Rare Sun Yat Sen calligraphy on display

The wooden plaque, Xiang Yi Guan (1845), from the Chung Shan Association in Singapore, at the Sun Yat-Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

A special work of Chinese calligraphy is among various new exhibits at the newly revamped Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. It is by Dr Sun himself and says jian wei gong de, which means "thrift is a universal virtue".

Psychiatrist John Bosco Lee bought it at an auction in Hong Kong about three years ago. "I wanted it because it gives me a glimpse of who Dr Sun was and what his values or philosophy were," said Dr Lee, 44, a senior consultant at Novena Medical Centre.

The avid art collector is also an admirer of Dr Sun, especially for his successful 1911 revolution which ended 267 years of Qing dynasty rule in China. He has loaned the piece on a long-term basis to the museum, which completed its revamp about three weeks ago, after 18 months.

Museum general manager Tan Teng Phee, 42, said the work is one of 17 items contributed by the community and among 160 new exhibits.

"This calligraphy piece is probably written in the early 1920s after the successful revolution to caution the Chinese people against the bad habit of wastage," he added.

Dr Lee said it came from a collector in Taiwan. He offered it to the museum because he "wanted more people to see and appreciate it".

"It is probably the only one of its kind, unlike his more common calligraphy works such bo ai (universal love) and tian xia wei gong (equality for all)," he added.

Other artefacts the museum received from the community include a 1929 English edition of the poem Li Sao, which means "encountering sorrows", by Warring States patriot Qu Yuan. It was translated by Singapore pioneer Chinese community leader Lim Boon Keng, who was bilingual.

"It is one of only two copies of the translation remaining, and it was Dr Lim's attempt to introduce Chinese classical literature to the early Chinese community members here who read only in English, especially the Straits-born Chinese," said Mr Alex Tan, 70, trustee of the Settlement of Dr Lim Boon Keng, who also loaned the piece to the museum on a long-term basis.

Another new exhibit is the original name plaque of the 177-year-old Chung Shan Association, the clan association for immigrants from Dr Sun's native home, Zhongshan district in China's Guangzhou province. It bears the district's original name, Xiang Yi, which was changed to Chung Shan after Dr Sun's death in 1925 in his honour.

Made in 1845, it is on loan to the museum from the clan association.

Also on display at the museum now is a hologram of Dr Sun speaking to his Singapore supporters at the villa in Tai Gin Road, off Balestier Road, on his revolutionary plans.

A special exhibition on the Zhongshan warship which provided refuge to Dr Sun and his wife, Madam Soong Ching Ling, in 1922 is also on at the museum until April next year.

The museum is open from 10am to 5pm, Tuesdays to Sundays, and is closed on Mondays. Admission is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents. Others pay $4 per entry.


This article was first published on Nov 9, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.