The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall also known as Wan Qing Yuan served as the home and headquarters of Sun’s revolutionary activities in Southeast Asia. Sun who visited Singapore eight times between 1900 and 1911 stayed at the villa on three occasions.
Originally called Bin Chang House, it was built by a businessman Boey Chuan Poh in the 1880s for his mistress called Bin Chang. In 1905, the villa was bought by rubber magnate Teo Eng Hock – great granduncle of Singapore Minister Teo Chee Heng – for his aged mother, Mdm Tan Poh Neo to enjoy her later years in peace and tranquillity. Teo was a keen supporter of the Nationalist cause in China and offered the place to Sun as the Southeast Asian Headquarters of his revolutionary movement, Tong Meng Hui from February 1906. After the fall of Qing Dynasty in 1911, Teo who was having business setback during the depression sold off the villa. In 1937, the villa was bought by a group of six leading businessmen (Lee Kong Chian, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Hean Swee, Lee Chor Seng, Yeo Kiat Tiow and Lee Chin Tian) who then donated it to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) to be preserved. During the Japanese occupation, the villa was used by the dreaded military police Kempeitai as a communication hub. After the war, SCCCI converted the villa into a museum called Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, exhibiting artifacts belonging Sun and local revolutionaries. The memorial hall epitomises the contributions of the local Chinese to the revolutionary movement in China.
Interesting sights in the courtyard
There are a few interesting sights in the villa courtyard. There is a living testimony just beside the main gate (near to the cross junction between Ah Hood Road and Tai Gin Road) to the revolutionary activities that happened in the villa. It is a hundred year old Angsana tree (Susan Tsang, Edward Hendricks, 2007, Discover Singapore: the city’s history & culture redefined, Marshall Cavendish) which is believed to be around even before Sun’s arrival in Singapore. This tree was dubbed the “Tree of the Martyrs”. Just beside the tree is a stone plaque with calligraphy written by Wang Daohan – former president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits – to name the tree.
There is also a fruit tree beside the gate for vehicles. The fruits bear by the tree is Heart balata which is one of the Sun’s favourite tropical fruits. The fruit is called “Ren Xin Guo” in Chinese which literally means “benevolence fruit” in English. Just beside the tree is a stone plaque with calligraphy written by Koo Chen-fu – former president of the Straits Exchange Foundation – to name the tree.
Both Wang Daohan and Koo Chen-fu were the chief negotiators representing China and Taiwan respectively during the Wang-Koo summit, an attempt to improve cross-straits relationship, in Singapore in 1993.
Interestingly China the big brother penned for the bigger tree “Tree of the Martyrs” while Taiwan, the smaller brother penned for the smaller tree “Ren Xin Guo”
Teo Eng Hock (1872 – 1959) and Tan Chor Nam (1884 – 1971) were avid supporters of Sun Yat Sen’s revolutionary campaign in South East Asia. Teo Eng Hock. On 6 April 1906, during Sun’s two-week stay in Singapore, he formed a local branch of the T’ung Meng Hui (“Chinese Revolutionary League”) with co-founders Tan Chor Nam as chairman, and Teo Eng Hock and his nephew Lim Nee Soon as office bearers.
In the above picture, Tan was photographed with a shaved forehead and pigtail. It was believed that he wore it out of respect to his parents’ wishes and he cut it off in later years. To find out more about the life of Tan Chor Nam, please visit: http://mymindisrojak.blogspot.com/2012/01/tan-chor-lam-bukit-brown.html.
The above group photograph show Sun Yat Sen and local Tong Meng Hui members at Wan Qing Yuan several days after the alliance had been formed.
Lim Boon Keng had been initially associated with the Chinese Reformists (pro-imperial faction). However, he joined the Singapore branch of the Revolutionary Alliance subsequently and became close friends with Sun.
The Xinhai Revolution* named for the Chinese year of Xinhai (1911), was the overthrow of China’s ruling Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. The Xinhai Revolution began with the armed Wuchang Uprising and the spread of republican insurrection through the southern provinces, and culminated in the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor (Puyi) in 1912. Interestingly Wuchang Uprising which is the single most important uprising in overthrowing Qing dynasty was not organised by Sun. Sun himself had no direct part in the uprising and was travelling in the United States at the time in an effort to recruit more support from among overseas Chinese. Sun only knew about the uprising from a newspaper report. Before Wuchang Uprising, there were numerous uprisings organised by different rebellious groups (other than Sun’s Tong Meng Hui) in different parts of China. Sun himself had previously organised and coordinated 10 failed uprisings between 1895 and 1911. On December 29, 1911 Sun Yat-sen was elected as the first provisional president. January 1, 1912 was set as the first day of the First Year of the Republic of China.
*The Xinhai Revolution (????) also known as 1911 Revolution or Chinese Revolution was a revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644–1912), and established the Republic of China. The revolution consisted of many revolts and uprisings, the most important of which is the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911 which led to a declaration of independence from the Qing government by Wuchang. Wuchang Uprising is considered as the turning point in the revolution as its success triggered a series of successful revolts throughout China which led to the abdication of last Qing Emperor Puyi on February 12, 1912. Previous revolts either failed miserably or only enjoyed temporary success before being overrun by Qing forces again. To sum up, Wuchang Uprising refers to a single historical event that took place at a specfic place and time whereas Xinhai Revolution refers to the series of revolts and uprising that led to the establishment of Chinese Republic on January 1, 1912.
How to get there
From Toa Payoh MRT Station, walk towards Toa Payoh Town Park, and cross the overhead bridge next to Toa Payoh Sports Complex, walk along Ah Hood Road and turn right on Tai Gin Road.