During the 2008 global financial crisis, China was frequently asked to ‘rescue’ ailing American banks from failure; a Chinese firm ‘saved’ Volvo; and with its offer last month to buy Portuguese government debt, Beijing could help that country stave off a fiscal catastrophe and avoid the fates of Greece and Ireland.
However, the latest Western call for Chinese assistance may be the most surprising of all. In an unlikely turn of events, the Chinese are being asked to save the house of a former British prime minister.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Edward Heath’s home, Arundells, is set to be put up for sale by its trustees. The house – which Heath left to the nation – has been operating as a museum. But the cost of keeping the Salisbury home open to the public has made it a lossmaking venture. The trustees would like to sell it and give the proceeds to a charitable cause supported by Heath, who died in 2005.
The China Daily has been captivated by the story, and in a full page article about Arundells has thrown down the gauntlet to the country’s business elite to bail the museum out.
Heath, it points out, was a great ‘friend of China’ having been feted on his trips to the country – and was a “key figure in China’s opening to the West”.
Heath met Chairman Mao in 1974, and so impressed the Great Helmsman that he was gifted a pair of Qianlong vases. These now reside in Arundells alongside other Chinese antiques, such as a Tang Dynasty horse. The house staircase even features wallpaper that tells the tale of the Monkey King. All of this makes the house of particular interest to Chinese visitors to the UK, reckons the newspaper.
The campaign coordinator of Friends of Arundells, Tony Burnside, sees a Chinese bailout as the only way to keep the museum’s door’s open. “We would like to invite a Chinese entrepreneurial businessman or woman to step forward and help us save this important piece of heritage,” he told China Daily.
Should this happen, it would not be without some irony. During Britain’s rise as the world’s superpower in the 19th century, it shipped a series of Chinese artifacts back to its museums. At the time (and frequently since) one of the justifications was that a corrupt and chaotic China was often incapable of properly caring for the fruits of its 5,000 year civilisation. Now a rising China is being asked to save a British museum…
Heath is not remembered as one of the great British politicians. But he was ahead of his time as far as China was concerned. As far back as the 1960s, he was calling China the “country of the future”.
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