Merlion



The Merlion is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish.1 Regarded as a Singapore icon, the Merlion was designed in 1964 for the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB; now known as the Singapore Tourism Board) and functioned as its logo from 1964 to1997.2 There are five authorised Merlion statues in Singapore,3 the most well-known being an 8-metre-tall statue designed by Kwan Sai Kheong and sculpted by Lim Nang Seng.4 First unveiled on 15 September 1972,5 this statue is now located at the new Merlion Park, adjacent to One Fullerton at the Marina Bay waterfront.6 As a symbol representing Singapore, the Merlion features prominently in tourist souvenirs sold locally.7

Origins
The emblem’s concept was first devised in 1963 for the STPB by Fraser Brunner, curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium.8 Later named the “Merlion”, its registration as a trademark of the STPB was finalised on 20 July 1966, granting the board exclusive rights to use the symbol.9


Using the fish in its design alludes to the idea of Singapore’s beginnings as a fishing village, while the lion refers to the sighting of a lion in Temasek by a prince from Palembang, Sang Nila Utama, as narrated in the Sejarah Melayu, leading him to rename the island Singapura (“lion city” in Sanskrit).10

While STPB encouraged the commercialisation of the Merlion including through approved souvenirs,11 members of the public are not allowed to produce artefacts featuring the Merlion or anything that resembles it without first seeking permission from the board. According to the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board Act, failure to comply with these regulations could result in a fine of not exceeding S$1,000.  Although the STPB was renamed Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the board replaced the Merlion as its corporate logo on 19 November 1997,12 the popularity of the Merlion continues and STB had admitted that it was not possible to keep track of all Merlion reproductions.13

Approved Merlion statues
In Singapore, there are seven Merlion statues that have been built with approval from the STB. The two most well-known statues are located at the new Merlion Park next to One Fullerton. Designed to project seawater from its mouth, the larger statue weighs 70 t and stands at 8 m,14 reinforced by a 0.6-metre concrete beam beneath it.15 The smaller statue is 2 m tall, weighs 3 t and is commonly referred to as the “Merlion cub”. It is inlaid with Chinese porcelain plates and bowls as part of its design.16


The two statues were originally constructed from November 1971 to August 197217 by local sculptor Lim Nang Seng, based on a blueprint by artist Kwan Sai Kheong, the late Ambassador to the Philippines and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore from 1975 to 1980.18 After completion, the two statues were unveiled on 15 September 1972 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as part of the waterfront Merlion Park located at the mouth of the Singapore River.19

With the completion of Esplanade Bridge in 1997, the Merlion statues could no longer be viewed clearly from the waterfront. In 2002, the STB decided to relocate the statues to a new pier specially built on the other side of Esplanade Bridge, overlooking Marina Bay.20 This relocation, and the subsequent extension of the Merlion Park by up to four times its previous area, cost a total of S$7.5 million.21 The move started on 23 April 200222 and finished on 28 April 2002.23 The then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew unveiled the statue at its new spot at One Fullerton on 15 September 2002,24 in a simple ceremony that also celebrated the Merlion’s 30th birthday.25 In its new location, the Merlion statue faces east as it did in the old location to preserve the optimal feng shui (Chinese geomancy).26

Over the years, the statue’s pump system has broken down periodically due to corrosion from exposure to seawater and subsequently replaced.27 On 28 February 2009, the larger statue was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, causing a crack in the Merlion’s mane, and a hole at the base of the statue due to falling debris.28 The statue was repaired and reopened for public viewing on 18 March 2009.29

Completed in 1996, the Merlion tower on Sentosa is a 37-metre 12-storey structure. It costs S$8 million and was designed by Australian sculptor James Martin.30

Another Merlion statue is located outside the STB’s office at Tourism Court. Made in the Philippines from glazed polymarble, it is 3 m tall. A similar statue can be found on Faber Point at Mount Faber. It is owned by the National Parks Board and was installed in 1998, following the redevelopment of the park. 

