Legendary in the annals of the history of Penang is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Leith Street. Dubbed “La Maison Bleu”, this flamboyant masterpiece of 38 rooms, 5 courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows took a very special man to create. Arriving penniless from Guandong province, China, to this part of the world at the age of 16, Cheong Fatt Tze grew to become one of the most historic and colourful personalities of the era, “One of China’s last Mandarins and 1st Capitalists”, such was his aura and fame that Dutch and British authorities ordered that flags be flown at half mast throughout their colonies when he passed away in 1916.
As a 16 year-old Hakka in 1856, Cheong followed the route of many Chinese fortune seekers, heading to the Southeast Asian region known as Nanyang, or ‘Land of Opportunity’. Penniless, armed only with determination and a driving need to prove himself, Cheong struggled through sheer hard work and enterprise to epitomize the typical rags-to-riches story. Rising from being a ‘bearer of river water’ in his early years to a ‘one-man multinational conglomerate’, Cheong’s ascent was aided by a merchant father-in-law who perceived potential in the young man, whom he helped establish in the business world.
Of his vast empire, Cheong Fatt Tze chose Penang to build the most elaborate of his homes and to raise his sons. It is reputed to be only one of two such buildings of this size, outside China and certainly the most perfected. While the Mansion’s floor-plan is essentially Chinese, the overall effect is eclectic and typical of 19th Century Straits Settlements architecture. Gothic louvered windows, Chinese cut-&-paste porcelain work, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles, Scottish cast iron works and Art Nouveau stained glass are among the features to be found in this inspired work of art.
Though the lavish doors to the venerable Blue Mansion were first thrown open in as early as the 19th Century, the tradition of architecture and craftsmanship applied to the building’s construction dates much further back – a precipitous 3000 years to the Su Chow dynasty, to be exact. Built in the Hakka – Teochew style on sturdy foundations of Southern Chinese building typologies and materials, the Blue Mansion commissioned by Cheong Fatt Tze in the face of a trend in the construction of modern Anglo-indian abodes – stands today as a model of the traditional paradigm Chinese courtyard house. — CheongFattTzeMansion.com
One version of the origin of the rickshaw is a European missionary to Japan named Jonathan Scobie invented rickshaws around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama. The word “rickshaw” comes from the Japanese jinrikisha (人力車) which literally means “human-powered vehicle”.
Decades in planning and six years in execution, the tedious restoration process was driven by the aims of preserving, conserving and restoring as much of the original fabric of the Mansion as possible. The principal approach was to retain the total integrity of the Mansion with the application of traditional methods, with very minor modern intervention, such as waterproofing. — CheongFattTzeMansion.com | Restoration
Details of the Mansion’s master-builder and his team of artisans (shipped in with tools in hand from Southern China) are sketchy – but their proudly standing work is 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 and magic of the Chinese Kingdom attempted to embrace the glory of the British Empire within the Malay world. — CheongFattTzeMansion.com