This article seeks to offer a historical perspective to the discussion of the rise of private museums in China through two case studies of museums established by Chinese diaspora in the 1950s. The first one is the Tiger Balm Gardens built by Burmese Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist Aw Boon Haw 胡文虎 (1882-1954) in Singapore and Hong Kong respectively, and the second one is the Overseas Chinese Museum and the Turtle Garden built by Singaporean Chinese Tan Kah Kee 陈嘉庚 (1874–1961) in Xiamen, China. By introducing their museum practices, it is aimed at drawing people’s attention to the under-studied, if not overlooked, pioneering role of diasporic Chinese in China’s museum development. Instead of transferring the knowledge of museums directly from Western countries, as in the case of early European missionaries and the Chinese scholar-officials in the late Qing and early Republic era, the Chinese diaspora acquired the knowledge of museum through their encounter with mediated Western modernity in colonial Southeast Asia and then brought them back to China indirectly. The Chinese diaspora thus opened an alternative route of transmitting museology from the West to China. In addition, a study of earlier museums built by Aw and Tan enable us to have a better understanding of the continuity and discontinuity in the underlying logic, rationale, and motivation for establishing private museums and heritage sites in China and Asia, as well as the intricate relations between identity, mobility, border, communities, entrepreneurs and meaning that are still very much relevant to the theorisation of private museum today.