I read with disbelief that something like this can happen to the children of Lee Kuan Yew. Family feuds in the Chinese traditions usually happen during the era of the third generation. But for siblings to fight over a seemingly small issue only two years after the passing of the patriarch is something earth-shaking especially if the patriarch was the founding father of a nation and known to be practitioner of oriental virtues.
Sibling harmony ranks high in the hierarchy of Chinese virtues. What has become of this family?
As far as I see, the siblings are NOT fighting over the 38 Oxley Road property per se! The inheritance and ownership matter has already been settled. It is true the late Mr Lee had wanted the house to be demolished after his passing, or if the daughter was still staying there, after her moving out. Many Singaporeans want the house to be preserved as a remembrance of the late Mr Lee; so, I understand, does Mr Lee Hsien Loong as the prime minister of the country. However, Prime Minister Lee is prepared to recuse himself from the cabinet committee that has been tasked to study the matter. Of course, in Singapore, cabinet committees’ recommendations are usually accepted by the government.
Through reading the postings of the siblings, Madam Ho Ching and one of the sons of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, I could not help but jump to this conclusion: A case of “second son” syndrome!
It is certainly not for a nobody outsider like me (a non-Singaporean to boot) to say who is right or who is wrong in this case. But the cynical me likes to lay the blame on China’s greatest sage: Kung-tze!
What an audacious thing for me to say, isn’t it?
Shen-yang was our firstborn; he was followed by Monica. Hwa and I thought we had achieved a perfect number and stopped thereon. But like all parents that had been brought up with some Confucian expectations, we were very happy that our firstborn was indeed a boy. When my daughter Monica gave birth to Kaeden, my son-in-law Konfir was on cloud nine. Less than two years later came Maxel, another boy. I had expected Konfir to be slightly disappointed. But not at all; he said he now had double-insurance! Konfir makes it a point to love his two boys equally.
I was strict with Yang and partial to Monica. Fortunately, Hwa was more balanced in her love. I don’t seem to see much friction or rivalry between the two even they were young. They are all grown up now, and I suppose they understand the true meaning of sibling love. On the other hand, when I was young, even though I was the youngest son and had all my parents’ indulgence, I always tried to find fault with my older siblings. My siblings are all very forgiving; as we age, we care for one another more than ever.
Families in the Confucian tradition have a patriarch to lord over things. Usually he is the grandfather. (Now grandmother also holds sway in some. If the great grandfather is still around, he is symbolically the patriarch, but chances he might be too old or not too clear-headed to exert any authority.) When the old man passes on, the anointed one – usually the eldest son – would assume the “reign”. (If he has an older sister, he may also defer to her in many family matters.)
The anointed one would usually inherit the bulk of the patriarch’s estate. But he is also to look after the wellbeing of his siblings and their families – as the new patriarch. But the 21st century truth is that few siblings would want to play a submissive or subservient role. Many are as educated or qualified, and may even have done better than the anointed one in life. Sibling love and care for each other is usually there, no matter how diluted it has become. But when wives enter into the equation, all hell may break loose. Daughters-in-law are likely to suppress their own ambition or likes and dislikes when the older generation is still around. But few can see beyond the edge of their own dressing table when it comes to family issues. And how many cousins care for each other or one another?
Sibling love can hardly be built on Confucian dictates. Economic beholdenness breeds rebelliousness. It is nurtured through heart, not head. Parents should be able to see “aberrations” in their children’s behavior when they were young. Address the matter when it is still addressable!
LKY and wife in all their wisdom should have seen it coming long time ago.