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Expert says renovations of Liulaogen Guild Hall inflicted damage on cultural artifact

(China Daily)

10:20, August 23, 2011

Workers dig in front of the entrance to Liulaogen Guild Hall during a renovation on Monday. Culture officials have started an investigation following complaints that the renovation has damaged the cultural compound, which dates to 280 years ago. Xu Wei / China Daily

BEIJING - Culture officials have started investigating complaints that renovations have damaged an ancient compound containing a restaurant and club that had once belonged to a famous comedian.

Liulaogen Guild Hall, which is south of Tian'anmen Square and is composed in part of buildings dating to 280 years ago, was recently expanded through the addition of a swimming pool and another building.

Zeng Yizhi, who campaigns for the protection of cultural relics, said the development has seriously harmed the original integrity of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) structure.

"No matter who is using the historical site, he shouldn't be adding another building or a swimming pool," said Zeng, citing national regulations on relic protection.

Yin Jun, an official of Beijing's cultural heritage commission, said on Monday that authorities are investigating the matter. A Beijing News report also quoted a commission official as saying that early findings suggest Zeng's accusation is "well grounded".

The management company that runs the hall, the Benshan Media Group, which is owned by the popular comedian Zhao Benshan, could not be reached for comment on Monday. Liulaogen Guild Hall is named after a character in a television series that Zhao directed and acted in. The series appeared in 2002.

The hall was adapted from six quadrangle compounds. Among them is the Jinji Compound, a cultural artifact under the protection of Beijing's Dongcheng district.

Zeng claimed the club's construction of an independent building has damaged the integrity of the historical compound. She refuted the Dongcheng cultural relics committee's previous reports that the club had merely added a loft atop the historic compound.

The Jinji Compound, first established in 1733 and then purchased by a merchant from Shanxi province, had once been a meeting place for merchants in Beijing or for those coming for a visit. It was taken over by the State after 1949.

Zeng said she recently received phone calls from the Benshan Media Group, which is trying to talk to her because she told the Dongcheng district's cultural relics committee on April 6 that cultural artifacts at the hall had been damaged.

The Liulaogen Club, which occupies 10,000 square meters of space in Beijing's Qianmen area, south of Tian'anmen, was formally opened on Aug 16 and is designed to house a fancy restaurant.

Despite its high prices, the restaurant is popular, especially at night, according to a security guard surnamed Wang who worked in the Qianmen area.

"I could barely afford the cost of one meal with my monthly income," Wang said.

According to Wang, it only took two months to renovate and furnish the club before it was formally opened. During that time, construction work at the site went on for 16 hours a day.

On Monday, construction workers could still be seen renovating a building that is part of the club.

The minimum cost of a meal at the Jinji Compound is 180,000 yuan ($28,100), Beijing News reported.

The Liulaogen Guild Hall stands close to the Liulaogen Theater, which mainly stages er'renzhuan, a northeastern rustic type of entertainment that entails speech, singing, dancing and stunts performed with handkerchiefs or folding fans. Nine Liulaogen theaters now exist in China.

A native of Liaoning province and originally a local er'renzhuan performer, Zhao Benshan rose to national fame as a skit and sitcom actor at the Spring Festival Gala held by China Central Television.

The comedian has taken up singing, directing sitcoms and business in recent years.


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