Title/Author: Lim Kit Siang: None But The Bold by Kee Thuan Chye
Publisher: Landmark Books
In a nutshell (Publisher):
Lim Kit Siang, doyen of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), is a much misunderstood and littleknown man. To some, he is a scourge because his
political opponents falsely proclaim him to be anti-Malay and anti-Islam. To his supporters, he is the heroic fighter for democracy and a country for all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, a visionary who has dedicated his life to pursuing his dream of a multiracial, multilingual and multicultural Malaysia. By and large, however, the public see only the demon, not the man; the icon, not the human being.
Kee Thuan Chye’s biography of Lim Kit Siang humanises him. Full of drama, humour and heart – and cheeky asides – it tells the story of the outspoken politician and the private family man. It recounts the battles he has lost and won, the betrayals he has suffered and the sacrifices he has made, and explores the deep bond he shares with his family, friends and comrades.
Above all, it gives an insightful understanding of what makes Lim Kit Siang Lim Kit Siang.
I picked up this book upon arriving in Malaysia, simply because I had enjoyed Mr. Kee Thuan Chye’s writing (reviewed one of his many books here) and also because I was interested in learning more about Mr. Lim Kit Siang, an influential and recently retired politician in Malaysia.
Biographies are the hardest to write I find, especially those that are about politicians, especially in Malaysia, when writing about anything that’s considered ‘sensitive’ and unfavorable to the government, can probably get you in trouble. Also, I think, when writing about someone else who had played a part in your life, it is hard to be impartial.
Who is Lim Kit Siang? Where is he from and how did he get into politics?
We often question, what’s our calling? What are we meant to do on this earth? For Mr. Lim Kit Siang, whose excellent academic achievements had many thought he’d eventually be a doctor. But much to his parents’ disappointment and to the shock of many, he decided to not pursue his studies. Instead, he settled for a married life. He of course didn’t receive blessings from his parents. And little did he know, his decision to not pursue his studies led him to politics.
Ask any Malaysian, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions ‘Lim Kit Siang’, it’d most likely be ‘DAP’, which shouldn’t be surprising, as he had served there for 29 years (almost three decades!) and is one of the longest serving leaders of the opposition party in Malaysia. He recently retired on March 20th, 2022, after 56 years in politics.
About the book
Written in chronological order starting from his childhood, school days and his entry into politics this book detailed how Mr. Lim’s involvement in politics had changed his life. And since Mr. Lim had spent more than half his life in politics, it shouldn’t be surprising that this biography also captured the Malaysian politics just before and during Mr. Lim’s involvement in it. His rise in politics started with his position as National Organising Secretary of the DAP (Democratic Action Party) from 1966, at only 28 years old.
We will read about the lengths he went to, from setting up new branches across the country, how he was “unjustly blamed” for inciting the racial riots on May 13, 1969, to his fight in getting the government to take responsibility for the BMF scandal that caused the country billions in the 1980s and the brutal murder of an auditor. (Read more here)
Besides his BMF report feat (he not only read its contents “that easily measure five feet tall”, over a weekend but managed to write his speech, which many had commended it “for its quality and diligent research), another one that stood out to me was the DAP’s ‘Save Bukit China’ campaign in 1984. Bukit China is a cemetery, which, according to a geographer, was a place of ‘“historical significance”’ based on ‘“the probability that it is the largest and oldest traditional Chinese cemetery remaining in the world.”’ And it was bought from the Dutch government in Melaka in 1685 and donated it to the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple to be preserved as a burial ground.
But in 1984, the state government proposed to transform the burial ground “into a housing and commercial center”. To protest and show their support to preserve the historical burial ground, the DAP organized a thousand-mile marathon walk, cyclethons, walkathons and jogathons all over Malaysia, and its petition gathered 300,00 signatures.
Their initiative didn’t bode well with the state government. Their bicycle and bus got impounded. Not letting that intimidate them, Mr. Lim and his comrades decided to walk instead. They walked for eight hours, and even gave their speeches after that. The walk started with about a hundred of them but “only 20-over made it all the way”. One of those who walked with Mr. Lim commented that his ‘“whole foot was koyak (in a mess). Full of blisters. Can see blood, water coming out!”‘ Speaking of commitment and perseverance!
This biography also encapsulated the many sides of Mr. Lim, some knew him as a ‘”bookish nerd“‘, who ”“speaks like Shakespeare, writes like Johnson and thinks like Confucius”, some said he was ‘”argumentative“‘ and was a dictator, his haters had called him anti-Malay, anti-Islam, who was not only pro-Chinese, but English-educated Chinese. Despite all that, he never gave up his hope and fight for a better and fairer treatment for all Malaysians.
Mr. Lim’s sense of righteousness showed even during his teenage years. During a time when nobody dared to speak up to teachers, Mr. Lim confronted one, who, to his knowledge, was sexually abusing his tuition students. He also stood up for his classmates whom he felt was wrongly accused of having a party in their headmaster’s office instead of working on producing their class magazine. His belief in the sense of right and wrong made him fearless to those in power.
In 1967, when a journalist asked him if he was prepared to go to jail for his beliefs, he said, ‘“I am rather wary of those who proclaim to be prepared to go to jail. The real test comes when he is faced with a jail term. I think that those who are too proudly prepared to do so are more likely to be unwilling to do so when the time comes.”’ Two years later, he was detained under ISA. But even after being detained, arrested, and having spent a lengthy amount of time in prison, and even after the BN government detained him without trial twice, just for standing up for Malaysians, Mr. Lim continued his fight for justice and against racism in Malaysia.
But that is not to say he doesn’t have his flaws too, for although his doggedness did carve his path in politics, it didn’t win him popularity, even within his own party. He had also been betrayed by his most trusted people, but none of this stopped him from continuing to do what he believed in.
This book was well-researched, citing articles, books, and press releases, and interviews with people who have known Mr. Lim through the years, his relationship with his political mentors, and those who have crossed paths with him during his political days, even those who didn’t take a liking to him. There were also lighthearted moments in the book when friends and family shared funny anecdotes and stories about Mr. Lim, especially during his school days.
I really enjoyed reading this biography. I felt like it dared to be open, honest and straightforward and that it didn’t try to embellish anything, giving the reader a chance to take a glimpse of the life one of Malaysia’s politician’s ups and downs, and what made him the pillar of DAP.
Reading this just reinforces my belief that politics isn’t for the fainthearted and that you need to be steadfast and stay strong in your principles, so as not to be swayed by power and greed.
There’s more to learn about Mr. Lim, as it was clear towards the end that there’s a continuation of his biography and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Food for thought: Does politics change a person, or reveal the person for who he/she is?