Prince Mansions

Countless princes' mansions were 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 (reigned 1862-1874) is described briefly. The mansions of Prince Chun and Prince Gong are introduced in greater detail.

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.

Although some freedom was allowed in the construction of the auxiliary wing sections, the buildings around the central axis were all built to specification. Each mansion has a main gate three jian wide with a raised entrance way, and smaller gates to the east and west. Before the main gate there are stone lions and horses, lantern poles and hitching posts. Immediately inside the entrance to the sides are two three-jian halls, beyond which is a three-or five-jian Silver Peace Hall. From here a paved path leads to the second gate. Inside the second gate there are again three -jian halls to the east and west and in the eastern part of the courtyard a "Column to the Ancestors." Pig entrails were placed in a vessel on the top pf this column when sacrifices were carried out. Directly north lies the five-jian Spirit Hall.

In the northeast corner of the central courtyard stands the family temple. To the west is a Clinic of Good Fortune, where the servants-women, eunuchs and guards-were sent when seriously ill, though their funerals were not permitted to be held here-this privilege being reserved for concubines and their offspring.

The following are Qing Dynasty mansions:
1. Prince Li's Mansion in Jiangfang Hutong, Dongxie Street, to the south of Xi' anmen. Just after the founding of the People's Republic, the Ministry of Interior Affairs had its office here.

2. Prince Rui' s Mansion, built in the early Qing Dynasty is the site of the Nanchizi Primary School. Under the Ming, the Hongqing Palace was situated here, and in 1650, under Emperor Shunzhi, the mansion was pulled down and rebuilt as the Magala Temple. Qianlong renamed it the Pudu Temple in 1776, and in 1778, a new mansion was built for Chun Ying, the fifth generation descendant of Dorgun. The mansion was turned into the Datong Middle School before the founding of the People's Republic, and because the Beijing No.24 Middle School after 1949. It is now divided into two schools, the Foreign Ministry Road (Wajiaobujie) Middle School and the No. 24 Middle School.

3. Prince Yu's Mansion in the Third Western Lane at Dongdan is now the sits of the Peking Hospital (formerly the Peiping Union Medical College).

4. Prince Su's Mansion was formerly situated in Dongjiaomin Lane but after the signing of the Treaty of 1901, the area became legation property and was the site of the British Army barracks. The mansion was moved to the northern end of Nanchuanban Lane in Beixinqiao.

5. Prince Zheng's Mansion, in Erlong (Two Dragon) Road in Xidan, was formerly China University and is now part of the State Education Commission.

6. Prince Zhuang's Mansion is located in Xitaipingcang in Ping'anli.

7. Prince Shuncheng's (junwang) Mansion, on Peace Bridge Road (Taiping Dajie) in the West City District, serves as the offices of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. In 1924, the mansion became the property of Zhang Zuolin.

8. Prince Keqin's (junwang) Mansion on new Culture Road in Xuanwumennei is now the New Culture Road Second Primary School. Although the mansion is not large, it is exquisitely constructed. The main halls of the front and central courtyards are five jian each; the main hall in the rear courtyard measures seven.

The eight princes listed above were Eight Great Families of the early Qing. According to Qing convention, a son inherited a title one rank below that of his father. Thus, a prince of the first rank's (qinwang) son would become a junwang and the later' s son would become a beile-the rank below junwang. The only exception to this rule were the nobles who had given special service such as the eight "Iron Capped"noblemen who had helped to establish Qing rule.

The four princes' mansions introduced below were bestowed upon their owners at a later date than the mansions listed above. The oldest of these was conferred upon Prince Yi, the 13th son of Emperor Kangxi.

Prince Yi's Mansion in Chaonei Road serves as the office of the Science Press. In the early part of the Tongzhi period (1862-1874) the Yi family was stripped of its rank and moved to Beijing Hutong in Dongdan. Now the buildings at Dongdan are the dormitories of the Chinese Youth Art Theater.

In 1872, Emperor Tongzhi granted the right of permanent prince ship to the Gongzhong Prince Yi Xin and in 1875, Emperor Guangxu bestowed the same tight on Prince Chun, Yi Huan. In 1908, Prince Yi Kuang was given the same honor and moved into the mansion on Dingfu Street.

