Comic’s costly club no laughing matter

Liulaogeng Guildhall at Qianmen Dajie on Monday. Photo: Guo Yingguang/GT

Zhao Benshan, a Chinese TV celebrity, has been accused of damaging protected heritage buildings.

Zhao’s Benshan Media Group is the operator of an exclusive club inside newly renovated Liulaogen Guildhall in Qianmen, Dongcheng district.

Zeng Yizhi, a reporter known for her work in cultural heritage protection, told Dongcheng District Cultural Commission on August 6 that the club has damaged the siheyuan (courtyard) it is built on by modifying existing structures.

“I saw three roof-like wooden structures where originally there should be a wall made of blocks,” Zeng said.

When Zeng called two days later, the commission told her that Liulaogen Guildhall was only adding extra roof coverings rather than making modifications to the original structures, Zeng said.

Liulaogen Guildhall, which opened August 16, is built on six historic siheyuan, among which one is protected by Dongcheng cultural commission. The protected Jinyi Guildhall was built 278 years ago by a Shanxi merchant for people from his hometown to stay while in Beijing.

It has now been renovated into a private club with a swimming pool, a chess room, and a gym and charges a minimum 180,000 yuan ($28,098) per person per day, according to media reports.

Liulaogen is named after a popular character in one of entertainer Zhao’s TV shows. Zhao, 54, is a comedian and actor, famous in China for his comic skits.
A VIP membership card to the venue varies from 50,000 to 500,000 yuan, according to its official website, with other fees on top.

on Monday a waitress in front of the guildhall denied there were swimming pools inside, or that they charged 180,000 yuan per day.

“Turning a culturally protected site into a luxury entertainment venue is bad in itself, not to mention Liulaogen Guildhall has damaged original structures,” said Hua Xinmin, who is known for protecting the city’s hutong.

“It is damage to the site no matter whether the guildhall’s structures were modified or it is just roofs added on top of the original structures, as the overall shape and look of the site is different,” said Liu Zheng, member of the China Cultural Relics Association.

The Jinyi Guildhall has not been officially recognized as a district or city-level protected site by cultural heritage protection administrators, so management of the guildhall might have been lax and the Dongcheng District Cultural Commission is to blame to some extent, Liu said.

Three days after Zeng reported to the commission, someone called her and said “bosses” with the Benshan Media Group wanted to talk to her. Benshan Media Group could not be reached on Monday.

“I felt the committee gave me up to the group. They should have some connections,” she said.

The Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage received Zeng’s report last Friday, and will soon issue the result of their investigation, said Yin Jun, publicity representative with the administration.

Zeng’s report is mostly true, a source with the administration told Beijing News.

The opening ceremony of Liulaogen Guildhall attracted many celebrities on August 16.

“Celebrities should call for public attention about heritage protection rather than gather to make headlines about the luxury commercial activities inside a protected site,” said Hua.

Global Times

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