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The Fall of a Mysterious Private Villa in a Protected Wilderness Area in China

By Zhao Runhua and Tanner Brown / Mar 21, 2019 04:22 PM / Politics & Law

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Imagine a private citizen felling trees and damaging environmental structures in Yellowstone National Park, to illegally build a bizarre villa that houses stuffed animals and sculptures. Moreover, this rogue building is closed to visitors.

Well in China, these dreams can come true.

In Heilongjiang province, in China’s northeast, lies the government-protected Zhangguangcai Ling forest zone — an expanse of trees and wildlife.

Yet in the midst of this wild reserve, a complex of ornate, ancient-Chinese-style buildings have been built over the last 14 years, without approval, and with scant information about who or what was behind them, or what their purpose was for.

The staying-power of this unauthorized complex is also a testament to the failure of local officials to resolve the issue.

Three times local officials have ordered “Cao Garden,” as it is called, to be dismantled and for the backers to pay fines. But the buildings still stand, with their artifacts gathering dust.

But the mystery may be coming to an end. On Tuesday, a high-level provincial conference urged the local Mudanjiang city government to set up an investigation team to inspect and “seriously” punish those responsible. Officials said the investigation results and punishment decisions will be released publicly.

Some news has already emerged. CCTV reported yesterday that a private company owned by a man named Cao Bo is behind the complex. Cao acquired the rights to operate a government-owned horse ranch at the location, but with no additional changes.

Cao denied the villa complex is private, and asserted he had always been wanting to giving it back to society as a gift. He said the reason why it remained closed was because of the incomplete construction and government’s punishment notices.

Cao and the case are still under investigation.

View more photos of the villa complex here.

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