Mansion of notorious Qing official draws large crowds for opening

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 2008, 12:00am

Thousands of tourists have flocked to visit Prince Gong's Mansion, the newly opened royal-courtyard complex in downtown Beijing, to catch a glimpse of imperial life in the Qing dynasty.

The mansion, now known as Gong Wang Fu Museum, opened to the public on Wednesday for the first time since it was built in 1777 as the private residence of Qing dynasty prime minister He Shen, though the garden areas at the back of the royal complex became a tourist attraction in 1988.

Covering 60,000 square metres, it is one of 20 princely residences from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) in Beijing. But it is the only one accessible to the public because the others are occupied or nearly dilapidated, according to Hou Fang, an official with the Prince Gong's Palace Administration Centre.

Ms Hou said the mansion had undergone extensive renovation since December 2005 costing 200 million yuan (HK$228.78 million). Despite a low-profile opening because of Olympic security precautions, the first day saw nearly 10,000 visitors, she said.

The mansion is named after the brother of Emperor Xianfeng (1831-61), but to much of the public, the compound is more closely associated with He, one of the most corrupt officials in Chinese history.

He, Emperor Qianlong's most trusted prime minister, was executed after being found to have amassed 800 million ounces of silver, and his mansion was confiscated.

The mansion consists of ponds, gardens and several courtyards serving as living rooms and a library - and even a vault for He to hide his embezzled treasure.

Wang Chunqing, a retired biology teacher from Lanzhou , Gansu province , who was on holiday with her husband, said they had to come for a look after they read about the mansion's opening in a newspaper.

'Who doesn't know He Shen was the most corrupt official?' she said. 'I want to take a look at what he was up to in his life.'

Fan Di, a retired Japanese- language professor who has lived in the Chinese capital for 60 years, said she was disappointed because the compound looked just like other royal gardens 'with nothing but the empty rooms'.

'I'd hoped to see the legacy of the people once living there and the traces of their lives, but nothing is really there,' Mr Fan said.