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ISSUE 1, OCT 2011


CONTENTS EDITORIAL TEAM editor Chow Alex u0900802@nus.edu.sg

deputy editor Chew An Ee chewanee@gmail.com

CREATIVE TEAM chief designer Wu Zhuoyi fiveless@gmail.com

Editor’s Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Census. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Career Talk. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Interview: Professor DuBois. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Foreigners in our Home. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 The Hero-Cult of Dr. Sun Yat Sen . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Mute Witness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Movie Review :1911. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Times of Your Life. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

designers Jasmine Koh a0071691@nus.edu.sg

Wilson Lim wilflare@gmail.com

photographer Alvin Chia jhchia@nus.edu.sg

WRITERS Chan Cheng Lin u0900007@nus.edu.sg

Joshua Ho joshuaho@nus.edu.sg

Retna Devi rdsr08@hotmail.com

Yong Chun Yuan yongchunyuan.88@gmail.com

Cover photograph: Blockprint depicting the 1911 revolution (source: Princeton University)



EDITOR’S NOTE Mnemozine; So named after the personification of memory in Greek mythology; the ancestor of the Greek Muses, Mnemosyne.



NEMOZINE is meant as a platform for History students to share their ideas, and hone their writing skills outside of their term-papers. If you’ve ever wanted to explore in greater depth a topic from one of your modules, or if you’ve gained a broadened perspective of the world from studying History, why not make use of this platform to share what you’ve learnt? As the publication of our student’s History Society, it is hoped that the magazine will contribute towards building a greater sense of community amongst History majors. If this is the first time you are hearing of the History Society (HISSOC), which you are a member by default - birthed into this student society from the day you declared yourself a History major in CORs, I welcome you formally into the club on behalf of all other History Society members. Do look out for History Society events in the next semester: weekly movie screenings, museum trips, NUS History Festival 2012 and other events currently in the pipeline such as a HISSOC Youth Expedition Project. This issue’s theme is “1911”, as a commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, a historical event significant for the overseas Chinese and which bears interest due to the numerous myths it has embedded within Chinese historiography. Without further unnecessary rambling, I invite you to enjoy the contents of the first issue and also, to contribute to future issues of Mnemozine. As you will find, this is not an academic journal but a magazine containing a fair mix of articles, including current topics, reports on History Society events, interviews with department members, reviews of History-related books and movies, write-ups on the physical heritage of the nation... and other things (planned for the next issue!). So, with this note I bid you hello, farewell and good luck for your coming examinations. Editor, Chow Alex October 2011








CENSUS In order to give students a better idea of the History Department’s composition, we have collated the statistics in this article with the aid of the History Department Office.


Percentage of History Graduates out of total FASS Cohort

Total Number of History Undergraduates (Years 1–4)

Number of Year 1-3 Students

Number of Honours Students

Total Number of Graduate Students

Total Number of History Minors


Gender Ratio of all History Undergraduates

F:129 M:111


Total Number of Teaching Staff



Total Number of Admin Staff


240 178

graphics by Jasmine koh





We are often confronted by the uncertainty that is our future, more specifically our career prospects. ‘As a History major, what jobs are available?’ is just one of the many questions that may plague you. The History Career Talk was organised by NUS History Society in order to address these uncertainties. Four former History majors returned to their alma-mater to present information regarding their various careers. Their jobs were vastly different from one another, exemplifying the wide array of choices that are available to us at the end of our university years. The first speaker was Ms Clarabelle Chong, or Belle, as she prefers to be called. She is a freelance writer and was previously a writer for several of the programmes on Channel 5, such as Singapore Idol and President’s Star Charity show. During her stint at Mediacorp, she was required to do a lot of writing and research, which is what History majors are trained to do. At the end of her presentation she provided a list of potential jobs that were unconventional in nature. With a degree in History, one can work as a researcher for Historical films and even become a writer or concept artist for games such as Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock and other games that require sophisticated back-stories. Such positions are essential in the entertainment industry as being able to capture the essence of a particular period ensures the believability of a game or programme. Our next speaker was Ms Ekaterina Dynina, who works at KPMG Corporate Finance as an assistant manager in Global Infrastructure Projects Group. She was previously an analyst for Changi Airports International, a position that also involved sales and much travelling. While this is obviously unrelated to History, she pointed out that the skills she gained as a History major proved useful in the business setting. Presentation, research skills and the ability to view things from a larger perspective came in handy despite her initial lack of business acumen. Her knowledge of History and


different cultures also proved as a resource during her business dealings as a potent topic of conversation and social lubricant. However, in order to ease a career transition and enhance her employability, she took a Chartered Financial Analyst Examination. Hence, if you wish to venture into the business world, it is not impossible to do so with a History degree as opportunities for upgrading your skills exist, and employers do focus on a person’s willingness to learn - not just the set of core skills you had started out with. Our third speaker was Mr Eisen Teo, a SPH journalist who writes for two student newspapers published for Primary and Secondary School students. His articles are mostly about the historical background of locations in Singapore. Like Ms Ekaterina, the hours he spent writing history essays and poring over books for information paid off as those skills are crucial to his work, especially when it comes to being able to piece together coherent narratives from multiple sources and meeting deadlines - which can be pretty tight as a journalist. He also highlighted as parting advice, the importance of internships to boost your employability and above all, to study and work in areas that are of interest to you as this often translates into better performance. For those who aim for a career that is more closely linked to History, Ms Wong Hong Suen’s presentation would be of greater interest. She is currently a Historical Research and Education Consultant at the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB) and prior to this, a curator at the National Museum. She shared how her honours thesis which was on food aided her in her line of work as a curator - organizing the Food Gallery at the National Museum. Another skill she honed as a History major that proved useful at work was the ability to discern the quality and relevance of sources. Through her research, she has unearthed several interesting tales about


