Hong Kong tycoon's firm razes Guangzhou home of opera legend

Tourism Board chief Peter Lam is chairman of company that residents say illegally demolished Guangzhou mansions in the dead of night

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 5:51am

Hong Kong tycoon Peter Lam Kin-ngok has been pulled into a controversy over the alleged unauthorised demolition of two historic buildings in Guangzhou, one of which was the home of Sit Kok-sin, the late "King of Cantonese Opera".

Residents in Yuexiu district say bulldozers flattened the site early last Tuesday.

A visit by a Post reporter yesterday found that the two two-storey houses had been reduced to rubble. A Chinese banner at the entrance to the site reads "Lai Fung Holdings. HKEx stock code 1125".

Lai Fung is a member of the Lai Sun Group, of which Lam is chairman. He is also chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Lai Fung is the group's property development and investment arm on the mainland. Its core business is property development, according to the group's website.

The controversy has been brewing in Guangzhou since last week.

One resident said: "They came around midnight. If it was not something bad, they should not have needed to do it so secretly. I shouted to ask them to stop but they just did not listen. I woke up the next morning and the houses were gone."

Another said: "The developers are too arrogant. They show no respect for our cultural relics. It's a pity that we lost the two historical buildings."

An expert on a Guangdong provincial heritage preservation panel, Chen Qi, said: "The government should speed up assessing and categorising our old buildings, otherwise there is a fatal loophole for developers to exploit."

The 2,000-square-metre site, near the corner of Guanlu Road and Shishu Road, was acquired by a subsidiary of Lai Fung in 2007. The developer plans to transform the site into a commercial-residential complex with a gross floor area of about 14,000 square metres.

The project, originally scheduled for completion in 2011, has been held up because of concerns about the historical value of the buildings. A temporary moratorium on development of the site was reportedly imposed last year by the Guangzhou authorities, pending further assessments of the buildings and discussion with the developers over a possible alternative development plan.

A Lai Fung non-executive director, lawmaker Abraham Razack, declined to comment yesterday, saying he was unaware of the controversy. Lam was out of town and could not be reached.

Built in the 1940s, one of the mansions used to be the home of Cantonese opera star Sit Kok-sin, who was said to have stayed there for a couple of years in the 1950s.

Sit was born in Hong Kong in 1904. Originally a journalist, he formed the Kok Sin Sing Opera Troupe in 1929 and started taking roles on stage and screen. He revolutionised stage make-up, costumes and lighting.

He also introduced a northern style of martial arts into his performances and adopted Western musical instruments such as the violin and guitar into Cantonese opera.

His unique singing style and versatility in male and female roles won him acclaim as the "King of Cantonese Opera". He died in 1956.