Sunday, February 20, 2011

#7 Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, 12 Tai Gin Road

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (SYSNMH) is a national monument which was built in the 1880s. It was formerly known as Sun Yat Sen Villa and is also now known as Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园).

In the 1880s, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was reportedly to have been built by a wealthy Cantonese businessman Boey Chuan Poh for his mistress, naming it ‘Bin Chan House’ (Mingzhenlu) after her. Interestingly, the bungalow he bought occupied a site that was also part of a sugar plantation owned by John Balestier, the first American consul appointed to Singapore in 1837. However, it was later sold to Teo Eng Hock in 1905, who was a Straits-born Teochew rubber magnate. Teo intended for his aged mother to spend her sunset years at the bungalow, and thus aptly renamed it Wan Qing Yuan which meant Serene Sunset Garden/Villa.

In support of China’s republican revolutionary movement, he offered the leader, Dr Sun Yat Sen, the bungalow, to be used as the headquarters of Dr Sun’s Chinese Revolutionary Alliance in Southeast Asia. Dr Sun briefly stayed at this house while touring Asia to garner support for the cause, using the villa as a base to plan the overthrow of the 267-year old Machu Qing dynasty which eventually led to the creation of the first Chinese Republic. The bungalow was also where the Tong Meng Hui Nanyang Branch was founded and made as its Southeast Asian quarters. Subsequently, the bungalow became known as the Sun Yat Sen Villa.

In 1942, during World War II, the Japanese used the villa as a communication centre and in 1945, it became the headquarters of the Singapore Branch of the Kuomintang. In 1951, after the end of Kuomintang activities in Singapore, the villa was handed over to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to manage. Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was restored in 1965, and turned into a Library and Museum. In 1966, on the centenary of Dr Sun's birthday, the villa was opened to the public. In 1999, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was closed for refurbishment. A fully restored and enlarged villa, complete with a memorial hall detailing the life of Dr Sun Yat Sen, re-opened in November 2001 on the 135th anniversary of the famed revolutionary's birth.

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall is a beautiful two-storey Victorian villa with open verandahs at the front and sides. In front of the building, in the centre of the garden, is a seated statue of Sun Yat Sen, the leader of China's nationalist movement, measuring 3.5 metres tall and weighing 16000 kilograms. It is now a museum which displays items pertaining to Dr Sun’s life and work. A magnificent 60m-long bronze relief depicting the defining moments in Singapore's history runs the length of one wall in the garden.

A heritage institution under the National Heritage Board, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall reflects the role Singapore played in modern Chinese history by tracing Dr Sun’s revolutionary activities in the Southeast Asian region, highlighting the impact of the 1911 Chinese Revolution on Singapore as well as Singapore’s contributions to the Revolution.

When our group was on site, it was disappointing that the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was closed for a major revamp and is only scheduled to re-open to the public in October 2011. The renovation works will focus mainly on the creation of new galleries, the development of new exhibits as well as landscaping works to the SYSNMH compound. Even though we could only take photos from outside the locked gates of the memorial hall, Carmen desperately wanted to break in to take photos! After all, there was no one and it sort of looks like a forsaken villa and there was no apparent renovation works.

Nevertheless, t’s heartening to know that our heritage is preserved even at an age when change is a constant.


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