Below is the direct transcript for the tour of Sun Yat Sen Memorial Villa:
Sun Yat San Nanyang Memorial Villa is a museum dedicated to the history of the overseas Chinese revolutionary efforts. The history of Sun Yat Sen Hall is intricately linked with the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, which was a revolution led by Sun Yat Sen against the Qing government in China. Today, we will explore the history of China, understand the intricate connection between China, and overseas Chinese communities like that in Singapore, and admire the amazing architecture of this bungalow.
Today, we will explore the first two galleries of the villa in detail, and focus on the history of the 1911 revolution. This villa still contains many other displays regarding the ethnic Chinese in Singapore, though we will only be glossing over them in this tour.
Hi I’m Yilun. Thanks for downloading this episode of Yilun Audio Tours. This podcast offers reviews, tours, news and commentaries about Singapore. Traveling through Singapore just got easier.
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Disclaimer and warning:
This audio guide is designed accompany you while you visit the location. Use this guide with discretion. Always be prepared for renovations and the shifting of artifacts. Most importantly, be flexible. Ask a local for directions. Singaporeans speak English as our native language.
Guide to the location:
Sun Yat Sen Villa is situated at 12 Tai Gin Road. Toa Payoh station is the closest MRT station, and is a 15 minutes walk away. Check out the map on our website for detailed directions.
The tour begins.
Stand on the lawn in front of the villa, as I describe to you the architecture of the building. The villa is a classic Chinese colonial bungalow, an amalgamation of various Western and Asian architectural styles. The gates surrounding the perimeter of the building are in the Victorian style. The roof of the building, is however built in the Straits Chinese eclectic style, as illustrated by the orange V-profile clay tiles and the prominent roof ridges. You may have seen similar roofs on old Chinese shophouses in places like Chinatown. However, there are also elements of neoclassical architecture, specifically the arched front entrance and corinthian pillars on the balcony there. Well, there are basically 3 orders in Classical architecture, much like different keys in western music. They are doric, ionic and Corinthian respectively. The proportions of the columns and the decorations located on the columns distinguish these orders. The corinthian pillars are defined by their fluted columns -that is, the grooves along the pillar columns- and the elaborate decorations at the top and base of the pillars.
Enter the villa once you have finished appreciating the architecture of the building.
I will join you once you enter the villa. Pause it now, and resume it when you are in the foyer.
If you are a foreigner, the entrance price would be 4 dollars for adults, and 2 dollars for children. However, if you are a local resident, just show your pass, and you will be granted free admission.
You are now standing in the foyer of the villa. Orientate yourself. To your front is the ticketing counter, to your left is a small room with various pictures of the villa throughout the various stages of its existence, and to your right is a giant photograph, and the entrance to the museum. Walk to the small room on your left, and I will tell you more about the villa.
This villa was bought in 1905 by Teo Eng Hock, the great grandfather of Singapore’s current Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean. Teo Eng Hock bought the villa for his elderly mother for her retirement, and renamed the building 晚晴园, which translates to ‘Serene Sunset Garden’. It is between the period of 1905 and 1911 that the villa played its pivotal role in the Chinese revolution. This time period is also what we will focus on for this tour.
After the 1911 revolution, Teo Eng Hock sold the villa to an Indian merchant in 1912, as his business had declined, and since the location had lost much of its value for the Chinese revolutionaries. Wan Qing Yuan changed ownership another 11 times between 1914 and 1925. In 1937, a group of six famous merchant-philanthropists purchased the villa and donated it to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) to be preserved as a historical site. However, in 1942, Wan Qing Yuan fell to the Japanese invaders and again fell into a state of disrepair, and its artefacts were destroyed. It was used as their communications hub. After the war, the Nationalist Government renovated the building and used it as the headquarters for its Singapore branch. In 1951, the local government prohibited Kuomintang activities in Singapore, and the SCCCI took on the management of the villa. By 1965, the building had been restored and turned into a library and museum, where the life of Sun was traced in photos and watercolours. Deemed worthy of preservation for its historical and architectural significance, the building was gazetted as a national monument in 1994. The National Heritage Board took over the management of the villa in 2009. The building was closed again in October 2010 and re-opened on 8 October 2011 following a S$5.6-million revamp funded jointly by the Singapore government and the villa’s owner, the SCCCI. The makeover included a redesign of the interior and a complete overhaul of the exhibition content, which was curated with the help of a team from the National Museum.
