Porce­lain house to go un­der auc­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZHANG MIN in Tian­jin zhang­min@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A land­mark prop­erty heav­ily dec­o­rated with pieces of porce­lain in cen­tral Tian­jin will be put up for auc­tion on Tues­day af­ter its owner de­faulted on loan pay­ments.

Zhang Lianzhi pur­chased the French-style villa, a diplo­matic res­i­dence in the 1920s and ’30s, in 2002 and spent a decade trans­form­ing it us­ing tons of mul­ti­col­ored porce­lain shards.

Since 2007, he has op­er­ated the prop­erty as a pri­vate mu­seum called China House, which re­ceives more than 4,000 vis­i­tors a day, ac­cord­ing to his of­fice.

The Dongli Dis­trict Peo­ple’s Court seized the house this year and an­nounced a pub­lic sale af­ter Zhang de­faulted on a loan pro­vided by Xinze, a lo­cal credit com­pany.

The lender said Zhang owes 100 mil­lion yuan ($14.9 mil­lion), Bei­jing News re­ported. But the mu­seum owner — who was de­tained three times over the dis­pute since last sum­mer — told China Daily that the sum is closer to 58 mil­lion yuan. A re­serve price of 140 mil­lion yuan has been set for the auc­tion, ac­cord­ing to a court state­ment.

Yet ac­cord­ing to Guo­hongxin, an ap­praisal com­pany com­mis- sioned by Zhang, the es­ti­mated mar­ket value of the prop­erty is more than 9.8 bil­lion yuan, with most of that com­ing from the value of the porce­lain.

The court is not en­ti­tled to sell the porce­lain decor, so “the buyer will need to reach an agree­ment on its dis­posal” af­ter the sale, a judge sur­named Zheng was quoted as say­ing by In­no­va­tive Fi­nance Ob­ser­va­tion, a lo­cal news­pa­per.

Wang Dianxue, the mu­seum owner’s at­tor­ney, told China Daily on Mon­day that it is un­rea­son­able for the court to con­sider the value of the house and its decor sep­a­rately.

“It’s like a well-dec­o­rated house: You can­not sep­a­rate the in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion from the house it­self,” he said.

China House, while pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors and Tian­jin’s tourist in­dus­try, has long been con­tro­ver­sial among her­itage ex­perts.

“The re­dec­o­ra­tion greatly in­fringed the aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence of the orig­i­nal house and left a mark on Tian­jin,” said Fu Lei, a vol­un­teer with Tian­jin Mem­o­ries, an NGO de­voted to the preser­va­tion of old ar­chi­tec­ture.

Bei­jing News quoted an anon- ymous for­mer em­ployee at Tian­jin Mu­seum who said chang­ing the ex­te­rior of the his­toric villa had vi­o­lated lo­cal rules on pro­tect­ing cul­tural relics.

Un­der reg­u­la­tions is­sued in 2005 by the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment, build­ings listed as ma­jor pro­tec­tion sites — which China House is — can­not be re­struc­tured or redesigned.

How­ever, Zhang ar­gued that when he bought the build­ing it was in a dan­ger­ous con­di­tion. He said the porce­lain and some con­crete work had helped re­in­force the struc­ture.

“By adding the porce­lain to the ex­te­rior, all from my pri­vate col­lec­tion, I haven’t done dam­age,” he said.

Wang, the at­tor­ney, said he has filed an ap­peal with the court to post­pone the auc­tion.

“China House was listed as a cul­tural relic in 2004 by the city gov­ern­ment and is listed as a 3A tourist site by the city tourism ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said. “Yet the au­thor­i­ties filed no ob­jec­tion back then. Thus, it is un­rea­son­able to say that Zhang vi­o­lated the reg­u­la­tions.”

Li Lei con­trib­uted to this story.

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