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2.2.

13 THE CHEONG FATT TZE MANSION

2.2.13.1 HISTORY BACKGROUND

Figure 2.73: Interior view inside the mansion


Source: Field study (2008)

Figure 2.74: Exterior view of Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion


Source: Field study (2008)
Figure 2.75: Birds-eye view of the mansion from the rear. In the background at left are 5 row
houses built to house the mansion's servants. Note that the roof profile of the central bays of the
mansion is identical to those of the servants' houses.
Source: http://www.orientalarchitecture.com (2008)

The Cheong Fatt Tze’s magnificent courtyard mansion was built almost a decade (1896-
1904). It is located at 14 Leith Street, 10200 George Town, Penang , Malaysia. The mansion's
indigo-blue outer wall makes it a very distinct building in the area. In this mansion, Cheong Fatt
Tze has raised his six sons, whom he has sent for western education at the St. Xavier’s
Institution. He had eight wives and owned lavish residences throughout his trading empire. His
mansion has been the main attraction among the local last time where he was the man, people
used to referred for a problems.

The mansion was built by the teams of master craftsmen he brought from China. This
mansion is only three of its kind left outside the China. The mansion is the only stately Chinese-
type dwelling representing the best of 18th and 19thcentury Chinese architecture in the State.
The mansion covered 56000sq.ft with the building area total of 33000sq.ft. This mansion was
also deliberately designed not to follow the alignment of the Leith Street, which runs in a North
East South West elevations.
Though it resembles a courtyard mansion in layout, with its seven staircases
incorporated western decorations such as stained glass, fake wood veneer and decorative
ceiling moldings. The central courtyard balcony combined Victorian cast iron with Chinese lattice
work. The Chinese gilded wood carved doors and panels, ceramic shard decorations on the
roofs, gables and walls, as well as the intricate ceramic shard tableaux on the first floor
verandah, are of the highest quality. (Khoo. S. N., 1993). Cheong Fatt Tze’s east-facing
mansion is approached through a Chinese gate, and exited through a western-style gate. It
reflects his life-long mission to introduce modern reforms to China. An old picture shows him
dressed in suit and top hat, and another in mandarin attire; these were the two faces of Cheong
Fatt Tze, and other Nanyang Chinese of his time, who tries to combine the best of East and
West to bring progress to the worldwide Chinese community. (Khoo. S. N., 1993).

When he last son died in 1989, the house was put on the market. It was in an extremely
dilapidated state and faced the prospect of either demolition or eventual collapse. In 1990 it was
sold to a small group of conservation-minded buyers who despite the derelict appearance of the
building, recognized its heritage value and were charmed by its unique character.

2.2.13.2CHEONG FATT TZE’S BACKGROUND

Cheong Fatt Tze @ Chang Pi Shih @ Thio Tiauw Siat was a powerful Nanyang
industrialist and a first-class Mandarin in the service of the Manchu government. In the 1890’s,
he was a director of China’s railway works and its first modern banking institution. As a special
trade commissioner, he raised vast funds from the Chinese in Southeast Asia to industrialize
and modernize China.

Figure2.76: Cheong Fatt Tze (a.k.a Chang Pi Shih @ Thio Thiau Siat)
Source: http://cheongfatttzemansion.com (2008)

Under the Republican Government, Yuan Shi-Kai sent him to seek investment from the
Chinese industrialist in America. The New York Times reported his visit, dubbing him a ‘China’s
Rockefeller’. Due to political circumstances, his contributions towards the Chinese government’s
efforts did not bear fruit. In contrast, his owns corporation, the Chang Yue Pioneer Wine
Company in Teochew district was highly successful and even survived nationalization under the
Communist government. It was the first agricultural enterprise in China run with Western
management and employing a scientific approach. (Khoo. S. N., 1993).

Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1917) is a Hakka from Tai Pu in Teochew district, migrated to
Java seeks his fortune in the 1850’s. He prospered rapidly and expanded his business to
Sumatera, operating steamships between Medan, North Sumatera and Penang. As one of the
leading Nanyang Chinese, he was offered the post of Vice-Consul of China. The Dutch East
Indies did not allow diplomatic representation, so he moved his base to Penang in the early
1890’s (Khoo. S. N., 1993).

A few years later, he was promoted to consul-General in Singapore, and continued


building an empire of trading, shipping, opium, agriculture and mining in Southeast Asia. At the
height of his career, he became economic advisor to the Empress Dowager. He saw education
as the means to bring the Chinese into the 20th century; hence he played the main benefactor of
the Chung Hwa Confucian School in Penang, the first modern Chinese school in the country. He
also helped to found the Eng Sin School in Singapore and the Western programmed at the
Hong Kong University.

