Jonathan Lee


I grew up believing that Singapore history starts with Sir Stamford Raffles. That is the official narrative. But I think there is more than meets the eye. There is a hidden history.

My writing journey started with a short story : Dinosaur and the Cockroach -- a metaphor for the evolution of politics and leadership approach in Singapore, written at a time when communism was on its death throes and Catholic "activists" were jailed for communist activities. The short story was described as a "political parody". Since then, I have written several short stories. The Lion City is a veiled commentary on gender politics dressed up in the founding legend of Singapura. It begs the question : who benefits from polygamy, and which will make our society stronger : monogamy or polygamy? Sex Lies and Videotape is about sexual relations within a marriage. It begs the question what is the relative merits of nature vs nurture in sexual relations. The Kent Ridge Caper is about gender relationship, and how society tries to calibrate sex into that relationship.

Escape to Temasek and Fall of Singapura are my current passion. I have researched, written and edited this two novels for the past five years. It has spawned a documentary film (Hunt for the Red Lion). And I am still researching other aspects of Singapore history. These two novels rub against the grain of Singapore society. It is a re-interpretation of Singapore history. Most of my friends asked : Are these two novels credible? Were there people in Singapore before Stamford Raffles arrived? Were there Chinese in Singapore at that time? Was the lion really red? Was there really a pirate army? Who attacked Palembang? Was there any connection between the boy hero and the death of a princess? Was she really impaled on a public square? Who attacked Singapura? Was it a Majapahit army or a Tai army? And what happened on Forbidden Hill? To answer these questions, I have compiled two Historical Analysis available on my website (

My message for you, the reader : just sit back and enjoy a good read.

The important point is : Singapore had a history, where none existed before.

Jonathan Lee

Smashwords Interview

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Singapore, the country with FormulaOne Night Race and gleaming office towers, the country who banned chewing gums, the country who dares to pay its prime minister more than what the US President earns. That's where I come from. And it's a fascinating country, because it's a country that believes it has no history. How can a country arise from nothing? I'll come back to this paradox later.

I grew up believing that Singapore history starts with Sir Stamford Raffles looking for location to start a new city. He had great foresight. He is said to have chosen Singapura because of its excellent location. When he first arrived, there was only a small Malay fishing village. From this humble non-beginning, he built it up in less than ten years(!) into a great port. Now of course, I know that this is only a half-truth. It hides more than it discloses.

The problem arises from how we obtained our independence. Flowing from Stamford Raffle's "foresight", Singapura became Singapore, a British colony. Soon thereafter, Singapore became predominantly Chinese with immigrants from all over South Ease Asia and from China. After more than a hundred years, Singapore left the British empire to become a city-state in the Federation of Malaysia. Malay rights was entrenched in the Federation and in its constitution. When Singapore and the Federation did not see eye-to-eye on race relations and race politics, some sections of the Malay polity wanted to send its army into Singapore to force submission to the supremacy of the Malay polity. Thankfully, the Malay King avoided bloodshed by kicking Singapore out of the Malaysia. That was how Singapore became an independent country. But we flew from the frying pan into the fire. Singapore fell into the grip of communist activists supported by Moaist China. It took successive governments another twenty years to stamp out communism. Why is this relevant to me? It's relevance was that I grew up in an era in which the governing strategy was to emphasize our roots in the British led Commonwealth; our reliance on English as the medium of learning, industry and commerce; the closure of Chinese schools and University (to reduce the allure of Moaist thought), and the ginger manner in which we speak of Malay ancestry, Malay rights, and Malay heritage (so as not to offend our bigger and nearest neighbour). Hence, I grew up learning that Singapore history starts with Stanford Raffles and there was hardly anything worth mentioning prior to his arrival.

Imagine my surprise when I chanced upon an old literary Malay text written in the seventeenth century and translated into English in the nineteenth century by John Leydon with a forward by Stamford Raffles. It describes an old world port city called Tamsak, later re-named Temasek, and how it was related to an ancient empire (the Srivijaya Empire around the turn of the first millennium), and traced its rise as a stepping stone to the establishment of something new (the Malacca Kingdom in the fifteenth century). Suddenly, Singapore had a long and colourful history. That was how I fell in love with Singapore and its long and illustrious history.

Escape to Temasek and Fall of Singapura are my current passion. And I hope others will join me in this passion.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest novel is the culmination of one man's search for his own history. It is unusual for any author to talk about history as a "story" behind his story. But by now it is obvious that this is a history that not many have any knowledge of. And in particular, this is a version of history that established history experts may not agree with. Hence, I need to elaborate on this version of history by way of background to the latest novel.

In my preferred version of history, I have to start with AD 1025.

At that time most of South East Asia including Sumatra, Java, Singapore, and Malaysia were Buddhist and the foremost and richest kings were in the Srivijaya Empire. But that was also the time when a Hindu King (India's Chola Dynasty) expanded overseas and conquered much of South Thailand. His successors continued to rule over South Thailand for several generations. By the end of the twelfth century, the Chola Dynasty was in decline. And his prince or general in South Thailand formed his own dynasty. In thirteenth century, this breakaway local King (of Indian origin) invaded the Malay Peninsula and conquered Kedah all the way to Johore. From there he visited Singapore. But Singapore was known as Tamsak at that point in time. Tamsak was a named derived from Sanskrit or Tibetian languages. The name might have been given to this island by Mongolian or Thai occupiers. In any event, by the time this local (Indian) King arrived, the occupiers in Singapore were too weak to oppose this conquering King. After one year, this local (Indian) King returned to South Thailand leaving behind his half Indian child and some of his followers.

