Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Lee Kuan Yew

1. He nearly died during the Japanese occupation.

Mr. Lee was ordered by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) to gather with a group of young Chinese men, who were most likely going to be shot to death in the Sook Ching massacre. However, Mr. Lee cleverly asked the Japanese police if he could go back and retrieve his belongings first – but he never returned, of course.

Lee Kuan YewImagine how different Singapore would have turned out if Mr. Lee hadn’t escaped eh? (Source:

2. He used to be a chain smoker.

To “get in the mood” before rallies, he would go through a pack of cigarettes while waiting for his turn to speak. However, he soon realised that it was affecting his ability to campaign effectively, so he went cold turkey. Ironically, he became hyper-allergic to smoking later on, and would often ask his Cabinet ministers not to smoke in the Cabinet room.

Lee Kuan Yew VoiceAs much as I loved smoking, it was affecting my rally voice way too much. Oh, and my stunning vocals of course. (Source: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going)

3. He gave up drinking beer because he didn’t want a beer belly.

The turning point was when he saw a picture of himself in the press and couldn’t believe how big his gut looked. There there, we all have fat days. Even the best of us.

Lee Kuan Yew Beer(Source: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going)

4. But he doesn’t care about the fashion police.

A journalist once commented that Mr. Lee’s wardrobe remained largely unchanged for decades, to which Mr. Lee remarked “Why should I throw something away which I’m comfortable with? I’m not interested in impressing anybody.” Ooooooh #burn. That’s right, haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate. 

Lee Kuan Yew Jacket 2Mr. Lee in a Chinese jacket  he’s been spotted in on many occasions. (Source: BBC News)

5. He’s mildly dyslexic.

But clearly that didn’t stop him from writing several bestselling books, being a kick-ass Prime Minister and er, learning Chinese (see next point).

Lee Kuan Yew Time MagazineDyslexia didn’t stop him from scoring the cover of Time Magazine either. (Source: Time Magazine)

6. He started learning Chinese in his 30s.

Mr. Lee had English-speaking parents and couldn’t really speak or read Mandarin growing up. However, he soon realised the importance of being bilingual and made a conscious effort to learn the language. Within a short span of time, he had mastered the language well enough to give rally speeches in Mandarin.

Moral of the story? All you ang moh pai people out there shouldn’t have any excuses for failing your Chinese exams OK.

Lee Kuan Yew MergerSeriously guys, my Chinese tutor is driving me cray cray. (Source: BBC News)

7. He also knows how to speak Japanese.

He learnt Japanese and worked as a Japanese translator during the Japanese Occupation. He translated Allied wire reports for the Hodobu, a Japanese propaganda department, which was how he realised that the Japanese were going to lose the war.

Japanese OccupationThe Japanese Occupation of Singapore was a turning point for Mr. Lee, where he witnessed first-hand the true meaning of power. This photo depicts Lieutenant-General Percival and his party carrying the Union Flag to surrender Singapore to the Japanese. (Source: Wikipedia)

8. He thinks we should all meditate.

And that all schools should teach it, because it will “save going to the doctors, taking Valium or whatever.” Hear hear. We wouldn’t have minded meditating instead of sitting through Civics and Moral Education class, you know?

Lee Kuan Yew Yes copyLet’s all meditate guys! (Source:


9. He thinks getting a boyfriend is more satisfying than getting a PhD.

#ThatAwkwardMoment when Mr Lee Kuan Yew asks you if you have a boyfriend…then talks about prime childbearing years. In front of all your PhD classmates. Watch the video below to see him dish some pretty epic advice to a PhD student.

“You’re 27 years old. In 2 years time, you’ll be 29 years old. Get a boyfriend, I assure you it’s better and more satisfying than your PhD. If you don’t get started now, soon, you’ll be 35, and past prime childbearing age.” – Lee Kuan Yew


10. His in-laws didn’t think much of him at first.

In his eulogy for his wife Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, Mr. Lee said that he her parents didn’t think of him as a “desirable son-in-law” because he had “an interrupted education at Raffles College and no steady job or profession”. However, Mdm Kwa was undeterred by this as she believed in him. In fact, she even agreed to wait three years for him while he was studying in England. Fortunately though, she won the coveted Queen’s Scholarship and was able to join him at Cambridge.

Lee Kuan Yew Kwa Geok ChooAltogether now….AWWWWWW. (Source: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going)

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