Singapore, such as how the Red House Bakery was a popular venue for people to meet prospective partners through a matchmaker. Also, she gave further insight as to what sort of jobs we can apply for in the future by mentioning the career paths of her friends and fellow history majors. A number of them are currently working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in various other ministries as intelligence officers. She also emphasized the importance of internships, informing us that PMB provides a number of positions specifically for History students. Despite their different careers, all speakers communicated a similar message and that is to enjoy the remaining university years and trust in your History degree because it is an asset that provides skills that are sought after. The Career Talk was beneficial in providing some guidance and alerting us to the variety of opportunities that await us.



INTERVIEW/ PROF DUBOIS Professor Thomas DuBois has been teaching History in NUS for 8 years and he will be leaving for Australia at the end of the year. Our interviewer, Joshua Ho took some time to get to know more about the man.

josh Would you mind providing a bit of your personal background to begin with? prof I’m from Indiana, which is in the Midwestern USA and I grew up in what you could call the Chicago suburbs. I was not a particularly good student until I went to university. One of the things I always tell my students here is that had I been brought up in Singapore, I would be driving a taxi right now because I was really just an OK student for most of my teens. My interests were not in school – it was in girls and water skiing and other stuff like that. Especially girls – you could say I was pretty focused. When I got to college, there were a lot more opportunities and I started studying Russian which was very interesting. I started off at a school that was ok, but not great. I did really well there, and then transferred to the University of Chicago. When I got to Chicago, I had the opportunity to start studying Chinese and once I got pointed in that direction, I never looked back. I was hooked on Asian studies and Chinese language. josh How did you stumble upon this in the first place? prof The real moment was between my first two years at college. I had a friend from high school who was from Taiwan and he invited me to his house in Taipei during the summer of 89. I was already interested in China, but to get to spend a summer in Taipei, it was an eye-opener. josh Why did you choose to become a professor? prof The University of Chicago is a very academically oriented undergrad education and a lot of their undergrads go on to grad school, specifically to get a PhD. There was a lot of support for that kind of career track and I really did idealize the life of a professor. However, in between completing my degree and actually getting the PhD, I went to China for a few years and taught English; I had a moment to



decide if I wanted to go back to the US and go to grad school or to go to Spain and study cooking. I sometimes still think that I should have studied cooking and opened a restaurant in Shanghai, but I actually decided to go to UCLA and get my PhD. One thing I realized as I was finishing my PhD is that there were a lot of non-History related careers that I could do. I was offered a job by a market consulting firm and by the government but I eventually decided on being a professor. josh Tell me a little about the topics that you teach and your current research topics. prof When I started studying the history of China, my real interest was on ordinary people in the countryside. The reason for this is that a lot of the scholars are interested in the social elite. I’ve always found that extremely artificial, especially since I grew up in Indiana which is a farm state so I find myself being able to relate with people in the countryside. For my first research project, I lived in a village in Cangzhou, so I could learn about their religious lives for my dissertation. After that



I started working on Manchuria, which interested me as a unique historical case. During the early twentieth century Manchuria had influences coming in from all sides, from Russia, Japan and China but what it really came down to was a tug-of-war between Japan and China. My research started with one question and an article and has gradually turned into about nine articles, and a book that I will finish when I get to Australia. Because my new position in Australia is mostly for research, I will have time to go back to Manchuria to do fieldwork about daily life in the 1950s. josh How did you learn Chinese? prof I studied Chinese in school for 3 years and I lived in China for altogether about 5 years, so I’m very comfortable operating in Chinese. josh Why did you choose to come to Singapore? prof It was the only job available. However, I was very happy to live in Asia as a Chinese speaker and specialist. I didn’t really know anything about Singapore before



Photography by Alvin Chia



I came so it was kind of a mystery to me, and I didn’t mind coming here; but again it was the idea of working in Asia that was the most attractive to me. josh How would you describe your teaching experience in Singapore for the past 8 years? What do you think of the students? prof I like the students that I work with. I like History students in general. The reason I like them is because they want to be challenged. When you do challenge them, most of them do not just do the minimum, they actually seek out the mental challenge. I think the students here are definitely motivated and they want to learn. That is fundamentally it. A lot of them remind me of myself when I was in college. They have a real determination that I really admire. josh What prompted you to leave NUS for Australia? prof The job at ANU is really a great opportunity. I get a promotion and lots more time to do my research, it wasn’t something that I could say no to. However, it’s not as though I was really dying to get out of NUS. josh What do you think you would miss most about living in Singapore? prof I would miss some things about teaching in Singapore. The History department here is composed of a lot of good people and we work well together. I’ll also miss the idea that we’re building something. There’s a



sense among the students and the faculty that we’re working together to make something intellectually, build something unique in the History department in NUS. It takes a long time to figure out what is unique about us, what we can do that other people can’t, and I feel like we’re just on the verge of finding out what that is. That process of self-discovery is something you couldn’t get in a more established University. josh Besides History, what are your other passions/ hobbies? prof I do a lot of running, spend a lot of time in the gym and do a lot of swimming. That’s pretty much it. josh Finally, do you have any last words for the students here? prof You know it’s cliché, but it’s true. In life, you should never ever care what somebody else thinks of you. The only opinion that you have to care about is your own. If you genuinely believe in yourself you cannot fail. That is something that I’m coming to believe in really strongly.




