STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Ancient village saved by Chinese philanthropist opens as Shanghai resort

According to Confucius: "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."Chinese entreprene...

Posted: Jan 10, 2018 11:07 AM
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 11:07 AM

According to Confucius: "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."

Chinese entrepreneur Ma Dadong, 44, didn't want to move a mountain, but his mission to relocate ancient village homes and a camphor forest 435 miles (700 kilometers), from his native Jiangxi province to the outskirts of Shanghai, would require a similar level of perseverance.

Over a 15-year period, in what must be one of the most extraordinary examples of philanthropic conservation in modern China, Ma orchestrated the painstaking transportation of 50 Ming and Qing dynasty properties and 10,000 trees, some of which were believed to be over 1,000 years old.

On January 8, the relocated site will open as a luxury hotel, Amanyangyun, the last two words in that portmanteau meaning "nourishing cloud."

Success story

Ma left his home city of Fuzhou, aged 22, to earn what would become a fortune in advertising. He subsequently diversified and today is chairman of the Shanghai Gu Shan, an investment management company, and Shanghai Gu Yin Real Estate. While Ma hasn't featured on any Forbes rich lists and his companies are privately held, he is rumored to be a billionaire.

In 2002, aged 29, the entrepreneur made a trip home to visit his parents. During that visit, Ma learned of the government's plans for the Liao Fang reservoir -- a project that would submerge ancient villages and millenarium camphor trees in Jiangxi underwater.

"My instincts told me what to do: to rescue everything from the area destined for the reservoir," Ma tells CNN. "At that time, I knew it was the right thing to do, but I didn't have a clear goal of what I would eventually do with these houses and trees."

Having recently sold his advertising company, Ma says he had the financial resources to throw at the rescue mission, although he won't confirm the cost of the project beyond saying it totaled millions of dollars.

Learning curve

The project turned out to be a huge learning curve, with unexpected issues constantly arising. "The whole process was just like digging a well -- you don't know exactly how many meters deep the water is, but you are certain you will reach it if you just keep digging," says Ma.

Each residence was comprised of about 100,000 stones, and had to be carefully dissembled. Ma cast a wide net to hire a team of more than 200 people to perform that task, seeking out rare craftsman who understood the traditional techniques used to build ancient properties, which are unfamiliar to modern Chinese construction workers.

Arborists were enlisted to move the trees, and new roads and bridges had to be built to allow large trucks to maneuver the massive camphors from the remote location. Some were 20 meters tall, and the largest weighed 80 tons.

"The village was in a mountainous region with small, winding roads and no way for big trucks to pass through," says Ma. "The task was not without danger. When it rained, floods overturned trucks and shattered the temporary bridges constructed to access remote villages."

Ma decided to store the dissembled homes in a former air conditioning unit factory he owned on the outskirts of Shanghai, and identified a nearby 200,000 square meter parcel of public land to eventually house the trees, despite the vast distance the objects would have to travel to get there.

"The team raced against time to Shanghai in order for each tree to have the best of chance of survival," said Ma. The project saw dozens of trucks make numerous trips over a 12-month period.

After being uprooted, the trees' root system -- which can stretch as wide as their branches span -- have to be constantly watered as well as protected from overexposure to sunshine.

Due to the work of the expert arborists, 80% of the trees survived the journey, and just over 1,000 of them are now featured in the Aman resort. The others, planted on public land, will form a park that Ma says will eventually be open to the public.

Finding a future for the past

By 2005, everything had been relocated to Shanghai's outer Minhang district, about 30km from the city center, still with no plan for their future.

"When all the trees arrived in Shanghai, we met many people who wanted to buy them. I could not sell even one of them because I wanted all the trees to be together," Ma says. "I grew up in the sweet company of those trees and houses; I had a poignant and emotional tie to them."

That year Ma created what he calls the "Concept House" -- an experiment which used some of the relocated ancient materials to create a new home incorporating modern plumbing and windows to let in more natural light.

The rest of the materials were logged in the warehoused and left to wait.

Perfect partner

In 2011, Aman inked a deal with Ma to transform the dissembled ancient Jiangxi village homes, which were between 300 and 500 years old, and some of the trees, into a hotel property and public park. The international hotel group had learned of the Chinese entrepreneur's trove after Ma had a chance meeting with Aman's Indonesian founder and former chairman Adrian Zecha.

Neither party will confirm details of the deal.

The resort features 24 new one-bedroom courtyard suites and 13 "antique villas," which have four bedrooms and incorporate the rebuilt ancient Jiangxi village homes. Once visitors cross the threshold of the ancient stone exteriors, however, there is little resemblance to the village homes of centuries past inside -- although there are still courtyards within each property.

The root of the problem

The project, however, hasn't been without controversy.

Aman said in its initial press literature that its new resort featured 10,000 relocated camphor trees. In reality, only about 1,150 on the property. The Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) confirmed to CNN that it is investigating whether Aman was misleading about the number of trees, and their age (not all of the camphors are ancient) to make a financial gain.

