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Xinhua Insight: Jackie Chan's planned ancient buildings donation sparks controversy

Pub Date: 13-04-10 08:10 Source: Xinhua

"Nobody could rob relics from other countries and display them in his own museum," according to Asian Hawk, played by Jackie Chan, in his blockbuster movie "Chinese Zodiac."

It is therefore slightly ironic that the film icon plans to donate four ancient Chinese wooden buildings to a Singapore university.

In "Chinese Zodiac" which debuted in December, Chan successfully robs a French stately home of two ancient bronze heads of animal statues and returns them to China after a series of misadventures.

In real life, his planned donation of four Hui-style ancient buildings that he bought twenty years ago to the Singapore University of Technology and Design has aroused heated debate in China.

"In situ conservation is the best way to protecting the ancient buildings," said Cheng Jiyue, a registered architect and ancient architecture expert.

"The cultural values will disappear if they leave their original villages and rebuilt elsewhere," he added.

Chan wrote on April 4 on his official website as well as his microblog that he bought ten antique buildings, including a main hall, theatre stage and a pavilion, from east China's Anhui Province and transported them to Hong Kong where he initially wanted to refurbish them for his parents.

Jackie Chan stored the buildings in a warehouse where they became a source of food for termites after his parents passed away.

He decided to donate four of them to the Singapore university after failing to reach agreement with the Hong Kong government on allocation of land on where to put the buildings.

"These historical buildings are the essence of traditional Chinese architecture and I think it's such a waste if they're not displayed for people to appreciate.

"I felt so grateful after hearing about all the hard work they've put into these historical buildings. I was so moved that I actually considered donating the other six buildings to them as well," he wrote.

Many Chinese netizens are furious about Chan's donation plan and think his patriotic image has been tarnished.

"They are Chinese buildings, why is there no place to put them," said Baochibaohuo on Sina Weibo, a twitter-like microblogging service where Chan has 15.63 million followers.

"Huangshan people strongly demand the buildings return home," commented Huizhouxiaobuyi.

Some questioned if Chan is allowed to donate the buildings.

"If those buildings are historical relics, they are not allowed to leave China," said Zhang Hongmin, director of the cultural heritage protection department with the Anhui Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.

According to information Chan has released, Zhang could not confirm whether the buildings are historical relics, adding that it is difficult to know the exact situation as they were bought 20 years ago.

Chan has not responded about this.

Meanwhile, without much confidence in the governments' capability to protect ancient architecture, some netizens endorsed Chan's donation plan.

"If you can not feed your child well, it is better to find a good caretaker for him," said Rugebulu on Sina Weibo.

"There is no border in terms of art. If Singapore can cherish those ancient buildings, it is also a good way to protect them," remarked Liubahemama.

Hui-style architecture is a major Chinese architectural style from ancient times, with the exquisite homes, ancestral halls and memorial archways as its most impressive embodiments.

Hui is short for Huizhou, which is a historical region in southeastern China that now consists of southernmost part of Anhui Province and Wuyuan County in Jiangxi Province.


The official microblog of Heyuan Garden, an ancient garden estate in Yangzhou City of east China's Jiangsu Province, reposted Chan's message on Sunday and hoped Yangzhou could become home for the buildings.

"The owner of Heyuan Garden was also from Anhui and there are many Hui-style architectures in Yangzhou," it said. "If Jackie Chan thinks it is better to leave those buildings in China one day, please come to Yangzhou."

Officials in Huangshan City, located in Anhui and known for its Hui-style ancient buildings, also want Chan's ancient buildings.

"We are willing to provide the best place, most experienced craftsmen and funding to welcome those ancient buildings home," said Wang Henglai, director of the Huangshan municipal government's cultural commission.

The preservation of Hui-style architecture has been inadequate in the past decades as the government was not financially capable of putting all ancient buildings onto the protection list, said a cultural heritage expert on condition of anonymity.

Loose protection and supervision has provided room for some businessmen and collectors to trade the Hui-style buildings. Some of them have been removed from their original village and transported overseas, he said.

In 2003, Yin Yu Tang House, a late 18th century house from Anhui Province was dismantled into 700 pieces of wood, 8,500 pieces of tiles and 500 pieces of stone and re-erected in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

The third national cultural heritage census, which started in April 2007 and ended in December 2011, discovered that more than 1,000 ancient buildings need to be fixed in Huangshan City.

To better protect ancient architecture, the Huangshan municipal government has introduced private capital for the preservation of ancient heritages since 2009.

Huangshan's efforts in protecting ancient buildings is the best ever, in terms of technology support, human resources and funding, said Wu Zhenyu, head of the Huangshan municipal cultural heritage administration.

Huangshan has invested a total of 4.4 billion yuan (702 million U.S. dollars) in protecting ancient villages and buildings by the end of 2012, said Wang Henglai.

If Chan is willing to donate those Hui-style ancient buildings, Huangshan is confident of restoring and protecting them, said Wang.

Editor: Rita

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