“Dissident Voices”

In Uncategorized on 14/02/2014 at 4:43 am

When I opened a copy of my friend’s latest book “Dissident Voices”, and saw the dissidents featured (Lim Chin Siong, Catherine Lim, Ong Eng Guan, David Marshall, Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew, Said Zahari, Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow and Vincent Cheng Lim), I tot how come no JBJ* and Lee Siew Choh? After all, they too stood firm on their convictions despite the odds. And they too paid a heavy toll for their beliefs … But they never broke. In fact, Catherine Lim is a nobody when compared to those giants, JBJ and Lee.

When we met, he explained to me that he and Marshall Cavendish (the publisher) had agreed a tentative list of names. More than one book was needed to do justice to the names on the list.. The author thought the subjects he chose for the book “S’pore Dissidents” would resonate more with readers who wanted to know more about personalities who dared to be different – and paid a price. There are plans for another volume to cover JBJ and Lee Siew Choh for sure. Other names that could appear are: Alfian Saat, Martyn See, Ng Ho, Low Thia Khiang, Ong Teng Cheong, Devan Nair, Chee Soon Juan, Ho Kwong Ping and Teo Soh Lung.

If he included co-driver Low and Mad Dog (or is it  Coyote?) Chee, what about Chiam? As said, the list is being worked out, so don’t get worked up if your hero is left out. Just tell me and I’ll tell the author. BTW, Ng Ho is the father of another friend. Both father and son were detained under ISA. Despite being detained, my friend is a true-blue S’porean patriot and a poster boy for the meritocracy preached and practiced by the PAP Old Guard: example all his grandchildren are now in elite schools despite him being poor when young.

Whatever it is, the proposed list doesn’t do justice to the contemporary scene of voices. Voices like TOC, TRE and Alex Au. Maybe a third volume is needed? Watch and wait. Let volume II come out first.

Coming back to “Dissident Voices”, it’s written in straight-forward prose. ST’s style of writing at its best.

People of around my generation should read it to refresh or correct their memories, impressions of the late 50s and early 60s because the book covers Lim Chin Siong, Ong Eng Guan, David Marshall, Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew and Said Zahari. The other four are “dissidents” from other more recent periods.

Younger S’poreans should read it because it tells them a bit of the history of S’pore: about S’poreans who stood firm on their convictions despite the odds. And all but Marshall and Catherine Lim paid a heavy toll for their beliefs – deprivations, long prison terms, lonely lives in self-imposed exile. But they never broke.

They may learn of a time (late 50s, early 60s) when being called a “socialist” was not a sneer or an insult: even one LKY was proud to identify himself as a “socialist”. They may also learn that leaders can come from any level of society, and that it wasn’t necessary to have good academic results to be a leader: the ability to sway the masses was what counted. They may start to understand the background of today’s SAP schools, and why there are older S’poreans who decry the schools’ as an insult to local Chinese culture and traditions.

Readers of this blog like Jack, AuntieLucia etc should encourage their younger relations to read the book. Maybe even buy copies as birthday presents or rewards. Its prose is simple enough for secondary school kids who can learn that once upon a time life was hard, really hard and when S’poreans could not be called apathetic. Related posts:

More about the author’s background:

– Publisher’s media release



One of the first of its kind–this book

Introduces ten unique individuals who stood

by their beliefs and the ultimate price they

paid for that legacy.

The personalities featured are:

Lim Chin Siong, Catherine Lim,

Ong Eng Guan, David Marshall,

Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew,

Said Zahari, Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow and

Vincent Cheng


They stood firm on their convictions despite the odds. Some paid a heavy toll for

their beliefs – deprivations, long prison terms, lonely lives in self-imposed exile. But

they never broke. Some will say the unflinching attitude of these dissidents against

what they perceived as coercive authority has been an exercise in futility. Yet other

say the course of Singapore’s history might have been altered if their will had


Their stories need to be told. The first of it’s kind, this book will inform and educate

rather than to glorify their tough stance. These short memoirs are a record of

human endurance, exemplifying the extremes sacrifices some people will make in

pursuit of their ideals.

Written by veteran journalist and author Clement Mesenas, this book chronicles the

lives of ten leading dissidents.


Clement Mesenas started his career in The Straits Times in 1968, cutting his teeth in

journalism as a young crime reporter before moving on to the sub-editors desk and

then to the field of magazine publishing. He left Singapore in 1979 to become

managing editor of the Kuwait Times for a decade before moving to the Gulf News in

Dubai, where he was deputy editor for another decade. He returned to Singapore in

2000 to join MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper as one of its pioneering editors, before

he retired in 2011. He now publishes a number of community publications and is

working towards establishing a global network through digital media platforms.


*Didn’t expect Chiam or Dr Chee to appear as they are still active politicians. As to Low, bet you he’d sue if he was called a dissident. He is the PAP’s self-appointed co-driver, a courtier who accepts the PAP’s hegemony. BTW, seems the co-driver and courtier needs a good accountant. Wonder what my friend Eric Tan is doing now? Smiling?

  1. I beg your pardon. LKY was not “proud to identify himself to be a socialist”. He professed to be one in order to make him acceptable to the masses. He abandoned this false image as soon as he tightened his hold on power and did not need this appellation.He never believed in socialism but a Thatcherite before Margaret Thatcher.

  2. […] – Unravelling 1987: United Front: A Yankee’s Perspective – TOC: Hock Lee bus riots – fact or fiction by CNA? (Part 2) – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: “Dissident Voices” […]

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