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The death of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father, offers an occasion to reflect on his legacy — and, perhaps more importantly, on whether that legacy has been correctly understood.

During his 31 years as prime minister, Lee crafted a unique system of government, intricately balancing authoritarianism with democracy and state capitalism with the free market. Known as “the Singapore model,” Lee’s brand of governance is often mischaracterized as a one-party dictatorship superimposed on a free-market economy. His success in transforming Singapore into a prosperous city-state is frequently invoked by authoritarian rulers as justification for their tight control of society — and nowhere more so than in China.

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