The House of Lee
July 5, 2017 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Once upon a time, there lived a king in his castle, with his wife and three children: Dragon, Ram and Jade. He ruled with iron grip and firm hand, and under his ever-watchful eye the kingdom grew prosperous and his House grew fat. When he grew old of age, he handed his sceptre to the eldest Dragon, who ruled in his stead, and his honour. The day came when the old king died, and his subjects mourned him, weeping, lining the streets in the rain to pay their last respects. It was a moment of many passions, but little did the people know what trouble was sown that torrentuous day.

Many moons passed, and all seemed well. Then one morning the town heralds hollered out the most perplexing of news: Prince Ram and Princess Jade were accusing their elder brother of impropriety and defoulment. At the centre of their denouncements was the old king's Castle, his personal residence. The old king had decreed it be destroyed upon his passing, for fear it become a monument of his rule, an idol to raise him unto a God. Dragon had assented, as all knew, but now his kin claimed there to be secret machinations, a plot to seize control over the castle and claim his father's honour for himself.

Dragon responded in turn, despatching his own heralds to declare his innocence, and charging his brother Ram of dark conspiracy himself. The streets were soon filled with scandal and rumour, and the people were bewildered and bewitched by the sight of their royal family descending into a petty feud. There were calls for Dragon to bring his siblings before the Temple of Justice, as the old king always would when faced with smears to his name. Dragon refused, saying such infighting would besmirch the honour of their father.

And thus it came to be that King Dragon decided to hold court, to end this matter and to clear his name. Assembled before him were his courtiers and lords, whom he beseeched to question him with impartial honesty. Absent were Ram and Jade, who had little faith in this gathering of servants to the king. The court came into sesssion, as the country watched with bated breath. The king put forth his case, and the sycophants sung, and the noblemen nodded, and the voices of dissent were swiftly silenced, and blood was thick and tears did flow...

But when all was said and all was done, all still knew that the matter was far from over, and the end, sadly, was not at all in sight.

posted by destrius (34 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Epic, epic collection of links and framing! Thank you!
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:02 AM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like this post so much I'm afraid to spoil it by clicking any links to learn grimy details.
posted by meinvt at 9:18 AM on July 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

How do I flag this post as a Fantastic Post? This is awesome; thanks so much!
posted by Silverstone at 9:41 AM on July 5, 2017

Oh, I did figure out how to flag it as Fantastic and have done so. Again, great post!
posted by Silverstone at 9:43 AM on July 5, 2017

Silverstone, use the exclamation mark at the end of the post and choose fantastic as reason to flag.

I first heard about this through the surprisingly robust network of Singaporean SFF writers. Like what happened in South Korea earlier, not to mention the ongoing clown show in the US itself, it does feel that fiction writers have their work cut out for them to make something more bizarre than reality at the moment.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:45 AM on July 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fantastic post
posted by growabrain at 9:45 AM on July 5, 2017

Needs a #NotTheUS tag. And great post.
posted by Fizz at 11:19 AM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, this post kind of reminds me that the world is a much larger place than simply North America. I know MetaFilter does have a bit of tunnel vision in this respect with the types of posts that tend to fill our front page.

And yes, much of that is driven by the fact that a large portion of our user base is from N. America. But still, the world is so big and there's lots happening. We should look outwards more. A great post.
posted by Fizz at 11:26 AM on July 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

This post smacks of Orientalism. Is it really appropriate to frame a story about Singaporeans of Asian descent as a foreign exoticized magical-realist fairytale? Why give the children simplified English names? We don't call the Trump offspring God's Grace, World-Ruler, Epiphany, etc.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:33 AM on July 5, 2017 [28 favorites]

Addendum that an identically framed post about, say, England's royal family or current Prime Minister would not have an identical effect, because white British people do not have a history of being perceived in the West as quaintly exotic magical spirits from the mysterious Orient, unlike Asian people.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:39 AM on July 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

the framing of this post is...extremely weird and uncomfortable. i completely agree with nicebookrack's sentiments
posted by burgerrr at 11:44 AM on July 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Chiming in to add that while I appreciate the well organized and thorough link content of the post, I am struggling to engage with it because of the problematic framing.
posted by Krazor at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I personally like the framing. Considering the intended audience is more likely not familiar with the ruling family of Singapore, using the language of fantastical monarchial power struggles puts things into a more recognizable light. Plus, there's probably some inside jokes and satire for those who are familiar.

And I don't see it as insulting since similar language has been used for all sorts of western power struggles and scandals. Political satire couched in fairy tale language should be a trope if it isn't already. Recently, I've seen it used to describe whatever the hell is going on with the current ruling regime in the US and the twisted machinations of its mad king & crazed courtiers & scheming princes and princesses.
posted by honestcoyote at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2017

This should probably go to MetaTalk, but re-reading the post and imagining it to be set it Arthurian England works with almost no changes but the three names.