Cheong Fatt Tze died in Indonesia in 1916. His body was sent back to China to be
buried; received a high ranking official of his funeral by the government and ordered the
National achieves to records his life in historical documents for his contributions.

2.2.12.3 ARCHITECTURAL INFLUENCES, STYLES AND CONCEPTS


Though the lavish door to be venerable Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion or known as Blue
Mansion by the local were first thrown open in as early as 19th century. The tradition of
architecture and craftsmanship applied to the building’s construction dates much further back
that is about precipitous 3000 years to the Su Chow dynasty, to be exact.

The mansion was built in the Hakka-Teochew style on sturdy foundations of Southern
Chinese building typologies and materials. The design philosophy of the Blue Mansion has been
commissioned by Cheong Fatt Tze in the face of a trend in the construction of Modern Anglo-
Indian abodes. It’s still stand today as a model of the traditional paradigm of Chinese courtyard
house. The distinctive blue colour of the mansion is the result of mixing lime with natural blue
dye made from the Indigo plant.

The blue was very popular in the Colonial period and the dye was imported from India.
The lime wash was very effective in a tropical weather as it absorbed moisture and cooled the
house. However the blue is a colour of death in Chinese culture and the practice was never
introduced in Hong Kong. The house was originally painted white in the time of the owner, and
the indigo was applied much later. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheong_Fatt_Tze_Mansion)

The clan of craftsmen bring the details of the Mansion’s master building and his team of
artisans (shipped in with tools in hand from Southern China) are sketchy, but their proudly
standing work in a testament to their collective architectural genius. As for the man, who
commissioned their work; the mansion served to demonstrate both Cheong Fatt Tze’s
fascination with western artisanship and his rising stature as a Chinese official. The house is
indeed cosmopolitan in design, bearing an eclectic architecture which exemplified the times at
the end of the 19th century, when the myths & magic of the Chinese Kingdom attempted to
embrace the glory of the British Empire within the Malay world.
Figure 2.77: The highest level of Feng Shui shows on the side wings of roof and the roof cover
with bamboo element.
Source: Field study (2008)

Figure 2.78: Eclectic architecture which exemplified on the myth as decorative element.
Source: Field study (2008)
The mansion, which has its own sense of scale, proportion and space, can be divided
into two main parts of the main house – distinguished by the gables of the main roof; and two
elegant, side wings. Adorned with materials which constitute the basic, a must have Feng Shui
elements of Metal, timber, water, fire and earth, the main hall forms the structure’s centre – a
motif common to Chinese residential buildings, from great palaces to humble country dwellings.

The mansion’s mélange of disparate influences and motifs may appear incongruous first
glance, but a closer look reveals an arresting architectural mosaic. Scottish cast-iron balusters
contrasted with Cantonese timber lattices, English Art Nouvea stained glass with Hokkien ‘Chien
Nien’ works, and Chinese calligraphy against trompel’oeil timber beams.

2.2.12.4 BUILDING SIGNIFICANCE & ELEMENTS OF IMPORTANT

a) The significance

The building was realized by the very famous and ambitious entrepreneurs, Cheong Fatt
Tze. His contributions to the trade community in South-East Asia has been widely recognized
and not also that, he has also fetch the eyes on agricultural and industries to this part of the
world. He also was promoted to be the Minister for agriculture, industries, roads and mines for
the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in the year 1899. Later he was instructed to conduct a
study of trade and education in Penang and Singapore. Subsequently, the Singapore Chinese
Chamber of Commerce was established. That is just a slight of his donations to the South-East
Asia society. That is for the reason that his mansion at Penang has brought a lot of implications
to the surrounding area.

Other than that, the history has admitted that there’s only one of its kind still exist outside
China, which is Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion. The art, design and planning on construction of the
house has bring a lot of differentiate among the house neighboring the mansion. There’s also a
lot of Cheong Fatt Tze’s contribution to the South-East Asia, and that is the major reason why it
need to be preserved.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was located in the historic inner city of George Town, the
mysterious Orient's best preserved paradigm Chinese courtyard house. It is being restored in
recent years. The myth behind "China's last Mandarin & first Capitalist" is revealed in the
architecture that incorporates 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases & 220
vernacular timber louver windows. The winner of UNESCO's Asia-Pacific Heritage 2000 Award
for Conservation, the building's eclectic character is a reflection of the times at the end of the
19th Century when the myths & magic of the Chinese Kingdom embraced the glory of the British
Empire in a whirling pool of cross-cultural energies.

