There are numerous princes' mansions built in Beijing from the time of Emperor YongLe in the Ming Dynasty. Those of the eight great families of the early Qing and four mansions built in the post-Emperor TongZhi period is described briefly. The mansions of Prince Gong are introduced in greater details.
Prince Gong's Mansion is situated close to Shichahai Lake, to the northwest of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Prince Gong's Mansion is the Qing Dynasty's mansion with the largest scope, and also till now the most well-preserved one.
With the exception of Prince Qing's Mansion, bestowed upon Yi Kuang, the princes' mansions are all built on the same basic model and constructed from the finest carved bricks, stone and timber.
It consists of a mansion and a garden. It occupies about 800 hectares in area. Since the residence was extremely luxurious when it was firstly built by He Shen, the halls in it followed the style of Palace of Tranquil Longevity in the Forbidden City. Some halls were made of Nanmu and combined the features of both mansions and gardens. From the south to the north, the halls are divided into five rows with three groups of courtyards from east to west. At the front of the axis, there are two gates and the second one is larger than the first one. Originally, there stood the main hall named the Yinan Hall, which has collapsed. The extant Jiale Hall features the style of imperial palaces. The three quadrangles along the eastern line feature Ming Dynasty architecture style.
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 center 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.
History and Today
The mansion was constructed around 1776 and was originally the private residence of HeShen, a member of imperial court of Emperor QianLong (1736-1796). Later, Emperor JiaQing (1796-1820) bestowed it to his younger brother Yong Lin in 1799.Eventually Emperor XianFeng (1851-1862) transferred the ownership to Prince Gong and the mansion has borne his name since then.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, many royal buildings in Beijing were turned into schools, factories, offices or dormitories. Prince Gong's Mansion opened its ornamental garden to the public in 1988. Most other parts of the mansion were occupied by various offices and it was home to more than 200 families at that time.
The 230-year-old Prince Gong's Mansion, China's largest and best-preserved Qing Dynasty mansion will open to the public before the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.