Prince Gong Mansion

Prince Gong Mansion was first built in front of Lion Alley in the eastern sector of Di’anmen Dongjie (Street). But the present Prince Gong Mansion is located at 17 Qianhai Xijie on the west bank of Shicha Lake. The Mansion is the most exquisitely decorated and best preserved of the princes’ mansions in the capital city. Besides the residence there is also a large garden.

The Mansion is composed of three complexes of buildings -central, eastern and western-the first of these conforming to the standard mansion of a prince. In this mansion, however, the Central Spirit Hall was destroyed. The rear hall is a two-storey structure more than180 metres wide. An unusual wooden artificial hill forms the flight of stairs which gives access to the building. The buildings to the east are constructed in typical Ming style. A Chinese wisteria plant with a history of more than 200 years is still growing in front of it.

The main courtyard of the western complex includes the Xijin Studio as its main hall and is entered via a gate with the name of “Courtyard of Heavenly Fragrance” carved above it. Surrounding the courtyard is a series of elegant rooms separated by nanmu (a kind of cedar tree) partitions. In the centre of the courtyard are two rare midget crabapple trees nearly 300 years old.

The garden to the north of the rear hall was designed on a large scale without the constraints imposed on the mansion’s formal buildings. The front section of the garden contains a hill made of piled stones, an ancient wall, the Liubei Pavilion, the Peak That Has Flown In and the Green Cloud Mountain Range.

The rear section of the garden has a multi-leveled artificial hill built of Lake Tai stones. The bottom level has tunnels running through it and contains a stone with the character fu (meaning happiness in Chinese) written on it in the calligraphy of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722). On the second level are two pools where fine lotuses bloom in late summer and early autumn. A small pavilion with a terrace stands on the hilltop and is considered an-ideal place for viewing the moon. A fishing pond stands in front of the hill. The eastern courtyard of the garden is surrounded by a low wall and contains a luxuriance of flowers and trees. Screened by the man-made hill is the Hall of Happiness built in such a way that sunlight falls on it from dawn to dusk. The building is said to be the only one of its kind in Beijing at the present time.

According to recent research by literary scholars, it was at this Mansion that Cao Xueqin, author of A Dream of Red Mansions, lived the life he was to write about in his famous novel.

The princes’ mansions and large-scale private houses in Beijing were often built with walled flower gardens laid out either behind or to the sides of the main buildings.

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