The final chapter of Haw Par Mansion– A Symphony of History

Tai Hang is well known for a blend of old and new architecture scattered around the place. But, the most distinctive architecture around the neighbourhood must be the 8-decade-old Haw Paw Mansion. Unfortunately, this Grade I historic building will be demolished soon due to years of financial difficulties aggravated by the pandemic.

The outlook of Haw Par Mansion (Credit: Rachel Mok)

Although many sections of the mansion are already closed and demolished, the remains and history of this place are still worthy of appreciation. 

The Literal meaning of “Haw Par Mansion” is the mansion for tiger and panther, named after the owners Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Paw. The siblings were also the founders of the globally renowned “Tiger Balm which supposedly has the magical ability to get rid of physical discomfort.

Since Hong Kong was the second largest production facility of Tiger Balm, the Haw family spent much time around the city. In 1932, Haw had spent 1.6 billion dollars to purchase 8 acres of land to build this castle for his wife. 

Inside the Castle, Tiger-related objects can be found around the place since a tiger is the mascot of “Tiger Balm” and it is the last word of Aw Boon Haw’s name (Haw means Tiger). 

A statue of a tiger outside the mansion (Credit: Rachel Mok)
Tiger statue/decoration inside the mansion. ( Credit: Rachel Mok)
A bench with decorated the name “Tiger Balm” and a tiger outside the mansion (Credit: Rachel Mok)     

The mansion itself represents the most exquisite form of cultural intersection between the East and the West apart from merely appearing as a glamorous ancient Chinese palace. A Chinese cultural sense was first introduced around the mansion when a Chinese clay doll was placed at the entrance, with a hand posture symbolising Buddhism. 

A Chinese clay doll outside the mansion (Credit:Rachel Mok)

As you walk into the garden, a painting about mountains and clouds can be seen at the foot of the entrance. The stereoscopic mountain in the painting was delicately handcrafted with stones. In this piece of work, the craftsman had delicately sculpted staircases, houses, and even a specific texture onto the rocks.

The painting in front of the mansion (Credit: Rachel Mok)
A close up of the mountain in the painting (Credit: Rachel Mok)

The interior, however, shows a drastic change in culture. The stairs inside the mansion are printed with traditional drawings from India. Flowers are formed with abstract lines and dark colours, blending smoothly with the other Chinese characteristics in the house. 

The staircases within the mansion, with Indian print (Credit: Rachel Mok)

There are also some Chinese elements hidden subtly inside the mansion such as a large dining table placed inside the guest room of the mansion with 4 wooden dragons placed around it. A Dragon is one of the prominent representative animals of Chinese culture as it symbolises power, wisdom, and nobility.

Wooden dragons are placed under the table inside the Mansion. (Credit: Rachel Mok)

Despite the many characteristics of the mansion, the most precious item in this castle would be a fusion between Chinese and Italian culture: a semi-transparent door, called The “Moongate”. It has adapted the circular design of traditional Chinese doors and the tigers, lions rocks, and bamboos drawn on the glass contain Chinese concepts. A fun twist on the “Chinessness” was created by incorporating coloured glass usually seen in churches. “Moongate” is undeniably the most eye-catching piece of art in this glorious mansion.

The “Moongate” connects the living room with the garden. (Credit: Rachel Mok)

For the older generation, “Tiger Balm Garden” must have claimed an unforgettable spot in their childhood memory. As there were no public leisure facilities for the Chinese in Hong Kong back in the 30s,  Aw Boon Haw decided to open up his garden to citizens who were looking for a place to stroll around.

Besides being the first free playground for the Chinese, “Tiger Balm Garden” was famous for its scary but educational paintings and sculptures of Chinese traditions. This collective memory for generations was unfortunately torn down in 2004.

Amidst fears of demolition, the government negotiated with developers for a deal of keeping the mansion and private garden with the consequence of removing the “Tiger Balm Garden” in 2001. The ownership of the place was again different in the same year.

Years of drifting and lurking did not stop the determinant spirit inside the mansion. After years of renovation, it was finally reopened and transformed into a music academy, “Haw Par Music” in 2019.

“Haw Par Music” has continued the original aspirations of the mansion: stimulating the public’s ability to appreciate art through multicultural experiences and opening its arms to people of all ages and backgrounds. It is a music academy offering various international musical programmes.

Despite all these changes throughout the years, this glamorous castle is a time capsule that has bound Hong Kong people silently over decades. The memories of happiness that bind the castle will be cherished.

(Feature Image Credit: Rachel Mok)

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