TIME Singapore

Singapore Bids Farewell to Lee Kuan Yew in Elaborate Funeral

Singapore Lee Kuan Yew Reaction
Joseph Nair—AP Sarah Kee, 61, of Singapore, wipes her tears at an area set aside for tributes to former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the hospital where he passed away, Monday, March 23, 2015 in Singapore

"He did everything for us Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion"

(SINGAPORE) — Tens of thousands of Singaporeans undeterred by heavy rains lined a 15 kilometer (9 mile) route through the Southeast Asian city-state to witness an elaborate funeral procession Sunday for longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee’s coffin, protected from the downpour by a glass casing, lay atop a ceremonial gun carriage that was being led solemnly past city landmarks from parliament to a cultural center where the state funeral will be held. Walking slowly in the coffin’s wake as it exited parliament were Lee’s son, the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, other family members and government officials.

Crowds of people that began forming not long after dawn for the early afternoon funeral cortege chanted “Lee Kuan Yew” and waved Singapore’s national flag. Four howitzers fired a 21-gun salute, air force fighter jets streaked over the island and navy patrol ships blasted horns.

During a week of national mourning that began Monday after Lee’s death at age 91, some 450,000 people queued for hours for a glimpse of the statesman’s coffin at Parliament House. A million people visited tribute sites at community centers around the city.

The expansive show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore. The island nation about four times the size of Washington D.C. is known around the world as a wealthy trade and finance center with a strict social order including a ban on chewing gum and caning for some crimes.

Lee was Singapore’s prime minister for more than three decades, ruling with an iron grip until 1990, and is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their nation’s prosperity and harmonious race relations. But his authoritarian rule has also left a legacy of restrictions on free speech, a tame media and a stunted democracy.

“He did everything for us Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion,” said Jennie Yeo, a 58-year-old teacher, who arrived at 7 a.m. to stake out front row positions with two friends. “Education, housing, everything you can think of, he’s taken care of for us,” she said.

Leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries are attending the state funeral. The U.S. delegation is led by former President Bill Clinton. Abroad, India has declared a national day of mourning and in New Zealand, the government is flying flags at half-staff.

During the funeral service, civil defense sirens will blare across the island to begin a minute’s silence.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Lee Kuan Yew didn’t think Singapore could survive true democracy. After his death, Singapore must do just that.

By Max Boot in Commentary

2. Resilience means more than flexible infrastructure. Cities must open doors to creative vibrance through the arts.

By Jason Schupbach at 100 Resilient Cities

3. Why does China need the next Dalai Lama?

By the Economist

4. The robots of the near future aren’t threatening. They’re boring.

By Erik Sofge in Popular Science

5. Can we truly redesign the experience of death?

By Jon Mooallem in California Sunday

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Singapore

Global Leaders Pay Respects After the Passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore Obit Lee Kuan Yew
Joseph Nair — AP A live broadcast by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the death of his father is watched in a reception area at a hospital where the city-state's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away on March 23, 2015, in Singapore

The nation’s architect was lauded for being a visionary and fostering relations between Asia and the U.S.

Messages of condolence flooded in from the East and the West on Monday as the world paid tribute to Singapore’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, following the former strongman’s death at the age of 91.

Lee died in the early hours of Monday morning local time at Singapore General Hospital, after being treated for severe pneumonia and then an infection since his initial admission over a month ago.

The former head of government has been largely credited with fostering the environment that allowed the former British colony to transform into a flourishing bastion of international business and innovation.

“The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together, and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans,” said Lee’s son and serving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a televised address. “We won’t see another man like him.”

Flags were at half-mast across the city-state as Lee’s compatriots began observing a week of official mourning. A state funeral has been scheduled for March 29.

During his time as head of government, Lee was also viewed as an adroit statesman who helped foster ties and understanding between Western powers and rising nation-states across Asia.

“Minister Mentor Lee’s views and insights on Asian dynamics and economic management were respected by many around the world, and no small number of this and past generations of world leaders have sought his advice on governance and development,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement.

