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Monday, September 19, 2011

Cheong Fatt Tze, The Historical Mansion, HomeStay, Event Hall.

A Grand Mansion conceived and constructed by a Grand Man; an eminent edifice which History calls Home; a peerless representation of the Paradigm Chinese Courtyard House – the Cheong Fatt Tze “Blue” Mansion has been perfectly poised for over a century on firm foundations of architectural, cultural and historic superlatives.

Memoir Of A Mansion In Its Prime
Undoubtedly the prototype of the land-hopping 'jet-setter', Cheong Fatt Tze maintained mansions in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, besides the one in Penang. But although each of his far flung homes amply reflected his high station in life in terms of scale and luxuriousness, it would appear from all accounts, that the Leith Street home was the favoured one. The Blue Mansion was certainly his most elaborate and lavish - its detailing and artisan works more refined than even those in his native home in Tai'pu; and it was reputedly one of only two such buildings of its size outside China.

Blue's Blueprint
The Mansion's construction began before the end of the 19th Century, and it was said that Cheong Fatt Tze had hoped to house nine generations of his descendants there. The plot of land was chosen after heavy consultation with the era's preeminent feng shui masters, and while all his Hakka friends and relatives chose to build very modern, Anglo-Indian houses in and around the area, Cheong Fatt Tze gave the go-ahead for the construction of a traditional Chinese home. Artisans were shipped in from Southern China expressly for the project, and building materials were imported from as far away as Scotland.

The paradigm two-storey courtyard house, incidentally, was built in stages - the centre bay was constructed first, while the wings were added at a later stage (clear indications of after-thought are found in the corridors that lead nowhere and originally external windows opening out into covered verandah ways).

Mansion's Functions
Towards Cheong Fatt Tze's later life, No. 14 served as both an office and a home. It acted as the base for his commercial enterprises and housed the Chinese Vice-Consulate - not to mention his favoured 7th wife. 

All significant activities were concentrated in the centre of the mansion, with front halls allocated for business meetings, the administration of the Vice-Consul Generalship and formal greeting of guests. The rear halls were for ancestral prayers, dining and family; while areas on the first floor housed rooms for significant family members. It was understood that preferred family members were housed in the Centre Bay, while those who had lost favour, as well as lesser relatives, were moved to the wings.

Stables were sited at the back of the Mansion, together with a row of outhouses and bathrooms, the main house itself having no indoor plumbing. Residents depended on chamber pots and the willingness of many retainers to empty them. A low building by the main gate was used as staff quarters together with a raised viewing pavilion that was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War.

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