Set the Wayback Machine for 1 March 2009. In Beijing it was one of the first relatively nice days of the year, weatherwise. As I often do on such weekend days, I picked one of the places around town that I haven’t seen yet and went to find out what’s there.
This time it was 恭王府 (Gongwangfu, usually listed as Prince Gong’s Mansion on the English maps). It’s near the central lakes area of Qianhai and Houhai, off in the hutongs.
Unlike many buildings from Imperial times, it has a humble entrance.
It being a rather nice day, lots of people were outside, and many of them also chose this place to visit.
It has the usual assortment of buildings and courtyards fit for royalty.
There are many items on display from the old days.
I almost hate to waste storage space with such a silly picture...
...but I kind of liked the way they tried to disguise the fire hydrant as a potted (plastic) shrubbery.
The best part of the compound is in the back.
There’s a large garden with several little lakes.
This little one...
...is made in the shape of a bat, rather like the traditional Batman symbol. The image of a bat decorates almost every spot at Gongwangfu that can be decorated. That’s because the word for bat (蝠) and the word for good fortune (福) are pronounced exactly alike, fu (with a rising tone). So bats are considered very lucky in China, but I’d have to say it seems a little strange to see them everywhere. Seems kind of like Dracula’s castle.
Here’s one of the Matching Hat Brigades.
It’s a big tour group. They can often be seen following around a guide with a megaphone and a flag. Do you suppose an American tour group would be willing to wear matching hats?
Here is one of the most popular parts of Gongwangfu:
Inside this artificial hill is an artificial cave, and carved on the wall is a big 福 done in the calligraphy of Emperor Qianlong (I think it was Qianlong – it usually is). People line up to pass single file through the cave.
This pavillion at the very back...
...is decorated with a bamboo theme.
There you are. Prince Gong’s Mansion. I’ve skipped over a lot of the history you can learn there, partly because it was a couple months ago and I’ve forgotten it already. They had lots of old photographs of European ambassadors visiting officials and royals in this place during one of the periods where foreigners were welcomed.