Former President George H.W. Bush echoed these sentiments. “I will always be proud that Lee Kuan Yew was my friend,” he said. “I respected his effective leadership of his wonderful, resilient and innovative country in ways that lifted living standards without indulging a culture of corruption. I was also proud of the progress Singapore and the United States achieved together as partners. Because of the example set by Lee Kuan Yew’s singular leadership, let me add I am confident that the future will be bright for Singapore.”

Chinese Foreign Minister spokesperson Hong Lei described Lee as the bedrock of the Sino-Singaporean relationship and a visionary on the continent.

“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is a uniquely influential statesman in Asia and a strategist boasting oriental values and international vision,” said Lei.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Lee was both a “far-sighted statesman” and “a lion among leaders.”

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia called Lee “a close friend of Indonesia and renowned as the founding father of modern Singapore.”

“As a great leader and a statesman who truly loved his people, he was also known as an influential political figure in Asia,” he added. “Under his leadership, Singapore has succeeded in transforming itself into a major economic hub for the Asian region and stands in equal footing to other developed nations of the world.”

Amid the tributes, advocacy groups also cautioned against ignoring the strongman’s authoritarianism and checkered record on human rights in the wake of his death.

“Singapore still is, for all intents and purposes, a one-party state where political opponents are targeted and contrary views muzzled — and that too is a part of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy that many of the new generation of Singaporeans are none too happy about,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

In his homeland, though, the overriding feeling was one of mourning a beloved patriarch.

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME politics

See Photos From Lee Kuan Yew’s Election as Singapore’s First Prime Minister

Looking back to the day the country's longest-serving modern leader began his tenure

When the People’s Action Party won the 1959 general election in Singapore, making Lee Kuan Yew the country’s first prime minister, LIFE was there to capture the energy in the elated crowd.

And when Singapore was weeks away from gaining independence after its short-lived union with Malaysia, an eventful six years later, LIFE’s Hong Kong bureau chief sat down with Lee to hear his thoughts on the future of his country.

Lee, whom LIFE described as having “a Spartan, no-nonsense — and above all — incorruptible dedication” to his role, repeatedly emphasized racial unity as the key to a successful Singapore. “We must forge a multiracial society out of our Indians and Chinese and Malays or we’re going to have one group dominating the other,” he said, “or were going to have segregation and partition which is fraught with danger for all of south Asia.”

Half a century later, the coexistence Lee espoused is a defining feature of Singapore, a country in which nearly 40% of the population is foreign-born. Emphasizing the importance of allegiance to Singapore above residents’ countries of origin, Lee recognized multiple national languages and religious holidays and prioritized residential integration.

But declaring loyalty to Singapore was not tantamount to forswearing one’s ethnic identity. “I’m very proud of the fact that my ancestors are Chinese,” he said. “But our future lies in being part of Southeast Asia.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME Singapore

‘Father of Singapore’ Lee Kuan Yew Dies at 91

Singapore's first and longest-serving Prime Minister was the architect of a remarkable transformation

TIME once made Lee Kuan Yew cry. It was the fall of 2005, in Singapore, during nearly five hours of interview spread over two days. The conversation had turned to family and friends, and faith as a source of strength in the face of adversity. “I would not score very highly on religious value,” said Lee, then 82, still in good health, and a sort of Minister Emeritus. Yet when he talked about the illnesses and deaths of loved ones, Lee allowed himself a rare moment of vulnerability: his eyes welled up.

MORE The Man Who Saw It All

Emotional is not a word associated with the hardheaded, severe and supremely disciplined Lee. Neither, seemingly, is mortal — Lee was so enduring a public figure for so long that he appeared to transcend impermanence. But in recent years a mellowing Lee openly broached the subject of dying: he felt himself growing weaker with age, he said, and he wanted to go quickly when the time came.

The time was 3:18 a.m. local time on March 23, when, at 91, Lee, who was Singapore’s Prime Minister for three decades, died in the 50th year of independence of the city-state that he molded into one of the most sophisticated places on the planet. Lee had been admitted to the Singapore General Hospital on Feb. 5, initially for severe pneumonia and, despite brief periods of improvement, his condition deteriorated rapidly over the weekend following an infection. Seven days of national mourning have been declared with a state funeral scheduled for March 29.