Enter the exhibition hall 1. Around you are artifacts from Teo Eng Hock’s life. These include photos, letters, books and other personal items that Teo Eng Hock and his family once used. Teo Eng Hock was a wealthy rubber merchant, and he bought this house for his aging mother. Teo was also a revolutionary, and was in contact with many revolutionaries back in China. Soon after his purchase of the villa, Teo met with Sun Yat Sen, the legendary father of modern Republic of China, which predated the current Communist People’s Republic of China. Teo soon became close acquaintance with Sun, due to their share passions and common goals. Teo soon offered Sun the right to use the villa, and this was when the villa became a key point in the 1911 revolution that overthrew the feudal monarchical rule of China.
Wander around this space while I tell you more about the state China was in pre-1911.
After centuries of oppressive feudal rule, China was at the verge of self-disintegration. The Qing government was highly corrupt, and the Chinese peasants were poor and hungry. The emperor was a 2 year old small boy, Pu Yi, who had no real control of the nation. China also suffered a series of humiliating losses to the Western powers, including the looting of the Summer palace in Beijing by the Eight Nations alliance forces, including countries like Britian and France, and the various land concessions made to Western powers.
Walk towards a block print on the right wall that is labeled as a block print of the boxer revolution.
Here we see a block print of a document regarding the Boxer Revolution. By the turn of the 20th century, China was home to major Western powers, with each of these countries owning a significant share in the economy of China. These Western powers exploited the Chinese people as a cheap labour force, much to the hate of the locals. This led to the outbreak of the Boxer revolution, an anti-Imperialist revolt by the Chinese citizens against the exploitations of the Western powers. The revolters looted many Western enterprises, and murdered any foreigners they saw on the streets. An Eight-Nation Alliance -which comprised Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States- saw this as an excuse to invade China. After a humiliating defeat, China was forced to sign numerous unequal treatise with these countries and ceded much territory to them. For example, China ceded Hong Kong to the British for a lease of over 150 years. Chinese from both the mainland and overseas were enraged by these political developments and abhorred the weakness and corruption of the Qing government, which had allowed such developments to take place. They viewed this as a form of humiliation. They thus supported the revolutionary movement against the Qing government.
We will walk deeper into the gallery and proceed up the flight of stairs.
We follow the sign on the opposite wall which says gallery continues here.
Find the display that details the various trips Sun Yat Sen made to Singapore. Sun Yat Sen transversed the globe to drum up support for the revolution, and Singapore was one of the key destinations. As you can see, Sun lodged at this villa multiple times while he was in Singapore, and conducted many key meetings in which the future of China was decided. But the villa served a much more essential role than just a mere traveler’s inn for Sun. This villa was the headquarters of the South East Asian chapter of the Tong Men Hui, or the Revolutionary Alliance. I will touch on that later.
Right now, walk on and proceed to the next gallery.
In this room, you see a wall displaying the various key local Singaporean personalities that played a large part in the revolution. On the opposite wall, you see a projection of a slide show of various key landmarks in colonial Singapore.
We must remember that in the early 1900s, Singapore was still very much considered a place to work and trade at, rather than an actual place to settle down and live permanently. Having little history prior to British colonialism, Singapore was not a place where one could identify with nationalistically. One’s identity was predominantly determined by his ethnicity. The Straits Chinese thus identified nationalistically with their ethnic homeland, China. They were outraged by the corruption and failures of the ruling Qing government and thus fervently supported the Chinese revolutionaries. In other words, the 1911 Revolution became a prominent rallying point for the Straits Chinese, in part due to Sun Yat Sen’s efforts to spread the revolutionary fervour in South-East Asia to gain more support for the revolution. Wan Qing Yuan, the headquarters of the Chinese Revolutionaries in Southeast Asia, is thus historically significant to Singapore as a powerful symbol of the ethnic roots and former nationalistic spirit of its Chinese community.
