Now known as Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, the century-old former Sun Yat Sen Villa had changed hands many times in its history. It was built by Boey Chuan Poh 梅春辅 (1874-1926) at Tai Gin Road, off Balestier Road, in the late 19th century. The site was formerly part of a sugar plantation owned by Joseph Balestier (1788-1858), the first United States Consul to Singapore, who had Balestier Road named after him.
Boey Chuan Poh was a prominent businessman as well as the sole proprietor of newspaper Union Times. The house was rumoured to be the residence for his mistress Bin Chan, hence it was nicknamed Bin Chan House. In 1902, the villa was bought by Johor merchant Lim Ah Siang 林亚相 (1853-1917) for $10,800. Also the leader of the Teochew secret society Ngee Heng Kongsi, Lim Ah Siang was the towkay of a vast timber business in Johor and Singapore. Three years later, rubber magnate Teo Eng Hock 张永福 (1872-1957) acquired the villa for his aged mother and renamed it as Wan Qing Yuan 晚晴园.
Chinese nationalist Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) arrived at Singapore in April 1906 to form a local branch of his anti-Qing revolutionary organisation Tung Meng Hui 同盟会, which was massively supported by well-known local businessmen Tan Chor Nam 陈楚南 (1884-1971) and Lim Nee Soon 林义顺 (1879-1936). Teo Eng Hock himself offered the double-storey villa to be used as the Southeast Asian headquarters of Tung Men Hui in fund-raising and planning of the uprisings and battles in China.
The Qing Dynasty finally crumbled under the success of Wuchang Uprising on the 10th October 1911. With the establishment of the new Republic of China, the villa’s revolutionary role was completed. It was then sold in 1912 and had changed hands a dozen times until the late 1930s.
In 1938, Lee Kong Chian (1893-1967), Tan Ean Kiam (1881-1943) and four local businessmen (Chew Hean Swee, Lee Chor Seng, Yeo Kiat Tiow and Lee Chin Tian) purchased the villa as a gift to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), but the place was soon occupied and used as a communication base and Kempeitai branch office by the Japanese forces during the Second World War.
After the war, the Chinese Nationalist Government funded the restoration of the villa as an overseas branch of Kuomintang 国民党. Its operations, however, ceased after the Chinese Communist Party took over China in 1949. The SCCCI took the villa back and gave it an extensive refurbishment between 1964 and 1966, converting it into a museum to commemorate the revolutionary life of Sun Yat Sen. The villa later became well-known as the Sun Yat Sen Villa.
The Singapore government gazetted the villa as a national monument in October 1994. After a $7.5-million renovation, it was reopened to the public in 2001 as Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. In 2011, the development plans of a new hotel and a public park near the villa were announced. The park was named Zhongshan Park in the honour of the Father of the Chinese Revolution and his eight trips to Singapore a century ago.
Published: 12 May 2013
Sun Yet Sen Villa 1970
(Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore)
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