A Man Apart
Lee’s life traced a long arc of modern East Asian history: the last vestiges of colonialism; the advent of affluence; the introduction of democracy, albeit flawed and limited; the spread of globalization; the decline of Japan and the rise of China; and, now, the retreat to nationalism. He was not so much an architect of change — his stage, Singapore, was, perhaps regrettably for him, too small to be a global player — as an observer of the way of the world, on anything from nation building to geopolitics to terrorism, and everything in between. Over six decades of public life, Lee preached, berated, pontificated and counseled not only his own people but also those of other countries, whether the advice was solicited or not.

MORE Late Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew Had Opinions on Everything

Overseas, Lee was largely seen as a statesman — foreign political and business leaders have long praised him: “legendary” (Barack Obama); “brilliant” (Rupert Murdoch); “never wrong” (Margaret Thatcher), to cite a few of countless such tributes.

At home, Lee was above all the man in charge. His ethos was both broad and narrow, often controversial, and always trenchant. Government required a long reach to be effective. Economic development needed to precede democracy, and, even then, civil liberties should be restricted and dissent monitored and, when he deemed so, curtailed. The community trumped the individual. “Asian values” is what Lee and his ilk called their credo. Though Singapore holds open elections, and Lee’s party had always won big — partly because it delivered, partly because it commanded the most resources — he was not always a fan of democracy. “[Its] exuberance leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development,” he said. “The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps … improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.” Whether Lee intended it or not, his template for Singapore became a model for many authoritarian governments that saw its success as an example of how prosperity could be achieved while controlling freedom.

The personal became the political too for Lee. Members of the educated elite were encouraged to marry one another so as to improve the gene pool. Citizens were told to flush public toilets. Most kinds of chewing gum were banned to prevent its littering. The de facto covenant was this: Singapore’s officials would run the city state (largely) effectively and cleanly — making it an oasis in Southeast Asia — and, in return, its citizens would toe the line. “If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one,” Lee unapologetically wrote in his memoirs. Even in disagreement, Lee’s critics had to admit: he knew his mind. “I always tried to be correct,” he once said, “not politically correct.”

And astute, especially when maintaining an equidistance between China and the U.S., East Asia’s top two rivals. Beijing and Washington both trusted him as a friend who enhanced their understanding of each other. Even as Lee invested sovereign funds in China, he provided safe harbor for U.S. warships. In fact, he was an open proponent of a robust U.S. military presence in Asia to help keep the peace. By pinning down North Vietnam during the 1960s and ’70s, he said, the U.S. bought much of the rest of Southeast Asia time to develop and ward off communism. Till the end, he remained an admirer of American entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

China, he figured, had some catching up to do, particularly on the soft-power front. His attitude was that its leaders should be engaged but not indulged. “They are communist by doctrine,” he told TIME in 2005. “I don’t believe they are the same old communists as they used to be, but the thought processes, the dialectical, secretive way in which they form and frame their policies [still exist].” As early as 1994, Lee seemed to foresee the current maritime tensions in Asian waters when he said: “China’s neighbors are unconvinced by China’s ritual phrases that all countries big and small are equal or that China will never seek hegemony.” But he also argued that China deserved respect: “China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West.”

Lee’s arrogance was partly rooted in his strong intellect and his prodigious ability to look beyond the horizon. Today, chiefly because of the foundations he laid, Singapore, tiny and surrounded by hostile neighbors when it was born, has not only survived but flourished — a widely-admired banking, tech and educational hub whose GDP per capita is among the highest in the world; a place that constantly innovates and experiments; the Little City That Could.

Historymaker
Lee Kuan Yew was born in Singapore on Sept. 16, 1923, to a father he grew distant from and a 16-year-old mother who adored him. The family had lived in the colony for more than half-a-century by the time of his birth, absorbing the culture of the indigenous Malays and the colonial British. Called Baba Chinese, they believed in English education, could afford servants, and enjoyed a higher social standing than the poor, often illiterate, recently arrived Chinese immigrants who worked around the city’s riverfront docks as lightermen, rickshaw pullers and stevedores. Though Lee’s father himself rose only to be the manager of an oil depot for Shell, the wider clan was established and well-off.

