In memoriam, J B Jeyaretnam

As Singaporeans said their final, formal goodbyes to J B Jeyaretnam on Saturday, 4 October, I recall my own.

I remember certain memorable snippets of conversation during his wake, told mainly by others, friends. A couple of examples, paraphrased:

“Can you imagine someone like JBJ now, with his Brit-accented English, who’d captured not just the imagination, but also the votes of the mainly Hokkien-speaking Chinese Singaporeans in Anson back in ’81? Wow…an enigma.” (actually we sort of discovered how and why this happened…so…)

“Did you hear his little laugh in the middle of a sentence? Especially in that video, ‘One Nation Under Lee’.”  – my friend then imitates it, Brit accent and all – “Lee [Kuan Yew]…heheh [chuckles]…must have read Machiavelli.”

Some of us laughed at this, others just smiled.



Banners at his wake. They read “From: Anson, Hougang, Potong Pasir supporters.”
(Photo courtesy of Jacob’s Weblog)

The Man from Anson - poem by Patrick Low, 1996

The Man from Anson – poem by Patrick Low, 1996. At JBJ’s wake.
(Photo courtesy of Rachel Absinthe)

Vigil in memorial of JBJ, Speakers’ Corner, 4 October.
(Photo courtesy of Thomas T.)

Blog posts
Here are some blogs that covered the funeral and immediate aftermath, ranging from the straightforward to the more analytical. There’s even an academic paper.

A legacy that will always be an inspiration: A tribute to JBJ ( – in which E-Jay remembers how his personal encounters with JBJ spoke more volumes about the real man to him, much more than what the mainstream Singaporean media could distort or convey.

J B Jeyaretnam: The iconography begins (Yawning Bread) – in which Alex Au discusses JBJ’s enduring significance and how the margins of history would always conquer the ‘centre’ in the long run.

A week of sadness – and hope (TOC) – in which Andrew Loh ruminates on his experiences around the events from JBJ’s wake to the weekend of his funeral. He mentions his response to the prime minister’s so-called condolence letter, the spontaneous singing of the Singapore national anthem at his cremation ceremony, and a hope that Singaporeans – more and more of us – carry on his legacy.

*MUST READ* From Zero to Hero: Reinstating a Singapore Icon (Opinion Asia) – in which Terence Chong deconstructs the state’s re-construction of JBJ’s life for its own nation-building agenda. He calls nation-building projects “exercises in cognitive dissonance on a grand scale”, and warns against losing remembrance of JBJ’s true values and beliefs such as pluralist democracy, human rights and press freedom – and of allowing the very institutions that he fought against to re-define, re-interpret and sanitise them.

JBJ’s was the good fight (Malaysia Insider) – in which JBJ’s great-nephew from across the Causeway attempts to get to the heart of JBJ the fighter, lawyer, politician, and human being. He takes apart Singapore’s sad state of politics; and although he is realistic in his assessment, he nevertheless ends with a hopeful note about Singaporeans.

J B Jeyaretnam: Three decades as Lee Kuan Yew’s bete noir (Jacob’s Weblog) – An embed and link to a paper written by Michael D. Barr.

J.B. Jeyaretnam (The Economist) – Trust this publication, one that I don’t normally read, to have such a succinct title about the man. And speaking of the man – the last sentence of the piece is worth the price of the whole magazine in hardcopy (even for those who detest the mag and all that it stands for).

Mini-photo gallery


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