Which would you rather be: a bull in a china shop or a mortal entering the Porcelain House (瓷屋)? Within this space of 3,000 square meters are more than 16 thousand pieces of pottery, 300 white-marble carvings and 290 tons of natural crystals. Luckily, this china is already shattered into 700 million pieces.
Porcelain House, also known as “China House” or Yuebao House, is an historic house-turned-museum. Decorated and refurnished by antique collector Zhang Lianzhi, it is a true gem among the flashy billboard ads and touristy food street in downtown Tianjin. The museum’s uniqueness has earned it a spot as one of the world’s 15 most stunning museums.
The history of Porcelain House has come full circle. An old French-style building, it served as the dwelling of a central finance minister during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and later a bank post-1949. When the bank relocated, the house remained abandoned for many years.
In September 2002, businessman Zhang Lianzhi bought the house for 1 million RMB. What started as an attempt to beautify the home blossomed into an ambitious art project.
“The experience is like a child building his dream house with toy bricks,” Zhang said. “All I need is my imagination to create and explore with such a large amount of porcelain pieces.”
These pieces span the Tang (618-907) through Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. About 80 percent of the materials used in the house came from damaged antiques. Zhang designed and contracted the project on his own, opening the house to the public in September 2007. Today, the house is valued at over 2 billion RMB.
What makes the museum so beautiful is its juxtaposition with the old and the new. Plates, vases and statues from the dynasties are intermixed. Zhang created a rice paste to glue the porcelain to the wall. Various symbols of Chinese culture are represented throughout the project.
The inside of the house is lined with mosaics. Porcelain pillows symbolize “suìsuì píng’ān” (岁岁平安 “wellness every year”), since the Chinese word for “sleep” (睡 shuì) is similar to the word for “year” (岁 suì). Other pieces add aesthetic value to the ceiling, railings and doorways. The house is also furnished with antique chairs, chests and tables.
Outside, four powerful “dragons” 200 meters in length slither down the house. The “Píng’ān Qiáng” (平安墙 “Wall of Wellness”) is built from 3,000 vases and crystals. The vases are another play on Chinese words: the character for “peace” (平) shares the same “píng” pronunciation as “vase” (瓶). There is also a new Land Rover in the backyard with over 10,000 pieces of ceramics, worth more than 1 million yuan.
At one time, the public believed the museum would be converted into a high-end restaurant. For now, it remains a spectacle enjoyed by the public. However, not everyone appreciates Zhang’s technique to bring culture to the masses. Some critics argue that the porcelain becomes worthless displayed in such a way. Zhang countered that his project brings “new life” to the old pieces.
“I want to share my enthusiasm about the collection with many more people. For the past 20 years, I myself have found great fun in studying the stories and history behind the ceramics. It would be a pity and waste if these fabulous works of art were appreciated by myself only,” Zhang said.
While Zhang admits he may be crazy, the house is definitely a culture icon for years to come.