The feud among the offspring of the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister, is eliciting shock, disgust, despair and schadenfreude, both within the city state and elsewhere.
Some consider the fight over the fate of Lee’s house to be a family affair, but it’s pointless to pretend that a line can be drawn between private individuals and the state in this case, because of the parties involved, dead and alive.
Still, at least there’s been an attempt to draw that line, with ministers telling all concerned to keep the issue private so the government and people can focus on more important matters.
Things were different in imperial China, where the ruler’s family life was a direct concern of the state. Whom the emperor married and his relationships with his empress and consorts were of utmost importance, particularly during the Han period (206BC-AD220). They determined the political fortunes of powerful families.
Fraternal ties within the imperial clan also affected the well-being of the state – the devastating war of the eight princes (a series of civil wars from AD291 to 306, during the Jin dynasty) was a grim example of what could happen.
Nobody seriously believes family infighting could damage the polity of a modern republic such as Singapore, but most people in the city desire a swift end to this sad and embarrassing spectacle.