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Puyi as Emperor of Manchukuo, wearing the Mǎnzhōuguó uniform.
|12th Emperor of the Qing dynasty|
|First reign||2 December 1908 – 12 February 1912|
Qing dynasty was formally ended in 1912 by Xinhai Revolution
|Regents||Zaifeng, Prince Chun (1908–1911)
Empress Dowager Longyu (1911-1912)
|Prime Ministers||Yikuang, Prince Qing (1911)
Yuan Shikai (1911–1912)
|Second reign||1 July 1917 – 12 July 1917[note 1]|
|Prime Minister||Zhang Xun|
|Chief Executive of Manchukuo|
|Reign||18 February 1932 – 28 February 1934|
|Successor||Himself As Emperor|
|Prime Minister||Zheng Xiaoxu|
|Emperor of Manchukuo|
|Reign||1 March 1934 – 17 August 1945|
|Predecessor||Himself as Chief Executive|
|Prime Minister||Zheng Xiaoxu (1934–1935)
Zhang Jinghui (1935–1945)
|Born||Aisin Gioro Puyi
(1906-02-07)7 February 1906
(光緒三十二年 正月 十四日)
Prince Chun Mansion
|Died||17 October 1967(1967-10-17) (aged 61)
Peking University People's Hospital, Beijing, People's Republic of China
Hualong Imperial Cemetery, Yi County, Hebei
( m. 1922; died 1946)
Li Shuxian ( m. 1962–1967)
|Father||Zaifeng, Prince Chun of the First Rank|
Puyi (Chinese: 溥儀; 7 February 1906 – 17 October 1967) was the last Emperor of China as the 12th and final Emperor of the Qing dynasty, China's last imperial dynasty. As a child, he reigned as the Xuantong Emperor (pronounced [ɕwántʰʊ̀ŋ]; Chinese: 宣統帝; Manchu:
ᡥᡡᠸᠠᠩᡩᡳ; Möllendorff: gehungge yoso hūwangdi) in China and Khevt Yos Khaan in Mongolia from 1908 until his forced abdication on 12 February 1912, after the Xinhai Revolution.
In 1932, after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the puppet state of Manchukuo was established by Japan, and he was chosen to become "Emperor" of the new state using the era-name of Datong (Ta-tung). In 1934, he was declared the Kangde Emperor (or Kang-te Emperor) of Manchukuo and ruled until the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945. After the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, Puyi was imprisoned as a war criminal for 10 years, wrote his memoirs and became a titular member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress.
Names and titles
Puyi's name is romanized in English as either "Puyi" or "Pu-yi". This naming is in accordance with the Manchu tradition of avoiding the use of a person's clan name and given name together, but is in complete contravention of Chinese tradition, whereby the given name of a ruler was considered taboo and ineffable. After Puyi lost his imperial title in 1924, he was officially styled "Mr. Puyi" (Mr. Pu-yi; simplified Chinese: 溥仪先生; traditional Chinese: 溥儀先生; pinyin: Pǔyí Xiānsheng) in Chinese. His clan name "Aisin Gioro" (simplified Chinese: 爱新觉罗; traditional Chinese: 愛新覺羅; pinyin: Àixīnjuéluó; Wade–Giles: Ai4-hsin1-chüeh2-lo2) was seldom used.
Puyi is also known to have used a Western given name, "Henry", which he chose from a list of English kings given to him by his English-language teacher, Scotsman Reginald Johnston, after Puyi asked for an English name.
The personal translator of the captured emperor Georgy Permyakov in his memoir “Emperor Puyi. Five years together” writes that in Khabarovsk Puyi was known by the Russian nickname Yegor the First.
|Reference style||His Imperial Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Imperial Majesty|
|Alternative style||Son of Heaven (天子)|
When he ruled as Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (and therefore Emperor of China) from 1908 to 1912 and during his brief restoration in 1917, Puyi's era name was "Xuantong", so he was known as the "Xuantong Emperor" (simplified Chinese: 宣统皇帝; traditional Chinese: 宣統皇帝; pinyin: Xuāntǒng Huángdì; Wade–Giles: Hsüan1-t'ung3 Huang2-ti4) during those two periods of time.
