A Crash Course in Chinese Morals at Singapore’s Haw Par Villa

Updated on April 5, 2019
CYong74 profile image

Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video gaming.

Spend an afternoon at Haw Par Villa, and you'd be an informal expert on Chinese morals.
Spend an afternoon at Haw Par Villa, and you'd be an informal expert on Chinese morals.

Haw Par Villa is renowned for being Singapore’s weirdest attraction. Because of that, it’s often forgotten that the statue park was originally created by its founders, the Aw Brothers, to celebrate and promote classic Chinese morals. Here are 9 “lessons” on classic virtues that you would encounter if you were to visit this truly bizarre attraction.

The dioramas depicting the tale of Madam White Snake are near the main entrance. Here, Fa Hai tries to convince Madam White Snake’s husband to use a demon suppressing talisman against her.
The dioramas depicting the tale of Madam White Snake are near the main entrance. Here, Fa Hai tries to convince Madam White Snake’s husband to use a demon suppressing talisman against her.

1. Madam White Snake (白蛇传, Bai She Zhuan)

The legend of Madam White Snake is one of the most well-known legends in Chinese mythology. It is also one of the hardest to interpret, with the story exploring a broad range of themes such as inter-racial unions, moral obstinacy, blind fury, and karma. If there’s any overall takeaway, it is perhaps that of destructive cultural differences; the tragedies in the latter part of the myth all stem from Monk Fa Hai’s fervent opposition to a snake spirit marrying a mortal, in spite of her being benevolent.

Note too that the trope of forbidden unions recurs often in Chinese myths. This might or might not be reflective of oppressive class differences during Ancient China.

The characters on the sage’s hat means, the willing jump at the bait. This is one of several Chinese sayings associated with Jiang Ziya.
The characters on the sage’s hat means, the willing jump at the bait. This is one of several Chinese sayings associated with Jiang Ziya.

2. Old Sage Jiang (姜子牙, Jiang Zi Ya)

Historically, Jiang Ziya was a strategist who assisted the Zhou Kingdom dukes in overthrowing the final Shang emperor, thereafter also establishing the ancient Zhou Dynasty. He is, however, more widely remembered as the magical sage leading the Zhou forces in the Chinese fantasy saga, Investiture of the Gods. As for his symbolism in traditional Chinese values, any discussion of this could easily extend into a thesis, a task further complicated by modern beliefs that the Zhou rulers rewrote history to vilify the defeated. What’s undeniable, on the other hand, is that Jiang is widely seen as representative of heavenly justice. Revered as they were, Chinese rulers and leaders were expected to put their followers before themselves. Failure to do so often invites punishment by the gods themselves.

The most legendary “band of brothers” in Chinese history.
The most legendary “band of brothers” in Chinese history.

3. The Oath of the Peach Garden (桃园三结义, Tao Yuan San Jie Yi)

A major event in the classic Chinese saga, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the declaration of brotherhood by Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei has for centuries, symbolized loyalty and devotion to the Chinese. To a great extent, it represents honor and integrity too; Guan and Zhang remained loyal to Liu Bei throughout their lives despite their faction being the weakest. One of the tamer displays of Haw Par Villa, this statue trio is located a shady tree corner, at a quiet spot near the rear of the park. The serene environment certainly provides for lofty reflections. It also invites the question of, would you remain loyal to a comrade in the face of overwhelming odds?

What is the Chinese moral expounded by this display? If any?
What is the Chinese moral expounded by this display? If any?

4. A Blissful Union? (美满良缘, Mei Man Liang Yuan)

This bizarre display near the heart of the park is one of the most baffling in Haw Par Villa. And not only because there is no explanatory plaque accompanying it. The wolf bridegroom and the rabbit bride strongly indicate a disastrous and “carnivorous” union. On the other hand, everything else in the homely surroundings suggests a blissful marriage. Given Haw Par Villa was built in the 1930s, a period when China was suffering terrible social upheaval, this macabre scene could be a condemnation of a tragic practice then; the selling of daughters to rich men for marriage. Alternatively, it might refer to naïve girls marrying wealthy men for money. These girls, naturally, had no idea what they were in for.

It’s always the same downwards spiral the moment you indulge in vices.
It’s always the same downwards spiral the moment you indulge in vices.

