The Last Emperor of China--Puyi


Childhood Experience

Aisin-Gioro Puyi(1906-1967) was born in Beijing in 1906. He was the son of Zaifeng(1883-1951), the half brother of Emperor Guangxu(1871-1908) and the prince regent of the Qing dynasty(1636-1912).

At that time, Empress Dowager Cixi was the one who held the actual power. In 1908, Emperor Guangxu went gravely ill, so Cixi gave her last order, to summon the young Puyi to the forbidden city and prepare to inherit the throne.

Puyi's childhood,The Last Emperor of China
Puyi's childhood

Puyi’s grandmother Lady Liujia fainted after receiving the imperial edict because she was so afraid that Puyi will be the next puppet of the Empress Dowager. Young Puyi kept crying for he was leaving his family. His wet nurse Wangjiao felt pity for him and suckled him. Then his father Zaifeng decided to have her accompany Puyi to enter the forbidden city.

In 1908, Empress Dowager died on the second day after the death of Emperor Guangxu. After the funeral of the emperor and empress dowager, the new emperor will hold a ceremony to ascend the throne. At the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City, Puyi, the new emperor less than three years was terrified for the crowded officials and the tall, cold golden dragon throne. He wailed so hard throughout the whole coronation. His father Zaifeng had to console Puyi: It’s almost done, it will be over soon!

The officials were shocked by these words, everyone senses a bad omen, especially under the turbulent time of the Qing Dynasty.

Four years later, the unintentional words had, unfortunately, come true. In 1912, the great tide of the Revolution of 1911 overthrew the autocratic monarchy that had ruled China for thousands of years and established a republic.  

Though monarchy is over, the turbulence of China and Puyi has just begun.


Twelve Years in the Forbidden City

After negotiation with the Qing royalty, the government of the Republic of China reserved many favorable conditions for the royal family and promised to pay 4 million silver dollars to the Qing royalty every year. The government of the Republic of China agreed to Puyi’s temporary resident in the Forbidden City.

Puyi's Tutors,The Last Emperor of China
Puyi's Tutors

Although Puyi was abdicated, he still lived the life of an emperor. The widow of Guangxu, Empress Dowager Longyu hired several knowledgeable scholars to tutor Puyi. While the world developed quickly with the boost of the first industrial revolution, yet what he had been taught was still the ancient poetry and feudal ruling methods without knowledge of math, history, or geography.

In the same year, the former minister of Qing Dynasty Zhangxun led 4000 soldiers to Beijing and tried to restore the monarchy. The restoration lasted for only twelve days until the Northern Warlord Duan Qirui defeated Zhangxun’s army. Once again, Puyi stepped down from the dragon throne. Under the teachings of his tutors and a series of events, the adolescent boy had implanted a “vision” of “restoring the glory of the great Qing Dynasty”. This idea had haunted him for the rest of his life.


The Beijing Coup

On February 22th, 1919, a British Scottish officer, Reginald Fleming Johnston was recommended to enter the Forbidden City to be Puyi’s tutor. For the first time, Puyi started to learn English, math, world history, and geography. The vision of the young boy was much broadened with it. Under the influence of Johnston, Puyi cut off his long braid, which can be seen as an insult to his tradition and started to wore suit and glasses, and even got himself an English name: Henry. In the same year, his brother Pujie was sent into the palace to be Puyi’s study partner.

Johnston and Puyi,The Last Emperor of China
Johnston and Puyi

After spending some days with Puyi, Johnston said that Puyi was the loneliest child in the world, the walls of the Forbidden City are the tallest in the world.


Puyi hoped he can leave this “prison” and study in the UK. He even made a secret escape plan with Pujie and Johnston, yet the news was leaked and their plan was sabotaged by other royals. In 1921, Puyi’s birth mother committed suicide by swallowing a bag of opium, which incident shattered him.

In 1922, Puyi married queen Wan Rong and concubine Wen Xiu. Two years later, Northwest Warlord Feng Yuxiang launched the Beijing coup. He led an army into the Forbidden City and Puyi was forced to leave.