Prince Chun owned two mansions, one in Taiping Hu (Peace Lake) in the West City District and one on the north bank of Houhai (Rear Lake). The mansions remained the property of the family for over 60 years and were occupied by three generations. The first Prince Chun, Yi Huan, was the seventh son of Emperor Daoguang (reigned 1821-1850). When his brother ascended the throne as Emperor Xianfeng, Yi Huan was given the title of Prince Chun (junwang). But as a son of the former emperor, he continued to live in the Imperial Palace. In March 1859, Yi Huan left the palace for a new residence at Taiping Hu and in July if 1864 was given the title of Prince of the First Rank (qinwang). In September 1872, he was promoted and given the title Prince Chun (Chun Qinwang. In 1875, Yi Huan' s second son, Zai Tian, took the throne as Emperor Guangxu and conferred permanent prince ship on his family. The residence is particularly famous for its fine gardens. In 1913 and 1914 the mansion became Zhonghua University and later Republic (Minguo) University. Now it is the Central Conservatory of Music.

In accordance with Qing Dynasty regulations, because Emperor Guangxu was born in the Huaiyin Study in Prince Chun's Mansion at Taiping Hu, when he ascended the throne, the property could no longer serve as a residence and had to be returned to the emperor. The rest of the Yi family moved to a new mansion on the north bank of Houhai. In 1891, Yi Huan died of illness and was awarded the posthumous title of "Xian" (Sagacious). Emperor Guangxu gave him the special title"The Emperor's Own Deceased Father, Sagacious Prince Chun." In November 1908, Yi Huan' s grandson Puyi, in the name of the "Successor to Tongzhi and Guangxu," took the throne as Emperor Xuantong and changed Yi Huan' s honorary title to"Sagacious Prince Chun. After Yi Huan' s death, his son Zai Feng' s son Puyi took the throne at the age of three with his father as acting regent, and the family mansion was renamed"Mansion of the Regent Prince"or Beifu (Northern Mansion), as it stood to the north of the old residence at Taiping Hu.

The residence of Prince Chun was originally the home of Prince Cheng, and before it passed into the hands of Prince Shun, Yu Su, a noble of the sixth rank (beizi) lived here. In 1924, when Puyi was forced out of the Imperial Palace, he first returned here before moving to Tianjin. To the north of the mansion is one of Beijing' s largest gardens. In recent years, the garden was the home of Soong Ching Ling, late Vice-Chairwoman of the People's Republic. The mansion now houses offices of the Ministry of Public Health.

Prince Gong' s Mansion was first built in Iron Lion Alley in the eastern section of Di' anmen East Street, but the present Gong Mansion is at 17 Qianhaixi Street on the east bank of Shicha Lake. This mansion is the most exquisitely decorated and best preserved of the princes' s mansions in Beijing. 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. Here, however, the central Spirit Hall has been destroyed. The rear hall is a two-story structure more than 180 meters wide, which is said to be 99.5 jian in size. 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 over 200 years old is still growing in front.

The main courtyard of the western complex includes the Xijin Studio (Xijinzhai) as its main hall. Surrounding is a series of elegant rooms separated by Phoebe nanmu 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 has a hill of piled stones, an ancient wall, the Liubei Pavilion, the Peck That Has Flown In and the Green Cloud Mountain Range.

The back section has a multi-level hill of Taihu stones with tunnels and a stone with the character fu (happiness) in Emperor Kangxi' s calligraphy. Above there are two pools where lotuses bloom in late summer and early autumn. The small pavilion on top is considered an ideal place for appreciating the moon. A fishing pond stands in front of the hill. A low wall surrounds the eastern courtyard of flowers and trees. Screened by the artificial hill is the Futing (Hall of Happiness), built in such a way that sunlight falls on it from dawn to dusk. It is said to be the only one of its kind in Beijing.

According to research by literary scholars, it was at Prince Gong's Mansion that Cao Xueqin, author of A Dream of Red Mansions (Hongloumeng), lived the life he was to write about in his famous novel. Researchers believe that the mansion and large garden resemble the Rongguo Mansion and Daguan (Great View) Garden, since certain features described by Cao, including the layout of the buildings, tally with the layout of the mansion. There is much controversy over the question, but as former Premier Zhou Enlai pointed out, the problem will not be easily resolved and whatever the outcome, the garden should be preserved as a memorial to Cao xueqin.

Princes' mansion and large private homes were often built with walled flower gardens behind or to the side of the main buildings. Today a few such mansions from the Ming Dynasty still exist, such as the house and garden at 1 Great Peace Lane (Taiping Hutong). The gardens are ingeniously constructed with complementary buildings and terraces, well spaced vegetation and paths that wind around tranquil grottoes.

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