Heck, just change "Jade" to "Oak," and keep "Dragon" & "Ram," and I don't think the language is any more Orientalist than, uh, Englandist.

(N.b.: not England-ist.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mod note: If people do want to talk more about the framing, probably better to do that in Metatalk.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:05 PM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Update: a MeTa has been submitted, but we're holding it until we can loop in the poster; apologies for the delay.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:36 PM on July 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

The children's names are direct references to the real-life names of the, uh, real-life children. Usually I'm pretty sensitive to Metafilter posts that have Orientalist / exoticized framing, but this didn't come across as such to me. Possibly because I've also seen a lot of "king/castle/etc" language/framing of this situation on my Facebook feed, by Singaporeans themselves (for a primarily Singaporean FB audience). So the language of this post came across as more of the same stuff that's already been happening/written/published within Singaporean circles. (You should see the memes....)
posted by aielen at 3:26 PM on July 5, 2017 [12 favorites]

I must say i find it kind of hilarious, and kind of Shakespearian, that of all the dodgy and problematic shit these tyrants in all but name have done and do, the thing causing the most trouble is a family squabble about family property.

In some ways, I feel like it illustrates the unthinking presumption of privilege this family has and their moral... Opacity.

This spoilt princess and prince don't care about their brother continuing the family legacy of crippling Singaporean democracy, it's the property that anyone of them could buy ten times over with their personal wealth that demonstrates his moral failings. Ugh.

Though I disagreed with many of his actions, Lee Kuan Yew certainly did a lot of Singapore and was in some ways the right man at the right time. His offspring demonstrate no such quality.
posted by smoke at 4:17 PM on July 5, 2017

On the other hand, there's also a certain... I can't put my finger on it, but it's a mix of schadenfreude and kinship, that even the most powerful families among us are plagued by the same squabbles that divide many a Chinese family after the death of a patriarch/matriarch. It makes them seem more human, even as we joke about Oxleygate. But at the same time we feel for them, and we feel embarassed for them that a family feud is being fought in public for all to see, and we really hope it'll be over quickly.
posted by satoshi at 4:38 PM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi there, I'm the poster. Thought I should clarify a bit regarding the comments about Orientalism above.

As mentioned in MeTa, I'm actually a native Singaporean, and Asian (ethnic Chinese to be exact). The framing was definitely deliberate, but I was actually going for more of a western fantasy fairytale kind of style, and not an"Oriental"one... I guess I need to work on my writing chops.

I decided to write it this way partly in order to provide some meta commentary. Singapore is extremely proud of its reputation as a meritocracy, of having made a clean break from the culture of relationships and familial ties that have traditionally been the norm in Asia, and is still the way things are done in many other Asian countries today. The current Prime Minister sued various publications (FEER and IHT) for suggesting he might have reached his position of power due to being his father's son.

So, the irony was particularly rich when the scandal broke out; it's a story reeking of medieval and dynastic overtones, making it particularly embarrassing and putting the spotlight on a facet of Singaporean politics that the ruling party prefer we not look at. And given that its all about Lee Kuan Yew, who built his whole reputation on having incorruptible integrity, of being above all the petty concerns of lesser mortals... it's poetry. Whole theses could probably be written about this.

Like others have said, I'm not the only one to make this connection; it's been picked up a lot by others on the net. In fact, the media and the politicians themselves have been referring to this as a "saga". A prominent opposition politician (yes we actually have one) also made reference to the entire affair as being a "Korean drama", many of which are period pieces. In fact I think there's a level of self-deprecation here, on my part as well; we Singaporeans often turn our noses at all the infighting and instability of the countries surrounding us, thinking ourselves as being enlightened and above all that. So this episode really serves as a reminder that we shouldn't be too cocky ourselves.

That being said, I understand and appreciate the concern here. I'd imagine that if Thomas Friedman wrote an NYT column this way I'd be giving it serious side eye. And I don't think that just because I am Asian and Singaporean I have a free pass excusing me from orientalism. Truthfully, it didn't even cross my mind that people would find it offensively exotifying... I'm honestly sorry for causing any hurt. In fact my biggest worry when crafting this post was whether I was being too cleverly obtuse: if the conceit would make it very confusing. To that end I tried as far as possible to keep the narrative as true to actual events as I could, with the minimum of metaphorical substitutions. My choice of names for the 3 children was made with this in mind.

