Friday, October 22, 2010

Sun Yat Sen, a S'pore icon? Hardly

by Eugene K B Tan

Today Online 05:55 AM Oct 22, 2010

Earlier this month, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was closed for redevelopment work. It is scheduled to be reopened on Oct 8 next year to commemorate the Chinese Revolution's centenary. One objective of the redevelopment work, according to the National Heritage Board, is to "showcase the modernisation of the Singaporean Chinese community as inspired by the spirit and values of the 1911 Chinese Revolution".

An old villa off Balestier Road, the Hall occupies an unusual place in Singapore's historiography. Between 1900 and 1911, Dr Sun Yat Sen - revered as the "founder of modern China" and "father of the nation" in China and Taiwan, respectively - used it as his temporary headquarters in South-east Asia for his revolutionary cause. He also stayed there when he visited Singapore.

Prior to 1994, Singapore had refused to gazette the villa as a national monument. It was regarded as having nothing to do with independent Singapore. In November 2001, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then the Senior Minister, opened the Hall in conjunction with Dr Sun's birthday and the 90th anniversary of the Chinese revolution.

Since then, Dr Sun and the Chinese Revolution of 1911 have apparently been incorporated into Singapore's independence story. Singapore's nationalism is now identified as drawing inspiration from the 1911 revolution.

In this narrative, the ethnic Chinese then living in Singapore are portrayed as having shaped and contributed to the nationalism of the diasporic Chinese, as well as Singapore's. In his 1912 inauguration as the provisional President of the Republic of China, Dr Sun described the overseas Chinese as the "Mother of the Revolution" and paid tribute to their contributions in the overthrow of the monarchy in China.

In 2000, then-Minister for Trade and Industry George Yeo noted: "The 1911 revolution contributed to Singapore's anti-colonial movement and, later, independence ... the Chinese nationalism awakened by Dr Sun provided a lot of energy for Singapore's nationalism. The Hall is a testament to the historical contributions our forefathers made to that important revolution, not only with money but also with their blood and their lives."

In 2001, Mr Yeo said: "Singaporeans played a significant role in the Chinese Revolution of 1911, which was not only a political revolution but also a cultural revolution which changed the way Chinese all over the world saw themselves."


While this revised historiography does not exclude the contributions of non-Chinese to Singapore's nationalism and independence, the claim to lineage to Chinese nationalism is nonetheless a quantum leap whose resonance is uncertain and which is likely to be contested.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Chinese sojourners here did not think of themselves as "Singaporeans"; the Singapore nation-state was also non-existent.

Couching the origins of Singapore's nationalism as part of a longer and revolutionary movement, in terms of time, ideas and race, is problematic.

The elevation of Dr Sun and his ideas stands in contrast to the case of two prominent World War II figures who physically fought for Singapore against aggressors, and who would, therefore, arguably have more direct relevance to Singapore nationalism than Dr Sun's inchoate diasporic nationalism.

Major-General Lim Bo Seng and Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, two local courageous fighters during the Japanese Occupation, are not recognised as national heroes, although they are remembered as military heroes. According to former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, they were "defending Singapore for the British, not independent Singapore".

Yet compared to Dr Sun, the pair figure more vividly in the popular memory. For instance, Lt Adnan's role, and that of the Malay Regiment, is memorialised at the Reflections at Bukit Chandu, a World War II interpretative centre managed by the National Archives of Singapore.
By contrast, one would be hard-pressed to find recognition for Dr Sun's supposed legacy to Singapore nationalism within the Chinese-Singaporean community - much less among non-Chinese Singaporeans.

The modern nation-state, as scholar Benedict Anderson suggests, tends to project its history back to a geographic and cultural entity with a long past. This desire for lineage with Chinese revolutionary nationalism reflects Singapore's restless search for a national past that is inspiring, given that independence was thrust upon us.