Meanwhile, the local (Indian) King weakened Srivijaya so much that in Java, a Singhasari dynasty arose inspired by the Indian Kings. Hence the Singhasari were Hindu as well. By the early thirteenth century, the Srivijaya Empire was so weak that it controlled only three cities : Palembang, Bintan and Tamsak. To exploit this, the Singhasari attacked Palembang and became its overlord. One century later a Mongolian (Yuan Dynasty) army sacked Singhasari. This showed that the Yuan Dynasty was active in South East Asia from an early period. This also explained why Tamsak would have a mixed community of Indian-Chinese-Malay heritage.

After this, a new Hindu Dynasty (the Majapahit) arose in Java. Throughout these unrest, Palembang tried to claim independence. The Majapahit attacked a few times to assert its dominance. And insisted that the Palembang King adopted a Javanese name, and insisted that Tamsak be changed to a Javanese name Temasek.

It was in the midst of these wars, that Sang Nila Utama fled from Palembang to Temasek. This is the famous founding legend of Singapura. This narrative explains why he was a prince and yet did not know the name Temasek. It was either a recent re-naming that slipped his mind, or he was reluctant to use a Javanese name for an island which he would have regarded as his! This would also explained the red lion (spoiler alert : watch the documentary film Hunt for the Red Lion at this link :


By late thirteenth century, we come to one of the most mysterious episode in recorded history. First we have Parameswara, a main character in this novel. The Malays say he was a Malay prince with a Malay king as his father. But the Javanese say he was a Javanese prince and his father had a Javanese name. The Malays say he fled from Palembang to Temasek. But the Javanese say he fled from Majapahit, ie. from Java. The Malays say that Majapahit's attack on Palembang drove Parameswara out. But there is no record of such a successful attack in Javanese sources. At around this time, the official Indonesian list of kings ended with a cryptic note : a Period of Chaos! But Chinese sources say that a Chinese king arose in Jiu Gang (the sea port for Palembang) at this time. Obviously, this is a mysterious time when experts will not be able to agree on what really happened.

To fit all these pieces of puzzle together, I searched the Ming Dynasty Court records. I looked for Indonesian and Javanese and Chinese and Thai websites. And of course, I read the Malay Annals and some other historical Malay literature (or rather the English translations thereof).

So, this is the background to this novel. This is the "story" behind the story. This is the mystery that this novel tries to solve. This novel attempts to postulate how it all happened in a manner that would fit most of the contradictions in the "historical" records. (Spoiler Alert : if I go on further, I will be robbing the reader of the fun of reading this novel).
Read more of this interview.

Where to find Jonathan Lee online


An ancient prince (SNU) stumbled onto an island, saw an animal with red body, black head, and white belly, with the size of a he-goat. When told that this animal was a lion, he named this island Singapura (a Lion City). And this was how Singapore derived its name. But where in the world can you find a lion (or any animal) with such colours? This means that there is more than meets the eye ... watch this investigative documentary film for answers that will surprise even Singaporeans.

Jonathanlee Video
Where does Jonathanlee and his stories come from? This video will give you a glimpse into the thinking behind his stories : Escape to Temasek, Fall of Singapura, Sex Lies and Videotape, Kent Ridge Capers, King's Madness, Dinosaur and Cockroach


The Dinosaur and the Cockroach
Price: Free! Words: 8,160. Language: English. Published: April 2, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Social Issues
Trials and tribulation that points us to social challenges, leadership change and ultimately political development. This is a story about five schoolboys. It is also a story about the health of a Singapore polity.
The King's Madness
Price: Free! Words: 7,550. Language: English. Published: April 2, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Ancient, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
The is an alternative narrative of a little lion cub's notion of justice, equality, love, and ... polygamy.

Jonathan Lee's tag cloud

gender    hierarchy of needs    leadership    lion    lion city    monogamy    pokygamy    politics    singapore    singapura    social   

Jonathan Lee's favorite authors on Smashwords

CJ Tan
Latest book: Occupy Movement Singapore: Three Complete Novels.
Published February 23, 2014.
Cheng D.A
Latest book: End The LightCatcher.
Published April 2, 2013. (5.00 from 2 reviews)
Ryan Teo
Latest book: Ethereal Dimension.
Published April 23, 2016.
Malcolm Torres
Latest book: The Pirate, Part III: Big Daddy.
Published March 25, 2018. (5.00 from 12 reviews)
Mike Bozart
Latest book: Netarts Bay.
Published July 30, 2020.
Andrew Jamieson
Latest book: The Vengeance Path.
Published July 17, 2016.
...and 4 more

Smashwords book reviews by Jonathan Lee

  • Daughter of Sparta: Chapter Eight on July 17, 2016
    (no rating)
    This is great. I enjoyed reading the first 8 chapters. I am looking forward to her next chapters. The hook is the mysterious dream. That keeps me reading to find out more. And I like young Percius' counter-point -- he hates war, and he finds the whipping barbaric. This in contrast to the other men (and even to the main character, Gorgo). Hope to hear from this author on her next chapter soon.
  • Whisky Tango Foxtrot...Copy? on July 22, 2016
    (no rating)
    I was captivated by the breadth of this novel from navy cadet to politics to civil rights demonstrators to government corruption to CIA conspiracies, all seen through the eyes of a bizarre accident-capsize-at-sea survivor. This is the first novel I have read set in Australia and I found the Australian manner of speech and relationships fascinating. After enjoying the novel so much, I found the ending somewhat sudden and shocking. I wish the ending could have more tension, more build-up and more drama so that I can reach a satisfying conclusion to what was a fantastic read.