It would be a brief idyll. The 1929 crash hurt the family’s finances, and his father began to gamble. “My father would come home in a foul mood after losing at blackjack and other card games,” Lee wrote, “and demand some of my mother’s jewelry to pawn …” His mother not only saved her jewelry from her feckless husband but also ably raised her four sons and one daughter, selling cakes baked from tapioca when flour and money grew scarce.

In 1940, when Lee took his final high school exams, he scored first among all students of his age across Singapore and the Malayan federation to which it belonged. But, by then, war was tearing Europe apart and creeping toward Singapore. Plans to study law in Britain had to be delayed. On Dec. 8, 1941, Singapore, along with Pearl Harbor, was bombed in a predawn raid. Not one bomb shelter was dug or one city light extinguished, although Singapore’s colonial governor knew of the Japanese landing in Malaya several hours earlier. About 100 people died that night. Thousands more would soon perish. Less than three months later, the teenage Lee watched the march of British army soldiers, “an endless stream of bewildered men,” being escorted by their Japanese captors to prison camp. Recalling the blunders that led to the island’s defeat in early 1942, he wrote, “In 70 days of surprises, upsets and stupidities, British colonial society was shattered, and with it all the assumptions of the Englishman’s superiority.”

After the war the British regained rule of Singapore. Yet Lee, then a law student at Cambridge, would never forget the debacle of Singapore’s fall. By the time he returned home in 1950, the 27-year-old law graduate was determined to free Singapore from colonial rule. Displaying a gift for navigating chaos, Lee entered the unruly politics of a country still reeling from World War II while lurching toward an uncertain postcolonial future. Before their godowns were bombed and many of their executives killed or imprisoned by the Japanese, British-run agencies controlled Singapore’s trade of commodities such as rice, rubber and tin. Now these firms were struggling. Unemployment and inflation were high. The island’s unions were riddled with communists, many Chinese-educated, inspired by Mao Zedong’s rise to power and eager to stage a similar revolution in Singapore. By offering his legal services for free to unions, Lee built up a grassroots electoral base and became a rival to the communists, who were officially banned. In 1954 he formed the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the basement of his house. Two of the men sitting inside that basement, S. Rajaratnam and Goh Keng Swee — the former to be Lee’s ambassador to the outside world, the latter to be his economic mastermind — would stay by Lee’s side and help him through the many crises that would test Singapore and its leader over the coming decades.

Singapore gained partial independence from the British in 1959, then became part of the Malaysian federation in 1963. Two years later it was kicked out of Malaysia because of racial tension — the city state was mainly ethnic Chinese, the peninsula dominated by Malays — and the antagonism of many senior politicians in Kuala Lumpur toward Lee, whom they considered headstrong and unpredictable. Lee was a month shy of his 42nd birthday, and no longer just Prime Minister of a federated state but an independent nation with an evaporating economy and not a single trained soldier of its own to defend it. By late 1965, Lee’s vision for Singapore was formed. It would build its own military, often stealthily, using Israeli military trainers described as “Mexicans” in order not to disturb the country’s Muslims. “They looked swarthy enough,” Lee wrote. And instead of trying to piggyback on the commodity-driven trade of its neighbors, Lee would seek investment from outside Southeast Asia, appealing directly to multinationals in the U.S. and Europe. “We had to create a new kind of economy,” he wrote, “try new methods and schemes never tried before anywhere else in the world because there was no other country like Singapore.”

Team Singapore
When Singapore was part of Malaysia, Lee’s belief in an egalitarian society had aroused the suspicions of Malay politicians who believed Lee spoke loftily about multiracialism even as he canvassed for Chinese votes. Nevertheless, it would be enshrined in independent Singapore. The population today is about 5.5. million, of whom nearly 40% are foreigners. Of the locals, about three-fourths are ethnic Chinese. But Lee took steps to ensure that the majority couldn’t impose its culture on the country’s minorities. English became the medium of education and administration, while three national languages were also recognized: Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. To prevent ethnic ghettoes, Lee made sure neighborhoods had proportionate numbers of Chinese, Indian and Malay residents. The religious holidays of all ethnic groups were celebrated, and even small local-language newspapers and TV channels were financially supported by the state. Lee’s aim was to forge a Singaporean identity that would override ties to the old country. A key strategy to give people a sense of belonging as stakeholders in society was to provide affordable homes — today, ownership stands at 90% of the local population. “Citizenship is essentially a question of loyalty,” Lee said.

