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Commercialization of historic homes stirs controversy

 

Inside an old-fashioned courtyard in the downtown of Nanning, waiters are serving customers with elaborately cooked dishes. Few people notice the phrase "Cultural Heritage of Nanning" engraved on the walls by the courtyard's gate, nor are they aware of the history behind the home.

The Xu Garden, located in the capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, used to be the residence of Huang Xuchu, who ruled Guangxi for almost 20 years before the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Although their cultural significance is great, Huang's home and those of other historic figures are often located in big cities, where urban development threatens to eclipse their presence.

Xu Garden and many other famous residences have been converted into restaurants, bars and clubs, provoking debate about the appropriateness of commercializing the historic buildings.

Xie Liangzhi, owner of the Xu Garden restaurant, said he contracted the house from its proprietor, the Guangxi Hualan Group, in 2005 and spent more than 2 million yuan (317,460 U.S. dollars) to remodel it.

"If we didn't make use of this building, it would fall into disrepair or possibly demolished, as the government does not have enough money to preserve it," Xie claimed, noting that he sets aside about 100,000 yuan each year from his revenues to pay for building maintenance.

Netizens have been skeptical about the commercialization of such structures, however.

"We don't have many buildings like this, hence the need to protect them in a better way," said an Internet user with the screenname "Dongbian Richu."

"The conversion of our historical heritage into restaurants is not only contemptuous to the original owners, but also harmful to the buildings themselves," the user wrote.

It is not uncommon to preserve cultural heritage in a commercialized way, said an official from the Nanning Cultural Bureau who declined to be named.

The government of Nanning supports the practice as long as the buildings in question are not damaged, the official said.

Wu Bing, an official with the region's cultural department, said the problem is that there are currently no standards to regulate the commercial development of these buildings.

The government should work out related laws and policies and provide more financial support for the protection of cultural heritage at the local level, said Xia Jinluan, a sociology professor at Beijing University.