A plan by Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan to move ancient Chinese buildings to Singapore has sparked controversy in a nation already sensitive about losing its artifacts, state media said Tuesday.
Beijing has pressured overseas auction houses to cancel the sale of antiques it says were looted during the 19th century in events it considers a national humiliation.
Ironically in a new film the martial arts actor — who has also drawn attention for making pro-Beijing comments — plays a character who steals bronze statues from France to return to China.
But Chan now plans to give a Singapore university four of 10 traditional Hui-style sandalwood buildings that he bought 20 years ago, saying on his website: “I think it’s such a waste if they’re not displayed for people to appreciate”.
He said his decision came after he and the Hong Kong government failed to find land for the homes, whereas the Singapore University of Technology and Design showed care and enthusiasm about hosting the old buildings.
But the Xinhua state news agency cited officials and social media users as arguing that the structures should stay in China, particularly in the eastern province of Anhui where the architectural style originates.
“If those buildings are historical relics, they are not allowed to leave China,” Xinhua quoted Zhang Hongmin, an official at the provincial body for cultural heritage, as saying.
It also cited a user of China’s Twitter-like microblog service Sina Weibo who wrote: “They are Chinese buildings, why is there no place to put them?”
A cultural heritage expert told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that the government had not adequately preserved Hui-style structures and insufficient oversight had allowed them to be transplanted abroad.
But the report also quoted an official in Anhui’s Huangshan city, known for such buildings, as promising to “provide the best place, most experienced craftsmen and funding to welcome those ancient buildings home”.
China has opposed international sales of artifacts it says were stolen in 1860 when, during the Second Opium War, British and French troops pillaged the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.