Unexplained destruction of statue in Henan raises suspicion

No one is talking amid the mystery of who ordered the demolition of a 120 million yuan sculpture resembling Sun Yat-sen's wife

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 1:39am

A regional branch of the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation in Henan province was back in the limelight last week as a demolition of a giant statue it built two years ago triggered a media outcry over a perceived waste of public donations.

China National Radio reported earlier in the week that a 27- metre-tall sculpture, built for 120 million yuan (HK$150.4 million) in 2011, was found to have been demolished late last month, and the public was still puzzled by its destruction.

The giant sculpture, Daughter of the Yellow River, next to the office of the Henan Soong Ching Ling Foundation in Zhengzhou, was often referred as the Soong Ching Ling statue as it resembled the late wife of Sun Yat-sen, who was honorary president of the People's Republic of China before her death in 1981.

The statue, which had become a landmark in the provincial capital, is part of a youth centre the foundation planned to build on 14.8 hectares it acquired in 2005 with a budget of 800 million yuan.

However, there has been no explanation from the foundation about its decision to demolish the statue nor whether it was built with public donations.

In a commentary on Wednesday, the Youth Times newspaper said that the Henan Soong Ching Ling Foundation was no doubt a rich charitable organisation with money at its disposal, but the 120 million yuan spent on a statue was not a small sum, particularly since it was donated by the public for charitable causes.

"It remains a mystery why the foundation wanted to demolish the statue," the paper said. "But what we can't run away with a question of who is going to foot the bill?" it asked.

The paper added that the public deserves an answer and a thorough investigation.

Wang Xiaopeng , a deputy secretary general of the foundation, refused an interview request from China National Radio. But he admitted that his organisation is being probed by a joint panel of investigators, though he refused to elaborate over the nature and extent of the investigation.

As media scrutiny of the foundation intensified, the National Business Daily reported that the foundation had lent 2.4 billion yuan to a private investment firm which was controlled by Zhang Handong , the foundation's secretary general. The loan was in violation of Ministry of Civil Affairs guidelines governing fund management at mainland foundations.

In 2011, the foundation lent some 8 million yuan to a local firm for three months, asking in return for 1.6 million yuan in donations. The deal resulted in a lawsuit in which a local court refused to uphold the deal on the grounds that the foundation was not a licensed lender.

There is rising mistrust of government-backed charitable organisations after major charities, such as the Red Cross Society of China and the China Charity Federation, were accused of irregularities and murky deals in recent years.

In a commentary online, the Changjiang Daily questioned whether the Soong Ching Ling foundation was still a charity because it had been under the control of local government officials and business tycoons who increasingly used it to cover their murky business deals.

The paper called on local authorities and the foundation's management to make details of the latter's entire operations available for public scrutiny in order to address rising discontent.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said on Wednesday that the public had good reason to express its dismay over the loss of 120 million yuan and possible financial irregularities at the foundation.

"The fate of the statue has exposed not only how carelessly donations could be misused at charity organisations, but also a general lack of planning and oversight of construction projects," the paper said, "so investigation should not be limited to the foundation itself."