Merlions in Singapore literature
The Merlion has also inspired several works by local poets, among them Ulysses by the Merlion by Edwin Thumboo, and The Merlion to Ulysses composed by Lee Tzu Pheng as a response to Thumboo.31 These and other poems dedicated to the Merlion have been collated into an anthology titled Reflecting on the Merlion published in 2009.32




Author

Yong Chun Yuan




References
1. Use of Merlion emblem: Warning by the tourist board. (1967, January 27). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Board badge protection. (1964, April 30). The Straits Times, p. 5; Merlion is fact and legend, not a fishy tale. (1999, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeoh, B. S. A., & Chang, T. C. (2003). “The rise of the Merlion”:  Monument and myth in the making of the Singapore story. In B. S. A. Yeoh & R. B. H. Goh (Eds.), Theorizing the Southeast Asian city as text: Urban landscapes, cultural documents, and interpretive experiences. River Edge, N.J.: World Scientific, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 307.760959 THE)
3. Tee, H. C. (2002, September 15). National icon? The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
4. Tee, H. C. (2002, September 15). National icon? The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Alfred, H. (1981, November 28). Merlion design based on piece of work by Sai Kheong. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, S. S. (1972, September 16). S’pore symbol: 26ft-high MerlionThe Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. The Merlion moves.  (2002, April 23).  Today, p. 4; …but Merlion shots look great, too.  (2002, September 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Souvenirs with local flavour finding favour. (1992, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 22.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Yeoh, B. S. A., & Chang, T. C. (2003). “The rise of the Merlion”:  Monument and myth in the making of the Singapore story. In B. S. A. Yeoh & R. B. H. Goh (Eds.), Theorizing the Southeast Asian city as text: Urban landscapes, cultural documents, and interpretive experiences. River Edge, N.J.: World Scientific, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 307.760959 THE)
9. Merlion is fact and legend, not a fishy tale. (1999, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 49; Use of Merlion emblem: Warning by the tourist board. (1967, January 27). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Merlion is fact and legend, not a fishy tale. (1999, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 49.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeoh, B. S. A., & Chang, T. C. (2003). “The rise of the Merlion”: Monument and myth in the making of the Singapore story. In B. S. A. Yeoh & R. B. H. Goh (Eds.), Theorizing the Southeast Asian city as text: Urban landscapes, cultural documents, and interpretive experiences. River Edge, N.J.: World Scientific, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 307.760959 THE)
11. Yeoh, B. S. A., & Chang, T. C. (2003). “The rise of the Merlion”:  Monument and myth in the making of the Singapore story.  In B. S. A. Yeoh & R. B. H. Goh (Eds.), Theorizing the Southeast Asian city as text: Urban landscapes, cultural documents, and interpretive experiences. River Edge, N.J.: World Scientific, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 307.760959 THE)
12. Merlion is fact and legend, not a fishy tale. (1999, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tee, H. C. (2002, September 15). National Icon? The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Mr Merlion to move house in 2 years’ time. (2000, May 4). The Straits Times, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Teo, G. (2002, April 23). Merlion’s historic move begins todayThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
16. Roaring from coast to coast. (2002, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. S’pore symbol: 26-ft high Merlion (1972, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tee, H. C. (2002, September 15). National icon? The Straits Times, p. 6; Merlion design based on piece of work by Sai Kheong. The Straits Times, p. 11.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. S’pore symbol: 26-ft high Merlion (1972, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG .
20. Koh, B. P. (2000, May 4). Mr Merlion to move house in 2 years’ time. The Straits Times, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
21. Roaring from coast to coast. (2002, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. The Merlion moves. (2002, April 23). Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Sprouting at One Fullerton. (2002, April 29). Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Merlion’s new spot. (2002, September 16). Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Chia, S.  (2002, September 16). Merlion unveiled at new spot in Fullerton. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Roaring from coast to coast. (2002, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG .
27. Merlion ‘heart surgery’. (1988, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 19; Merlion is ready to roar again. (1993, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Chua, G. (2009, March 3). Lightning strikes all too often. The Straits Times, p. 21; Huang, H. (2009, March 1). Merlion damaged by lightning. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Wee, T. H. (2009, March 19). Merlion roars again. Today, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
30. Tee, H. C. (2002, September 15). National icon? The Straits Times, p. 6; Work on Merlion tower to be finished next month. (1996, February 8). The Straits Times, p. 3.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Tee, H. C. (2002, September 15). National icon? The Straits Times, p. 6; Merlion the muse. (2009, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Thumboo, E., et al. (Eds.). (2009). Reflecting on the Merlion: An anthology of poems. Singapore: National Arts Council. (Call no.: RSING 808.81 REF) 



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

 

Subject
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Monuments
Arts>>Sculpture
National symbols
Public sculpture--Singapore
Politics and Government>>National Symbols
Arts>>Visual Arts>>Sculpture
National monuments
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure
Sculpture
Emblems, National--Singapore
Monuments--Singapore

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