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Wan Qing Yuan

26 Jan 2012: Wan Qing Yuan, Singapore

The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (孙中山南洋纪念), also known as Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园), is a double-storey colonial villa at Balestier in Singapore. The villa is a museum commemorating Dr Sun Yat Sen, who visited Singapore eight times between 1900 and 1911.

The villa was originally named as Bin Chan House (明珍庐).  In 1905, a rubber magnate Teo Eng Hock (张永福, 1871-1958) bought this villa for his aged mother, Mdm Tan Poh Neo (陈宝娘) and renamed the villa as Wan Qing Yuan.

“Wan Qing” was an inspiration drawn from work of famous Tang poet Li Shangying (李商隐). In his poem Wang Qing (《晚晴》), Li wrote: Heaven is compassionate for the remote, quiet grass; just like we treasure the clear, wanning dusk ( “天意怜幽草,人间重晚晴”).

As you entered into Wan Qing Yuan, you are warmly greeted by two wooden panels with engraving of Wang Zhaoming’s (汪兆铭) poem:

遥从南斗望中原

壮志天池欲化鲲

百战故人今健在

白头重话晚晴园

Wang wrote this poem for Teo Eng Hock when he published his memoir, Nanyang and the Founding of the Republic (《南洋与创立民国》) in 1933. This book offers many insights into the relationship between Singapore and the revolutionary career of Dr Sun Yat Sen.

So, how did Dr Sun get acquaintance to Teo Eng Hock, Tan Chor Nam and Lim Nee Soon, his three key supporters in Singapore?

Teo Eng Hock was a fervent supporter of the Chinese Revolution movement to overthrow the Qing dynasty in China. In 1904, the trio founded the revolutionary newspaper, Thoe Lam Jit Poh (图南日报).

When Dr  Sun Yat Sen stumbled upon the Thoe Lam Jit Poh, superscribed with a motto urging Chinese nationals “to relieve themselves of Manchuria’s control in China”, he came eagerly to Singapore to meet them.

Teo Eng Hock offered the villa to Dr Sun Yat Sen as the Singapore branch of the the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance or Tong Meng Hui (同盟会) for his revolutionary activities in February 1906 until the successful Xinhai Revolution in 1911.

On 6 April 1906, Dr Sun started its first Singapore political branch Tong Meng Hui at Wan Qing Yuan with co-founders Tan Chor Nam as chairman, Teo Eng Hock and his nephew Lim Nee Soon as the office bearers. Tong Meng Hui was formed to create awareness of the revolution and garner support from the overseas Chinese people, collect funds to help fight the cause, and assemble volunteers to join in the uprisings.

Wan Qing Yuan was then established as the alliance’s Southeast Asia headquarters. Notably, Teo Eng Hock was the great-granduncle of Singapore’s current Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean.

Sitting at the most right in the above picture was a twenty-two year old young man, Tan Chor Nam (陈楚楠, 1884-1971), who became the leader of Tong Meng Hui.

Second on the left was Mr. Lim Nee Soon (林义顺, 1879 -1936), the nephew of Teo Eng Hock. Educated in Singapore, Lim Nee Soon worked for various organizations before he founded his own company, Lim Nee Soon & Co in 1911. He was one of the pioneers of rubber planting along with Tan Chor Nam and Dr. Lim Boon Keng. His big investments in the pineapple industry won him the nickname “Pineapple King”. A few Singapore villages and roads, such as Nee Soon Village and Nee Soon Road, were named after him. The names were later translated to pinying “Yishun” to be in line with the national use of Mandarin.

But most of all, Lim Nee Soon was always recognized by all Chinese as one of Sun Yat Sen’s best friends, whom he befriended and helped with funds to set the revolutionary forces on the uprising against the Manchu feudal rule in China.

Dr Sun bore many names. He is called Sun Wen (孫文) in China. While at school in Hong Kong, he is known as Yat Sen (逸仙). His most popular name Sun Zhongshan (孫中山) came from Nakayama (中山樵), a Japanese name given to him by Miyazaki Touten (宮崎滔天) who was a Japanese philosopher who aided and supported Sun Yat-sen during the Xinhai Revolution.

But in this Chinese calligraphy given to Teo Beng Wan (张明远, the nephew of Teo Eng Hock), you would notice that Dr Sun always signed off as Sun Wen (孙文) in his calligraphies. Sun Yat Sen often propogated Bo Ai ideal (博爱), which means “universal love” or “love for everyone” as one of the foundations for his idea of Chinese democracy.

