Netizens riled by decision to donate old homes to Singaporean university
"No one can rob historic relics from other countries and display them in the museums of their homelands."
These words are uttered by actor Jackie Chan's character in last year's movie CZ12 (Chinese Zodiac 12). But they have returned to haunt the action star, with Internet users opposing his decision to donate his ancient houses to a Singaporean university.
In his verified micro blog, which has more than 15.6 million followers, Chan said on Thursday he plans to donate four of the 10 ancient buildings in Huangshan, Anhui province, to Singapore University of Technology and Design.
He said he bought the houses 20 years ago for his parents, but the homes were destroyed by termites due to a lack of maintenance, after his parents died several years later.
"The old buildings are a masterpiece of China's architectural art, and it will be a waste if they cannot be displayed for people to appreciate," Chan said in the micro blog.
He said he planned to donate the houses to the Hong Kong government 10 years ago, but it could not find a site for the buildings.
Chan talked to a Singaporean friend about the houses two years ago, and the friend introduced him to an official who found a place for them at Singapore University of Technology and Design.
"I immediately agreed to donate four of the 10 ancient Anhui buildings to them," Chan said, adding that during a recent trip to Singapore he was convinced that the university has prepared well for the buildings to be relocated.
"I learned that to better display the four old houses, they have undertaken thorough research and environmental design," Chan said. "I was moved so deeply that I almost came up with the idea of donating the other six houses to them."
The decision to donate the houses triggered a public outcry on the Internet, with many netizens questioning whether it is legal to donate China's ancient buildings to foreign organizations.
Liu Qingzhu, an archeologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that before they go overseas, the houses will have to go through an official identification process to ensure they are not historical relics.
"If the houses are identified by the cultural heritage authorities as historical relics, they will not be allowed to be donated overseas, according to the law," he said. But if they are not historical relics, it will be up to Chan to donate them, he added.
The public should understand Chan's decision to donate the houses, since many ancient homes have not been protected well by local governments, he said.
"Lots of ancient buildings have been demolished by real estate developers in many cities," he said.
Statistics released in late 2011 by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage show that about 40,000 historical relics have disappeared in the past 30 years, with more than half of them destroyed by various construction activities.
Li Yongge, director of building restorations at the Palace Museum in Beijing, said that it is "improper" for Chan to donate the houses, adding that the hot and humid climate in Singapore is unsuitable for the preservation of wooden houses.
Chan said on Tuesday he never thought the donation issue would cause so much public concern, assuring netizens that he will neither break the law nor do anything that could harm the nation.
"I really wanted to explain the issue in detail, because it's an interesting story," he said in the micro blog. "But it could not be explained clearly in just a few words, and it needs a suitable opportunity to sit down and explain it concretely."
Hu Rongsun, director of Huangshan city bureau of cultural heritage, said the Anhui provincial government published a regulation in 1997 to protect historic relics in people's homes, which states that civilian buildings in the province must be well protected, China National Radio reported.
Wang Henglai, director of Huangshan city's culture committee, said the authorities will provide better protection if Chan wishes to donate the buildings to the city government, China National Radio reported on Tuesday.
The local government has been dedicated to the protection of ancient buildings in hundreds of villages in recent years and will solve the problem of termites mentioned in Chan's micro blog using modern technology, Wang said.