In a recent lecture, the instructor half-jokingly polled the class on a seemingly straightforward question: Who are the majority in Singapore today? “Foreigners!!” The unexpected answer, arising from an anonymous source, boomed across the auditorium, and reverberated along the walls before fading into a chorus of laughter. Foreigners. Hardly a more contentious word in Singapore today. As a cursory scan of local media will reveal, their presence has drawn flak from Singaporeans. And yet, this is surprising, for modern Singapore is itself a migrant society as the historical record attests. Primary school children today learn that Sir Stamford Raffles encountered an ulu, almost uninhabited island when he first stepped onto the shores of Singapore in 1819. While a caricature, it is true that the story of Singapore as a densely populated territory only begins with the arrival of the British. From 1820 to 1870, the annual population growth rate averaged 2.08%. This rate was even higher at 3.18% from 1870 to 1913 and was due mainly to the tremendous influx of migrants. Exactly 100 years ago in the year 1911, as much as 80% of Singapore’s population was foreign born. By 1980, the foreign born percentage actually declined to around 20%, its all time low in modern history. As any local will tell you, it has been creeping up steadily in recent years. According to the newly released report, Singapore Population Trends 2011, the share of non-citizens in our population has risen to an all-time high of 1.93 million, or 37%. Put differently, more than one in three of all people living in Singapore are not citizens. A comparable estimate for our foreign born population would hence be in excess of 40%. For undisclosed reasons, official data remains publicly unavailable. What has instead been well publicised is that the number of Permanent Residents (PRs) decreased for the first time in 2011. What’s not trumpeted as loudly is that the increase in non-PR foreigners has more than made up for the shrinkage of PRs. Even


in 2011, the number of foreigners in Singapore has continued to increase. Why so, and to what end? To justify the massive influx of foreigners of almost one million over the past decade, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has often doled out the following arguments. One, Singapore’s dismal fertility rates will lead to a rapidly ageing population, which causes strain on the productive workforce. Two, foreign labour – both high and low skilled – is required to ensure that our economy remains competitive. On both counts, these arguments make sense. They are premised, however, on the assumption that Singaporeans will continue to rank economic growth as their first priority going forward. Moreover, even if we accept that economic growth is indeed important, it does not automatically follow that we are fully willing to accept the costs associated with having more foreigners around. These costs, both tangible and intangible, have been voiced repeatedly in media channels and reflect a palpable sense of discontent. Framed this way, the question then becomes: How many more new migrants are we willing to accept in our drive for economic prosperity? Another valid concern is whether our economy, relying so heavily on foreign labour, is sufficiently strong to withstand a crisis. A case in point is the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) located at Biopolis. It represents Singapore’s aspirations to develop into a life-sciences research hub. It has also acquired the reputation of being extremely generous to foreign researchers, who are lured to the institute with the promise of stunning benefits. As valuable as their contributions are now, one cannot help but worry if they will stay for the long haul. Being skilled research talent, they are after all arduously courted by many countries. These foreign talents are “instant trees”, to borrow an analogy from Ngiam Tong Dow, a former leading civil servant. He believes that they can provide instant shade, but they may also “collapse at the first sight of the storm”, which is to say that they are potentially the first to leave when Singapore no longer appears attrac-


tive to them. Instead, Ngiam maintains that it is better for Singapore to focus on grooming local talent, however long that may take. He correctly points out that relying solely on foreigners isn’t a stable, long-term solution to our future economic issues. Such concerns indicate that no matter how convenient a solution, foreigners cannot be a long-term panacea. What complicates the picture is that the case for having more foreigners is not limited to future projections of prosperity. In fact, Singaporeans do experience certain benefits right now. Lower-paid foreign workers take up jobs that Singaporeans do not want, and many of them are willing to be employed at wage levels that Singaporeans consider unacceptable. This translates into lower labour costs for clearing the hawker centre tables, or cleaning the coffee shop toilets, costs that Singaporeans would otherwise have to bear. In the jargon of Karl Marx, foreigners provide the labour power that locals extract as surplus value. We need to realize that our current standard of living depends vitally on the presence of cheap foreign labour to increase the purchasing power of our own wages. It would be unfair for us to whine solely about the crowd of foreigners on our trains and buses without stopping to think that these systems are built and staffed primarily by foreign labour. Another much disputed issue involves the assimilation of foreigners into local society. Take the case of mainland Chinese nationals, who form the bulk of new immigrants arriving in the past 10 years. Being ethnically similar to the Chinese majority in Singapore, it was assumed by planning authorities that they would integrate with ease. As anecdotal experiences indicate, it is a different matter in practice. In my opinion, it seems rather naïve to believe that racial similarity would deterministically guarantee an easy integration. After all, China has experienced a radically different history from Singapore in the past 40 years. A case in point is the Cultural Revolution, which saw a dramatic upheaval of values. Historically speaking, the recent trajectories of Singapore and China could not have been more divergent. Perhaps then, we shouldn’t be surprised at the culture



