Launch of "My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore's Bilingual Journey" by Lee Kuan Yew

Lianhe Zaobao and The Straits Times will jointly launch a new book by Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Nov 28 at the Singapore Conference Hall.

The book, My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore's Bilingual Journey, is published in separate but similar Chinese and English editions. The 400-page Chinese edition is by Lianhe Zaobao and the 388-page English one by The Straits Times Press.

Each copy of the book comes with a DVD of extracts from relevant speeches made by Mr Lee - in English, Mandarin, Hokkien and Malay - over the past 50 years.

The book consists of two parts. In the first part, Mr Lee recounts his lifelong quest to learn Mandarin and to get the bilingual education policy right. The second part features essays by Singaporeans on their individual linguistic journeys. There are 18 essays in the Chinese edition and 22 in the English edition.

My Lifelong Challenge is the story of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 50-year struggle to transform Singapore from a polyglot former British colony into a united nation where everyone, while knowing English, knows at least one other language, his own mother tongue. The founding prime minister of Singapore tells why he did away with vernacular schools in spite of violent political resistance, why he closed Nanyang University, why he later started Special Assistance Plan schools, and why he continues to urge all ethnic Chinese Singaporeans today to learn the Chinese language.

The reader learns not only about the many policy adjustments but also the challenges Mr Lee encountered - from Chinese language chauvinists who wanted Chinese to be the pre-eminent language in Singapore, from Malay and Tamil community groups fearing that Chinese were given too much emphasis, from parents of all races wanting an easier time for their school-going children, and even from his own Cabinet colleagues questioning his assumptions about language.

My Lifelong Challenge is also the story of Mr Lee's own struggle to learn the Chinese language, which began when he was six years old and his Hakka maternal grandmother enrolled him in a Chinese class with fishermen's children. In evocative detail, the man born to English-speaking parents recounts his own feelings of rebellion and humiliation at different points in his life, when faced with the Chinese language and his own inadequacy in it. This book describes in matter-of-fact yet vivid fashion his steely determination to improve his Chinese and reclaim his Chinese heritage right up to the present when he is well into his eighties.

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