SINGAPORE - The Chinese community threw a birthday bash to celebrate former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday on Thursday, paying tribute to his lifelong interest in developing the community, promoting bilingualism, and his pivotal role in building ties with China.
Some 800 guests and several Cabinet ministers turned up at the Shangri-La Hotel to honour the man, but he was unable to attend.
Mr Lee, whose birthday is on Sept 16, had wanted to go but was advised by doctors in recent days not to, as a precautionary measure.
His younger son Lee Hsien Yang, 56, came in his place, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Business China as a nod to the elder Mr Lee's contributions to Singapore-China relations.
Business China is a group promoting economic and cultural ties between Singapore and China that Mr Lee and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao launched in 2007.
In brief remarks made on behalf of his father, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said that the elder Mr Lee, who came from a Peranakan background and only started learning Mandarin when he entered politics, continues to take regular lessons today to keep his skills alive.
He added: "Learning the language enabled my father to more effectively convey his ideas and rally support for them. Without that, it would not have been possible to go down the path that has led Singapore to where it is today."
He said it also gave Mr Lee a window into China and the Chinese world view.
Photographs of Mr Lee's political career and personal life, as well as well-wishes from guests, were flashed on giant screens around the ballroom, as the guests tucked into a six-course Chinese dinner that included longevity buns and abalone.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, Chinese Ambassador Duan Jielong and community figures like banker Wee Cho Yaw were among those present.
They went on stage for a birthday toast, after which Mr Lee Hsien Yang was presented with an art piece titled Glorious Benevolence for his father.
Tributes for Mr Lee flowed in from many prominent Chinese community figures on Thursday.
Mr Chua Thian Poh, president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), called Mr Lee "one of the most visionary leaders of our time". He said Mr Lee had always been concerned with the Chinese community's well-being even as he promoted multiracialism.
He noted, for instance, that the Speak Mandarin Campaign, and the setting up of the SFCCA, Business China and self-help group Chinese Development Assistance Council, were all pioneered by Mr Lee.
Mr Chua is also chairman of Business China, and honorary president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI).
Mr Stephen Lee, Singapore Airlines chairman and Singapore National Employers Federation president, hailed Mr Lee for having the prescience to engage China well before it became an economic superpower.
He said Mr Lee is one of the very few world leaders who have had personal encounters with five generations of Chinese leaders - from Mao Zedong to current President Xi Jinping.
A commemorative book commissioned by Business China, Lee Kuan Yew And Singapore-China Relations, was also given to guests.
The 178-page book, which is not for sale, documents milestones in Singapore-China ties and Mr Lee's relationship with China's leaders.
The event was organised by three major bodies in Singapore's Chinese community: SFCCA, SCCCI and Business China.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.