shock that new immigrants face. The same can be said of our dismay towards some of their practices. If disconcerting to the local Chinese majority, the huge influx of Chinese migrants will seem even more ominous to Singaporeans of other races. Already swamped by the preponderant numbers of local Chinese, minority groups in Singapore can hardly be expected to cast the immigration of even more Chinese in a positive light. Should they get the sense that Singapore is becoming ever more framed as a Chinese dominated nation, nonChinese Singaporeans may feel even more alienated. That cannot be healthy for our society. Not helping matters is that, by and large, Singapore’s immigration policies have been closely associated with the PAP government, or more accurately, their political dominance. That poses a problem. Many a times, instead of being judged on their own merit, such policies acquire a foul taint simply because of their identification with the ruling elite. The perception that ivory-tower planners have imposed liberal immigration quotas topdown, without accounting for grassroots sentiment, has only sparked more resentment. The conflation of anti-PAP sentiment with an anti-foreigner stance stifles informed debate on the issue, and is indeed regrettable. Yet, in my opinion, these concerns are poor excuses for excluding foreigners who genuinely wish to be part of Singapore. To all who wish to attain citizenship, we should extend a warm hand of welcome. Casting aside cynicism for a moment, I believe that people who choose to work and live here are influenced by more than purely materialistic concerns. They may instead be moved by values such as meritocracy and our aspired multiculturalism. For foreigners who are attracted to such ideas and choose Singapore as their home, I would say we need to include them. The dangers of an exclusivist view are many. Not least the tendency for xenophobia to morph into more insidious forms of hatred and violence. More importantly, it runs countercurrent to our historical experience as a nation of migrant ancestry. Bereft of any common hallmark (save perhaps kiauism), the Singaporean identity does

not hinge on belonging to a certain race or hailing from a certain ancestry. It is essentially imagined, as Benedict Anderson would say. By the sheer force of logic, it would be absurd to exclude others by dint of lacking certain identity markers – simply because there are no tangible markers, only constructed ones. Still, some harbour the suspicion that foreign born Singaporeans are not really Singaporean. It is argued that by including such foreigners, we undermine our painstakingly constructed national identity. Just like those who saw 19th century America as the exclusive enclave of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), proponents of this view hold a rarified idea of who can be considered a “true Singaporean”. All who do not conform to this idealised vision are by definition the “other” and must be expunged. Had the United States persisted with limiting American identity to the WASPs, they would have excluded Catholics, Jews, African Americans and other groups that form an integral part of their nation today and have contributed much to the economic, military and political dominance of the US. In like vein, imagining our national identity in such a narrow way will freeze Singapore society static, in reality harming our long-term interests. Advocates of exclusion often wave the nationalist flag, but do they really have our national interests at heart? I think not. Opening up Singapore to foreigners means more than just finding a job for them. It involves including them in our society. The Singaporean identity should not be the sole preserve of Singaporeans. We are, after all, foreign in our own way. The sons and daughters of foreigners, in our own land.







An exposition on the hagiography of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the political utility of his historical legacy and the value of popularized history. Chow Alex


EVISIONIST Historians have long questioned the figure of Dr Sun Yat Sen, regarding Chinese historiography on him as the construction of a mythical figure, whose stature served political ends by bolstering the legitimacy of political groups. He is identified as the ‘Father of the Nation’ by the Guomindang (GMD) regimes in China and then Taiwan, lauded as the pioneer of the Communist Revolution, and had even been claimed by the Japanese puppet regime of Wang Jing Wei (1940-1945) for his past affirmations of Pan-Asianism. This subjection of history towards political ends is considered a debased form of the craft by those who attempt to take on an objective view, and rightly so since such accounts of Dr Sun tend to gloss over his failures and shortcomings, portraying him as having played the decisive role in shaping modern China. THE REVISIONIST NARRATIVE Foremost amongst the gripes of revisionist historians is the fact that Dr Sun had been absent from the immediate unfolding of events followed by the Wuchang Uprising, a revolt that was neither planned for nor anticipated by his Revolutionary Alliance, but which sparked off a series of uprisings leading to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. Upon his return to China, Dr Sun played an insignificant role in the debates deciding the form of the new republic but nevertheless, gained nominal leadership of the movement when he was installed as provisional president, a move intended to defuse tensions between rival factions vying for the post and not as many people supposed, due purely to appraisement of his contributions and personal capability. His time as president however, was too short for him to achieve anything of note, having made a total of only three appearances in parliament, he resigned in favour of military strongman, Yuan Shi Kai. This was followed by a time of political inactivity, during which he


Sun Yat Sen at home in Guangdong Source: Encyclopædia Britannica

absorbed himself in the project of planning the national rail network (a massive project requiring foreign loans that were not forthcoming), thereby leaving his #3 man, Song Jiao Ren to organize the GMD’s direction and grapple with the dictatorial tendencies of Yuan Shi Kai.