Singapore's independence received, and continues to have, broad-based multi-racial support. Thus, to segment the origins of this collective memory and to elevate the role of Dr Sun and the Chinese Revolution is arguably an "invented tradition".

Our national discourse needs to be more multi-racial and cross-cutting in its appeal and resonance. A sojourning fundraiser in Singapore, Dr Sun appealed to the diasporic - not Singaporean - identity of the Chinese then living here. Are we unwittingly overemphasising the role of the ethnic Chinese in Singapore's path to nationhood?

The writer is assistant professor of law at the School of Law, Singapore Management University.

[Mr Tan is right to question the role and relevance of Dr Sun Yat Sun in Singapore's history. Dr Sun may have stopped over here to raise funds, and plan his moves, but these moves had nothing to do with Singapore as a state, an ideal, or as a people or nation. His focus was (rightly) the establishment of the Chinese Nation. To retroactively give him a role in Singapore's history is plain wrong.

Oct 25, 2010
Conference to mark Sun Yat Sen centenary

Other events lined up for year 2011 highlight his ties with Singapore

By Leong Weng Kam, Senior Writer

THE centenary of the 1911 Chinese Revolution may be a year away, but academics and the Chinese community here are coming together to mark the event with an international conference starting today.

The conference is one of a series of activities lined up this year and next year to mark the revolution and the role played by Dr Sun Yat Sen in ending 267 years of Qing dynasty rule in China.

The conference, in English and Chinese, will see leading local and overseas experts present 30 papers on Dr Sun and the revolution.

Titled 'Sun Yat Sen, Nanyang and the 1911 Chinese Revolution', it is organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), the Chinese Heritage Centre (CHC) and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

The papers, many focusing on the impact the revolution had on South-east Asian countries, will be discussed during the two-day conference.

Professor Wang Gungwu, chairman of Iseas' Board of Trustees, will also deliver a keynote address to 200 participants.

CHC director and the event's co-organiser Leo Suryadinata said the conference's proceedings will be published as a book later.

'We are planning to hold another conference on the same subject when we launch the book, probably in October next year,' said Professor Suryadinata who is presenting a paper in Chinese on the revolution and its influence on the Chinese and nationalism in Indonesia.

Academics here and Chinese community leaders have been looking forward to the Chinese revolution's centenary celebrations since Foreign Minister George Yeo noted its importance and its links to Singapore about a decade ago.

In remarks in 2000, a year before the opening of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in Balestier, the then-trade and industry minister had said:

'Singapore played a much bigger role in the 1911 Chinese Revolution than either Hong Kong or Taiwan. The sad thing is, not many Singaporeans know about it.'

Between 1900 and 1911, Dr Sun made a total of eight visits to Singapore, each time staying in the Balestier villa - which is now the memorial hall - to drum up support for his revolution here and in neighbouring countries.

He also made the villa his revolutionary headquarters for three years between 1907 and 1910.
The villa, now owned by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), was redeveloped and opened as a museum in 2001 to showcase Dr Sun's activities in South-east Asia.

But the memorial hall, now under the management of the National Heritage Board, was closed a fortnight ago for a year-long major make-over.

Part of the upgrading will be the creation of a 0.46ha park next to the hall. It will be called the Zhongshan Park, after Dr Sun's name in hanyu pinyin.

The park will be built and managed by Hiap Hoe Properties, which is developing an office block and a hotel nearby.

Both the revamped memorial hall and the park will be opened on Oct 8 next year, in time for the 1911 Chinese Revolution's 100th anniversary celebrations here, said SCCCI external relations committee chairman Wan Shung Ming.

'We hope that when they are ready, the new hall, which will show even stronger links between the revolution and Singapore, and the park will be of interest to the young,' added Mr Wan, who is also a memorial hall board member.

As part of the centenary celebrations next October, the SCCCI will also host the World Chinese Entrepreneurs Conference here and publish a 100-page supplement jointly with the Lianhe Zaobao newspaper to commemorate the 1911 Revolution and the entrepreneurs conference.

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