Former Sun Yat Sen Villa

The former Sun Yat Sen Villa (also known as Bin Chan House or Wan Qing Yuan) at 12 Tai Gin Road, off Balestier Road, is named after the prominent Chinese nationalist Sun Yat Sen. It was once the Southeast Asian headquarters for Sun’s revolutionary activities which led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. The villa was gazetted as a national monument on 28 October 1994 and has since been renamed the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

The land that the villa stands on was once part of a 404.7ha sugar plantation owned by
Joseph Balestier, who went bankrupt in 1848. Ray Tyers (1976), in Singapore, Then & Now, mentioned an original grant of this land to Loh Jun Teck on 19 March 1856, by Conveyance No. 47, from The East India Company.

The villa was built sometime in the 1880s by wealthy Chinese merchant Boey Chuan Poh. It was rumoured to be for his mistress Bin Chan, after whom he named it Bin Chan House. In 1902, the villa was sold to Lim Ah Siang, a timber merchant, for $10,800. Teochew businessman Teo Eng Hock acquired the house for his mother Mrs Teo Lee in 1905 and renamed it Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园, where 晚 means “evening”, 晴 means “clear weather”, and 园 means “garden”). Teo Eng Hock later offered Sun the villa for use as his Singapore and Southeast Asian base.

On 6 April 1906, during Sun's two-week stay in Singapore, he formed a local branch of the T'ung Meng Hui (“Chinese Revolutionary League”) with co-founders Tan Chor Nam as chairman, and Hsu Tzu Lin, Teo Eng Hock and his nephew
Lim Nee Soon as office bearers. The villa became a focal point of anti-Manchu activities outside of China; milestone battles were planned here. A breakthrough was achieved with the Wuchang Uprising of 10 October 1911, which brought about the birth of the Republic of China on 1 January 1912, with Sun installed as the first President.

After 1912, Wan Qing Yuan was sold to an Indian merchant who left it unoccupied. It was then sold to Morris Augustin on 25 June 1914. Thereafter, the villa changed ownership another ten times between 1917 and 1925. In 1938, a group of six famous merchant-philanthropists, namely
Lee Kong Chian, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Hean Swee, Lee Chor Seng, Yeo Kiat Tiow and Lee Chin Tian, purchased the villa and donated it to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) to be preserved as a historical site. It was subsequently renovated by Chung & Wong Architects.

During World War II, it became a Japanese communications centre. After the war, the Chinese Nationalist Government renovated the villa and turned it into the headquarters of the Singapore branch of the Kuomintang. After the Kuomintang ceased activities here in 1951, the villa was managed again by the SCCCI.

By 1965, the building had been restored and turned into a library and museum, where the life of Sun was traced in photos and watercolours. On the centenary of Sun's birthday on 12 November 1966, the villa was opened to the public at no charge.

Deemed worthy of preservation for its historical and architectural significance, the building was gazetted as a national monument on 28 October 1994. In 1995, the SCCCI embarked on a major project to restore the villa. It was closed to the public in 1997 but the restoration works, led by DP Architects, began only in September 1999, mainly because of difficulties encountered by the SCCCI in raising the funds needed for the S$7.5-million project. The Sun Yat Sen Villa was officially re-opened as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall on 12 November 2001, in time to mark Sun’s 135th birthday.

The National Heritage Board took over the management of the villa in 2009. The building was closed again in October 2010 and re-opened on 8 October 2011 following a S$5.6-million revamp funded jointly by the Singapore government and the villa’s owner, the SCCCI. The makeover included a redesign of the interior and a complete overhaul of the exhibition content, which was curated with the help of a team from the National Museum. An adjoining public park called Zhongshan Park was launched at the same time. Built and managed by property firm Hiap Hoe as part of a hotel-park development, it features stone markers bearing the dates of Sun’s eight visits to Singapore between 1900 and 1911.

The villa is a classic colonial Chinese bungalow and a good example of spacious two-storey bungalows built by wealthy Chinese in the late 1800s. It has typical bungalow features which include a projecting porte-cochere (French for “carport”) with a sitting-room above, verandahs with striped chick-blinds, second-floor ornate cast-iron railings, and first-floor masonry balustrades. The roof is covered with old-style, natural orange-brown V-profile clay tiles. A covered walkway leads to the kitchen and the servants’ quarters at the back.

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

Chew, C. T. E., & Lee, E. (Eds.). (1991).
A history of Singapore (pp. 68-73). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS)

Chia, A. (2011, September 30). Revamped Sun Yat Sen villa to open on Oct 8. The Straits Times. Retrieved October 24, 2011, from Factiva.

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)

Historical villa's very slow face-lift. (2000, March 26). The Straits Times, Home, p. 36.

Leong, W. K. (2001, November 12).
Sun-kissed shrine. The Straits Times, Life!, p. L4.

Liu, G. (1996).
In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore (pp. 218-221). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)

Restoring it to its former glory. (2000, March 26). The Straits Times.

Sun shone at this old villa. (2000, April 2). The Straits Times, Review Focus, pp. 52-53.

Turnbull, C. M. (1977).
A history of Singapore, 1819-1975 (pp. 110-112, 132-133). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Tyers, R. K.  (1976).
Singapore, then & now (pp. 459-462). Singapore: University Education Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 TYE)

Zachariah, N. A. (2010, October 2). Sun’s villa gets new life. The Straits Times. Retrieved October 24, 2011, from Factiva.

Further readings
Former Sun Yat Sen Villa (now Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall). (2010). Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website:

Wan, M. H. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 228-229). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Architecture--Conservation and restoration--Singapore
Historic buildings--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Residential buildings
Historic buildings
Recreation>>Places of interest
Law and government>>Culture and community>>Heritage
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
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