With 38-rooms, 220-windows, 5 courtyards and 7 staircases, the famous ‘Blue Mansion’ was listed by The Lonely Planet as “One of the 10 GreatestMansions in the World” in 2011. It was built in the 1880s by rags-to-riches entrepreneur Cheong Fatt Tze with a blend of east meets west styling including louvred exterior windows and , stained glass interior ones. As such, it is one of few surviving example of the eclectic architectural style preferred by wealthy Straits Chinese aka Peranakens.
Some of my favourite features are related to the fact that the house was built in accordance to the principles of Feng Shui and supposedly is centred right over a dragon’s lair to bring even greater good fortune. The same central courtyard is also used to collect rainwater in a large “pool” below because according to Feng Shui practice water in = money in.
Likewise, the courtyard is bordered by 8 columns and 8 stained glass windows, because 8 is the most fortuitous number to Chinese. We know this Chinese belief very well as our eldest son Logan was born on the most fortuitous day of the century, 8/8/88.
Large flower vases are placed at the side of the grand entry doors because flowers are believed to grant safety to everyone who enters. Our guide joked that it was more likely meant to keep the homeowner’s precious antiques safe from the visitors.
Rather than ceramic tiles, ceramic bowls were used for the multitude of mosaics that decorate the Blue Mansion. The choice was made because the bowl glaze doesn’t fade and rounded shapes are conducive to making the 3D designs which were created through a precise and time consuming cut & paste process. As it happened, the bowl colours certainly held up, but the pieces did not hold onThe grout decayed and most of the mosaics have only recently been restored by local artisans.
Much of the grand foyer is original, specifically the English floor tiles and the massive, gold-leafed carved wood panels featuring the Three Immortals, flowers of deep meaning and symbolic animals.
The 2018/9 movie Crazy Rich Asians includes a scene shot at the Peranekan museum in which the two lead females play a game of mah jong. The house/ museum was also a key set for the much older film Indochine
At the age of 16 Chow Fatt Tse left China to improve his lot in life. After some years he found himself selling water in a Penang shop. Like many an ambitious fellow he married the bosses daughter, in time becoming the shop owner. At some point he borrowed money from his father-in-law to invest, and leveraged his way up to investing a small bank.
When his fame as a rich man spread to China the (last?) Emperor engage Chow Fatt Tse as an economic advisor. In China he started the railway, the first bank and, in 1882, the first grape (vs rice) winery in the Empire. Chang Yu Winery, now among the 10 largest wineries in the world. Later, he became Chinese Consul & Ambassador
Chow Fatt Tse was clearly a suspicious man as he had 8 wives too - each housed in a different city. His purported favourite was #7 (not 8 as I would have guessed. She was just 17 and he 70 when they were married. She bore his last son when he was 74. Our guid informed us that his greatest personal concern was Indeed how fast his many children were spending his money. Parents - we’re all the same, right?
Anyway, in his will he stipulated that the Blue Mansion could not be sold until his last child passed away - only then could the grandchildren sell the house.
After the WW11 the grandkids had no money left in the estate and still couldn’t sell the mansion so began to rent out rooms and it declined to be quiet the slum. In 1989, occupied by not only legal tenants but also 34 illegal squatter families. they finally found a buyer and it was sold it to an architect who restored it. The last daughter-in-law and final rent collector then donated some gorgeous textiles that she found in old storage boxes. The period furniture and other amenities now on display come from several different sources.