Singapore Media Watch

Monday, October 30, 2006

Editorial Review: The class divide behind the Wee Shu Min saga (Part 1)

A recap of the saga

From anonymity to instant fame in a week. 18 year old Singapore girl "Wee Shu Min" became the third most searched name on Technorati after a blog entry by her made waves in Singapore's cyberspace and beyond.

Miss Wee was writing in her blog (her blog has been shut down, you can still read the original entry here) in response to an unpublished letter by a 35 year old Singaporean Mr Derek Wee ( on his concerns and fears about his livlihood in Singapore's competitive global job market.

Mr Derek Wee was dismissed as a "crackpot" and a "wretched, undermotivated, overassuming" leech by Miss Wee who ends off with a snide "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Her article soon found its way throughout Singapore's internet forums and blogs generating a huge furore amongst netizens with some writing in to the Straits Times to lambast her.

Miss Wee's father, Mr Wee Siew Kim who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ang Mo Kio GRC initially defended her in an interview with the Straits Times, but backed down under mounting pressure from the public and apolgized 2 days later to "those who are offended" by his remarks.

Undercurrent of discontent and disenchantment

For those of you who are not familar with Singapore, such vocal outpouring of public discontent against the personal views of a young lady may appear to be both unwarranted and unexpected.

After all, she is entitled to have her own opinions which are more for personal introspection than for public consumption. The fault ought to be shared by those who intruded her privacy by posting her personal details and pictures onto the internet and making a fuss out of it.

The barrage of criticism levelled at her is unfair, one might argue, since she is definitely not the only person in Singapore who harbors these thoughts and moreover, she did not intend her blog to be read by strangers other than her own inner circle of friends.

While it seems that public anger and discontent was directed at Miss Wee, much of it can be attributed to a simmering resentment against the government's policies which many do not dare to voice out. Miss Wee is just a convenient and timely punching bag for them to vent their frustrations on.

Mr Derek Wee's predicament is one that many Singaporeans can relate to and empathize with. The influx of foreign labor, both skilled and unskilled, in an increasingly competitive global economy has led to many middle-aged Singaporeans fearing and fighting for their rice bowls.

With no independent trade unions to protect workers' interests or legislation to safeguard the jobs of Singaporeans, MNCs can retrench employees at their whims and fancies with minimal penalties.

The apparent lack of support and benefits for retrenched workers, other than re-training and skills upgrading courses provided by various agencies under the umbrella of the Ministry of Manpower, has served to foster further disenchantment with the government which was perceived rightly or unrightly as being unsympathatic and unhelpful to the plight of Singaporeans who are retrenched or facing the threat of being retrenched.

To compound matters, Miss Wee belongs to the creme la crop of young Singaporeans who is guranteed a fast-track successful career in the civil service.

It doesn't help that her father is a MP of the ruling party and hence an embodiment of the establishment and natural target for detractors.

That explains why the usually benign and forgiving Singaporeans are particularly bitter and harsh towards Miss Wee.

In Part 2 of the article, to be published tomorrow, we will analyze how Singapore's meritocracy is in fact responsible for the creation and perpetuation of a class divide of "elite" in Singapore's education and political system


  • About your statement on "The barrage of criticism levelled at her is unfair"

    Ms Wee should know better that any on-line blog will be read by others. In fact, from her blog, she does seem to try and gain other peoples attention. Moreover, other Blog comments is also "entitled to have her own opinions" as you had mentioned.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:02 PM  

  • I'm totally disgusted by those who posted her particulars online. It is her mentality that is faulty, not her.

    But saying those who leave a comment on her blog is violating her privacy? That, I'll have to beg to differ.

    A blog is not personal diary. People are free to view it and leave a comment. If one is looking for a personal diary, a simple notebook will do. But if Miss Wee leave such entry in her personal diary and someone stole it and publish the comments inside, that is a violation of privacy.

    So, I hope that all sensible and mature Singaporean should let the poor girl off and concentrate on how to tackle the elitism ideas that were forced into us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:37 AM  

  • i suppose what you're trying to say is "hate the sin, not the sinner". i agree, but will people in top flights understand what your everyday people have to say if they don't listen with their hearts?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:51 PM  

  • After reading your entry, i find myself agreeing with you. So i'm not arguing against your view, i'm just proposing an alternate one.

    Many see Wee Shu Min as part of the problem, as part of the group of elitists, who include the government, who control us, the average citizen. I don't think this is the case. Wee Shu Min is not the problem. She is not part of this 'group of elitists'. Neither, i believe, is the government.

    What i'm saying is this: There are three main components of our society: the government, enlightened citizens who see past the system and enslaved citizens who fail to see past the system and live it out ignorantly, benefiting from the system's reward mechanism. It is not a conflict between the elitists and the non-elitists. There is no such distinction.

    Traditionally, we like to think of the elitists as those who see themselves as better than other people in some way, who rule the system and hence benefit from it. But this is not the case. Nobody rules the system, those who benefit from it are those who conform to it, and Wee Shu Min should not come into the picture at all, because if anything, she is a victim of the system. So in what way is she part of the 'elite'.

    The concept of 'elitism' breaks down because when we think about it in terms of who the system benefits and who it punishes, it is actually the government and the enslaved citizen who benefit and the enlightened citizens who are punished. It is the enslaved citizen who is rewarded by the system by success as the system defines it. It is the enslaved citizen who becomes the government. The concept of 'elitism' does not accomodate this paradox.

    Admittedly, it would seem this argument leads to a dead end, because the only ones with any power to change the system are those who are enslaved to it, and the only ones not enslaved by the system are those whom the system rejects, so we are all helpless to do anything.

    By Anonymous eyetoeye, at 6:01 PM  

  • Commenting from a neutral view on MS Wee’s remarks, i belief its the society (SG) we are living in that shapes our behavior and perception.
    Ms Wee emphasize the ‘cracks’ we are facing in SG-The dysfunction of meritocracy

    Lets assume that she is a daughter of an average Sgporean family,
    -say middle or working class.
    -Or worst still, social exclusion (like the man who committed sucide by jumping into the MRT track)
    - A traditional patriarchy family
    And some other factors which i prefer not to list it out!!!
    Would she still be that successful (RJC, Havard, Schloarship, awards...ETC)?

    Apply the same Qs to all of us here, be honest and ask yourself this
    -How many of us actually think that our success (high education, good salary job, status) are plainly based on our hard work and intelligence?
    To those who answer 'yes', have you ever consider the above factors (Top of the page) that could have played an important role in determine your life's success in society beside hard work and intelligence?

    Take this recent case of the poor chap who committed suicide in the MRT station: What would happen to his kids if they did not receive donations from the public. What would be the opportunities in life for them? Will hard work n intelligence simply be enough for both of them to achieve success in life? I would say very low. They haf probs attending to their basic needs what else could matters for them beside worrying abt tml lunch n dinner.

    Hard work and efforts = success is the statements made by those who are winners or in power (to some extend its how the mass media influences us to belief that society is based on such notions). Have you plp think abt the losers and what made them losers? Is it simply that they lack the efforts, intelligence n motivations, similar to the winners, to progress?
    Meritocracy, in my point of view, would only recreate social inequalities generations after generations-the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. more Assistance for the disadvantage members in our society could help create more oppotiunity for them to compete in resources.(A good example is Sweden; tax its citizens according to their incomes, the tax collected from the rich are contributed into social welfare for the disadvantage-minimising class differences)

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