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Your guide to the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail

By Lily Valette 25 January 2024

Header image courtesy of Lily Valette

Dr Sun Yat-sen’s name is a familiar sight in Hong Kong, regardless of whether you have an interest in Chinese history or a jogging habit that takes you past the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park along Victoria Harbour. Another indicator of his tremendous impact is the museum in Mid-Levels that’s named after him and records his story and personal artefacts.

Dr Sun Yat-sen was among the revolutionaries who led the 1911 Revolution that put an end to the Qing dynasty. Born in Guangdong province in 1866, Sun moved to Honolulu at the age of 12. From there, the young man arrived in Hong Kong in 1883, where he stayed until his exile to London in 1896. During those years, Sun left an indelible mark on Hong Kong.

When the time came to revitalise the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail in 2018, the decision was made to create new concrete landmarks. Under the theme “Art Across Time,” a group of local artists produced 16 original creations, one for each stop on the trail. The route goes from Mid-Levels to Central, following the steps of the revolutionary figure throughout the city. You won’t see any nineteenth-century historical buildings on the way, but with the help of this step-by-step guide, you will embark on an art and historical journey through time.

Disclaimer: Standing the test of time is a difficult feat, and some of these art pieces are covered in dust, sometimes partly faded, or even have a few graffiti covering them. Most remain intact, and all are still worth the detour!

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Photo: @sysofficial2018 (via Instagram)

The University of Hong Kong

Where: Bonham Road, located by the University Museum and Art Gallery

The Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail begins on Bonham Road, with the first landmark located near the University Museum and Art Gallery. The location is marked by an interactive piece of art by Justin Wong, not unlike a rotating cube puzzle. If shuffled correctly, the cubes can either form an illustration of Sun, a red and blue panel, Chinese characters, or a yellow panel engraved with icons representative of the revolutionary’s life. This polymorphic piece marks the University of Hong Kong—even though Sun didn’t technically study here, as this institution was only founded in 1911. However, the College of Medicine he attended from 1887 till 1892 was integrated into HKU in 1912. He therefore considered the newly unified school as his alma mater, and famously said in a 1923 speech: “Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong are my intellectual birthplace.”

Photo: Lily Valette

The Diocesan Home and Orphanage

Where: Eastern Street, located by the Bonham Road Government Primary School

Walk along Bonham Road until you reach Eastern Street to arrive at the original site of the Diocesan Home and Orphanage. The Anglican school is where a young Sun studied when he initially moved to Hong Kong in 1883. Installed by the Bonham Road Government Primary School, you’ll notice a distorted piece of iron in the shape of a house. With three-dimensional roof tiles, windows, shutters, and arched door, this piece by artist Tang Kwok-hin represents his vision of a building that no longer exist, as a keepsake from another era.

Photo: Lily Valette

Reception of the Tongmenghui

Where: 62 Po Hing Fong

When you’re back on Bonham Road, walk until you reach the small set of stairs taking you down to Pound Lane, and descend until you reach Po Hing Fong, the street running alongside Blake Garden. Take a right and keep an eye out for the next spot located at number 62. You’ll soon notice the colourful art piece by artist Joey Lung, paying homage to the Tongmenghui. Imagined as the opened pages of a pop-up book, the scenes depicted are meant to represent a chapter in Sun’s life story. The Tongmenghui, or Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, was originally founded by Sun in Tokyo in the early twentieth century. Its Hong Kong branch provided places for revolutionaries to converge and find safety.

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Preaching House of the American Congregational Church

Where: 2 Bridges Street

On the way out of Poho and into Sheung Wan, you’ll reach Bridges Street. Walk until you reach the current location of the Hong Kong News Expo, situated on your right. Along the white wall is a delicate installation also by Joey Lung, a white metallic sculpture resembling an open window. Adorned with birds, a planet, a pair of glasses, Chinese characters, and more references to his memories, it invites viewers to discover another chapter of Sun’s story. Although it looks different today, this location was the site of the Preaching House of the American Congregational Church, where Sun lived and was baptised.