110 years of history resonates within its cool, secluded, tropical spaces. 16 uniquely
themed bedrooms of generous proportions echo the interior styles of various periods of human
endeavor in Penang. A talented team of local & foreign artists lovingly crafted plans as
interpretations of an ambience that evokes images of the days of wives, concubines &
handmaidens aplenty, coyly hiding behind gilded Chinese lattice screens & gossamer silk
curtains. To stay is to discover the beauty of "Jian Nian", "Feng Shui" & other lost arts within.
The legacy of the consul of the Ching Dynasty in Malaya & Singapore beckons to the visitors.

b) Elements of important

The building has been designed with guidance of Feng Shui calculation; hope to get a lot
of good luck by doing that way. The main thing that shows the influence of Feng Shui are the
alignment of the building itself. The Blue Mansion was also deliberately designed not to follow
the alignment of the main street in front of the mansion, which runs in North East South West
elevations. The building intended with some Opera puppets at the end of the beams to pay
contribution for the Chinese opera’s talent in Malaya. It was also the symbols of the aristocratic
for the community. The opera puppet came from different edition in each beam. There are
happiness, sadness and horror shows in the decorations.
Figure 2.79: The opera puppet came from different edition in each beam. There are happiness,
sadness and horror shows in the decorations.
Source: Field study (2008)

The roof was also made from special bamboo clay as a signs of everlasting. In the early
of 17th century, the Chinese used bamboo poles, split them in half and placed the upper half
above the meeting points of the lower half to make roof. Nowadays the culture still tried to be
retained but it has been turned into concrete material.

The walls for the Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion was built up at 17 inches thick to make
sure that the environment inside the house keep comfortable either at the day time or night. The
floor slab were constructed 16 inches higher than the ground at the back as it believes bring a
protection and wealth to the family. In Feng Shui, they called it as ‘sit on the hill facing water’.
Figure 2.80: Clay Bamboo Roof
Source: Field study (2008)

The roof was also made from special bamboo clay as a signs of everlasting. In the early
of 17th century, the Chinese used bamboo poles, split them in half and placed the upper half
above the meeting points of the lower half to make roof. Nowadays the culture still tried to be
retained but it has been turned into concrete material. The Feng Shui elements was a very
important thing in this construction and in that case a master geomancer was employed to
calculate the time of construction, material, the design, the direction of wind and water flow and
even the color of every part in the house.

A timber filigree panel was built to separates the foyer and inside courtyard of the
mansion. This panel was design to suit the height of the occupant to make sure that they’re in a
comfortable situation to lock and unlock the door. The door only opens on certain occasions.
The gully trap at the rain water down pipes was design in a coin shape. They believe it will bring
prosperity to the owner.
Figure 2.81: Timber filigree panel
Source: Field study (2008)

The floor mosaics were remaining in a good condition as it’s never been mopped or
cleaned with any chemicals. It was the method to make sure that the floor will stick to the
original circumstance. The mansion is also provided with a big foldable door to splitting the main
area with the foyer of the mansion at certain times. The door was sculptured with the flower
elements and geometric essentials all over it. It shows a lot of Chinese fine arts.

Figure 2.82: Floor finishes at Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion

Source: Field study (2008)


There are also a lot of ceramics shard decorations at the front balcony where the
decoration was made 90% from special colorful cut porcelain. The main design of the
decoration is about dragon where it symbolized the honour of king and premier prosperity
among the community. This design was built up along the first construction of the Cheong Fatt
Tze Mansion, but it has been reinstalled with new element when the building through its
refurbishment process on 1995.

Figure 2.83: Ceramic shard decorations


Source: Field study (2008)

There are 5 courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows at the Cheong Fatt Tze’s
mansion. The courtyards allow the air circulation around the house and it permits the entrance
of water where it brings the ‘wealth’ to the house. The staircase inside the house has various
types such as spiral staircase and dog’s leg (90⁰) staircase. The spiral staircase made from iron
steel with local’s Malay artwork while the dog’s leg staircase made 100% from wood with
Chinese geometric artwork.
Figure 2.84: Among the view of the mansion’s courtyard
Source: Field study (2008)

Figure 2.85: Staircases and window inside Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion
Source: Field study (2008)

Those elements bring a lot of trademark to the Cheong Fatt Tze’s mansion. The
elements now have been well preserved by the owner as it never can be find again around the
South-East Asia.