I feel compelled to note here that the framing of my post is meant to be satirical, and I am in no way suggesting that LKY was a king, or had any pretentions of being one, or that LKY had directly passed power to LHL as opposed to LHL being selected by the party based on his personal merit. I also omitted the interim PM, GCT, as it seemed irrelevant to the story, and I didn't want to bog things down with unnecessary details. For example, I did not mention that LWL is still living in 38 Oxley Road and that a big part of her quarrel with LHL is about her right to continue staying there (according to her).
posted by destrius at 6:40 PM on July 5, 2017 [57 favorites]

Great post. This whole affair is in sore need of tl;drs with timelines. The Singapore subreddit had a megathread but it didn't get maintained for long.

One of the biggest things I am concerned about is how reluctant LHL has been to sue his siblings for the allegation of abuse of power. In the past, members of the ruling party have been swift to bring legal action against criticisers who they feel have crossed a line and made unsupported allegations. Sometimes within days of the allegation being made. The party line was that if you sue in court, you are sending a message that you have nothing to hide, and challenging the counter party to prove their allegations in a court of law. The implied flipside is that if you don't sue, you look like you have something to hide.

This time, the ruling party seems to say, it's different. They cite family, Asian values, the fact that the whole affair is "sensitive" to the public and shouldn't be aired openly, that Singaporeans want to move on. ESM Goh had to downplay some of his earlier statements by expressing his hope for familial reconciliation.

But I find myself unable to accept their various reasons because none of them seem to address the whole basis for suing in the first place: you sue, so that you look like you have nothing to hide, and as a challenge for the other side to prove their allegations.

Instead LHL decides to "clear the air" in parliament. In parliament. And then concludes that everything is OK. This is ownself check ownself writ large. It disturbs me no end.

I ask around and people's opinions on this are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, poor LHL wearing multiple hats and being put into a position where he has to sue his family. On the other hand, nobody-bloggers get sued until pants drop.

We'll see how this plays out, I guess :(

(I, for one, thought the selection of "dragon" and "ram" were very clever! I didn't get "jade" though...)
posted by theony at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2017

for some memes and some commentary (but mostly memes... :p) see mediacock and mothership.
posted by aielen at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah.. the double standards of not suing family members is really jarring, and is my biggest beef about the whole matter. I agree with Kirsten Han though:
It makes sense if one’s approaching it from the “I’m merely pointing out the ridiculous double standards here” angle (and okay, let’s stop pretending to be mature and all admit that Lee Hsien Loong taking his siblings to court for defamation would be a massive popcorn moment for Singapore), but do we really want to be perpetuating this litigious culture?

I haven’t fully decided how to feel about it just yet. Sure, it seems unfair that people like Roy Ngerng and J B Jeyaretnam were forced to pay tons in damages while Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang are getting away with it despite having made waaaaay more serious allegations, but at the same time, it’s good that Lee Hsien Loong is publicly addressing these accusations without resorting to scary lawsuits that affect free speech in Singapore. Surely we should be encouraging such responses, and pushing for ways to make them more thorough, transparent and accountable, rather than calling for more legal action?
What would satisfy me would be an admission from LHL that suing people for defamation as a standard tactic is wrong, and apologies to the people he took down in the past. But.. yeaaaah... not happening.
posted by destrius at 7:44 PM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Anyway, some of my "favourite" moments from this whole affair:

Lee Hsien Yang: "We feel big brother omnipresent."
When the news first broke out I was convinced this entire thing was an elaborate ruse to just make this pun appear on international headlines.

Lee Wei Ling: First they came for the Socialists
Her dad literally went after the socialists, and the trade unions. The tone-deafness of this is unbelievably staggering.

Low Thia Kiang: Sue until pants drop!
Such a delicious and Singaporean comeback. And Goh Chok Tong's response (in reference to an earlier case where then-PM Goh had sued opposition politician Tang Liang Hong for defamation) of "He's not my brother" is extremely perplexing; I still cannot figure out what he's trying to imply.
posted by destrius at 8:01 PM on July 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think LHL sees what we see as the "ideal solution" (admission that suing in these circumstances is inappropriate) as anathema to him and the party. Failing that option... I'm not sure that it is clear that not suing is better than suing.

But my cynical self says that one thing is for sure: if he decides not to sue, it won't be because he's decided as a point of principle that a politician suing for defamation for every baseless allegation thrown at him is an undesirable state of affairs. It will be because he, the party and their lawyers have assessed the situation at a self-interested level, and found that regardless of the principles in question, the potential cost of suing in this case, would be too great in contrast to the potential benefits.

That's... not a bad thing, in isolation. But it's not what I want, either.

