Former Sun Yat Sen Villa

Singapore Infopedia

by Cornelius, Vernon, Ang, Seow Leng


The former Sun Yat Sen Villa at 12 Tai Gin Road, off Balestier Road,1 was once the Southeast Asian headquarters for Sun Yat Sen’s revolutionary activities that 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 renamed the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in 1996.

The land on which the villa stands was once part of a 405-hectare (about 4 sq km) sugar plantation owned by Joseph Balestier, who sold it in 1848.2 The land was later granted to Loh Jun Teck on 19 March 1856.3

Boey Chuan Poh bought the land in the 1880s and built a villa on the site. Named Bin Chan House,4 the two-storey villa was constructed in the classical colonial style, with ornate arched windows and doors, floral patterned eaves, and designed for tropical living, which allowed for natural lighting and good ventilation.5

In 1902, the villa was sold to Lim Ah Siang, a timber merchant, for $10,800.6 It was subsequently bought over in 19057 by rubber magnate Teo Eng Hock for his mother, Tan Poh Neo,8 and became known as Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园).9

In July 1905, Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen met Teo, Tan Chor Lam and Lim Nee Soon in Singapore for the first time while travelling to Europe.10 When Sun visited Singapore again in April 1906,11 Teo offered the villa to Sun to be used as the latter’s Tongmenghui base in Singapore.12

On 6 April 1906, Sun formed the Singapore branch of the Tongmenghui with the support of wealthy local businessmen such as Teo, Tan and Lim.13 Tan and Teo became the first and second presidents of the Tongmenghui respectively.14 Sun stayed in the villa on four occasions between 1906 and 1910.15 Three uprisings – in Chaozhou (May 1907), Zhennanguan (December 1907) and Hekou (April 1908) – had been secretly planned at the villa.16 The successful Wuchang uprising in October 191117 brought an end to the Qing dynasty, and Sun became the elected provisional president of the Republic of China.18

Teo sold Wan Qing Yuan in August 1910, and the villa changed ownership several times thereafter.19 In 1937, six council members of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (now known as the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Industry)  – Lee Kong Chian, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Hean Swee, Lee Choon Seng, Yeo Kiat Tiow and Lee Chin Tian – bought the villa and donated it to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce the following year20 to be preserved as a historic site.21

Japanese Occupation and following decades
During World War II, the building was used as a military communications centre by the Japanese army.22 When the war ended, the Chinese Nationalist government renovated the villa, which became the headquarters of the Singapore branch of the Kuomintang.23 After the Kuomintang ceased its activities here in 1951, management of the villa was handed back to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce.24 The building was renovated again in 1964 and became known as the Sun Yat Sen Villa. By 1965, the building had been converted into a library and museum.25

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall
On 28 October 1994, the villa was gazetted as a national monument,26 and two years later, it was renamed the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.27 The villa was closed in November 1997 for restoration and extension works costing S$7.5-million.28 It reopened on 12 November 2001.29

In 2009, the National Heritage Board signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in 2009 to manage it.30 The building was closed again in October 2010 and reopened on 8 October 2011 to commemorate the centenary of the 1911 revolution.31 The S$5.6-million revamp cost was funded jointly by the Singapore government and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry.32 Being a gazetted monument, the exterior of the villa was kept intact according to preservation guidelines, while the interior has been redecorated in a Peranakan style.33


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama & Ang Seow Leng

1. “The Villa Where Dr. Sun Yat Sen Planned a Revolution,” New Nation, 16 March 1973, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Page 2 Advertisements Column 2: A Sugar Plantation for Sale,” Straits Times, 8 April 1848, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Sun Yat Sen Planned a Revolution.”
4. Peter Keys, “Villa with an Illustrious History to Boast Of,” Straits Times, 16 May 1982, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Chen Dinghui 陈丁辉, ed., Bainian wan qing 万庆元:一百年 [Wan Qing Yuan: A hundred years] (Singapore: Wanqing Garden-Sun Yat-sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, 2012), 22 (Call no. Chinese RSING 951.08092 WAN)
6. “Sun Yat Sen Planned a Revolution.”
7. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 22.
8. “5 Things You Didn’t Know About...,” Straits Times, 20 April 2007, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Keys, “Illustrious History to Boast Of.” 
10. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 22.
11. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 22.
12. Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1996), 219. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
13. Tan Ban Huat, “Villa of Revolutionaries,” Straits Times, 28 July 1988, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Tan Ban Huat, “Villa Where Dr. Sun Stayed,” Straits Times, 16 June 1978, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Zhou Zhaocheng 杜南发, Bai nian Xin hai: Nanyang hui mou百年辛亥: 南洋回眸 [One Hundred Years of 1911: Looking Back at Nanyang] (Singapore: Bafang Culture Studio, 2011), 16. (Call no. Chinese RSING 951.08 BNX)
16. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 24.
17. Sun Hongfang 孙穂芳, ed., Guofu sunzhongshan xiansheng jinian ji 国父孙中山先生纪念集 [A great man and epoch-maker: an album in memory of Dr. Sun Yat-sen] (Macau: Chinese International Press & Publishing Group, 2003), 41. (Call no. Chinese R 951.08092 ALB)
18. “Chinese Topics in Malaya,” Straits Times, 13 October 1932, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 24.
20. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 24; “$7.5 M Restoration of Sun Yat Sen Villa Starts,” Straits Times, 13 November 1997, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 220.
22. Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry 新加坡中华总商会, Xinjiapo zhonghua zong shanghui bashiba zhounian jinian, 1906–1994新加坡中华总商会八十八周年纪念, 1906–1994 [Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry 88th anniversary, 1906–1994] (Singapore: Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1994), 13. (Call no. Chinese RSING 381.0605957 SIN)
23. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 220.
24. Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Xinjiapo zhonghua zong shanghui bashiba zhounian jinian, 1906–1994
25. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 24; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 220.
26. Urban Redevelopment Authority for Preservation of Monuments Board, Sun Yat Sen Villa Preservation Guidelines (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 1996), 1, 4. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 SUN)
27. Dawn Tan, “The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall,” Straits Times, 8 July 1996, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “$7.5 M Restoration of Sun Yat Sen Villa Starts.”
29. “Sun Yat Sen Memorial Unveiled,” Straits Times, 13 November 2001, 6; Leong Weng Kam, “Sun Yat Sen Villa to Recount His Life,” Straits Times, 29 August 2001, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Support for Three Heritage Institutions,” Business Times, 12 March 2009, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Chen Dinghui, Bainian wan qing, 27.
32. Kimberly Spykerman and Amelia Tan, “Historic Sun Yat Sen Villa Reopens,” Straits Times, 9 October 2011, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Adeline Chia, “Revamp Sun Yat Sen Villa to Open on Oct 8,” Straits Times, 30 September 2011, 12. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 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.

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