24 Aug 2004

Let the hundred flowers bloom

What follows is an extract from the recent National Day Rally Speech in which Lee Junior actually refers to a policy introduced by Chairman Mao, which eventually led to a crackdown on political dissenters in China.

"The second thing we are going to do is to open up the Speakers'Corner where you can go and make any speech you like and we are going to say, 'Well, if you want to go there and have an exhibition, go ahead.'

Once in a while, Think Centre says they want to go to the Speakers' Corner and they want to plant 100 flowers there,let the hundred flowers bloom.

Well, I think go ahead. They want to water the flowers, go ahead.

They want to turn the flowers down, go ahead.I mean, free expression as long as you don't get into race and religion and don't start a riot.

It's a signal that speak, speak your voice, be heard, take responsibility for your views and opinions. "

Of all the quotations in the "Little Red Book", by Chairman Mao, none is more inspiring or chilling than this. It comes from a brief period of reform in the fifties known as the "Hundred Flowers Campaign" during which Mao encouraged complete freedom of thought, including criticism of the Party. The result was much more vigorous debate than Mao had expected and the period ended with an abrupt crackdown against those who had raised their voices in opposition. It could stand as a critique of the failures of the Cultural Revolution itself, which tried to settle ideological questions by force under the guise of debate.

You have been warned.

Kimina Lyall has also picked up on the similarity...
Mao echo in Lee's free speech pledge
By Kimina Lyall, Southeast Asia correspondent

NEW Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has vowed to "let the hundred flowers bloom" in Singapore, using his first major policy speech to announce relaxations on the Government's tight controls on free speech.

In an eerie reference to former Chinese leader Mao Zedong's campaign to open up a forum for his critics, Mr Lee said many of his Government's critics "want to plant 100 flowers" at the country's only public forum for free speech, Speaker's Corner.
"I think, 'go ahead'," Mr Lee said as part of a three-hour National Day Rally speech on Sunday night. "They want to water the flowers, go ahead. They want to turn the flowers down, go ahead.

"Free expression, as long as you don't get into race and religion, and don't start a riot. It's a signal that speak, speak your voice, be heard, take responsibility for your views and opinions."

Mr Lee, who also announced other major policy shifts including a five-day week for civil servants, equal access for women to medical benefits and the possibility of the country opening a casino, is hoping to mark himself as a leader of Singapore's new generation.

The announcement that Singaporeans could hold public indoor talks without a licence may one day be seen as the nation's true starting point in its transition from economic powerhouse to liberal democracy.

Long-time political opponent JB Jeyaretnam said yesterday that he was not ready to "shout for joy" about the new provisions, because he wanted to see how they were implemented.

Speaker's Corner, established by Mr Lee's predecessor, Goh Chok Tong, was once heralded as a similar turning point. There was an initial opening flourish but it is now little used, largely because microphones are banned and names and addresses of speakers must first be given to local police, who record the event.

Senior members of Mr Lee's authoritarian People's Action Party, established by his father, Lee Kuan Yew, have used the country's defamation laws to sue and bankrupt political opponents, helping the party keep a tight grip on parliament.

But such tools of repression are mild, compared with those used in the wake of the world's first Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom campaign.

A year after coining the infamous phrase in 1956, Mao, surprised by the outpouring of criticism against his policies, began to round up his detractors and send them to labour camps for "thought reform".

Ordinary Singaporeans may need a few more signals from their leader before they begin to break their political silence.


NGED said...

Well, Chairman Mao was a ruthless tyrant. The reason he 'opened up' and encouraged people to 'speak up' was so that he could flush out the dissenters and 'traitors' within his party.

I'm not saying that Hsien Loong will do the same, but if you're going to use the Chairman Mao analogy, you'd better understand the full picture of Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao was conniving, evil, ruthless and put simply, mad. I don't know if Hsien Loong is similar - it's too early too tell and I believe the majority of Singaporeans want to give him a chance, because they're hoping for the chance that he's honest and sincere about what he's saying regarding openness.

But if he's anything like his father, errr....

soci said...

I am not trying to imply that LHL is the same as Mao, merely that LHL referred to a policy that Chairman Mao used in the 1950s. I believe it was an intentional reference to a well known policy. It was mentioned in order to at the one and the same time, 'talk' about opening up, and also reminding those who might, that they should be fearful when they do. Speak up and express your views but do it in fear of possible repercussions.

Jeff! Lim said...

yeah, of course. Point taken, and entirely agreed with. ganina, some "opening up." You "open up" - but with a threat... Like that called "opening up," and genuine invitation ah????

but then again, of course, i could be wrong. Maybe he just likes the number "a hundred." Yeah, would anybody like to do five favours for me??? (i dont like to use the phrase "a few," you see.)

Anonymous said...

To show that he is not so strict like his father, but then again to implicitly suggest that his rivals better watch their actions. Cunning.

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