Walking the Dr Sun Yat Sen trail

FROM planning his last stand against the Qing Dynasty, to planting the seeds of Penang’s Chinese educational base, to forming the oldest surviving Chinese newspaper in the world, Dr Sun Yat Sen was a busy man during his time in Penang.

And the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) is set to document Dr Sun’s time and work in Penang at the turn of the 20th century with the launch of the Sun Yat Sen Heritage Trail today.

The trail is, in fact, a comprehensive undertaking to recognise buildings in Penang that played important roles in Dr Sun’s and his followers’ fight against China’s imperialist system.

At least 17 historic buildings in Penang have been identified so far, although the trail continues to grow even today.

“Through the Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolutionary Alliance), Dr Sun’s secret society, the Penang Philomathic Union was formed as a cover for revolutionary activities.

“With its first base in 94, Datuk Keramat Road, the Philomathic Union was inaugurated in January 1909 as a public reading club and was used for Dr Sun and his supporters to pass along secret information and messages,” said PHT treasurer Lim Gaik Siang.

She said the union, which is still functioning today, operated from the 19th century Malay stilted house for only four months before moving to 120, Armenian Street.

“On Nov 13, 1910, the historic Penang Conference was held at 404, Datuk Keramat Road to plan the Second Guangzhou Uprising.

“The day after, an emergency meeting was held at 120, Armenian Street where Dr Sun appealed for his followers to support him one last time for an uprising,” said Lim, adding that Penangites dug deep into their pockets to raise 8,000 Straits dollars during the meeting.

This premises was also the establishing location for Kwong Wah Jit Poh, one of Tongmenghui’s main revolutionary organs and is the world’s longest surviving Chinese newspaper today.

Although the historic building on Armenian Street is still standing and is part of the heritage trail, Lim said 404, Datuk Keramat Road had been demolished over the years.

Some other locations on the trail are closely linked to the state’s early Chinese education institutions.

At 18, Malay Street, Dr Sun’s supporters founded Chung Ling School in July 1917 while the school’s secondary branch (Chung Ling High School) was established in 65, Macalister Road in 1923.

“This premises housed Dr Sun during his visit in 1906 and also the Xiaolanting Club where Dr Sun met supporters like Goh Say Eng and Ng Kim Kheng, who become pillars of his revolutionary activities in Penang,” Lim said.

Penang Chinese Girls’ High School, another prominent Chinese school established by Dr Sun’s followers, was set up in 29, Datuk Keramat Road in 1920.

Lim said the trail also included places that Dr Sun had stayed or held meetings in as well as houses of Dr Sun’s supporters and important landmarks of Dr Sun’s secret and underground societies.

Among all the locations on the trail, 11, Northam Road has a special place in Lim’s heart.

The former Shih Chung Branch School is now a dilapidated site, crumbling with disrepair, but Lim said in its heyday, it was the most beautiful house in town.

The mansion, which was nicknamed ‘Five-Storey Bungalow’, was built by brothers Cheah Tek Thye and Cheah Tek Soon (who Lebuh Tek Soon is named after).

“Tek Soon’s daughter Liew Bee married Goh Say Eng, who was a strong supporter of Dr Sun.

“It was said that Goh persuaded the Cheah family to sell off the bungalow to finance Dr Sun’s activities,” Lim said, adding that she hoped that the building would be restored to its former glory.

Lim said each site on the trail would be marked with signboards displaying the history of each place.

“Almost all the places on the trail are privately owned and now house private businesses.

“No. 65, Macalister Road and 120, Armenian Street, however, have been turned into the Penang Sun Yat Sen Centre and Dr Sun Yat Sen’s Penang Base to promote awareness on Dr Sun to the public,” she added.

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