Un­told tales

Dr Sun Yat-sen’s nu­mer­ous sup­port­ers in Malaya played a role in the revo­lu­tion that changed the his­tory of China.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By FOONG THIM LENG

Buried in Perak’s for­mer tin min­ing towns are sto­ries of sac­ri­fice linked to Dr Sun Yat-sen’s strug­gle to form the Re­pub­lic of China.

THE many for­mer tin min­ing towns in the Kinta Val­ley hide a wealth of sto­ries – of un­sung he­roes whose sac­ri­fices helped Dr Sun Yat-sen change the his­tory of China.

Perak may not have been Dr Sun’s base, like Singapore and Pe­nang, but its thou­sands of tin mine and rub­ber es­tate work­ers were in­stru­men­tal in rais­ing funds for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

Dr Sun, who played a key role in in­spir­ing the 1911 Revo­lu­tion which brought an end to the Qing Dy­nasty, the last im­pe­rial dy­nasty of China, is best re­mem­bered as the found­ing fa­ther of Repub­li­can China. But not much is known about his ac­tiv­i­ties in then Malaya.

Sto­ries from small, old towns are nor­mally car­ried down the gen­er­a­tions by word of mouth. Much in­for­ma­tion may have been lost along the way, and even the de­scen­dants of Dr Sun’s sup­port­ers have lit­tle to tell.

So it is not sur­pris­ing that few have heard sto­ries like Dr Sun’s ro­man­tic link with his body­guard’s sis­ter, Chen Cuifen, while in Nanyang (South-East Asia).

Chen from Fu­jian met Dr Sun when she was 17. Ex­tremely ded­i­cated to Dr Sun and his cause, Chen was his con­stant com­pan­ion in Nanyang. She washed, cooked for many of Dr Sun’s com­rades, de­liv­ered im­por­tant doc­u­ments, and even smug­gled dan­ger­ous ex­plo­sives.

Chen and Dr Sun’s first wife, Lu Muzhen, treated each other like sis­ters. Al­though not of­fi­cially mar­ried, she was known as Dr Sun’s Nanyang wife to his de­scen­dants.

On her death, she was al­lowed to be buried in the Sun’s fam­ily ceme­tery in Cui­heng vil­lage, Guang­dong, China.

Chen adopted a daugh­ter, Su Zhongy­ing, from a rub­ber es­tate worker in Perak. Su later mar­ried Sun Qian, a grand­son of Sun Mei who was Dr Sun’s elder brother.

Renowned his­to­rian Prof Yen Ching-hwang said in his doc­toral the­sis, Chi­nese Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Move­ment In Malaya 1900-1911, that Dr Sun’s first trip to Ipoh in 1906 ended abruptly when he was threat­ened by well-known tin miner Foo Choo Choon who was back­ing a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal camp in China. Dr Sun re­turned to Kuala Lumpur the fol­low­ing day.

Ac­cord­ing to the late Foong Choon Hon, a di­rec­tor of the Sun Yat-sen Nanyang Me­mo­rial Hall in Singapore, on one oc­ca­sion, stones and cow dung were hurled at the car car­ry­ing Dr Sun in Men­glembu near Ipoh.

Foong said Dr Sun had also stayed in a shop be­long­ing to his sup­porter Lee Guan Swee in Old Town, Ipoh. He would only leave the shop at night us­ing the back lane for fear of as­sas­sins.

Dr Sun’s bad ex­pe­ri­ences with rich mer­chants made him re­alise that his core sup­port came from the mid­dle and lower so­cial groups of over­seas Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties. His sup­port­ers or­gan­ised them­selves into small groups and were ac­tive in pro­pa­ganda ac­tiv­i­ties in the Perak towns of La­hat, Pa­pan and Tronoh.

One of Dr Sun’s most loyal sup­port­ers was en­tre­pre­neur Teh Lay Seng from Ipoh.

When Teh passed away in Nan­jing, China, in 1940, the Chi­nese Repub­li­can Govern­ment posthu­mously dec­o­rated him with words of praise: Benev­o­lence and Loy­alty, Hon­our and Peace were in­scribed on his tomb­stone at the Hokkien Ceme­tery in Tam­bun. His sundry shop Keat Seng Leong is still be­ing run by his de­scen­dants in Jalan Bi­jeh Timah, Ipoh

Lee Guan Swee, also from Ipoh, was an­other prom­i­nent sup­porter. The English-ed­u­cated Lee was one of Dr Sun’s most trusted aides in South-East Asia. He spared no ef­fort in rais­ing funds for the revo­lu­tion. Other sup­port­ers from Ipoh in­cluded Ke Shui­jin, Ou Shen­gang, Li Xiaozhang, Tang Bol­ing, Liu Yex­ing, Huang Yiyi and Liang Shen­nan.

Dr Sun also had the back­ing of Lu Wen­hui and Chen Zhian from Taip­ing, and Yang Chaodong from Kam­par.

To­gether they formed the Tung Meng Hui (the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Union League) in towns in the Kinta Val­ley, clubs and drama troupes, to spread their pro­pa­ganda. One such drama troupe in Ipoh was the Perak Chisin Seah which later be­came the Perak Chi­nese Am­a­teur Dra­matic As­so­ci­a­tion.

Dr Sun’s sup­port­ers ad­dressed the gen­eral pub­lic at street cor­ners, along road­sides and parks, and at­tacked the Qing govern­ment and Qing re­formists, be­sides preach­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary doc­trines.

Dr Sun’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was marked by a se­ries of failed up­ris­ings. Be­tween 1907 and 1910, sev­eral re­volts at the Sino- Viet­namese border and Guang­dong in China failed be­cause of in­suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial sup­port and mil­i­tary sup­plies.

The now-de­funct Straits Echo in Pe­nang con­demned Dr Sun and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment, say­ing that Dr Sun was all money talk and did not have any­thing to show for the stream of gold that flowed his way.

Dr Sun’s sup­port­ers also met with re­sis­tance from mer­chants who were sym­pa­thetic to calls for po­lit­i­cal change in China, but who were aligned to re­formist Kang You-wei. Many of the rich were sup­port­ers of the Qing govern­ment which of­fered hon­orary ti­tles and po­si­tions to them.

On Nov 13, 1910, Dr Sun held the im­por­tant “Pe­nang Con­fer­ence” at Ar­me­nian Street in Pe­nang. He

Once upon a time in China: A pho­to­graph of Dr Sun Yat-sen taken in 1924 in Guangzhou. Dr Sun is recog­nised as the Found­ing Fa­ther of the Re­pub­lic of China.

The words of Dr Sun Yat-sen are in­scribed on a wall of the Sun Yat-sen Gallery in the Perak Cave Tem­ple.

Fam­ily pho­tos: A pic­ture of Chen Cuifen and Dr Sun Yat-sen at the Sun Yat-sen Me­mo­rial Mu­seum in Guangzhou. (Pic right) Chen Cuifen’s adopted daugh­ter Su Zhongy­ing was from Perak.

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