Loyalty that was rewarded. Lee widened roads, dug canals, cleared slums, erected high-quality public housing estates, herded the satay and chicken-rice vendors cluttering the sidewalks into spacious food courts, cleaned up rivers, planted trees and zealously fined citizens, especially the superstitious who believed in ejecting the “evil spirits” lurking in one’s throat, who splattered Singapore’s roads with spit. Some of his social strictures drew mockery. While a university lecturer in Singapore, American travel writer Paul Theroux recalled being accosted by his vice chancellor and told his hair was too long. “Essentially, these laws are passed so that foreign tourists will come to Singapore,” he wrote in 1973 in The Great Railway Bazaar, “and, if the news get out that Singapore is clean and well disciplined, then Americans will want to set up factories and employ the non-striking Singaporeans.”

Foreign investment, much of it from U.S. tech companies, did pour into Singapore. Texas Instruments set up a semiconductor plant in 1968, to be quickly followed by multimillion-dollar investments from National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard and General Electric. In U.S.-dollar terms, Singapore’s gross domestic product grew more than tenfold from 1965 to 1980. It became the world’s busiest port. The dilapidated godowns of the old waterfront were razed to build skyscrapers. Singapore Airlines, the flagship air carrier Lee started in 1972, encapsulated the city-state’s story of success: small, with scant resources and dwarfed by larger rivals, it aimed to be among the world’s best from the outset and quickly became so. As Henry Kissinger, the onetime U.S. Secretary of State, said: “Lee’s vision was of a state that would … prevail by excelling.”

PHOTOS See Late Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew’s Life in Pictures

The Dark Side
Demanding respect but wary of flattery, and the memory of his perilous start still fresh, Lee tightened his grip on power and went on the attack against political opponents. One of them, the gadfly lawyer and MP J.B. Jeyaretnam, was repeatedly sued for libel by Lee. Jeyaretnam was eventually declared a bankrupt and, for a time, barred from contesting elections.

The press also drew Lee’s wrath. In 1971 the Singapore Herald, deemed critical of Lee’s regime, shut down after its printing license was withdrawn by the government. Three years later Parliament enacted a law requiring newspapers that operated a printing press in Singapore to renew their government license annually. Every newspaper company was eventually required to issue “management shares,” carrying greater voting rights than ordinary shares. Owners of these shares had to be Singaporean and were chosen by the government. Then Minister of Culture Jek Yeun Thong defended the measures, saying in Parliament that the local press would remain free as long as “no attempt is made by them, or through their proxies, to glorify undesirable viewpoints and philosophies.”

Characteristically, Lee bluntly defended such measures. Speaking to a conference of foreign editors and publishers after the closure of the Herald, he said, “Freedom of the news media must be subordinated to the overriding needs of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.” Because the foreign press wasn’t subject to local printing laws, newspapers or magazines whose articles were viewed as defamatory were either sued or their Singapore circulation cut. Among the media thus punished was TIME, for nine months during the late 1980s. In its latest press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore No. 153 out of 180 countries.

Though he remained largely unchallenged, Lee’s combative character began to strike an increasingly discordant note among a growing number of Singaporeans. Sensing the shifting mood, Lee began to slowly withdraw from day-to-day governance. In 1990 he stepped down as Prime Minister in favor of Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong yet remained in the Cabinet, first as a “Senior Minister” and then as “Minister Mentor,” vaguely defined posts that allowed him to oscillate between speaking engagements abroad while advising his ministerial colleagues on matters of state.

Lee also kept running for Parliament. His pugnacious manner of campaigning was often grating. Days before the 2011 general elections, for instance, Lee warned the voters of a suburban constituency that they would “live and repent” if the PAP were defeated. Comments like these, later wrote Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng, “were widely perceived to have inadvertently contributed to the decline in the PAP’s performance.” That performance was hardly a rout — the PAP retained 60% of the popular vote and 81 out of 87 seats in parliament — yet, a week after the polls, Lee stepped down from the Cabinet. “The time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. Echoing the belief that Singapore by then had outgrown Lee’s forceful top-down, paternalistic approach, his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, who became Prime Minister in 2004, acknowledged that many voters “wish for the government to adopt a different style.”