5. Virtues and Vices (善与恶, Shan Yu Er)

This is part of an extensive rundown on classic Chinese morals and virtues, in the form of a macabre cavern slicing through the northern segment of Haw Par Villa. Notoriously unapologetic in its portrayal of what’s morally superior or reprehensible, the lessons here are obvious. Pretty emphatic too. At the same time, a unifying theme seems to be that of indulgence leading to violence, followed by open oppression of the weak. In short, this grim diorama and its siblings are not merely expository vignettes about classic Chinese morals, they could be considered as socio-political commentaries too. In some ways, they are more chilling than even the park’s Hell’s Museum.

Wang Qing looks rather gleeful in the display. Which somewhat compromises the message of his story.
Wang Qing looks rather gleeful in the display. Which somewhat compromises the message of his story.

6. The Grateful Tortoise (海龟报恩, Hai Gui Bao En)

The Grateful Tortoise tells the story of Wang Qing, a kind man who pitied a tortoise being carried to a market for slaughter. Using his own money, Wang bought the tortoise and set it free in the sea. Thanks to this simple act of kindness, Wang Qing was later rescued by the tortoise after a shipwreck, thus completing the message that a random act of goodness could someday save your life. Of note, this story could also be re-interpreted in a modern way, the question then being, did the other passengers deserved to die simply because they did not perform any ostentatious act of kindness? There is much to chew on regarding this.

Supposedly, Su Wu treated his sheep well too. The diplomat was simply morally perfect.
Supposedly, Su Wu treated his sheep well too. The diplomat was simply morally perfect.

7. Su Wu Herding Sheep (苏武牧羊, Su Wu Mu Yang)

This rather neglected display near the Hell’s Museum tells the story of Su Wu, a Han Dynasty diplomat who lived between 140 BC and 60 BC. During a mission to bordering Xiongnu “barbarian” kingdoms, Su was captured and imprisoned for 19 years, much of which he was forced to herd sheep under harsh weather. In spite of this hardship, Su remained loyal to the Han Dynasty, never once giving up hope of returning to China and completing his mission. (He ultimately succeeded in escaping.) The story is thus an analogy for the classic Chinese morals of perseverance and faithfulness to the nation. Su Wu’s success in staying alive under captivity could also be interpreted as a lesson on making the best of one’s circumstances, no matter the overwhelming odds.

The Ten Courts of Hell display is also known as Hell’s Museum. Here, no sinner goes unpunished.
The Ten Courts of Hell display is also known as Hell’s Museum. Here, no sinner goes unpunished.

8. The Ten Courts of Hell (十殿阎罗, Shi Dian Yan Luo)

Haw Par Villa’s most terrifying display is the easiest to understand. Regardless of whichever hellish punishment you are staring at, the message is clear. Live wickedly and you will suffer for your sins in your afterlife. At the same time, the descriptions for each court also gives a good idea of what the Chinese consider as shameful, vile, or immoral. Correspondingly, what’s exemplary could also easily be deduced. For example, filial piety is obviously regarded as a supreme virtue.

Confucius, the Chinese embodiment of grace, honor, and morality.
Confucius, the Chinese embodiment of grace, honor, and morality.

9. Confucius (孔子, Kong Zi)

With most Chinese morals based on traditional Confucian teachings, it is only natural that the sage himself enjoys a prominent spot in Haw Par Villa. Displayed together with the Chinese character for benevolence, Confucius is the embodiment of the Chinese phrase, ren yi dao de (仁义道德), which means the way of benevolence and morality. Without going into extensive details, this phrase could be considered as the foundation of all classic Chinese morals, the fountain from which all else stems from. In essence, it denotes “good” living based on kindness and grace to others. More importantly, it also stipulates that one honors his family, fellow men, and country. And never, ever shirk from responsibility to them.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Kuan Leong Yong

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        13 days ago from Singapore

        Thanks Liz! If you're ever here, please do visit this bizarre attraction.

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        13 days ago from Singapore

        Oh, you must. Haw Par Villa is really quite an experience, moral stories or not. The nature of the displays also offer insight into the minds of the founders, of which there are many myths about. (I've heard stories of them being sorcerers)

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        13 days ago from Ontario, Canada

        Enjoyed reading this. Next time I am in Singapore, I certainly will visit this place and with this background, I am sure I will enjoy it more.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 weeks ago from UK

        This is a well structured and well-illustrated article. It looks like an interesting place to visit.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)