Retracing the Footsteps Of Sun Yat-sen

 

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Wan Qing Yuan sits quietly amid coconut palms on the Singapore outskirts.

 

By Yu Yichun, Sun Qi

Born in 1866, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, also known as Sun Zhongshan, was the great pioneer of China’s democratic revolution in the early 20th century. He was instrumental in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and establishing the first modern republic in Asia. Prior to his successful revolution, Sun traveled around Nanyang, an old Chinese name for Southeast Asia, as he worked to drum up support for the nationalist movement in China.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth. Stories about Sun and his revolutionary activities are widely read and still remembered by Chinese both within China and abroad.

Singapore a Base for Revolution

Differing from some popular tourism destinations in bustling urban Singapore like Sentosa Island or Chinatown, the Sun Yat-sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (SYSNMH), known to many as Wan Qing Yuan, sits quietly in the city outskirts amid coconut palms. It was in this villa that Sun Yatsen planned some of his revolutionary activities in the early 20th century.

Singapore was the nerve center of Sun’s revolutionary movement in the Nanyang region. He visited Singapore several times to organize supporters and resources that would allow him to launch his revolution. Teo Eng Hock, a Chinese community leader in Singapore, offered the Wan Qing Yuan villa to Sun as his residence. The villa also served as headquarters of Sun’s Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolution Alliance) in Nanyang, assuming a pivotal role in spreading his revolutionary ideals throughout the region.

Built in the 19th century, Wan Qing Yuan is now open to the public as the Sun Yat-sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, which pays tribute to the vital role played by Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries in the 1911 Revolution, and sheds light on the lesser-known details of the Nanyang Chinese community’s contribution to the Revolution.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen, a special exhibition titled “One Night in Wuchang: the 1911 Revolution and Nanyang” was launched at the SYSNMH on Nov. 5, 2016. Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security of Singapore, and Chen Xiaodong, the Chinese Ambassador to Singapore, attended the opening ceremony.

Jointly organized by the SYSNMH and the Museum of the Wuchang Uprising of the 1911 Revolution in Wuhan, China, the exhibition traces the story of the Wuchang Uprising, which marked the beginning of the 1911 Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, and highlights the impact and influences of the Revolution on China and overseas Chinese communities.

“Wan Qing Yuan demonstrates an important historical link between Singapore and the global Chinese population,” Teo said at the opening ceremony.

The SYSNMH is located at 12 Tai Gin Road, Singapore. After one year’s renovation, the museum reopened to the public in October 2011 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution. The revamped Memorial Hall features a new storyline and updated galleries that introduce Dr. Sun’s revolutionary activities, and highlights Nanyang as a base for the Revolution as well as Singapore’s contributions to Sun’s revolutionary movement.

“From this exhibition, I learned that the overseas Chinese offered tremendous help to the 1911 Revolution,” a Singaporean artist of Chinese origin remarked. “It helped me gain a better understanding of Sun Yat-sen’s contribution to the founding of modern China.”

An attending student from Singapore River Valley High School was also impressed with the exhibition.

“I attended a class about the 1911 Revolution in school and got a deeper understanding of that history after visiting the museum,” the student said.

A local history teacher explained: “It is good for our students to learn more about Sun Yat-sen and his indomitable spirit. Textbooks don’t provide many detailed facts about the Revolution, and the exhibition gives students easy access to knowledge.”

 

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Dr. Sun Yat Sen and colleagues at the headquarters of the Tongmenghui in Singapore in the early 20th century.

 

Speech Street in Thailand

While many cities in the world have named one of their streets “Zhongshan Street” in commemoration of Sun Yat-sen, there is a Speech Street in Bangkok’s Chinatown, Thailand, which commemorates him in a different way. It was on this street that Sun gave a speech claiming that overseas Chinese were “the Mother of the Revolution”. In fact, Sun left behind traces in many places in Bangkok.

Walking westward along the Yaowarat Road, home to Bangkok’s Chinatown, to the Cathay Theater before turning south, you will find a bustling street about 100 meters in length. Despite its Thai name, the street is commonly referred to as Speech Street by local residents. It is brimming with shops both large and small, and crowds come and go from dawn till midnight. Nowadays the historical buildings have gone, but a plaque reading “Speech Site of Sun Yat-sen” in Chinese remains on the street.

It is only a few minutes’ walk from Speech Street to Ratchawong Pier along the Chao Phraya, a major river flowing through the capital city of Thailand. Hundreds of years ago Bangkok was developed along the riverbank into an economic center with a busy network of river transportation.

In 1903, Dr. Sun made a secret trip to Bangkok in which he sought funds for his cause in Southeast Asia. His loyal followers published newspapers, providing invaluable support to the dissemination of his revolutionary principles and ideals in Thailand.

During a one-month visit to Thailand in 1907, Sun set up the Siam head office of the Tongmenghui and established an organization designed to unite the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia.

Jitti Tangsithphakdi, president of the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said that the perseverance and fearless spirit of Sun Yat-sen should be inherited and carried forward. Kampol Srethbhakdi, president of the Thai Alumni Association of China’s Universities, pointed out that celebrating the 150th anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth is of great significance to the contemporary world, and that the best way to commemorate him is to promote his humanitarian spirit.

George Town is the capital city of Penang, a Malaysian state located on the northern end of the Strait of Malacca. Dr. Sun made several trips to the city in the early 20th century, and relocated the headquarters of Tongmenghui in Nanyang from Singapore to George Town. At present, countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are making efforts to combine the research of the 1911 Revolution with the protection of historic sites and the development of tourism, giving Dr. Sun and his contributions more universal meaning worldwide.

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