Thursday, March 29, 2007

Prince Gong's Mansion

恭王府

Prince Gong's PalacePrince Gong's Mansion is the best-preserved royal mansion in Beijing. Located north of Beihai Lake--or east of Qianhai Lake in the Back Lakes area--the Mansion is a sprawling campus of buildings and gardens, pavilions and a lake--and a peek at a world long gone.

The Mansion was built in the late 1700s for the corrupt Manchu official He Shen. The same corruption that saw him promoted and accrue tremendous riches also sealed his fate: He Shen was executed in 1799 for his excesses.

Fifty years later, Emperor Xianfeng bestowed the Mansion on his brother Prince Gong--and hence the name.

In the 20th century, the compound was used by nearby Furen Catholic University, and later by Beijing Normal University and the Chinese Music Academy.

During the harrowing days of the Cultural Revolution it was even used for a time as a factory. At long last, in 1982, it was named a Chinese National Cultural Heritage Site. It opened its doors to tourists in the 1990s.

Prince Gong's PalaceIn the warmer months, it gets very crowded. I had the good fortune to visit on a bitter cold early March afternoon, and had much of the place to myself.

Except for the central courtyard, where a tour group was snapping photos and trying to stay warm, there was no one around. By April, this is not the case.

Access

If you are in a group of 2-3 or more, take a cab as the nearest subway stop is a fairly long walk. If you are going to be in the Back Lakes area, get off at Jishuitan Station and stroll your way there. The surrounding parks and lakes are beautiful.

Details

Prince Gong's Mansion is open from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm. Admission is 20 yuan.

Tel: 010 6618 0573

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