If you were a millionaire, what would you do with all your cash? For China’s “cake millionaire,” Liu Chonghua, the answer is real estate -- of the medieval variety.
As China’s middle class becomes increasingly well-off, and the nation’s rich gain even more wealth, real estate at home and abroad has become a common investment vehicle. While some are banking on Detroit’s housing market to bounce back, others make safer, albeit more expensive, bets in New York. Fifty-nine-year old Liu, who made his millions introducing cakes and other baked goods to the Chinese people, decided that his money would be better spent on designing and constructing extravagant, sprawling castles.
“I don’t have any hobbies, except for planting trees and building castles,” Liu said to AFP, standing atop the largest castle of the six he has built. (China doesn't have medieval stone castles to buy, unlike Europe, so he had to have his constructed from scratch.) And his future consists of more of the same, as he's already making plans for a grey stone palace that resembles Britain’s Windsor Castle.
Some of his other properties include a red brick castle, featuring several sky-high spires, and a white castle that reminds one of the famed Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, or possibly of the Candyland board game popular with American kids. His castles, all nestled near each other on a single plot of land in the southwestern city of Chongqing, may differ in appearance, but all are representative of a childhood dream he had. “When I was a child I heard stories about princes and castles,” Liu said in the report, adding that growing up in rural China in the 1960s he had “an empty stomach every day.” When he began making his millions, he brought his fairy tale to life: “I wanted to turn the castles of my dreams into something real.”
Unfortunately, all fairy tales also have their villain. Liu’s designs and developments have lead to trouble with local officials in Chongqing, one of southwest China’s megacities, due to increasingly high value on land ownership. “The government has never appreciated me; they said I’ve offended officials. I got anonymous calls from someone threatening to run me over with a car.”
Unlike a lot of China’s structures, Liu’s castles are unique for the country’s landscape, which is mostly modern glass and steel skyscrapers or cookie-cutter residential spaces, taking inspiration from European architecture and transplanting it in China. “European castles are really easy to build,” One of Liu’s construction workers, Ma Wenneng, said. “The boss has a book of castle pictures in his office and we use that as a reference.”
“China needs castles, because it needs a more pluralistic culture,” Liu says. “A city needs people who have dreams, to help society develop.”