Today, Singapore is not as tightly wound as before. Its citizens are more vocal, and the government more responsive to their grievances — economic rather than political: the high cost of living, the wide wealth gap and the inflow of migrants.

Such burdens of office are no longer for Lee. No-nonsense to the end, he didn’t overthink his legacy. “I am not given to making sense out of life, or coming up with some grand narrative of it,” he wrote in 2013. “I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.” So passes the man from Singapore, who became a man of his time.

Read next: Global Leaders Pay Respects After the Passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME remembrance

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew Made Modern Asia

Dec. 12, 2005, cover of TIME Asia
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH FOR TIME BY PAUL HU / ASSIGNMENT ASIA The Dec. 12, 2005, cover of TIME Asia

TIME interviewed the godfather of Singaporean politics in 2005

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and the man credited with creating modern Singapore, was involved in the country’s politics since Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965.

Just as Singapore has felt his presence as a constant throughout the years, so too has his office. When TIME’s Zoher Abdoolcarim, Simon Elegant and Michael Elliott visited with Lee over the course of two days in the fall of 2005, they observed that he had occupied the same rooms since the 1970s.

But that didn’t mean that Lee Kuan Yew was stuck in the past. In fact, during that interview he offered up his views on some of the most newsworthy issues of the day, from the rise of China to the threat of radical Islam. And though he admitted some faults — he should have fostered free enterprise more, he said — he was defiant in the face of other criticisms: “I’m not guided by what Human Rights Watch says. I am not interested in ratings by Freedom House or whatever. At the end of the day, is Singapore society better or worse off? That’s the test. What are the indicators of a well-governed society? Look at the humanities index in last week’s Economist, we’re right on top,” he told TIME.

And no matter what one thinks of Lee’s record, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t earn the right to his opinion. As TIME pointed out:

Lee can be forgiven for lifting his eyes to the horizon. Once the subject of withering criticism from human-rights groups for his authoritarian ways and intolerance of dissent, he is now widely acknowledged as Asia’s most respected senior statesman. Others may pen lengthy memoirs and seek to use their years on the world stage to tout their punditry and powers of prediction. Some can even lay claim to having guided far larger countries or served as leaders for longer than Lee. But Lee is unique. It is not just that his cold-eyed, totally nonideological analysis has set him apart from other observers of Asia. There is another factor that is just as important an explanation of Lee’s influence. From his days as a clerk and a black-market broker during the brutal Japanese occupation of Singapore — which he was lucky to survive — through his years as an agitator for independence from Britain, from his time spent talking to the Americans during the Vietnam years to his role as a confidant of China’s leadership, Lee has seen it all. He has been a participant observer of the most significant historical shift of our times — the steady ascent of Asia, home to 60% of the world’s population, from the twin shames of Western colonialism and poverty to its coming economic and political dominance. Everyone who lives in Asia today thinks they are watching history being made; Lee Kuan Yew is one of those who can say, without fear of contradiction, that he helped make it.

Read the full interview with Lee Kuan Yew, here in the TIME archives: Lee Kuan Yew Reflects

Read TIME’s take on the interview, here in the TIME archives: The Man Who Saw It All

TIME Singapore

See ‘Father of Singapore’ Lee Kuan Yew’s Life in Pictures

Key moments from the longest-serving Prime Minister in world history

Few leaders can claim as great an influence on a country as Lee Kuan Yew can on Singapore. The 91-year-old is considered the founding father of the small Southeast Asian nation, having led it from a colonial trading post into a regional and global financial powerhouse.

Born in Singapore in September 1923, Lee graduated with a law degree from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, but returned to his native country in 1950 despite being admitted to the English bar. He became Singapore’s first Prime Minister in 1959, a position he held until 1990 — making him the longest-serving Prime Minister in global history.

During that time, he guided the country out of British colonial rule and through a union with Malaysia, which Singapore broke away from in 1965, to become fully independent.

