Prince Gong's Mansion is one of the most exquisite and best-preserved royal mansions in Beijing. It has a total area of 60,000 square meters (15 acres) and is located near Shichahai Lake, to the northwest of the Forbidden City. Built in 1777, Prince Gong's Mansion was originally the private residence of He Shen, a favorite minister of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In 1851, Emperor Xianfeng assigned it to his brother Prince Gong. It is his name that is currently given to the compound.
The dwelling is a traditional courtyard mansion of a style that was very popular in imperial Beijing. Just over half of this is the residential portion, while the remainder is devoted to an ornamental garden to the rear. Two stone lions guard the main gate, and magnificent buildings stand to the fore of the mansion. On the wall of the main hall hangs a plaque inscribed with three characters "Bao Guang Shi" in calligraphy by Emperor Xianfeng.
The living quarters stand within three sets of courtyards occupying a central, eastern and western spot. The main section is comprised of the central hall, a rear hall, and an extended pavilion that has some 40 rooms. The construction and materials used are similar to those of the Ningshougong (Palace of Tranquil Longevity) in the Forbidden City. Each of the western and eastern sections contains three smaller courtyards. These grand and exquisite buildings are a vivid reminder of the pageantry and splendor that was so much part of China's imperial past.
The garden, surrounded by artificial mountains, is known as Jincui Yuan, and is very attractive because of its layout and distinct design. It covers an area of 28,000 square meters (6.9 acres) and includes twenty scenic spots, each unique with its own characteristics. The entrance via a cavern brings you into a spacious yard. A high, but graceful, rockery in the center greets visitors. There are mountain peaks, ponds, caves, studies and pavilions distributed throughout the garden. The 'Western-Style Gate,' the 'Grand Theater House' and the 'fu' Stele found in the garden are referred to as the 'Three Unique Features of Prince Gong's Mansion'.
To help visitors gain a better understanding of the culture attached to the mansion, the administration of Prince Gong's Mansion has converted Bat Hall into a teahouse. The visitors' program includes a full tour of the mansion, tea drinking, observing the exquisite art of the tea ceremony, sampling Beijing style treats, and enjoying folklore performances, all of which evoke an enthusiastic response. There is also an exhibition of the history of the Qing Dynasty, including replicas and photos of cultural relics.