uch is the revisionist account of Dr Sun’s role in the 1911 revolution, and the creation of the early republic - one which is based on an examination of available facts and not superimposed upon reality for political expediency. However, it should not be forgotten that even while objectivity may be the highest calling within history, a popularized version of the past which adopts Sun as the Father of the Nation and which celebrates the 1911 Revolution as the Double Ten Festival, may on the other hand, play a benign role by offering a more positive perception of this period of Chinese history. The ‘Century of Humiliation’ so named by Chinese intellectuals of the 1920’s is aptly termed - not only for the transgressions of sovereignty suffered at the hands of foreign powers, but also the disunity and opportunism that had characterized Chinese politics during this time. The Xinhai revolution failed to end this dark and confusing period due to the survival of the old social order, as represented by regional militarists and the defunct

gentry class. As such, the Revolution only marked the transition to a period in which the struggle for narrow interests intensified, for it was during this time that Yuan Shi Kai betrayed the revolution and self-serving warlords entrenched themselves in power., whilst endemic corruption served as the backdrop for the entire scene. In light of such historical circumstances, it can be argued that the appeal of Dr Sun Yat Sen stemmed from the stark contrasts that he posed against the bulk of his contemporaries. The apparently selfless abdication to assuage the ambitions of Yuan Shi Kai demonstrated his concern for national unity and his unwillingness to wage civil war, whereas even his private will is testimony to his personal virtue, for he had passed away without being in possession of any great store of wealth - despite having managed and raised large sums for the revolution. As such, his ideals and personal integrity have enabled his memory to act as a focal point for a more positive remembrance of this period of history. As the historian, Harold Schiffrin puts it, “without his (Dr Sun’s) memory… the quarter of a century in which he was active would seem even darker.” And perhaps it would be a shame for any period of history to be bereft of heroes and without inspiration.



Finally, I would venture to say that the ‘hero-cult’ of Dr Sun while still being rooted firmly in the realm of politics, has also entered into the cultural consciousness of the Chinese much as how historical figures such as Yue- Fei, Qu Yuan and Guan Yu had been apotheosized and inducted into the Chinese cultural milieu. Each of these persons as they are popularly understood and recognized, does not conform to what is considered historical reality. The existence of Qu Yuan was doubted by Chinese scholars in the early 20th century, Guan Yu is more of a literary character than a historical figure, whereas Yue Fei who is acclaimed for having been a ‘great general and true patriot’, who had ‘suffered a tragic end at the hands of the villainous Qin Huai’, was perhaps saved from an ignominious defeat by having been sentenced to death before he could carry on his impulsive campaigns.

Dr sun yat sen (1866-1925)

However, despite their apparent fallacies and fictiveness, ‘objectiveness’ is not the only thing that is at stake here. Yue Fei, Qu Yuan and Guan Yu are all cultural symbols representing values of self-sacrifice, patriotism and loyalty. In fact, the very effectiveness of these figures in serving as vehicles for the transmission of these values is due to the ‘historic aura’ that they have been imbued with. No one would give these persons and the ideals appended to them the same regard if they were merely fictive creations within a parable. It is the belief that such persons and their deeds are real and that they are of history and not derived from history which gives them their power as symbols and facets of heritage. Therefore, when we approach the legacy of Sun Yat Sen, who has come to symbolize Chinese Nationalism and the attendant hopes for social justice and modernization in China, it is well to keep the words of Pierre Nora in mind, “To interrogate a tradition [or symbol]…is no longer to pass it on intact.”




Understanding the 1911 Revolution — The history and the significance of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall Chan Cheng Lin

Photograph by Choo Yut Shing http://www.flickr.com/people/25802865@N08/





Located off Balestier Road is a two-storey colonial bungalow hailed as “a cultural shrine for all ethnic Singaporeans”. Gazetted as a national monument in 1994, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (孙中山南洋纪念馆) was recently reopened on 8 October 2011, after a year-long renovation, to mark the centennial anniversary of China’s 1911 Revolution (Xinhai Revolution; 辛亥革命). The Memorial Hall, more commonly called Sun Yat Sen Villa, was Dr. Sun’s Southeast Asian (“Nanyang”; 南洋) revolutionary headquarters between 1906 and 1909. It was here where he plotted the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. After ten failed uprisings, the Wuchang Uprising (武昌起义) of 10 October 1911, succeeded. Two millennia of Chinese imperial rule came to an end and Asia’s first republic was born on 1 January 1912. Although Sun was not responsible for the Wuchang revolt, he was credited for its success. Thus, the Villa became synonymous with the “Father” of the Republic and its rich historical symbolism has had been celebrated by the governments of China, Taiwan, and Singapore. HISTORY The Villa has over two centuries of history. Originally constructed as Bin Chan House (明珍庐) in the 1880s, it was bought by local businessman Teo Eng Hock ( 张永福) in 1905 for his elderly mother to spend her twilight years. Teo henceforth renamed it Wanqing Yuan (晚晴园; “Sunset Garden”). After joining the revolutionary movement, he offered the Villa to Dr. Sun Yat-sen (孙中山; 1866 – 1925) as his revolutionary hub. The politician lived in the Villa on three of his eight visits to Singapore between 1900 and 1912. During this period, the place became Sun’s Tongmenghui ( 同盟会;“Revolutionary Alliance”) branch and Southeast Asian headquarters. He held meetings and planned uprisings there with his party colleagues, including Huang Xing (黄兴), Wang Jingwei (汪精卫), and Hu Hanmin (胡汉民), as well as, local Chinese community leaders Teo, Tan Chor Nam (陈楚南) and Lim Nee Soon (林义顺). The Villa was sold after the 1911 Revolution. In 1937, local Chinese magnates acquired it under the auspices of the Guomindang (GMD; 国民党) government in China. It was opened to the public in 1940 as a historical site. During the Second World War, however, the Japanese military used it as their communication base. After the war, the Villa became the GMD Singapore branch. The party nevertheless lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) purchased the Villa in 1951. The SCCC renovated and reopened it in 1966. Unfortunately, the Villa fell into disuse for the next three decades. In the 1990s, the Singapore government decided to revive the Villa and turn it into a heritage site. With the support of then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Minister for Information and the Arts, George Yeo, it underwent a massive make-over in 1997 and was reopened as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in 2001. The building was closed on 11 October 2010 for another round of redevelopment at a cost of S$5.6 million. The National Heritage Board (NHB) reopened it in early October this year. The refurbished Villa has five new galleries with state-of-the-art technology and 180 never-shown-before artefacts among its 450 exhibits. As part of the NHB’s aim to develop the Villa into a world-class museum, the roles played by the local Chinese community in the Revolution, the educational and economic impact of the Revolution on Singapore, and the early local Chinese community leaders’ “quest for