Furthermore, ancient trees -- classified as those over 80 years old -- are governed by heritage protection laws severely restricting what can be done with them. The laws are designed to protect old-growth forests from being felled, or trees being damaged as they are transplanted from one place to another. It is unclear how Ma's project complied with this legislation.

Neither Ma nor Aman were prepared to comment on any potential investigation.

China doesn't have a stellar track record when it comes to preservation in the face of economic development. In 2002, at around the same time Ma learned of the Liao Fang reservoir, many hundreds of villages and a total of 1.4 million people were in the process of being resettled to make way for the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydro-electric project. Of the 632 square kilometers flooded for that project, the majority was covered by forest. The result was deforestation and interruption in traditional biospheres that is still being examined.

Today, the area where the Fuzhou villages and trees once stood is flooded.

Ma says he is simply pleased he has rescued a slice of history from being lost to the water.

Terre Haute
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 52°
Robinson
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 51°
Indianapolis
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 54°
Rockville
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 45°
Casey
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 47°
Brazil
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 52°
Marshall
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 52°
Clearing & Cooler
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Friday: Sunny, breezy and cool. High: 69°

Image

Local college party, leads to fatal shooting overnight

Image

Charlie Karazsia

Image

THN/North Central Volleyball

Image

TH South/Clay City Volleyball

Image

Barr-Reeve/South Knox volleyball

Image

Armed and Dangerous: Police seek tips to locate wanted man

Image

The Ronald McDonald House is here to help you

Image

Overnight: Clearing and cooler. Rather breezy. Low: 47°

Image

Crawford Memorial Hospital rolls out COVID-19 hotline

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 270294

Reported Deaths: 8624
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1369935147
DuPage16374548
Lake16040483
Will13130369
Kane12372325
St. Clair6144180
Madison5154130
Winnebago5044149
McHenry4322117
Champaign421820
Peoria308148
McLean304319
Rock Island268870
Kankakee259176
Sangamon216644
Unassigned2144232
Kendall185025
LaSalle154654
Tazewell148513
DeKalb139337
Coles131528
Macon130534
Williamson125331
Jackson118624
Clinton100420
Boone99923
Adams92210
Randolph89311
Effingham7871
Whiteside66219
Grundy6105
Morgan60421
Monroe60315
Henry5995
Ogle5956
Knox5523
Bureau54210
Jefferson53937
Vermilion5344
Union48624
Marion4640
Franklin4621
Macoupin4616
Stephenson4496
McDonough43115
Logan4111
Woodford3805
Christian37410
Cass37011
Jersey36213
Iroquois34419
Shelby3384
Perry32614
Lee3171
Crawford3051
Fayette3003
Montgomery30012
Warren2891
Livingston2825
Douglas2695
Bond2664
Lawrence2392
Wayne2305
Saline2263
Jo Daviess2242
Moultrie2043
Carroll2004
Greene1973
Cumberland1864
Jasper1859
Hancock1823
Washington1721
White1540
Pulaski1521
Clark1432
Johnson1390
Wabash1381
Clay1350
Fulton1310
Richland1274
Piatt1260
Mercer1205
Mason1161
Menard1110
Edgar1083
Pike1041
De Witt881
Ford874
Massac872
Marshall840
Gallatin682
Scott660
Alexander641
Henderson620
Hamilton580
Edwards570
Stark482
Schuyler410
Putnam380
Brown350
Calhoun350
Hardin310
Pope251
Out of IL30

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 108646

Reported Deaths: 3478
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20341757
Lake10013312
Elkhart6198106
St. Joseph586796
Allen5785198
Hamilton4600109
Vanderburgh318126
Hendricks2607120
Monroe224336
Johnson2241122
Tippecanoe211313
Clark205056
Porter197843
Cass19209
Delaware180159
Vigo169621
Madison153075
LaPorte134837
Floyd127961
Howard125163
Kosciusko116717
Bartholomew113257
Warrick104134
Marshall97423
Boone93846
Dubois92118
Hancock89242
Noble86432
Grant85132
Henry73424
Jackson7259
Wayne72214
Morgan68038
Shelby65529
LaGrange62811
Daviess61627
Dearborn61428
Clinton59111
Harrison54824
Putnam5098
Lawrence49928
Montgomery49421
White47114
Knox4659
Decatur44739
Gibson4344
DeKalb42511
Miami4202
Greene40935
Fayette40413
Jasper3732
Scott34410
Steuben3447
Sullivan32612
Jennings30512
Franklin29225
Posey2900
Clay2855
Orange27924
Ripley2768
Carroll26713
Wabash2547
Washington2491
Whitley2456
Wells2422
Starke2387
Jefferson2363
Adams2303
Fulton2292
Tipton21522
Huntington2073
Randolph2047
Perry20014
Spencer1984
Jay1640
Newton16411
Owen1621
Martin1560
Rush1484
Pike1331
Vermillion1210
Fountain1152
Pulaski1121
Blackford1072
Crawford980
Brown933
Parke902
Benton880
Union760
Ohio757
Switzerland660
Warren381
Unassigned0225