Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall

The poem which greet visitors upon entry is most thought-provoking. I'm surprised that they put it in such a prominent position.

The poem is penned by then Chinese politician Wang Zhaoming (汪兆铭, alias Wang Jingwei) who headed Nanjing during those messy years, and is branded as a traitor in the annals and in the notes on his burial site in Nanjing. In China, his earlier association with Sun Yat Sen is downplayed because of his later-day collaboration with the Japanese and subsequent deeds.

Of course the interpretation of the poem is your own. I take it literally, of the ideals and momentum of revolution that could be ignited and planned from other countries besides your own, and ummm...fight till the end for a cause you believe in.

Never mind that the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (晚晴园-孙中山南洋纪念馆) in Singapore used to be the headquarters of the historical figure's revolutionary party Tong Meng Hui. While the great wheels of change moved to conjure and enable plans within the headquarters far away from China, Sun Yat Sen stayed at the villa only thrice between 1900 and 1911. Okay. That's very impressive if you're impressed by the proximity of important figures, and like taking photos with them.

I fail to be adequately convinced by the supposedly important links between Sun Yat Sen and modern-day Singapore. (Don't give me the lecture on British colonialism and Chinese loyalty to China then, or how the 1911 revolution pushed Singapore's desire for independence. We rose as a country built from immigrants and settlers, and we will continue as a country fueled by immigrants.) I'm not particularly certain that his political ideals are kinda our political ideals as a nation......All I'm seeing, is the curators' tremendous efforts in drawing the tenuous links between the leading businessmen then and our political leaders now. I'm not liking the tone very much. It's very clear that Singapore was ( treated as an outpost or a remote province of China. There're many many panels of printed information which read like a historical textbook. In fact, walking through half the museum felt like flipping through a really mundane and badly edited history textbook.

The more interesting sets of information are stored on level 2. But the artefacts (beyond the fact that we stood in a circa 1880 refurbished building) seem skimpy. The furniture hold tags that say "Do not touch", but provide no further explanation as to what they might be used for or how it came to be in the house. It's expected that most visitors would find it familiar or know it instantly simply because they aren't supposed to be antique yet. I didn't understand why President Ong Teng Cheong's secondary school certificates would be on display too, amongst the rapid development of Chinese schools then. Most of the displays rely on old photos, an odd pair of green shoes, and a very random but fascinating "letterpress cylinder printing machine". Quite intrigued by the huge paintings that depicted Sun like a holy man. Interesting techniques used, and very modern. I don't know anything about them, but the artworks don't look like they were done in the 1900s. But I couldn't find more information on them at the musuem. DOHH.

I was a little disturbed by the niggling silence, save for one tiny mention of Sun Yat Sen's wife Soong Ching-ling. She was a remarkable woman and was definitely Sun's able assistant. So what if she didn't stay in this villa? We can't discount her contributions to Sun's passionate campaign and her subsequent commitment and conscientious profile to the cause after his death. I enjoyed the visit to her residence in Shanghai. That jaunt is still fresh in my mind. Her memorial residence oozed history and charm, yielding an intimate understanding of the lady. In contrast, this villa museum we've just visited, feels like an out-of-place cold tribute to a man who played an indistinct and indirect role in the birth of the modern republic of Singapore.


Dawn said...

Apparently there were paintings by Tan Swee Hien, Liu Kang and Ong Kim Seng - but the lack of labeling was pretty unforgivable.

imp said...

Dawn: exactly. so it's like, who did which painting, and who did what when?! Grrrrrr.