Seven Years in Tianjin

Puyi in Tianjin,The Last Emperor of China
Puyi in Tianjin

In 1925, Puyi moved to Tianjin Leased Territory, plotting a new round of restoration with former Qing ministers and several warlords. In the meantime, the Japanese were trying to manipulate Puyi for the future establishment of the Puppet Manchukuo.

Puyi felt respected by the foreign great powers and commanding officers addressed him with the name emperor. Though Puyi kept contacting with all those people who treated him with courtesy, only a few of them willing to support his cause, most of them will only think of him for political issues.

In 1928, the imperial tomb of Emperor Qianlong and Empress Dowager Cixi was robbed by a warlord, Sun Dianying. He swore to retaliate for such humiliation after he successfully restored. In 1931, his concubine Wen Xiu proposed to divorce him for he was impotent.


The Puppet Emperor

In 1931, nineteen days after Puyi divorced Wen Xiu, Japan launched the long-planned Mukden Incident and took control of the whole Northeast area of China.

During the seven years in Tianjin, Puyi thought deeply that Japan will be the first supporting power for his restoration. Japanese sent Dohihara Kenji to persuade Puyi and even promised him to be the emperor of the new country. Puyi instantly agreed to all the conditions and secretly set off to the northeast region of China from Tianjin on November.


On March 1st, 1932, with the support of the Japanese, Puyi established the puppet Manchukuo and claimed to follow the will of Manchurian of the puppet Manchukuo. Two years later, at the request of Puyi, the Japanese held an enthronement for him at Changchun. For the third time, Puyi became an “emperor”. Granted with several futile titles, he was only a pawn for the Japanese to commence their invasion.

Puyi and Wanrong,The Last Emperor of China
Puyi and Wanrong

The relationship between Puyi and Wanrong has gone worsen as Wanrong felt neglected by his husband. For a long time, she was unhappy and lonely, the only way to escape was to smoke opium. Still, Puyi didn’t care for her, until he found Wanrong have a love affair stealthily with her bodyguard and even got pregnant. Furious Puyi chose to ignore her ever since. Soon he married his third wife, Tan Yuling. Some may say it was a punishment to Wanrong. The 17 years old Tan was a true patriot with integrity. She began to influence Puyi’s attitude towards the Japanese.

In 1940, Puyi secretly contacted the members of the diplomatic delegation of The El Salvador Republic, hoping to get rid of the control of the Japanese. Yet the plan was exposed, which made the Japanese tighten the control on him.


Years as War Criminal

In 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, the puppet Manchukuo was destroyed. On August 11st, Puyi escaped for he was told he will be executed if he was captured. On August 15th, Japan unconditionally surrendered. Four days later, he was captured by the Soviet Red Army at Shenyang Dongta airport.

Puyi attended the Far East International Military Court
Puyi attended the Court

In the Soviet detention center, Puyi was given special treatment, so he requested to join the Soviet Communists and stay permanently. In 1946, Puyi attended the Far East International Military Court as a witness. In his testimony, he claimed that he was completely manipulated by the Japanese authorities, had no personal freedom, and did not have the corresponding power and dignity as the head of the puppet Manchukuo. He insisted that he was coerced into inner Manchuria by the Japanese Kwantung Army.

On August 1950, Puyi was handed over from the Soviet Union to the Chinese government with 263 war criminals of Manchukuo. After that, he went through nearly ten years of ideological reeducation and labor reform in the Fushun prison camp in Liaoning Province. In the camp, his ID number is 981.

Fushun was the place where Nurhachi, the founder of the Qing Dynasty, started his reign. In the end, Fushun became the place where the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty was imprisoned and remoulded.

Puyi in the Fushun Prison Camp,The Last Emperor of China
Puyi in the Fushun Prison Camp

In 1959, Puyi was amnestied by chairman Mao Zedong. In the next eight years, he married a nurse, Li Shuxian and got a job in the botanical garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and even became a member of CPPCC.

In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution period, he was forced to join a labor camp. With the help of premier Zhou Enlai, he was protected during the whole period.

In 1967, Puyi died of toxuria. In 1995, Li Shuxian relocated his ashes to Hualong Royal Cemetery, the place that Guangxu, the penultimate emperor of Qing Dynasty, was buried.     

The Puppet Manchurian Palace,The Last Emperor of China
The Puppet Manchurian Palace

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