A visit to Prince Gong’s Mansion
Prince Gong’s Mansion is now a museum and tourist attraction located in Xicheng District, Beijing. One day when I was studying Mandarin in Beijing, a friend came to visit from Australia so in preparation I had done some research on different places to visit in Beijing. Prince Gong’s Mansion is probably not one of the main tourist sights in Beijing but it definitely is worth the visit. The grounds are gorgeous.
The grounds contain large siheyuan-style mansions. For anyone who doesn’t know what the siheyan style of home is – it’s a courtyard surrounded by buildings (usually homes) on all four sides. In Mandarin si = the numeral 4 / he = together/join and yuan = courtyard.
We arrived by taxi and along with a few thousand Chinese visitors [everywhere you go really in Beijing there are thousands of Chinese which I love to see – but it does get busy], (actually we only saw about five other non-Chinese during our visit), we walked through the grounds and courtyard homes. We bought a map which provided us with some history (very interesting) on the mansion.
So a little bit on the history: its named after Prince Gong, a Manchu prince and influential statesman of the Qing dynasty but was constructed in 1777 during the Qing dynasty for a prominent court official, Heshen, during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.
From a young age, Heshen earned the favour of the Qianlong Emperor and rose swiftly through the ranks in the imperial administration to become one of the top and wealthiest officials in Qianlong’s court.
In 1799, Qianlong’s successor, the Jiaqing Emperor, accused Heshen of corruption and had him executed and confiscated his property. The mansion was given to Prince Qing, the 17th and youngest son of the Qianlong Emperor.
Then in 1851, the emperor gave the mansion to his sixth brother, Prince Gong, whom as previously mentioned, the mansion is named after.
In 1921, after the collapse of the Qing dynasty, Prince Gong’s grandson, Puwei, offered the property as a mortgage to the Order of Saint Benedict of the Catholic Church. The Benedictines invested significant resources into restoring the dilapidated mansion for use as a university. It was then known as Furen Catholic University until the priests were evicted from China in 1951.
During the Cultural Revolution, the mansion was used by the Beijing Air Conditioning Factory. In 1982, it was declared a historical and cultural site and in 1996, it became a tourist attraction.
We took several hours to walk around the gardens and got lost on several occasions as the grounds really are huge! I had been in China for about two months and my Chinese was not good at all but I did know the words for ‘front gate’ in Chinese so managed to ask someone the way out…we still got lost but finally managed to make our way back to the front gate.
There were lovely ponds we walked around and on one of the largest there were ducks housed with cute little wooden homes built for them. And we found cats and kittens sleeping and playing near where it looked like the caretaker lived. China has a lot of homeless cats which is sad but these ones were clearly cared for and well fed.
Whilst I lived in Beijing I fed some homeless cats for three years, two and three times a week. I made them homes out of boxes and put in towels and clothing during the cold months and met some lovely elderly Chinese who were also doing the same thing. The cats came and went (or died) but there were always cats to feed! My beautiful maid would buy dry and wet food for me and I would take huge bottles of water and empty containers to put in food and water…I loved seeing the cats running across the road when they saw me. My lovely friends would also come walking with me and help me when they visited from Australia.