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  The Straits Times, 23 Mar 05
'Dragon's tooth' replica to mark anniversary of Chinese explorer
by Glenys Sim

Rock believed to have helped Cheng Ho navigate waters around Singapore

A rock that China's most feted explorer, Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng he), might have used while navigating through Singapore's waters will be re-created to mark the 600th anniversary of his first voyage.

Popularly called Long Ya Men or Dragon's Tooth Gate because of its shape, the landmark, just off what is Labrador Park today, helped steer ships through Keppel Harbour until the British destroyed it in the mid-19th century to widen the channel.

In July, a replica of Long Ya Men at Labrador Park, off Pasir Panjang Road, will be put up by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the National Parks Board.

Signboard telling Cheng Ho's story will also be put up at the park.

The 6m-high reconstructed rock, made of stone similar to the original, will take the place of the Berlayar Beacon, which was put up wafter World War II, and will remain a permanent feature at the park.

The removal of the beacon for the reconstruction of Long Ya Men will not affect safety as there are other aids to navigation in the area, said an MPA spokesman.

The re-creation of the Long Ya Men is a part of the three-month-long celebration here, beginning in July, of Cheng Ho's journeys.

"Singapore's port is very well known but there is nothing to showcase our maritime achievements, both to the locals as well as tourists," said STB's assistant director for culture and heritage, Ms Goh Kershing. "Cheng Ho's anniversary gave us an opportunity to highlight this heritage."

The Maritime Museum on Sentosa, which used to serve this role, was closed in 2002. The admiral's records of his epic travels show that Singpaore has always been one of the greatest ports in the world, said the secretary of the Friends of Admiral Zheng He Society, Mr Chung Chee Kit. The society, started in 2003 by fans of the ancient navigator, has about 40 members. The Ming dynasty eunuch explorer's maiden voyage lasted about two years and took him to Vietnam, Jave, Malacca, Sri Lanka and India. "I'm glad we are celebrating his anniversary in a big way", Mr Chung said.

Cheng Ho, who is reported to have died not long after his last voyage (believed to be to Thailand and Malacca), made seven voyages between 1405 and 1433 venturing as far as the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and even Africa -- decaded before Spaniard Christopher Columbus went in search of a sea route to Asia.

He travelled with up to 300 junks and 27,000 men at a time. Although there is no record of Cheng Ho setting foot on Singapore's shores, a dotted line in his navigational map, believed to be one of the routes he took, passes through Pedra Branca, an island east of Singapore, and the Long Ya Men. Very few artefacts of his expeditions are left as they were destroyed when China adopted an isolationist policy.

Ms Stella Kon, author of the famed play about a Peranakan matriach, Emily of Emerald Hill, was so stirred by the purge that she wrote a play called "Dragon's Tooth Gate" in 1985 about the anger felt by one of Cheng Ho's associates at the incident. She said of the re-created monument: "It is wonderful that the explorer is finally recognised."

Letter to the Straits Times Forum, 8 Apr 05
No dubious replica, please

The Singapore Heritage Society is most concerned about recent plans by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and National Parks Board (NParks) to demolis the Berlayer Beacon in Labrador park and replace it with a replica of the Long Ya Men or Dragon's Tooth Gate.

This plan does not seem to be premised on any serious historical research, and a genuine heritage site will be erased and replaced by a 'replica' based on an invented past.

We do not know for sure if this is the original Long Ya men, mentioned in Chinese texts. Historians have listed as many as five possible sites.

What we do know is that a rock (Batu Berlayer) existed somewhere in the channel until the British blew it up to widen the channel in 1848.

The Labrador Boark area has genuine heritage value. Its structures give us a much more accurate representation of Singapore's maritime history. This link to the past should not be erased by a historically dubious 'replica'. We urge STB and NParks to reconsider their decision.

Kevin Tan Yew Lee (Dr)
Singapore Heritage Society

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