Wealthiest Man in the World

This is really an entry about a garden.

Mr. HE Shen (和珅, 1746~1799) died with about 800 million ounces of silver in his estate. That was 10 times China's government income. It is hard to imagine who will be wealthier than Mr. He in the 18th century.

乾隆 (QianLong, 4th emperor of the Qing dynasty, one of the most successful and respected ones in China history) trusted and loved him. Out of pure favorism, he promoted He Shen to pretty much the highest possible position in the government. He Shen made his fortune embezzling. During those 20 years in power, he amassed vast fortune. In 1777, when he was 31 and about 7 years in his accelerated career, he built this grandeur mansion. He lived there better than the emperor, with 45 wives (two foreigners) and numerous servants. The warehouse for all his possessions is a two-story building with about 100 rooms that categorized his collection.

乾隆's successor, 嘉庆 (JiaQing), bestowed him a piece of white cloth (so that he can kill himself gracefully) and confiscated all his belongings. 嘉庆's successor gave the mansion to 奕昕 (YiXing), the effective prime minister of the late Qing dynasty. 奕昕 is a royalty with the official title of 恭亲王 (GongQinWang: King Gong who is close to the emperor). People started to call the mansion 恭王府(GongWangFu, the house of King Gong). This is the largest, best built, and best preserved imperial style residential building in Beijing. The whole estate is about 60,000 square meters (more than 13 acres) and the garden is about 28,000 sq meters (6 acres) in area. Only the garden is open to the public.

恭王府 (GongWangFu) is in the area where tricycle HuTong tour is popular. Make sure you buy the “group guided tour” ticket. It is worth the 60RMB. English capable guides are available too.

The whole estate is obsessively decorated with 福 (Fu: good fortune). In Chinese, bat is pronounced similarly and you can see that all over the place, even a pond that shapes like one.

The climax of the 福 (Fu) obsession is a stele of the single Chinese character of 福. This stele is so well placed that even it was originally stolen from the palace, emperor 嘉庆 (JiaQing) could not take it back when he confiscated the rest of the estate. (Replicas from the rubbing of the stele is for sale.) The stele is known to have magical healing power and the possessor will be blessed with talents, offspring, longevity, lands, and, of course, good fortune. I bought one for good measure.

The pathway leading to the pinnacle of the garden is called 升官发财路 (career and fortune way). It is a steep slope up and you are supposed to walk up “in short steps, evenly, and quickly.” Hmm, why not? I am sure all those tourists that day, like myself, will experience the same with their career and fortune.

There is this one stone standing alone in the garden like a statue. On the top, there appears to have an engraving of 乐峰 (LeFeng: happy hill). But facing upward, where viewers standing on the ground cannot see, there was another character 独 (Du: solitary). The stone was then named “solitary joy stone.” That character changed the mood of the stone from joyous to sadness, since Chinese always treasure enjoyment of company and consider oxymoron to be joyous alone. People speculated that was the mood of Mr. YiXing when he was serving CiXi (慈禧), the famed empress of Qing dynasty. Poetic.

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