Raffles Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

From ‘Solve quandary by having both names for museum’, 16 Aug 2011, ST Forum and ‘Don’t sever museum’s historic link’, 12 Aug 2011, ST Forum

(Ong Sheue Ling): IN THE near future, Singapore will have a new natural history museum. However, I am saddened to learn that the new museum will be named Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum instead of retaining its current name – Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, or simply Raffles Museum.

…Raffles Museum, founded in 1849, was brought about by Sir Stamford Raffles’ interest in natural history. An eminent naturalist, Raffles was not only the founder of Singapore but also the visionary behind Raffles Museum. Thus, the name Raffles Museum not only pays tribute to the man who contributed significantly to the natural history of Singapore, but also reminds future generations about the museum’s heritage. We should not forget our past as we move forward.

Over the years, Raffles Museum has established its role in research, teaching and training in both the regional and international context. The name Raffles Museum can be likened to a brand. Isn’t branding just as important? It could prove useful in making an impression and promoting future exhibitions.

To simply change the name because of the need to acknowledge the biggest donor is not justifiable.

…I hope the relevant parties will consider retaining the museum’s original name. In recognition of the Lee Foundation’s substantial donation, a wing of the museum could be named after Dr Lee.

(Bernie Cheok): …The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research was named after the founding father of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, in recognition of his immeasurable contributions to the natural history of Singapore.

The public is thankful for the generous donation of $25 million by the Lee Foundation which will go a long way in funding research and study. The Raffles link to the museum can still be maintained by naming it “Raffles – Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum” instead.

It seems like our forefathers are having a hard time getting named posthumously after things. Not everyone was happy with Tan Kah Kee MRT station because of its location and its overt link to Hwa Chong, nor Ng Teng Fong Hospital because he just seemed to be a really rich guy and did not come across as the philanthropist like Tan Tock Seng was. Some forefathers like S C Goho have been forgotten entirely, with someone suggesting that he be named after a bus interchange. Which leaves us with rubber magnate and legendary philanthropist Dato Lee Kong Chian, who, last I checked,  has libraries and schools but not a flower named after him like Raffles has. Incidentally, the Lee foundation also donated a whopping $60 million to the National Library at Victoria Street in 2003, and although we have a Lee Kong Chian Reference Library in the same building, the National Library hasn’t been renamed the Lee Kong Chian Library, yet. Adding the troublesome hyphen to form a Raffles-Lee Kong Chian hybrid as Mr Cheok suggests would mislead visitors into thinking Raffles and Dato Lee are one and the same person, by mistaking our founder’s surname as Lee’s first name (We know him more as Stamford Raffles rather than Thomas)

It’s one thing to name a new public hospital after a rich man because hospitals provide an essential service and people will still go there for medical treatment whether they  like the name or not.  It’s another to replace a renown ‘brand’  of a museum with a rich man’s name altogether. You can name libraries, theatres, airports, bridges, hospitals and universities after famous men but somehow putting Lee Kong Chian’s name to a museum of natural history is like renaming Universal Studios to the Goh Chok Tong Amusement Mega-Complex.  A museum’s description should be neat, simple and state exactly what it’s a repository for, whether it’s a museum of toys, Asian civilisations, peranakan culture, war or sex. More importantly, it shouldn’t be mistaken for another museum with a similar name. Names can also be awkward, like our very own Fuk Tak Chi Museum (which showcases Chinese heritage, contrary to what most would believe), yet one can also turn dull, pedestrian names like Singapore Art Museum into catchy acronyms (SAM) too. No matter how much funding is granted to museums, their objective is always to draw a crowd, for that is what museums all over the world do, getting people in to gape at old stuff. And ‘selling’ it with a marketable name that one can identify with is just part of the business plan.

Besides, the Dato already has had two shots of museum fame, the Lee Kong Chian Museum of Asian Culture, (the old Nanyang University), and the current Lee Kong Chian Art Museum, NUS. To further confuse matters, he also has two Schools (Business in SMU and Medicine NTU) to his name. There has, as far as I’m aware, only ever been one Raffles Museum.

Raffles Museum 1936


One Response

  1. […] – New Nation: Over 30,000 S’porean elderly to work to death: Research – Everything Also Complain: Raffles Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum – Desparatebeep : Is the Wrong Generation Dying […]

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