Sat. Apr 20th, 2024
alert-–-return-our-‘looted’-treasures,-chinese-tiktok-warriors-tell-prince-william-and-kate-middleton’s-norfolk-neighbours-after-claiming-106-room-stately-mansion-is-full-of-qing-dynasty-antique-valuablesAlert – Return our ‘looted’ treasures, Chinese TikTok warriors tell Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Norfolk neighbours after claiming 106-room stately mansion is full of Qing Dynasty antique valuables

It is one of the country’s most stunning stately homes – a 106-room mansion that draws thousands of visitors each year to admire its architectural history.

But now Houghton Hall, family seat of David Cholmondeley, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, is under scrutiny from Chinese internet sleuths who claim the neo-Palladian pile contains antique valuables looted from the Qing Dynasty.

Images of the Grade I listed house, commissioned by Sir Robert Walpole in 1722, have gone viral on social media sites, despite assurances from the estate that no items among the Hall’s contents had been stolen.

In China, armchair detectives have taken to TikTok to accuse the Marquess, 63, and his wife Rose Hanbury, 40 – neighbours of the Prince and Princess of Wales – of living with pillaged loot they inherited from his illustrious ancestors, the Sassoons.

Nicknamed ‘the Rothschilds of the East’, the Sassoon family amassed a fortune dealing in textiles, tea, and opium across India and China in the 19th Century. 

Houghton Hall, family seat of David Cholmondeley, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, is under scrutiny from Chinese internet sleuths

Houghton Hall, family seat of David Cholmondeley, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, is under scrutiny from Chinese internet sleuths

Armchair detectives have taken to TikTok to accuse the Marquess, 63, and his wife Rose Hanbury (pictured) of living with pillaged loot

Armchair detectives have taken to TikTok to accuse the Marquess, 63, and his wife Rose Hanbury (pictured) of living with pillaged loot

The height of their business coincided with China’s ‘century of humiliation’ from 1839 to 1945, where millions of valuable artefacts were plundered by British and French soldiers. The Qing dynasty ran from 1644 to 1911.

Identifying which items from this era were stolen and which were legally acquired is difficult but that has not stopped baseless allegations being made against the Cholmondeleys.

One person on Xiaohongshu, an Instagram-like site, shared images of the Hall’s interior and said: ‘The Sassoons started to accumulate their wealth by looting late Qing China.’

The internet sleuths have pored over photoshoots of the Marquess and Marchioness in Vanity Fair and W magazines showing off their palatial pile in north Norfolk, four miles from Anmer Hall, the country home of William and Kate.

They have focused on several items of furniture which include a dressing screen embellished with mountains and cranes. ‘These cultural relics not only represent the history and culture of our nation but are the wisdom and hard work of our ancestors,’ said TikTok user Cathy Chen.

While David, the current Marquess, is descended through his father from the Sassoons, the estate said the items in question were not heirlooms that were inherited through his family. 

A Houghton Hall spokesman said: ‘The items of Chinese origin in the photographs to which you refer were purchased by the Walpole family, the original owners of Houghton, during the 18th Century, mid-Qing Dynasty, mostly through agents rather than in China directly.

Internet sleuths have focused on several items of furniture which include a dressing screen embellished with mountains and cranes

Internet sleuths have focused on several items of furniture which include a dressing screen embellished with mountains and cranes 

One person on Xiaohongshu, an Instagram-like site, shared images of the Hall's interior and said: 'The Sassoons started to accumulate their wealth by looting late Qing China'

One person on Xiaohongshu, an Instagram-like site, shared images of the Hall’s interior and said: ‘The Sassoons started to accumulate their wealth by looting late Qing China’

‘The items were not looted but mostly made for export to Europe. It would be hard to find a country house collection, whether private or owned by the National Trust, that does not exhibit items acquired in or from China. This is true of most European and American collections.’

The Sassoons were Jewish Baghdadi bankers who attracted criticism in China for their role in the opium trade. 

Sybil Sassoon, the current Marquess’s paternal grandmother, is credited with modernising Houghton Hall after marrying George Cholmondeley, the fifth Marquess, in 1913.

Her work on adding to the Hall’s art collection, which includes modern art alongside paintings by Old Masters, led to her being credited with starting ‘a new golden age for Houghton’. 

A commentator noted: ‘In addition to loads of cash, the Rothschild and Sassoon families each possessed remarkable connoisseurship.’