modernity, identity and progress” form the themes of the galleries. HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE Why did the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) choose to revitalise the Sun Yat Sen Villa after a thirtyyear hiatus? Firstly, the PAP aimed to increase Chinese Singaporeans’ awareness of their ethnic culture. With the advent of globalisation and Westernisation, the government felt the need to remind Chinese Singaporeans of their cultural roots. The Villa would play a useful role in helping the younger Singaporeans to understand their heroic cultural past and to espouse critical values, like loyalty to country and determination, which Sun Yat-sen embodied. After all, living in a multi-racial and multicultural society means that “cultural essentialism based on ethnicity remains the defining principle of being Singaporean”. Secondly, Singapore wanted to forge closer relations with both sides of the Taiwan Straits amid the economic ascendancy of the People’s Republic. Despite their political differences, Sun is revered by both the Chinese Communist government and the GMD administration in Taiwan. The Chinese acknowledge him as the “Pioneer

of the Revolution” (革命先行者) while the Taiwanese proclaim him as the “Father of the Nation” (国父). Hence, both the Chinese and Taiwanese governments funded the Villa’s reconstruction in 2001. The implicit hope of the PAP leadership is to act as a mediator in cross-Straits relations with the Villa being the venue for China-Taiwan talks. Singapore’s cultural and historic association with China would also enable Singaporeans to seize valuable economic opportunities in China. Thirdly, the Villa is used by the PAP to promote its nation-building efforts. By stressing the links between Singapore and one of history’s most significant revolutions, the government aims to create a “Big Singapore” which has an eminent role to play on the world stage. Moreover, George Yeo claimed the Chinese nationalism advocated by Sun laid the foundation for Singapore’s nationalism, and hence our subsequent independence. Whatever the reasons for the restoration of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, there is no doubt it had played an important historical role in the making of modern China. As this historical site promises an engaging experience for all visitors, History buffs and those interested in the rise of China should not give it a miss.

FURTHER READING Bergere, Marie-Claire, translated from French by Janet Lloyd. Sun Yat-sen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994. [DS777 Ber]* Gordon, David B. Sun Yatsen: Seeking a Newer China. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2010. [DS777 Gor 2010]* Huang, Jianli and Hong Lysa. “History and the Imaginaries of ‘Big Singapore’: Positioning the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall”. In Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35.1 (February 2004): 65 – 89. [Call No.: DS501 JSAS]* Lee, Lai To and Lee Hock Guan edited. Sun Yat-Sen, Nanyang and the 1911 Revolution. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011. [DS777 Sun 2011]* Leo, Suryadinata edited. Tongmenghui, Sun Yat Sen and the Chinese in Southeast Asia: A Revisit. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre, 2006. [Call No.: DS523.4 Chi.To 2006]* * Indicates the call number of the book/journal in NUS Central Library


INFORMATION & EVENTS SUN YAT SEN NANYANG MEMORIAL HALL 12 Tai Gin Road Singapore 327874 Opening Hours: Every Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm (Closed every Monday) Bus Services: 21, 130, 131, 139, 145, and 186 Nearby MRT Stations: Toa Payoh (N19) and Novena (N20) www.wanqingyuan.org.sg www.facebook.com/wanqingyuan



The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall has organised a series of informative talks, exhibitions, and programmes from October to December 2011 to commemorate the 1911 Revolution. In particular, the Wan Qing CultureFest 2011 has the additional aim of promoting Chinese cultural arts through workshops and performances. More information: http://wanqingyuan.org.sg/WQY_exhibition_programme.html

This historical film, now showing in cinemas worldwide, traces the Tongmenhui’s revolutionary activities in leading to the Wuchang Uprising and the founding of the Republic of China. It stars Winston Chao as Sun Yat-sen and Jackie Chan as Huang Xing, Sun’s most loyal and trusted comrade.

BOOK LAUNCH BY THE INSTITUTE OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, in collaboration with the Chinese Heritage Centre and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, launched the book, Sun Yat-Sen, Nanyang and the 1911 Revolution on 8 October 2011. The book is available in both English and Chinese editions.

SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM’S “DR SUN YAT SEN: THE MAN WHO CHANGED CHINA” EXHIBITION, 9 JULY 2011 – 18 SEP 2011 Stamps from the Republican Era and Sun Yat-sen’s personal artifacts were displayed in this month-long exhibition organised by the Singapore Philatelic Museum and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. The stamps were loaned by Mr. Meng Zhao Long, a philatelist from Beijing, while the artefacts were from the Memorial Hall.



REVIEW/ 1911 Revolutionary ideals betrayed

Yong Chun Yuan

1911《辛亥革命》 a Chinese film commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai revolution, has received generally unfavourable reviews from Western critics. As reflected in their writing, these reviewers seem to have a preconceived notion about what revolutionary movies should consist of – wide-angled shots of gunfire, blood and guts. No doubt they will be disappointed. Save for the early portions of 1911, such scenes do not form the bulk of the film. Another common complaint is that critics have found 1911 partial to the nationalist historiography that paints the Qing dynasty as evil, corrupted, an empire decayed beyond redemption. Such a reading glosses over nuances in the film, which does not merely portray the Qing state as a monolith. Indeed, the Qing court is a depiction of doom: one scene shows the young emperor, Pu-yi bursting out in tears, with senior officials all cowering on their knees illustrating not merely their inability to placate him but their helplessness in staying the ills of the empire. However, not all Qing officials are depicted as meek and aloof from reality. In two similar scenes, we observe two Qing bureaucrats who genuinely have national interests at heart, though manifested in contrasting ways. The first involves Zhang Minqi, Governor of Canton, interrogating rebel leader Lin Juemin after the failed Canton uprising. Keenly aware that China must reform, Zhang empathises with Lin’s cause and wishes to offer him clemency. Rebuffed, Zhang has no choice but to execute Lin. In a second scene, Qing official Tang Weiyong debates Sun Yat-sen on the goals of revolution, after the latter repeatedly frustrates his attempts to rollover Qing loans from the Four-Power Banking Consortium. This despite Tang being under orders to assassinate Sun. Moved by Sun’s logic and realising that Sun is China’s best hope, Tang eventually chooses to set Sun free, killing himself instead. Although the second scene is entirely fictional—Tang never existed in history—its dramatic inclu-

REVIEW: 1911

sion is proof that the film wishes to highlight reformist elements within the Qing bureaucracy. (Good men and loyal servants of the empire still exist but the Qing was structurally rotten.) Perhaps the only criticism of merit is that overall character development is poor. Many characters, among them Li Yuanhong, Wang Jingwei or Xu Shichang, are paraded out only for a brief appearance without any intention to elaborate on their significance. To people unfamiliar with that era of Chinese history, they are but a morass of meaningless names. Meanwhile, the onscreen romance between Huang Xing (Jackie Chan) and Xu Zonghan (Li Bingbing) adds little to the overall narrative. I would argue, however, that such quibbles should not distract us from appreciating the central theme of the film: The revolution as the start of a new chaotic China, one torn apart by contrasting visions. To articulate this idea, the cinematography of the film is geared towards presenting the “dialogue” between the two main characters, Sun Yat-sen (Winston Chao) and his arch-rival, Yuan Shikai (Sun Chun). I use the term “dialogue” in inverted commas because these characters do not actually meet each other physically in the narrative of the film. It is the skilful crosscutting between close-up shots of Sun and Yuan articulating their thoughts, seemingly addressing each other, that creates this effect. In separate shots, Sun and Yuan take turns to express disgust at each other’s actions, alternately branding each other as untrustworthy. Sun is exasperated that Yuan refuses to cede military control to the Republican Government, while Yuan is appalled that Sun has been appointed the Provisional President of the Republic, despite commanding the allegiance of no more than a handful of Chinese provinces. Editing is thus used to falsify the effect that Sun and Yuan are haranguing each other face-to-face, even though this is not really the case. In my opinion, their intense debate captures the significance underlying the 1911 revolution, which is at its heart less about the armed uprising at Wuchang, than about the future direction of China. This is reflected in the dichotomous characters of Sun and Yuan—the former a spokesperson for an all-encompassing nationalism; the latter a representation of regional warlordism. Sun typifies the idealism associated with the national-


ist revolution. In a scene of him serving sliced lamb to foreign diplomats, presenting a visual metaphor of how China had been carved up, Sun proclaims to be a doctor, one who aims not just to heal China’s spirit but to unite its disparate parts. The character of Yuan, meanwhile, takes off on a different trajectory. He is shown to be cold, calculating, dogged in the pursuit of his personal interest. On his final trip to Beijing’s Imperial Palace, a one-to-one conversation takes place between the Empress Dowager and Yuan: Inches away from each other, a pallid Dowager Longyu ponders her fate as a commoner if she should abdicate. Despite his obsequious tone, it is pretty clear that Yuan is in charge. He is shown to be the new centre of power, and it is he who dictates terms to the Qing monarch. While taking pains to appear humble, it is Yuan who harbours great ambition, ambition antithetical to the interests of the nascent nationalist party. The success of Yuan’s character, I feel, owes as much to casting—Sun Chun reprises his well-honed role from the TV serial, Towards the Republic—as to how he provides an important counterpoint to Sun and his nationalist ideals. In stressing on the dialogue and interplay between these two characters, the film projects the 1911 revolution, though nominally a nationalist uprising, more as an event that opens the door for Yuan’s political ambition. As the idealistic fervour of the revolutionary spirit peters out, Sun’s Republican Government must contend with the unpleasant reality that they are militarily weak. The moral high ground they have amassed counts for little in the new China, where as Mao would later maintain, power emerges solely from the barrel of a gun. In the end, it is Yuan who prevails on the back of his military power. In portraying the 1911 revolution, the film is ultimately a lament of a stillborn Chinese republic: Revolutionary ideals are caught in thrall to Yuan’s political machinations. Instead of a stereotypical treatment of revolution and its attendant violence, 1911 succeeds in conveying this central idea—a point sadly lost on many of its Western viewers.




