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Penang Cheong Fatt Tze mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion at Leith Street, George Town was awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is a unique blue-coloured Chinese mansion at Leith Street within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1896 and 1904, it was owned by Cheong Fatt Tze, one of the richest men in Southeast Asia at the time.

The house was constructed by master craftsmen brought in from China, and it combines Chinese architecture with European interior design. A former Vice-Consul for China in Penang, Cheong also made sure his house was aligned in accordance with feng shui principles.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, George Town, Penang

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

By 1989, the mansion fell into a state of disrepair. Conservationists then took over the house and began meticulous restoration works, which led to the mansion being awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2000. It was also listed as one of the greatest mansions in the world by the Lonely Planet in 2012. Today, the mansion is open to the public and serves as a boutique hotel.

History

Cheong Fatt Tze

Cheong Fatt Tze was one of the richest men in Southeast Asia and held several positions in the Qing government of China.

Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1916), a Hakka Chinese, was one of the richest men in Souheast Asia in the late 19th. century and the early 20th. century. He had migrated to Southeast Asia to seek his fortune and to escape the hardships in China due to the Second Opium War. He eventually made his fortune in rubber, coffee and tea. Appointed the Vice-Consul for China in Penang in 1893, his business acumen and strong connections with the Qing government of China also enabled him to rise through the ranks in Imperial China's bureaucracy. Over time, he acquired properties in Qing China, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Singapore and Penang Island, with the blue mansion at Leith Street, George Town being his favourite.

His blue mansion was constructed between 1896 and 1904. By then, Leith Street had turned into an upper-class neighbourhood of rich Hakkas, who built grand European-style mansions along the street. Cheong bucked the trend by choosing to build a Chinese-style mansion.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion courtyard, George Town, Penang

The central courtyard in Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

To this end, he brought in master craftsmen from China, as well as a master geomancer to determine the most suitable feng shui alignment of the house. It was said that the house was purposely aligned on a 'dragon's throne' - between Penang Hill and the sea - so that wealth is retained. Also, the main building, which was built first, was centred around an inner courtyard where all the qi (energy) emanates and faces a rhombus-shaped garden. The left and right wings of the mansion were added later.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion windows, George Town, Penang

A stained-glass window inside Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

The mansion carries a mix of Chinese architecture and European interior furnishings. While the house has a decidedly Chinese appearance, inside the mansion are Chinese-style doors, filigree and latticework, as well as Gothic louvred windows, stained-glass windows, Scottish cast iron elements and floor tiles specifically imported from Stoke-on-Trent in England.

The distinctive blue hue of the mansion is the result of an indigo-based limewash mixed with blue dye. Blue was a popular colour during the colonial era and the dye was imported from India by the British. The limewash was very effective under the tropical weather as it absorbed moisture and cooled the house whilst dispelling the moisture without compromising the structural integrity of the walls.

Cheong lived in the mansion until his death in 1916, with his third, sixth and seventh wives, as well as his daughters and all his six sons who were educated in St. Xavier's Institution just across the street. In his will, he stipulated that the house could not be sold until the last of his sons had passed away. He also set aside funds for the upkeep of the mansion.

Unfortunately, the Cheong family did not inherit Cheong's financial acumen to maintain his businesses. The funds set aside for the mansion also did not take inflation into account and were not sufficiently disbursed. Cheong's last daughter-in-law was forced to let out rooms and every other inch of the mansion for rent so that she can cover the maintenance costs.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion before restoration

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion before restoration works in the 1990s

When Cheong's last son died in 1989, the mansion was put on sale. By then, the house had been occupied by dozens of people and was in a dilapidated state. A group of conservationists bought the house the following year, saving it from possible demolition.

At the time, there was very little recognition towards heritage preservation in George Town. The conservationists who bought the mansion then undertook what was to become Penang's first high-profile renovation venture. Between 1991 and 1999, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was methodically and meticulously restored, using techniques sympathetic to its original, traditional construction methods. Whenever possible, Penangite and Chinese artisans and materials were utilised. Thanks to the painstaking efforts, the mansion was awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific's Most Excellent Project Award for Cultural Heritage Preservation in 2000. It was also listed in the Lonely Planet's list of top 10 mansions worldwide in 2012.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion gate, George Town, Penang

An ornate Chinese gate in front of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion currently functions as The Blue Mansion boutique hotel managed by Samadhi Retreats.

Travel Advice

*All prices are quoted in Malaysian Ringgit (RM).

Guided tours of the mansion are available thrice daily - at 1100 hours, 1400 hours and 1530 hours. Each guided tour lasts for about 45 minutes and costs RM255 for a group of 15. Tours are in English, although pre-arrangements can be made for tours in other languages like Japanese and Mandarin.

For individual visitors, the entrance fees are as follows.

Adult : RM17

Children (under 12 years old) : RM8.50

Bear in mind that professional photography is prohibited during each tour.

Outside these aforementioned hours, the mansion is closed to the public, except hotel guests.

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
  2. http://www.thebluemansion.com.my/
  3. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/cheong-fatt-tze-mansion.htm
  4. http://www.unescobkk.org/?id=2131
  5. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/ireland/travel-tips-and-articles/76757

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