These Chinese revolutionaries were Western-educated, and their ideals were influenced by Western values, but they nevertheless retained a Chinese value and cultural outlook. The 1911 revolution was a revolution that sought to introduce Western ideology, such as democracy, into China, and use Western technology and systems to improve the country. Many of the Singaporean Chinese shared similar characteristics, having come from a Chinese background while being governed by a Western power. It was no wonder that the revolution gained such support in Singapore.
Along the wall were many of the key figures in Singapore that contributed to the revolution. Many of them belong to this class of western educated, wealthy businessmen who wanted to save China, their homeland.
Afterwards, walk out of the room, and enter the next room, which has a pair of glass doors leading to the veranda.
This timeline here shows the events occurring simultaneously in Singapore, China and Japan before the revolution occurred. Some key events to take note of are the First and Second Opium Wars which culminated in the British invasion of Hong Kong and China losing First Sino Japanese War, which led to the Japanese occupation of Korea. I will tell you a little more about the opium wars. China has long been an exporter of silk and tea to the Western nations, like Britain. These commodities commanded great prices, and the west was willing to pay high prices for them. The Western nations, on the other hand, had little to trade with China. To make up for this, Britain started to manufacture opium from poppy plants planted in colonial India, and sold them to China. Opium was a addictive drug. This created a huge demand of opium in China, and Britain was able to trade tea and silk with opium. However, opium also resulted in great social ills, much like drugs in contemporary times. Therefore, local officials from China decided to ban opium, and hence incurred the wrath of the British. Within a short while, the British sent in troops and defeated the China officials, forcing them to lift the ban on opium. On top of that, the British also demanded the soverign rights of Hong Kong, as part of a concession that China had to make. Both of these events brought about significant impact as they stirred up anti-Qing sentiment and resulted in revolutionary efforts.
Walk on and enter a recreation of the room that once existed in this villa. On the table are a few copies of the Revolutionary Newspaper.
This villa was the bloodline of the revolution in South East Asia. Local Chinese rallied around the revolutionary alliance, or Tong Men Hui. In turn, the Tong Men Hui created much propaganda that exposed the situation in China to the Chinese here, and helped fuel the desire for a revolution. Knowledge is power, and hence through the newspapers like the one you see on the table, the Revolutionary Alliance sought to disseminate knowledge of the revolution to gain support. Slowly and surely, the alliance flourished into a network of connections, and vast membership circles and passionate members. Walk towards the wall and you will see a list of locations Sun Yat Sen visited to set up local branches of the Revolutionary Alliance in. Singapore, Jakatar, Malacca, were just some of the many places where this revolutionary network reached. The diaspora of Chinese worldwide had literally created a network of overseas Chinese that rallied and funded the revolutionary efforts Sun was championing. Singapore was the heart of the South East Asian network of revolutionaries.
Enter into the inner room where a single bulb hangs. This room commemorates the various martyrs that sacrificed their lives in the process of the revolution. Like a moth that burns itself when it approaches an oil lamp, these revolutionaries sacrificed their own lives to ensure the success of a revolution in their homeland. These overseas chinese could very well not have cared about their motherland, and be contented with their new homes like Singapore. However, their affinity for their motherland runs deep, and they were willing to lose every to ensure the freedom of their homeland.
Now, move away from this room and enter Gallery 3, which is marked by a ramp leading to a wall of newspaper cutouts.
On the walls of the passageway are panels that detail the key events of the 1911 revolution. I will take some time to run through them. The revolution arose mainly in response to the decline of the Qing state, which had proven ineffective in its efforts to modernize China and confront new challenges presented by foreign powers, and was exacerbated by ethnic resentment against the ruling Manchu minority. Many underground anti-Qing groups, with the support of Chinese revolutionaries in exile, tried to overthrow the Qing.
With all this pent up frustration, it was only a matter of time before the Qing monarchy was removed. On an early morning in October 10, 1911, in a small town of Wuchang, Hubei, China, a group of revolutionaries were planning an uprising. However, out of a sudden, a bomb blast shattered the quiet of the neighbourhood. One of the bombs the revolutionaries prepared had just went off. This explosion gave away the identitity of the revolutionaries to the local Qing government officials. Facing arrest, and certain execution, the revolutionaries had no choice but to stage a coup. The coup of successful, and this served as the trigger point for a series of revolutions all over China, that ultimately led to the fall of the Qing government.