Teo Beng Wan was active in fund raising for anti-Japanese movement. It was said that he was arrested by the Japanese during WWII for his anti-Japanese involvement. Teo Beng Wan never returned since.

This was another gift calligraphy for Lim Boon Keng ( 林文慶, 1869 – 1957), who was also known as Meng Qin. To facilitate the education of Straits-Chinese women, he set up the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School together with his friend in 1899. Lim Boon Keng later went into banking and co-founded the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC).

Dr. Sun Yat Sen was born on 12 November 1866 to a Cantonese Hakka family in the village of Cuiheng (翠亨村) in the Guangdong province. Born into a family of farmers, he started herding cows along with other farming duties at age 6 and began schooling only at the age of ten.

Dr Sun learnt his English when he went to live with his elder brother, Sun Mei (孫眉) in Hawaii. In 1883, he was sent home to China as his brother had growing concern that Sun Yat Sen would embrace Christianity. He continued his education in Hong Kong and ultimately earned his license of Christian practice as a medical doctor from the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese.

It was said that in those days the flag of the Republic of China (青天白日滿地紅) was sewn in the Sun Yat Sen Villa by Teo Eng Hock and his wife.

Some believed that Dr Sun’s strong ideology of “the world as a commonwealth shared by all” (天下為公) was derived from Confucian ideas. Others viewed Sun’s revolution similar to the salvation mission of the Christian church in pushing for advancement.

The Manchurians ruled China for 267 years during the Qing dynasty, until the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen overthrew the Manchus and brought about the birth of the Republic of China on 1 January, 1912.

But the victory did not come easily. Dr Sun failed ten times before he suceeded in overthrowing the Qing government during the Wuchang Uprising in 1911. Three of the ten attempted uprisings were planned in Singapore! On 1 Jan 1912, Dr. Sun became the first provisional President of the Republican government.

“The revolution is not yet completed; all my comrades must struggle on!”

Those were his words at his death-bed where Dr Sun encouraged his fellow countrymen before he passed away on 12 March 1925.  Regretfully, Dr Sun did not live to see his party consolidate its power over the country…and we are familar with the rest of the history….

 

What happened to Wan Qing Yuan after the 1911 Chinese Revolution?

Dr Sun visited Singapore eight times to raise funds for his uprisings. He stayed thrice in Wan Qing Yuan. His final visit took place in December 1911 after  the success of the Wuchang Uprising.

Teo Eng Hock’s business declined after the revolution and he had to sell away Wan Qing Yuan. In March 1937, a group of six leading Chinese businessmen in Singapore, including philanthropist Lee Kong Chian bought it back to be preserved as a historical site. The villa was handed over to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the 1950s. The chamber turned it into a place of historical interest in 1965 after a major renovation and was known as Sun Yat Sen Villa.

Many changes swept through the Chinese world as a result of the 1911 Revolution. Among the many changes were impacts on commerce, trade, education and vernacular literature in various parts of the world…

Dr Sun was a staunch believer in education. Hence the members of Tong Meng Hui, such as Teo Eng Hock, Tan Chor Nam, Lim Nee Soon and Tan Kah Kee were all dedicated and passionate about education. They improved the social development of the Chinese communities by championing both female and populace education. Tan Kah Kee even broke through the barriers of various dialect groups to build Hwa Chong (The Chinese High School).

In 1929, Lim Nee Soon complied the membership directory of the Singapore Tong Meng Hui for distribution to all former member as a memento. Today, it is a rare docuement for historical reference.

Engraved on this seal belonging to Tan Chor Lam, are the Chinese characters “结爱国缘” which illustrated his love for his country and fellow men.

Dr Sun Yat Sen‘s revolutionary ideals had far-reaching effects beyond the geographical boundaries of China. The 1911 Revolution clearly impacted on the Chinese community in both Singapore and the region. As you leave the exhibition gallery, you could see huge oil paintings of Dr Sun Yat Sen and his supporters in Malaya.

One of Dr Sun’s major legacies was the creation of his political philosophy called the Three Principles of the People. These included the principle of nationalism (min zu, 民族), of democracy (min quan, 民权 ), and of livelihood (minsheng, 民生)…

As I exited from Wan Qing Yuan, what lingered in my mind is the words left behind by Tan Chor Nam and Teo Eng Hock: (“晚晴园联咏”) …

” Heaven has compassion for the remote, quiet grass,

We are happily bonded under the clear dusk;

The solitary evening is still wonderous.

The once desolute land has transformed into hundreds of Zhi cities,

With blooming flowers and trees,

Where butterflies danced in the wind and moths multiples…

Official website: http://www.wanqingyuan.com.sg/ENG/index.html

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