Hong Kong in the time of Dr Sun Yat-sen

Where: Staunton Street, located by PMQ

Just a few steps further, Bridges Street turns into Staunton Street, where you will encounter the next landmark. On the left side, standing in front of the north façade of PMQ, two small but noticeable signs display photos of Hong Kong in the nineteenth century. One is a coloured drawing of the harbour in Central in the 1870s, the other of Pedder Street in Central before land reclamation. These works by Alexis Ip strikingly display the trading vessels that characterised Hong Kong’s influential commercial role at the time.

Hong Kong headquarters of the Xingzhonghui

Where: 13 Staunton Street

Continue walking along Staunton Street. In between bar and restaurant fronts, right in front of The Poet bar, you will find an installation by Don Mak. Resembling signage, the tall piece easily goes unnoticed. It marks the original site of the Xingzhongui headquarters in Hong Kong. Xingzhongui was a revolutionary organisation that led multiple failed uprisings, including the one that drove Sun into exile. The group would meet on Staunton Street, covering the entrance of their office as a club, a convenient hideaway in this busy area.

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Photo: Lily Valette

Woo Kee Chan

Where: 26 Wellington Street

From Staunton Street, make your way back down to Hollywood Road and continue along Wyndham Street until you reach the LKF area. At the busy crossroads of D’Aguilar Street and Wellington Street, many people on their way to and from the Central MTR station pass right by the next spot on this historical trail without ever noticing it. Perched on a short wooden street pole is a miniature, multi-layered picture encased in a translucent box. This little landmark has unfortunately been covered by graffiti and stickers, but one side has been spared for you observe the intricate work. Created by Alexis Ip, it honours Wo Kee Chan, a long-gone building that once housed revolutionary activities. Among the events planned within its walls, the most memorable is maybe the failed 1903 Guangzhou Uprising. Here’s another interesting fact: The man who planned for the uprising in Woo Kee Chan was none other than Tse Tsan-tai, the founder of the South China Morning Post.

The “China Daily” office

Where: 17 Stanley Street

Make your way to Stanley Street. Located at number 17, this spot is the original site of the China Daily office. China Daily was a revolutionary newspaper founded by Sun in 1900. It became a useful channel of communication, which Sun deemed necessary in order for the revolution to happen. As a keepsake of revolutionary as well as media history, artist Justin Wong created his piece as if it were an old-looking letterpress used at the time for printing.

Heng Yin Lau Restaurant

Where: 2 Lyndhurst Terrace

Another historical keepsake mostly hidden in-between lively social destinations, the next stop is a three-dimensional metal rendition of Pottinger Street by Kevin Fung. Located at the corner of Pottinger Street and Lyndhurst Terrace, the installation is located by the Brewdog bar. When Sun lived in Hong Kong, this area was already a popular spot for socialising in restaurants and bars. With his friends, he frequently visited Heng Yin Lau, a Western restaurant in Hong Kong. Although the building is no more, you can let your imagination do the work thanks to Kevin Fung’s artistic recreation of the Pottinger Street steps as well as a traditional-looking restaurant front.

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Photo: Lily Valette

To Tsai Church

Where: 75 Hollywood Road

Walking up Lyndhurst Terrace and taking a right on Hollywood Road, keep an eye on the right side of the street. Right at the top of the narrow steps going down towards Pak Tsz Lane Park, you’ll see a tall pole in black and brown adorned with Chinese characters. This art installation by Don Mak marks the location of To Tsai Church, which no longer stands. The convenient location of the church, close to his place of study, meant that Sun often gathered by the religious building. Himself a religious person, this simple piece is a representation of how Christianity influenced the revolutionary figure.

Foo Yan Man Ser

Where: Pak Tsz Lane Park

Following the steps down, you reach Pak Tsz Lane Park. The park hosts not one, but two landmarks of the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail. The first, located just behind the large wooden panel, is an homage to the Foo Yan Man Ser, or “Chinese Patriotic Mutual Improvement Association,” also known as the “Furen Literary Society.” Founded in 1892, the group was made up of young men who shared similar political ideals and hoped to enlighten the public. Sun was not a member, but he kept close ties with the group occupying the first floor of 1 Pak Tsz Lane. They eventually founded the Xingzhonghui in 1895. To remember them, Kevin Fung sculpted metal, recreating a scroll with the Latin phrase “ducit amor patriae” and Chinese characters arising from it.