Ah, it's a mess.
posted by theony at 11:27 PM on July 5, 2017

I decided to write it this way partly in order to provide some meta commentary. Singapore is extremely proud of its reputation as a meritocracy, of having made a clean break from the culture of relationships and familial ties that have traditionally been the norm in Asia, and is still the way things are done in many other Asian countries today. The current Prime Minister sued various publications (FEER and IHT) for suggesting he might have reached his position of power due to being his father's son.

So, the irony was particularly rich when the scandal broke out; it's a story reeking of medieval and dynastic overtones, making it particularly embarrassing and putting the spotlight on a facet of Singaporean politics that the ruling party prefer we not look at. And given that its all about Lee Kuan Yew, who built his whole reputation on having incorruptible integrity, of being above all the petty concerns of lesser mortals... it's poetry. Whole theses could probably be written about this.

from your regional neighbour across the straits, i saw this post before i went to sleep, and i enjoyed it a lot for pretty much the same reasons. i also thought it was clever of you to do it just in case someone's feeling itchy fingered for a lawsuit.
posted by cendawanita at 12:28 AM on July 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

And talking about JB Jeyaretnam, this came across my FB timeline: cutout paper doll by Sonny Liew. he deleted the caption, but it was still on my friend's reshare: It would seem Lee Hsien Loong, and by extension the PAP, has given up the claim on the moral or political right to sue anyone for defamation ever again, though maybe that's being naive. Any lawyers out there with an insight on things like precedent etc? Or implications on past cases?

“ golden thread running through it right from the beginning is my desire to manage the issue privately, without escalating the temperature, and the dispute, and without forcing the issue of my legal rights”.

“I adopted this approach because it involves family." - Lee Hsien Loong

posted by cendawanita at 12:34 AM on July 6, 2017

One irony (among many others) is that it seems the house has become more popular among the public as a result of this debacle. I don't think the public cared as much about 38 Oxley Road (even when LKY died) as they do now. LHY and LWL started this... public discussion (or rather brought the family dispute out into the open) about the house precisely because they didn't want the house to become memorialized/iconized, and it seems their actions have had the reverse effect. People actually want to Instagram the house even more now, and it suddenly means a lot more to the public than it used to because of all the popcorn drama.
posted by aielen at 2:32 AM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

My own analysis of LHL's predicament is that he's the victim of an incomplete political pivot. I'm pretty sure if LKY was in the same situation, he'd sue his own brother with no hesitation, and will not pay any political price for doing so. His entire image is built upon being ruthless; his political power is built on respect and fear.

LHL, on the other hand, decided to move away from his father's Machiavellianism and build political capital by projecting an image of a friendly, caring leader. It more or less worked, particularly in the more recent elections, and he gained a lot of support during LKY's death by projecting the image of a filial, dutiful son. He was marketed as a person people liked.

Despite this, however, he (and his party) still sticks to the old way of doing things, particularly when it comes to political opponents. Defamation lawsuits are stil the norm, as are smear campaigns, character assasinations, constant hounding over minor issues "as a matter of principle", etc. Basically all the tactics LKY used very successfully to destroy his enemies.

But that is fundamentally incompatible with his nice guy persona. And now he's faced with having to choose one or the other.
posted by destrius at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

So as of 6 July, LHY and LWL have released a summary of evidence and a joint statement.

To which LHL has released his own statement in reply.

It seems like both sides ostensibly want to settle the matter privately and are agreeing to a "ceasefire" (in the words of the press), while still accusing each other of lying and refusing to back down from their original statements.
posted by aielen at 7:26 PM on July 6, 2017

I found that the media's framing of the siblings' statement a little misleading... what they mainly said was that they'd stop posting stuff on social media. But at the same time (in their summary of evidence article), they also said they had a lot more evidence that they would only show to an open and independent investigation. Which would probably refer to some kind of a COI, which I assume would issue statements about the case publicly. The media has pretty much downplayed this second part, which to me seems a lot more important: they're saying they have evidence of (among other things) abuse of power.
posted by destrius at 10:56 PM on July 6, 2017 by Jeevan Vasagar: Asian dynasties: Battle for the soul of Singapore
posted by cendawanita at 12:47 AM on July 11, 2017

The Attorney-General's Chambers has now started legal proceedings against Li Shengwu, LHY's son.

They are taking him to court for a posting a private, friends-only Facebook post linking a WSJ article about the Oxley house feud. (One of his Facebook "friends" decided to screenshot the private post and send it to online media outlets, which the mainstream media then picked up.)
posted by aielen at 12:53 PM on August 4, 2017

Hey, there's also a juicy new spy scandal, sorry "Agent of Influence". Singapore is permanently expelling a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (plus his wife), a U.S. citizen born in China, causing him of being an agent of influence for a non-specified foreign country.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:53 PM on August 4, 2017

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