Road landmark. Three people were killed and 33 were injured in the terrorist attack.

  • Research by Doris Goh, Information Resource Centre, Singapore Press Holdings

They had made that push even though they had been assured by the Government that all four languages - English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil - are official and would be enshrined in the Constitution.

Mr Lee countered that such talk was "dangerous" in a multiracial Singapore, with Malaysia just next door.

Just days earlier, Mr Lee stressed that the four major languages here are official and equal. He also ruled out all possibilities of the Government changing its position on the language issue.

He said the new Constitution would re-state the status quo of the four official languages, with Malay as the common and national language.

"The four languages are official languages in Singapore," he said. "It is right and good for our country and our people, not because a particular language has a large percentage of the population to support it."

He also warned the Chinese language agitators that their push would "jeopardise the struggle of the Chinese in Malaysia fighting for a fair place for their language".

"So I say to those who want to be language heroes: just pipe down," Mr Lee said. "They had better calculate very carefully before they say these things. And if they do not know what it is all about, better leave these things to those who know what this is all about."

Mr Lee went on to declare that Singapore would become a example which others could follow.

He said: "We will establish a model society and show that this is the type of society South-East Asia wanted. This is our sacred role to play."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'Mr Lee tells language agitators to 'pipe down''. Print Edition | Subscribe