Chew An Ee speaks to Mr Lam Chun See, creator of the blog, Good Morning Yesterday


INGAPORE has undergone much change since the 1960s—from the kampong days to a first world city state. Such change may not be very apparent to the younger generations, but for those who grew up in the 1960s it must have been impactful to experience such changes in a lifetime. I had the privilege of interviewing Mr Lam Chun See who is 59 this year and also the author of the blog ‘Good Morning Yesterday’. The blog has been gaining popularity over the years and has a steady readership due to the rich content Mr Lam provides. It is an interesting blog which features memories, photos and especially the feelings of his generation towards the Singapore of the past. I spoke to him to find out more about the history of his blog and some of his fonder memories. Here are some of the excerpts of our conversation. an ee What gave you the idea of using the name “Good Morning Yesterday”? Is it a song? mr lam Ya, it is from the opening line of the Paul Anka classic, ‘Times of Your Life’. Pictured: Mr Lam and the first NJC uniform, 1969

I find the lyrics very meaningful and of course at that time it was a big hit. When this song came out in the early 1970s, I was around your age in university also. It was very popular then and in fact Kodak used it as their advertisement because the message of the song was very appropriate for their product. an ee Ok, so what really got you started in writing this blog? mr lam In 2005, I went to Myanmar for an assignment and so on the way back to the airport, I mentioned to this Japanese passenger in the hotel car that Yangon looked like Singapore during the time I grew up – with all the boneshakers, buses and old buildings. He was surprised and said that Singapore must have changed terribly because everything looked modern now. And also because of my love for writing, I started this blog when I got back, as a platform for my generation to talk about the past because I was quite driven by the physical changes of Singapore.



step out the house you feel very cramped in. So we go out and take a walk. It was very hard getting used to it an ee I also noticed that you talked about National Service in your blog, any fond memories there? Can’t be all bad memories right? mr lam Yeah. I think you should know. Even the bad memories are nice when you recall how shiong those days were. Thinking back is fun, [both laugh] and of course there are a lot of very strong memories.

Mr Lam and friend, Barney. In the background is his family’s old kampong house off Lorong Chuan.

an ee Is there anything in Singapore that has remained the same over the years? mr lam Physically very little but perhaps the behavior of people. For example, during our time buses only had one door. So you enter and exit from the same door, so many people don’t want to go right to the end because when you go to the end, you cannot come out, very difficult. So everybody will hang around the entrance, and the fierce bus driver will shout, “Masuk Dalum! Masuk Dalum! Ao buey bo gui ar!” (Move inside! There aren’t any ghosts at the back!) [Laughter from both of us] mr lam So some things never change. an ee Are there any particular memories that you are most fond of? mr lam Kampong days. Those days we don’t even have TV. So growing up in the kampong, we will go around catching fighting fish and we have a lot of ponds in the kampong. Fishing, catching spiders, all kinds of stuff kids do to entertain themselves. The memories are very strong. an ee What about your experiences of moving into a HDB, am I right to assume that you moved into a HDB after your kampong days? mr lam The feeling, it is like a big change. I remembered when I moved into the HDB flat and the first night it rained, I found it very different. You don’t hear the sound of the rain hitting the roof. Also if I stayed indoors for the whole day, I felt very uncomfortable. If you don’t

Our time, it was very different in terms of physical landscape and that is the one thing that I will miss. Nowadays most of the trainings in Singapore are in very confined areas, our time we were right in the middle of the kampongs, we were running around in the kampongs and a lot of these places are gone. For example, in Marsiling, the hills, the farms, the landscape are totally gone now. When we did our defense camp, and when we went up Hill 180, the terrain was so different. We could see the causeway, it was so beautiful at night. Now we have no chance to see it again. an ee Can you recall what it was like to enlist? mr lam Of course, the last page of my upcoming book talks about it. So after JC, I was getting ready to enlist, the feeling is the same, very sian. But during our time we were more fearful because the stories were very frightening. The training was very physically shiong and it was almost like being sent to a concentration camp. We went to CMPB and they loaded all of us into the tonners and off you go, but now the Army is better, the SAF will reassure the parents that their boys are in good hands. And today’s army is an intelligent army, they use touch screen technology now whereas in the past we used logbooks for artillery calculations. an ee One last question. Do you think there is any value in learning from the past? mr lam If you do not know the past, how would you know who you are and where you have been to? I think for you who are studying history, you should know. We may not be able to articulate exactly why, but intrinsically we know there is value in it. an ee Thanks. Mr. Lam runs ‘Good Morning Yesterday’ at http://goodmorningyesterday.blogspot.com, and will be releasing a book soon.



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Mnemozine: Issue One  

A publication of NUS History Society.

Mnemozine: Issue One  

A publication of NUS History Society.

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