As Puyi was also the last ruling Emperor of China, he is widely known as "The Last Emperor" (Chinese: 末代皇帝; pinyin: Mòdài Huángdì; Wade–Giles: Mo4-tai4 Huang2-ti4) in China and throughout the rest of the world. Some refer to him as "The Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty" (Chinese: 清末帝; pinyin: Qīng Mò Dì; Wade–Giles: Ch'ing1 Mo4-ti4).
Due to his abdication, Puyi is also known as "Xun Di" (Chinese: 遜帝; pinyin: Xùn Dì; literally: 'Yielded Emperor') or "Fei Di" (simplified Chinese: 废帝; traditional Chinese: 廢帝; pinyin: Fèi Dì; literally: 'Abrogated Emperor'). Sometimes a "Qing" (Chinese: 清; pinyin: Qīng) is added in front of the two titles to indicate his affiliation with the Qing dynasty.
When Puyi ruled the puppet state of Manchukuo and assumed the title of Chief Executive of the new state, his era name was "Datong" (Ta-tung). As Emperor of Manchukuo from 1934 to 1945, his era name was "Kangde" (Kang-te), so he was known as the "Kangde Emperor" (Chinese: 康德皇帝; pinyin: Kāngdé Huángdì, Japanese: Kōtoku Kōtei) during that period of time.
Emperor of China (1908–1912)
Chosen by Empress Dowager Cixi, Puyi became emperor at the age of 2 years and 10 months in December 1908 after the Guangxu Emperor died on 14 November. Titled the Xuantong Emperor (Wade-Giles: Hsuan-tung Emperor), Puyi's introduction to the life of an emperor began when palace officials arrived at his family residence to take him. On the evening of 13 November 1908, without any advance notice, a procession of eunuchs and guardsmen led by the palace chamberlain left the Forbidden City for the Northern Mansion to inform Prince Chun that they were taking away his two-year-old son Puyi to be the new emperor. The toddler Puyi screamed and resisted as the officials ordered the eunuch attendants to pick him up. Puyi's parents said nothing when they learned that they were losing their son. As Puyi cried, screaming that he did not want to leave his parents, he was forced into a palanquin that took him back to the Forbidden City. Puyi's wet nurse Wang Wen-Chao was the only person from the Northern Mansion allowed to go with him, and she calmed the very distraught Puyi down by allowing him to suckle one of her breasts; this was the only reason she was taken along. Upon arriving at the Forbidden City, Puyi was taken to see Cixi. Puyi later wrote:
I still have a dim recollection of this meeting, the shock of which left a deep impression on my memory. I remember suddenly finding myself surrounded by strangers, while before me was hung a drab curtain through which I could see an emaciated and terrifying hideous face. This was Cixi. It is said that I burst out into loud howls at the sight and started to tremble uncontrollably. Cixi told someone to give me some sweets, but I threw them on the floor and yelled "I want nanny, I want nanny", to her great displeasure. "What a naughty child", she said. "Take him away to play."
His father, Prince Chun, became Prince Regent (摄政王). During Puyi's coronation in the Hall of Supreme Harmony on 2 December 1908, the young emperor was carried onto the Dragon Throne by his father. Puyi was frightened by the scene before him and the deafening sounds of ceremonial drums and music, and started crying. His father could do nothing except quietly comfort him: "Don't cry, it'll be over soon."
Puyi did not see his biological mother, Princess Consort Chun, for the next seven years. He developed a special bond with his wet nurse, Wen-Chao Wang, and credited her as the only person who could control him. She was sent away when he was eight years old. After Puyi married, he would occasionally bring her to the Forbidden City, and later Manchukuo, to visit him. After his special government pardon in 1959, he visited her adopted son and only then learned of her personal sacrifices to be his nurse.
Puyi's upbringing was hardly conducive to the raising of a healthy, well-balanced child. Overnight, he was treated as an emperor and unable to behave as a child. The adults in his life, except for Wang Wen-Chao, were all strangers, remote, distant, and unable to discipline him. Wherever he went, grown men would kneel down in a ritual kowtow, averting their eyes until he passed. Soon he discovered the absolute power he wielded over the eunuchs, and he frequently had them beaten for small transgressions. As an emperor, Puyi's every whim was catered to while no one ever said no to him, making him into a sadistic boy who loved to have his eunuchs flogged. The Anglo-French journalist Edward Behr wrote about Puyi's powers as emperor of China, which allowed him to fire his air-gun at anyone he liked:
The Emperor was Divine. He could not be remonstrated with, or punished. He could only be deferentially advised against ill-treating innocent eunuchs, and if he chose to fire air-gun pellets at them, that was his prerogative.
