I took these photos in Prince Kung’s (1833-1898) palace and garden (once called Gongwangfu). This palace is in Beijing’s Beihai district. Prince Kung was Emperor Hsein Feng’s (1831-1861) younger brother.
As Inspector General for the Emperor of China, Robert Hart, known as the Godfather of China’s modernism, lived in the same hutong that Prince Kung lived in. Robert Hart, the main character in My Splendid Concubine, often met Prince Kung in this garden.
After 1950, for several decades, the palace and garden became a communal home for many Chinese. In recent years, the garden, considered one of the best in China, was renovated and is now a tourist attraction, which attracts thousands of visitors daily. Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum, and the Forbidden City are all within walking distance.
To design a proper Chinese garden one must build a big place in a small space. Prince Kung’s garden and estate is surrounded by a high wall and outside is Beijing.
Once inside, it is easy to forget that outside the walls is a crowded city. It was also easy for the Qing (Manchu) royals to forget about what was happening throughout China.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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