The People’s Hero’s article 2
Remembering Lim Hock Siew – a steadfast revolutionary
Poh Soo Kai
Hock Siew came from a rather large family. He went to an English medium school while his younger brothers and sisters attended Chinese-medium schools.
While studying in Raffles Institution, Hock Siew was not involved in the Chinese-medium school students’ activities. In fact, he was quite opposed to his brothers and sisters holding student meetings at their house.
At Raffles Institution, he was a prefect and co-editor with Francis Seow from St Joseph’s Institution for the combined schools’ magazine.
At university, he was a founder and active member of the Non Hostelite Organisation (NHO) which catered for the social activities of students, mainly from Singapore, who did not stay on campus.
Hock Siew was also a founding member of the University Socialist Club (USC). But it was the May 13, 1954 incident that radically politicised him. The British colonial government had brutally assaulted the Chinese-medium schools students when they wanted to present a petition peacefully for postponement of national service – his brothers and sisters were among the petitioners. Hock Siew became acutely aware of the social conditions in Singapore for those outside of the schools and the university of the English educated elite.
Following closely on the heels of May 13, 1954 was the arrest of the Fajar editorial board. Hock Siew rallied round the USC and with Tan Seng Huat, was instrumental in the collection of donations for the Fajar Defence Fund. Sometime after the trial, he joined the editorial board of Fajar.
He was a founding member of the PAP, but very quickly became disillusioned by those actions and policies that did not reflect its founding socialist principles. Nevertheless, he soldiered on for the PAP during the 1955 elections held under the Rendel constitution. He was one of the two university undergraduates whom Lee Kuan Yew alluded to in his memoir as helping the PAP do mass mailing to the electorate in their personal capacity. The University Socialist Club did not associate itself with the PAP in this action.
In 1957 some PAP members headed by Goh Boon Thor and Tan Say Jame received a message from Devan Nair who was in prison, through his lawyer TT Rajah. The message instructed them to vote 6 persons from their camp into the PAP central committee to counterbalance the Lee Kuan Yew camp. Hock Siew immediately suspected a trap and went to see Goh and Tan in the Bukit Timah branch to dissuade them from carrying out this instruction.
Hock Siew was opposed to the cadre system introduced by Lee Kuan Yew to control the PAP. This, among other reasons, led to his sacking from the PAP in 1959. Subsequently when the BarisanSosialis was formed, he was among its founder members. He was the editor of The Plebeian – the English language paper of the Barisan Sosialis until his arrest in Operation Coldstore on February 2, 1963. His son was then 5 months old.
Hock Siew was kept in Changi Prison’s E Hall with over one hundred detainees. He had the difficult task of maintaining order and discipline in a crowd of activists who were not all from the Barisan, but many other organisations as well. Hock Siew rose to the occasionand discharged his duties admirably – making life more bearable in that oppressive atmosphere. He was very well respected by all in E Hall.
While in prison Hock Siew produced the most devastating critique of the abuse of the Internal Security Act. His statement, ‘Bitter Sacrifice Strengthens Bold Resolve’ was smuggled out and circulated among student and human rights groups overseas. It continues to be an inspiration.
For his steadfast stand, Hock Siew was deprived of his liberty and family for almost 20 years. His son was an adult when he was released.
His contribution to the struggle for freedom and justice for Singapore and humanity will be immortalized!