There was this particular Blue Mansion in Penang that I decided to visit – the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Now an icon of Georgetown other than the amazing street art, this house is gorgeous and fascinated me enough to write about it!
Before I continue, I need to confess that I visited this mansion in 2013 and didn’t take down notes, so my memory is a bit muddled. However, the information here had been researched and verified as I was crafting the post.
Who is Cheong Fatt Tze?
Born very poor in Guangdong, China, Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1916) became a powerful Nanyang industrialist, a politician and a Consul-General in Singapore. More than anything else, he was a successful Chinese businessman with many businesses in different industries. The interesting part is, he also had at least 8 wives and 14 children!
The Blue Mansion in Penang
Story behind the house
Cheong Fatt Tze wanted to build a house for his family and descendants. Instead of being influenced by Anglo-Indian houses, he was one who preferred the sophisticated aspects of a traditional Chinese house. Built between 1896 to 1904, with teams of master craftsmen from China, the majestic blue mansion was built with 38 rooms and 5 courtyards. 3 of his wives occupied the Blue Mansion at that time.
The Blue Mansion (otherwise known as Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion) was large enough to accommodate his extended families. Cheong Fatt Tze expected the mansion to house 9 more generations after him. He had many houses in different countries, but the Blue Mansion remained one of his favourite.
In 1990, the Blue Mansion was purchased by Penang architect Laurence Loh and underwent a decade-long restoration effort. Currently a heritage museum and boutique hotel, in year 2000, the Blue Mansion won UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Stepping into the entrance hall where the guided tour was to start, I hadn’t thought much about the floor that I was stepping on, until the guide told us that each fragment of these tiles was laid piece by piece to create this pattern. Wow.
The traditional Chinese house that’s not so traditional
Although largely a traditional Chinese house, the design of the Blue Mansion brings together various styles that Cheong Fatt Tze was inspired by. You will notice art nouveau stained-glass windows, classic ceilings, Gothic louvered windows, a beautiful spiral staircase that is obviously not Chinese-style, and more.
This cast-iron, spiral staircase had been imported from Glasgow!
The rooms in this Blue Mansion are spacious and airy with high ceilings.
There are a few rooms in this museum now that had been set aside to display paraphernalia that Cheong Fatt Tze used to be own, including his wife’s silk cheongsams, a traditional bed, and so on. In rooms like that, I generally find them a little too spooky for my liking, but that’s just my personal sensing! It’s still interesting to have a look!
3D porcelain carvings
May I bring your attention to these three photos below please! These are intricate carvings of what was known as Chien Nien art – where porcelain is broken and cut into pieces, and then pasted together to create the 3D structures. I was really fascinated by the effort behind these, and they paint (almost typed ‘pain‘, lol) different scenes of myths and gods. This art can be seen in various places within the Blue Mansion, even on the building facade. SO MUCH WORK!
Fengshui aspects of the Blue Mansion
What left a deep impression on me was the geomancy (fengshui) that had been considered for this house. At the central courtyard, the guide explained to us how that when it rains, a bit of the water will drain out, while the rest will continue to swirl in a circular direction above the surface. Part of this was about how they positioned the flooring to be of different heights – simple enough, while the significance of the water circulating was the fengshui aspect – accumulating wealth, because water signifies wealth in geomancy.
I also remember something about the Blue Mansion being built with a mountain at its back, facing the direction of the sea at the front, hence the wind will flow in a certain, desired direction. It is believed that a mountain behind you while you work is good, as it gives you a strong backing and support, get it? Pardon my amateurish explanations though!
After all that, the guide used a term to summarize what fengshui meant as depicted in the house: Environmental Science. From then onwards, I have never looked at Fengshui the same way again.
You certainly don’t want to miss visiting this place of culture the next time you’re in Penang!
Currently, there are 18 hotel rooms available for guests at the Blue Mansion. I cannot imagine staying there, what an experience it would be!
Join the guided tours offered by the Blue Mansion itself for in-depth information!
Information sources: Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion | Overseas Chinese in the British Empire | UNESCO | Architectural Digest
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