Caricatures of Lee Kuan Yew- Radical Chinese Cartoons in Political Magazines

I recall reading somewhere that Kishore Mahbubani (Dean of LKY School of Public Policy) mentioned in The Straits Times that Singapore is not ready for a serious political cartoonist. And some counter response suggested the artist Morgan Chua (who did great potshots of Lee Kuan Yew in the early ’70s), with his subsequently cleaned up “LKY: Political Cartoons” (which is a watered down parody of the man of course) is the second coming, seemingly construed as a synthesis of how Hegelian Dialectics is played out. These days, when we speak of the Lee Kuan Yew caricatures, most people would immediately recall the cute series of cartoons on the late leader (and his loving wife), or Morgan Chua’s depiction of the witty and wise founding father with his bulging brow-bones, not knowing that this popular leader had been parodied heavily in the past by political pundits. This article will feature some of these more undesirable drawings of the man.

By now, most readers would have realised that I have a penchant for collecting comical drawings of Lee Kuan Yew, with the exception that my taste tend to veer towards a more unflattering portrait of the late founding father of Singapore. In my collection file, some of the most interesting and controversial of the drawings came from the Chinese radicals from a time period especially in the 1960s. Those were tumultuous times, and as Lim Cheng Tju (educator, comics reviewer) mentioned somewhere before, the periods 1950s-1980s in Singapore history with regard to Chinese political cartoons could be broken down into three main phases: chauvinism, confrontation and compromise, although he also qualified that these aspects (especially chauvinism) cannot be take entirely at face value as the groups were conscious of the multiracial environment and even sought to foster solidarity (albeit ideologically communist).

The three sheets showcased here were the illustrated pages (畫頁) featured from the main newsletters of the 陣线报 (Chern Sien Pao; Battlefront Weekly), the Chinese publications from the Barisan Sosialis. The sheets in the time period of ’68-’69 saw most Chinese publications (except for the political opponents) compromising with the main party PAP (People’s Action Party). The drawings (especially caricatures of Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman) by the political opponents were especially vicious, unrelenting and hilarious, when compared to the works by the predecessors since ‘1950s. The first sheet here dated 13 October 1968 in blue print features Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku trashed into the rubbish bin, antipathy towards the hippie/non-violence/English educated pacifists, how Lee Kuan Yew coalition exploited both the east and west, Lyndon Johnson discussing war in Vietnam in the White House, and Lee Kuan Yew galloping away on a rocking horse (made in England), exclaiming “Majulah Singapura”. The reverse features blatant communist propaganda drawings, citing Mao and communist ideology, support for Blacks in United States of America, lambasting the Lee Kuan Yew/Tunku Abdul Rahman coalition, encouragement for comrades in the Vietnam war, and a portrait of someone (perhaps the artist Ng Kim Choon?) with volume on Mao Zedong writings, crushing Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman. The other two sheets printed in dark brown are also featured: dated 23 June 1968 with illustrations of Lee Kuan Yew engaged on the 僱傭法令 (Employment Bill Act; which affected the work unions) and 16 November 1969 with illustrations of Lee Kuan Yew purportedly setting fire to villages to force residents into public flats.