140 million or 9.8 billion? Mystery over house under auction in Tianjin

2017-08-01 23:31 GMT+8 111km to Beijing
Editor Ai Yan

A landmark house in east China's port city of Tianjin has become the center of a controversy, after a local court ruled that it will go to auction due to its owner's debt dispute. 

The starting price given by the court is 140 million yuan (20.8 million US dollars). However, according to owner Zhang Lianzhi, the house is evaluated to be worth 9.8 billion yuan, with 9.4 billion yuan (1.39 million US dollars) the value of the porcelain decorations in and out of the house.

"Porcelain House". /Photo via The Cover

To the residents and visitors to the city, the house is much better known as the "Porcelain House", since every inch of its outer walls, roofs, window frames and even the floor is decorated with porcelain collage, including porcelain vases, pillows, plates and debris.

According to Zhang, aside from the 30 million yuan he had spent on the property, it took him more than 10 years to furnish the house to what it looks like now. And what is much more valuable of the house is the fact that he had hand-picked over 700 million ancient porcelain pieces, 13,000 ancient vases and bowls, and at least 500 porcelain cat-shaped pillows, 300 porcelain lions and 300 Buddha statues, plus 12 human statues to complete the decoration work.

Ceiling decorated with plates inside "Porcelain House". /CGTN Photo

"There are also hundreds pieces of ancient furniture from the Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368-1912)," added Zhang.

However, the controversy lies in that the house was far from an ordinary property.

It was the former residence of Huang Rongliang, a statesman and diplomat at the beginning of the 20th century, and has been listed among the 323 historical architectures under protection since 2005.

According to a regulation on the protection of historical relics that took effect in 2005, no alteration is allowed on either "the outlooks, decoration materials and colors outside the historical sites," or its "interior structures and decorations."

Wall decorated with porcelain. /Photo via The Cover

Despite the fact that the house is suspected of violating laws and regulations, many local residents complaint the "Porcelain House" being ugly. "Tianjin Memories", a local NGO which monitors antiquities, said that it looks like "a scar" on the city's landscape.

According to local authorities, Zhang had not submitted any application before renovating the house, and besides, the local department of relics protection claimed that they have no law enforcement right over such activities.

Original look of the "Porcelain House". /Photo via ‍NGO "Tianjin Memories"

The house has been a 3A-ranking tourist attraction in recent years, with a qualification given by the local tourism administration, the relics protection department said. Whether it is a negligence of duty from the tourism administration remains unclear. 

Now, as Zhang's debt dispute was disposed, problems arisen from the controversial building have also emerged. It remains to be seen how the case will be handled. Everyone is waiting for the final decision: will the decoration be dismantled, or will the auction go as planned despite the suspected violation of laws during the renovation.

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