Lee became Minister Mentor of Singapore in 2004, a position created by his eldest son, third and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Here’s a look at Lee Kuan Yew’s life, in pictures.

TIME Singapore

Late Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew Had Opinions on Everything

Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, March 20, 2013 in Singapore
Wong Maye-E—AP Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, March 20, 2013 in Singapore

Singapore's founding father shared his opinions on everything from democracy and leadership to terrorism and his late wife

Lee Kuan Yew had a strong opinion about most anything. As he once said, “I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid to speak my mind.” Here’s a sampling of his other pronouncements over the decades:

On Singapore

We have created this out of nothingness, from 150 souls in a minor fishing village into the biggest metropolis two degrees north of the equator.

I have had to sing four national anthems: Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” Japan’s “Kimigayo,” Malaysia’s “Negara Ku,” and finally Singapore’s “Majulah Singapura;” such were the political upheavals of the last 60 years.

One arm of my strategy was to make Singapore into an oasis in Southeast Asia, for if we had First World standards, then businessmen and tourists would make us a base for their business and tours of the region.

To succeed, Singapore must be a cosmopolitan center, able to attract, retain, and absorb talent from all over the world.

Singapore is now a brand name.

My greatest satisfaction comes from … mustering the will to make this place meritocratic, corruption-free and equal for all races—and that it will endure beyond me.

On Democracy

One person, one vote is a most difficult form of government. From time to time, the results can be erratic. People are sometimes fickle. They get bored with stable, steady improvements in life, and in a reckless moment, they vote for a change for change’s sake.

In new countries, democracy has worked and produced results only when there is an honest and effective government, which means a people smart enough to elect such a government. Elected governments are only as good as the people who choose them.

Contrary to what American political commentators say, I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe that what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development. The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society to establish conditions which improve the standard of living for the majority of its people, plus enabling the maximum of personal freedoms compatible with the freedoms of others in society.

There is no level playing-field of any government helping the opposition to win votes.

The weakness of democracy is that the assumption that all men are equal and capable of equal contribution to the common good is flawed.

On the U.S.

For the next two to three decades, America will remain the sole superpower. The U.S. is the most militarily powerful and economically dynamic country in the world. It is the engine for global growth through its innovation, productivity, and consumption. Today and for the next few decades, it is the U.S that will be preeminent in setting the rules of the game.

What has made the U.S. economy preeminent is its entrepreneurial culture … Entrepreneurs and investors alike see risk and failure as natural and necessary for success. When they fail, they pick themselves up and start afresh.

On Terrorism

Militant Islam feeds upon the insecurities and alienation that globalization generates among the less successful. And because globalization is largely U.S.-led and driven, militant Islam identifies America and Americans as the threat to Islam. That America steadfastly supports Israel aggravates their sense of threat.

The war against terrorism will be long and arduous.

On China

China’s history of over 4,000 years was one of dynastic rulers, interspersed with anarchy, foreign conquerors, warlords and dictators. The Chinese people had never experienced a government based on counting heads instead of chopping off heads. Any revolution toward representative government would be gradual.

China’s neighbors are unconvinced by China’s ritual phrases that all countries big and small are equal or that China will never seek hegemony.

If the U.S. tries to thwart China’s growth, China will surely want to return the compliment when it can do so.

China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West.

On Leadership

I was never a prisoner of any theory. What guided me were reason and reality. The acid test I applied to every theory or scheme was: Would it work?

The acid test is in performance, not promises.

It is not from weakness that one commands respect.

As long as the leaders take care of their people, they will obey the leaders.

On His Late Wife, and Life and Death

She’s gone. All that is left behind are her ashes. I will be gone and all that will be left behind will be ashes. For reasons of sentiment, well, put them together. But to meet in afterlife? Too good to be true.

There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach. In such cases, one is little more than a body.

Do not intervene to save life. Let me go naturally.

I am not given to making sense out of life, or coming up with some grand narrative of it. I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.

Sources: Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World; Lee Kuan Yew: One Man’s View of the World; The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew

Read next: Global Leaders Pay Respects After the Passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Wealth

These Are the World’s Most Expensive Cities

No, New York isn't among the top 10. Nor is Tokyo. Hint about the most expensive city: Don't take any chewing gum when you visit.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com