Tribute to Tan Jing Quee (1939-2011)

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S Arutchelvan pays tribute to a man who stood as a bridge linking the struggles of the independence era generation with those of the present.

Jing Quee
Tan Jing Quee (centre) - Photograph: tanjingquee.blogspot.com

We did not know the younger Jing Quee: the Jing Quee who was the editor of Fajar – the University Socialist Club organ, nor the Jing Quee, the trade unionist of Satu (Singapore Association of Trade Unions), nor the Jing Quee who was a Barisan Sosialis candidate or Jing Quee the political prisoner or detainee….

We knew the older Jing Quee and even that was only made possible because it was he who reached out to us and said, “We will have to support you, because you are still fighting for socialism.” We in PSM came across Jing Quee only six years ago– it was in 9-11 September 2005, when PSM organised its first international conference called Socialism 2005. It was a huge success and many people we knew and did not know came along. One such couple was Jing Quee and Rose. I spotted Jing Quee when he looked so passionate and brimming with pride when the Internationale was sung at the conference. I thought he might be an old retired comrade.

During one of the sessions, when two of the international guests were debating on who is the more left or purist among them, Jing Quee stood up and critiqued them as splitting hairs and said there are more important things that the left must look at. “Let’s not waste our time with your hair-splitting definitions!” He received loud applause from the rest and for putting things back on track.

A bridge from past to future

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Jing Quee, as we observed, was most of the time quiet but when he was not happy, he would stand up and make his point. During another debate in 2008, while a foreign speaker was branding the MCP as misled Maoists, Jing Quee came to their defence. He was annoyed with people labelling without understanding the circumstances. In the same conference, he came to the defence of the newly elected Maoist Party in Nepal. He said that we should give them a chance as we don’t seem to know what their actual situation is.

From 2005, Jing Quee and Rose were always present at our socialism functions. Jing Quee said he felt at home because there were still people out there talking about socialism. He called this his annual pilgrimage. It was then that we slowly got to know the man and his history. He was always humble and always prepared to discuss and listen. Unlike many people in his generations who have retired, Jing Quee kept going on, always inspiring us by telling us that PSM was doing the right things while listening to as well as cautioning us.

His memory and recollections were fantastic and he, along with Poh Soo Kai and Kay Yew, among the people we got to know through him, would relate to us the stories of the past with such precision as if it had just happened yesterday. Jing Quee was in fact the bridge linking us with his generation and their struggles. He kept telling us that the story of Singapore and Malaysia is one nation, one history and one struggle.

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For PSM – a young party trying to fight it out in the post-cold war era in a sea of capitalism – Jing Quee was an inspiration. He always took the trouble to meet up with us and encourage us: he kept telling us that the path of socialism is the right path. Never once did he surrender his ideological positions or his ideals. He always spoke about the future with hope. He and Rose together made a formidable team. They always had this youthfulness in them and were always full of energy and fire.

When we heard and learned of his prostate cancer and when I visited him with some comrades, Jing Quee still had his sense of humour – but he was starting to look quite ill. In December 2010, when I visited him, it struck me that Jing Quee was really ill. I left his home then with the feeling that maybe… it would be the last time I would see him again.

Then again, Jing Quee against all odds appeared at the Chinese Assembly hall in May to launch the book, ‘The May 13 Generation’ and ‘The Mighty Wave’. Partially paralysed and having lost his sight, Jing Quee nonetheless spoke at the launch and responded to questions. His points were sharp and he made sense all the way. It was a tremendous feat of will power and a testament to what the man was made of.

An inspiration

On Tuesday, 14 June, I received a rare email from Rose: Jing Quee had passed away. Visiting him to pay our last respects yesterday (17 June 2011), it struck me that though we may only have known him for six years; it seemed as if I had lost a very old comrade. It seemed as if we had known him for such a long time.

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Jing Quee, in the six short years we had known him, had been a great mentor and an inspiration to people like us. Jing Quee always talked about being practical, about being ideological and the importance of doing work. There was this thing about him – his witty comments, his tough statements, his laughter and his humility. His willingness to share and listen and his principles which would not to be compromised. Jing Quee has left a lasting impression on us.

Rose – his partner for life and comrade-in-arms – is a great women with a big heart. Even yesterday, she was full of life, trying to keep everyone happy and telling us how we should preserve history and help the older comrades.

PSM pays tribute to Tan Jing Quee. His contribution will go a long way and inspire future generations to come. Our heartfelt condolences to his family, his friends and to our comrade Rose. The Fajar Generation has continued to give us the dawn we always needed. We will fight on … for a better world and a better society.

What then is the truth?

A generation trapped in lies
Who rushed to defend, to justify
Never to listen, see or speak out.
Only when we open our hearts
Confront this barbarism
Can we truly exorcise our fears,
Finally emerge as a free people,
A liberated society.

(The last paragraph from Jing Quee’s poem, ISA Detainee)

Farewell, comrade.

S Arutchelvan is secretary general of Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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Tang Loon Kong
Tang Loon Kong
19 Nov 2011 6.02am

I came in contact with Tan Jing Quee when we were students doing a Masters course in Singapore about 12 years ago. At the time, my classmates and me did know about his ‘background’ and struggles. He introduced himself as a lawyer.

He was a nice man. I was surprised later on read his book about socialism in Singapore. Then I felt I really knew too little about that great person. It seems that does not allow me getting to know this person better.

It is am important lesson in politics – Winner takes all, and writes all, losers take nothing but gets to write a little.