Witness the jubilation of the world as the wall of newspaper cutouts in front of you highlights the joy and congratulation the world offered to China.
Move on and stand infront of the timeline that traces the events after the 1911 revolution to the time that Sun Yat Sen passed away.
China, even after this 1911 revolution, was still split among the various warlords, with each warlord controlling a significant portion of China. Among them was a highly influential warlord, Yuan Shikai, who happened to control Beijing, the nation’s ex-capital. Sun saw Yuan Shikai as a powerful man capable of uniting the different warlords of China, and hence gave up his presidency for Yuan. Instead of establishing a democratic government, Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor, but only managed to hold onto the throne for 90 days before being removed.
Sun Yat Sen saw this chaos, and was determined to restore stability of China. Sun rose up once again and established a stable KMT government in Nanjing, which lasted well after Sun’s death.
Within these few display cases you will find badges and posters commemorating the successful uprising and overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty. Common motifs amongst these objects would be the “white sun in the blue sky”, or Sun Yat Sen’s face.
Sun’s death marks the end of this chapter of China’s history. It also marks the end of this segment of our tour.
We have just walked through 30 tumultuous years of China’s history. The villa, aside from being a physical representation and a standing reminder of Dr Sun’s impact on Singapore during that period, also demonstrates an important historical link between Singapore and the global Chinese population through Dr Sun Yat Sen. This link was established through his concerted effort to spread the revolutionary message to the overseas Chinese population, such as those living in Southeast Asia. It was as a base for Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s revolutionary movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty for the establishment of a modern republic, and hence reflects the huge historical currents of the early 1900s in China. The importance of the villa cannot be overlooked when examining the Chinese revolution, hence it is of utmost importance that such an important historical monument be conserved and protected as a monument.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s tour of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang memorial villa. We’ve strolled through China’s revolutionary history, explored this building’s architectural features, and learnt about the Singapore Overseas Chinese Community of the 1900s.
In the following galleries, there will be a series of displays detailing the development of the Chinese community in Singapore. This begins in the next hall, where the education efforts of the local Chinese are traced. The Chinese community, in the early 1900s, pulled together their resources and established many schools targeted at the children of the Chinese immigrants. They include schools like Tao Nan, Hwa Chong, Ai Tong, which are all top schools presently. There will also be an interactive display where textbooks from that era are presented. Be sure to check that out, and learn about the type of lessons these children had just over a 100 years ago. The following hall traces the business and the economy of the Chinese community. Many Chinese are well-established businessmen and own wealthy enterprises that propped up the economy of colonial Singapore. They owned plantations, banks, printing companies, and just about every other business. The Chinese prospered. But not for long. In the black alcove in exhibition hall 4, you can see the details of the Sook Ching operations that plagued the Chinese community. When the Japanese invaded Singapore, they saw the local Chinese as potential enemies, and hence conducted the Sook Ching operation, which literally means Operation Eliminate Chinese. This operation resulted in the disappearance and death of hundreds of local Chinese.
After that, you will see a giant wall to ceiling oil painting that depicts Sun Yat Sen’s efforts in rallying the population of Singapore. Stand in front of the oversized oil paint and ponder about what you saw today. The chinese community in Singapore used to be a highly distinct and exclusive community, with acquaintances limited to people from the same hometown. However, as Singapore progressed and became our own nation, our society merged and the boundaries between the different races dissolved, creating a uniquely Singapore social fabric. Once the Chinese in Singapore saw China as their hometown, now, the Chinese in Singapore see no other place than Singapore as their hometown.
After visiting the monument, you may want to hang along the Balestier Road and try out some of the many amazing local food stores.
I hope you have enjoyed this tour. For shownotes, a transcript of this tour, or travel directions, visit yiluntours.wordpress.com Also, subscribe to this show on itunes, and leave a review while you are there. Help to spread the word, tell your friends about this show! Thanks.