Photo: Lily Valette

Site of Yeung Ku-wan’s assassination

Where: Pak Tsz Lane Park

Pak Tsz Lane Park is a relatively quiet space these days, but it was also the site of a political assassination. Yeung Ku-wan had been a long-time ally of the revolutionary cause, the founding member of Foo Yan Man Ser, and a president of the Xingzhonghui. Choosing to stay in Hong Kong as a teacher when most revolutionaries, including Sun, had fled overseas after a failed uprising, Yeung Ku-wan was assassinated on orders of the Qing government in 1901. According to the artist, Kacey Wong, the revolutionary’s face has been lost to history. He therefore chose to sculpt a big metal installation into the shape of faceless head.

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The Alice Memorial Hospital and the College of Medicine for Chinese

Where: 77–81 Hollywood Road

Once you’ve taken in the various installations in Pak Tsz Park, go back up the same flight of stairs and take a right. On the side of the road, on the corner with Aberdeen Street, you’ll notice a second distorted iron building recreation by Tang Kwok-hin, similar to the one located on Eastern Street. This iteration marks the previous location of the College of Medicine. After attending the Diocesan Home and Orphanage and the Government Central School, Sun attended the College of Medicine. At the time, the college would have been situated by the Alice Memorial Hospital. As it is very close to the street railing, you’ll get a better view of the installation from across the street.

Queen’s College

Where: Hollywood Road, located by PMQ

If you stay on the other side of the street, you can walk along Hollywood Road towards Sheung Wan and encounter the next art installation. It runs along the stone wall that marks PMQ, as an homage to Queen’s College. Before it was PMQ as we know it today, and even before it was inhabited by married police officers, this was the location of a historical building housing Queen’s College. The Government School where Sun studied was moved to this location after his time there, and it is said he attended its inauguration. With this in mind, architect Kenneth Tse created a double-sided artwork. From one side, the wooden poles are engraved with a dragon, a nod to the Yellow Dragon school magazine. Coming from the other way, the poles are mirrored and form a picture of Dr Sun Yat-sen.

Photo: Lily Valette

The Government Central School

Where: 44 Gough Street

From there, cross the road and walk down Shing Wong Street until it turns into Gough Street. On your right, you’ll encounter a red installation shaped like a door. 44 Gough Street was the location of the Government Central School where Sun received a Western-influenced education. It is said his bilingual course strongly influenced his political views. Architect Steven Chu decided to recreate a symbolic doorway, opening the path to Western civilisation. Once you’ve admired the piece from afar, get closer! The questions of exams held at the Government Central School in 1886 have been reproduced on the sides of the door: “Multiply 873425 by 29997,” “Explain the various functions of judge, barrister, solicitor, jury,” “Compare the reigns of Edward II and Richard II,” “Write a short account of the conquest of Wales,” “What are the causes of the trade winds?,” and more arithmetic, grammar, geography, or translation questions have been reproduced.

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Photo: Lily Valette

Yeung Yiu Kee, the meeting place of the “Four Great Outlaws”

Where: Shin Hing Street, at the corner of Gough Street

There’s just one more spot on the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail, located on the corner of Gough Street and Shin Hing Street. More than a century ago, the area was already a lively place to meet, eat, and drink. Sun regularly met up with three friends in a discreet shop where they shared controversial ideas—their group was consequently dubbed the “Four Great Outlaws.” To represent this, Kacey Wong created five-metre-high red, yellow, blue, white, and black rods. Unfortunately, the plaque explaining the importance of the location and the meaning behind the art piece has now faded.

You’ve now completed the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail! As it mostly refers to the revolutionary’s life in Hong Kong, you’ll have to do some research if you’re looking to learn more about his future accomplishments. The official route was tweaked for the sake of geographical convenience, but you can check it out here.

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Lily Valette

Editor

Born and raised in the French countryside, Lily arrived in Hong Kong looking for an adventure. Passionate about books, she spent some time in Parisian publishing houses and is the author of an illustrated book about hair. Life in Hong Kong for her entails looking for seaside places to eat and a lot of hiking.

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