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article imagePhoto Essay: Beijing's Prince Gong Mansion Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Mar 16, 2014 in World
Beijing - Prince Gong Mansion is a complex of homes, temples, gardens, and ponds in Beijing that illustrate court life in China's 18th Century.
After touring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in the morning, our dauntless Chinese tour guide led us to Prince Gong Mansion in the cloudy afternoon. It is located in an old section of Beijing and illustrates court life in the Qing Dynasty. A prominent court official built it in the 18th Century. He was later accused of corruption and executed, and his mansion went to a royal prince, eventually being called Prince Gong Mansion.
After the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1921, it was restored by the Catholic Church and used as a university. Now it is a national heritage site and museum with many artifacts and paintings. It is the best-preserved imperial mansion in Beijing and used to house several families in one and two-storey buildings surrounded by courtyards, temples, and pagodas. It even has an opera house! With a total area of 60,000 square meters, its mansions are in the south and gardens in the north.
I was really too tired to explore its vast area, but as I pushed through ornate gateways and gilded inner rooms, I found surprising beauty such as paintings of beloved wives and children; a little temple decorated with red prayer scrolls; bronze pots inside courtyards; and rows of musical prayer bells lining a corridor. The garden area held strange, twisted gray rocks that ascended man-made hills, a lake, and a hilltop pagoda that looked like a giant tree house. This pagoda offers romantic views of the moon, and royal ladies used to climb up there and dream.
Prince Gong Mansion has been used as the setting for television shows and movies that illustrate life in the Qing Dynasty, especially A Dream of Red Mansions that is based on a famous 18th-Century book. Primarily a love triangle about a man who loves one woman but is promised to another, it also follows the lives of 12 beautiful women who experienced love, art, poetry, and tragedy in the Imperial court. The 2010 TV series is worth watching, just to see the ornate hair styles, jewelry, and costumes worn by people of that time. Even the jade tea sets and smooth stone board games seem artistic against backgrounds of peacock feathers, red lanterns, and gilded furniture.
Prince Gong Mansion will challenge your imagination as you step over a bronze threshold and beneath a red gate to China's past.
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with her friend Jenny at the entrance to Prince Gong Mansion
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with her friend Jenny at the entrance to Prince Gong Mansion
Step through this gate into a courtyard
Step through this gate into a courtyard
One of the main residences of Prince Gong Mansion
One of the main residences of Prince Gong Mansion
People wait in the courtyard to enter the buildings
People wait in the courtyard to enter the buildings
Inside this building is an art gallery
Inside this building is an art gallery
This painting inside the art gallery shows beloved wives and children
This painting inside the art gallery shows beloved wives and children
You can find bronze pots in the many courtyards
You can find bronze pots in the many courtyards
People twirled these bronze prayer bells along the side of one courtyard
People twirled these bronze prayer bells along the side of one courtyard
One of the many corridors along the mansion
One of the many corridors along the mansion
This balcony could have been a scene from  Dream of Red Mansions
This balcony could have been a scene from "Dream of Red Mansions"
A private nook in the mansion complex
A private nook in the mansion complex
The gilded interior  coated with silver  where the princes and princesses reclined
The gilded interior, coated with silver, where the princes and princesses reclined
Part of the gardens that combine rock  wood  and water in harmony
Part of the gardens that combine rock, wood, and water in harmony
Red prayer scrolls list people s hopes and wishes at a little garden temple
Red prayer scrolls list people's hopes and wishes at a little garden temple
View of the lake and the Moon Pagoda that reaches up through distant trees
View of the lake and the Moon Pagoda that reaches up through distant trees
A courtyard corner that offers tea to weary travelers
A courtyard corner that offers tea to weary travelers
Lonna Lisa Williams with her tired tour group at the exit of Prince Gong Mansion
Lonna Lisa Williams with her tired tour group at the exit of Prince Gong Mansion
 Dream of Red Mansions  books with a matching wood screen
"Dream of Red Mansions" books with a matching wood screen
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