Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Last Mandarin Of China

For over a decade, I studied at a local Christian Brother's school in Georgetown, Penang where on some years, my designated classroom gave me the magnificent view of this huge mansion below. I didn't know its name when I was 7 years old then, as it was a run down mess with over 40 families living there in cramped space.

After I returned from US in the 90s, I was surprised to see it being transformed into an almost new building being brought back to life! It was a painstaking effort to get the whole place renovated, repaired, restored and given a fresh coat of 'blue' paint. The paint was surprisingly the same blue chalk which our grannies had used to 'whiten' our bed sheets or white shirts. It was a unique way of painting method used during the early 20th century.

I made a visit there and paid RM10 to get a conducted tour around the mansion. I found out that it belonged to a very prominent Chinese trader by the name of Cheong Fatt Tze (1840 - 1917). To the Qing government officials, Cheong was such an important figure for his vast business connections outside China and was accorded various high ranking governmental positions. Finally, the Empress Dowager elevated him to become the last Mandarin of China, before the fall of the Qing Dynasty and Manchu era.

Cheong had many wives and many lovely homes throughout of South East Asia. When he sired a son by the 7th wife, he willed the mansion to him, shortly before he died at the age of 77 years old. The whole ceiling of the upper floor of this mansion was thereafter, painted in black as a mark of respect in mourning his passing.

This mansion has been awarded the Asia Pacific Heritage Awards 2000 as Most Excellent Project of UNESCO

An aerial view of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion where you could see the row of 5 servants' quarters on the opposite side.

The main entrance leading to the mansion.

The main hall.

A side door.

A lovely courtyard which was designed according to feng shui principles to allow the right energy and chi to flow in. The detailed iron works and solid pillars were imported from Scotland.

The west wing of the palatial mansion.

The stairs leading to the upper floor where it housed other bedrooms - totaling over 20.

These are very unique and beautiful 'Chien Nien' cut and paste mosaics done by artisans specially brought in from China. The ceramic mosaics were selected from broken and bit pieces of porcelain tiles, plates and bowls which was their way of art then. This art piece showed a scene of a Chinese opera stage show.

The 5 servants' quarters on the opposite side across the street which has become an entertainment joint today for party makers. Right behind is where my former school still proudly stands today.

To all my foreign friends, you must visit this place to bring you back to the yesteryears of the bygone era where the last Mandarin had once lavishly lived, dined and entertained many prominent foreign dignitaries. 

Today, there is even a cozy hotel inside this mansion too,  for those who would love to spend the night there and perhaps discover something else!
Call 604-262 0006 for enquiries. Have fun!


  1. This Cheong Fatt Tze is so rich that can even have 5 houses for his servants? Walau~!

    What happen to his descendant? Still as rich?

  2. The Empress you said is Empress Dowager Dixi?
    That old unreasonable de facto ruler of Manchu Qing died in 1908..?

  3. The house was very well maintained. Everything looks quite new. To own such a big house with servants... he really a rich and influential person during his time.

  4. Anonymous - The son who inherited the mansion, Cheong Kim Loong never maintained the place and rented out to many families who cramped the place. The tenants made a big mess with tall weeds growing all over and hung their laundry on bamboo poles out of the windows. This heir has died and I heard the mansion has been sold.

    Kenlin - Welcome! Yes, Empress Dowager Cixi died on 15 November 1908, the next day after the installation of Puyi as the last Emperor. In my coming blogs I will post photos of Cixi's Summer Palace in Chengde where there was a room where she confined and punished her son for a long time.

    Bruce - Everything is old inside the house. I just wonder how did you see that it looks new?

  5. yes it was sold by the wife of his last son when he his will the house shouldn't be sold until the ninth generation.i am only the fifth generation but im glad the people who bought it managed to restore it.