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'Officials gorge in writer's garden'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am

A tranquil garden and library, donated to Hangzhou by a famous Hong Kong novelist, has been turned into a luxury clubhouse serving extravagant meals, according to a mainland media report.

The latest controversy over suspected misuse of donated property came to light yesterday as Sichuan authorities admitted they had been wrong to demolish a school rebuilt using a Hong Kong government donation.

Louis Cha, a prolific writer of wuxia novels, built the sprawling garden and library in the 1990s, beside West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, for 14 million yuan (HK$17.1 million at today's rate).

When it was completed in 1996, Cha donated the Cloudy Pine Sanctum and a collection of 6,000 books to the Hangzhou government. Cha wanted it to be used to promote literature and culture. The place became a popular rendezvous for writers and artists, and cultural groups were setting up offices there.

But China News Service reports that the once-tranquil retreat is now a haunt of wealthy businessmen and government officials for feasts that cost up to 10,000 yuan (HK$12,200).

A major renovation four years ago turned the structure into a luxury clubhouse, offering pricey meals, the report said.

It quoted employees as saying the minimum charge for a meal was 500 yuan per person, and group banquets could cost 10,000 yuan.

Such events involved mostly big bosses at enterprises and senior people from government units, the report said. A spokeswoman for the property manager acknowledged the change of use of Cha's garden, but stressed that big banquets were only held there occasionally.

Cha, 88, better known by his pen name Jin Yong, is one of the most prolific and renowned literary figures in Chinese communities worldwide. He could not be reached for comment last night.

Meanwhile, the Sichuan provincial government said it was investigating the demolition of a school that was rebuilt after the 2008 earthquake using about HK$2 million in donations from the Hong Kong government. The demolition was a mistake and not approved by the provincial government, a spokesman said. It was not clear if the demolition was considered illegal.

The Mianyang Bauhinia Ethnic Secondary School was completed in early 2010 but the local government sold the site 10 months later to make way for a housing project. That triggered criticism in Hong Kong against mainland authorities for misusing the Hong Kong donations.

100m

This number of copies of Louis Cha's martial arts novels have been sold worldwide

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