Puyi later said, "Flogging eunuchs was part of my daily routine. My cruelty and love of wielding power were already too firmly set for persuasion to have any effect on me." The British historian Alex von Tunzelmann wrote that most people in the West know Puyi's story only from the 1987 film The Last Emperor, which downplays Puyi's cruelty considerably.
By age 7, Puyi had two sides to his personality: the sadistic emperor who loved to have his eunuchs flogged, expected everyone to kowtow to him and enjoyed puppet shows and dog fights, and the boy who slept at night with Wang, suckling her breasts and content to be loved for just once in the day. Wang was the only person capable of controlling Puyi; once, Puyi decided to "reward" a eunuch for a well done puppet show by having a cake baked for him with iron filings in it, saying, "I want to see what he looks like when he eats it". With much difficulty, Wang talked Puyi out of this plan.
Every day Puyi had to visit five former imperial concubines, called his "mothers", to report on his progress. He hated his "mothers", not least because they prevented him from seeing his real mother until he was 13. Their leader was the autocratic Empress Dowager Longyu, who successfully conspired to have Puyi's beloved wet nurse Wang expelled from the Forbidden City when he was 8 on the grounds that Puyi was too old to be breast-fed. Puyi especially hated Longyu for that. Puyi later wrote, "Although I had many mothers, I never knew any motherly love."
Puyi noted that to travel from just one building to another in the Forbidden City or for a stroll in the gardens, he was always surrounded by "large retinue" of eunuchs and that:
In front went an eunuch whose function was roughly that of a motor horn; he walked twenty or thirty yards ahead of the party intoning the sound '... chir ... chir ...' as a warning to anyone who might be waiting in the vicinity to go away at once. Next came two Chief Eunuchs advancing crabwise on either side of the path; ten paces behind them came the centre of the procession. If I was being carried in a chair there would be two junior eunuchs walking beside me to attend to my wants at any moment; if I was walking they would be supporting me. Next came an eunuch with a large silk canopy followed by a large group of eunuchs, some empty-handed, others holding all sorts of things: a seat in case I wanted to rest, changes of clothing, umbrellas and parasols. After these eunuchs of the Imperial Presence came eunuchs of the Imperial tea bureau with boxes of various kinds of cakes and delicacies ... They were followed by eunuchs of the Imperial dispensary ... at the end of the procession came the eunuchs who carried commodes and chamberpots. If I was walking, a sedan-chair, open or covered according to the season, would bring up the rear. This motley procession of several dozen people would proceed in perfect silence and order.
Puyi never had any privacy and had all his needs attended to at all times, having eunuchs open doors for him, dress him, wash him, and even blow air into his soup to cool it. Puyi delighted in humiliating his eunuchs, at one point saying that as the "Lord of Ten Thousand Years" it was his right to order a eunuch to eat dirt: "'Eat that for me' I ordered, and he knelt down and ate it". At his meals, Puyi was always presented with a huge buffet containing every conceivable dish, the vast majority of which he did not eat, and every day he wore new clothing as Chinese emperors never reused their clothing. The eunuchs had their own reasons for presenting Puyi with buffet meals and new clothing every day, as Puyi's used clothes made from the finest silk were sold on the black market, while the food he did not eat was either sold or eaten by the eunuchs themselves.
Puyi had a standard Confucian education, being taught the various Confucian classics and nothing else. He later wrote: "I learnt nothing of mathematics, let alone science, and for a long time I had no idea where Beijing was situated". When Puyi was 13, he met his parents and siblings, all of whom had to kowtow before him as he sat upon the Dragon Throne. By this time, he had forgotten what his mother looked like. Such was the awe in which the Emperor was held that his younger brother Pujie never heard his parents refer to Puyi as "your elder brother" but only as the Emperor. Pujie told Behr his image of Puyi prior to meeting him was that of "a venerable old man with a beard. I couldn't believe it when I saw this boy in yellow robes sitting solemnly on the throne". It was decided that Pujie would join Puyi in the Forbidden City to provide him with a playmate, but Puyi was notably angry when he discovered his brother was wearing yellow – the color of the Qing – as he believed that only Emperors had the right to wear yellow, and it had to be explained to him that all members of the Qing family could.
Eunuchs and the Household Department
A quotation from Puyi best summarizes the eunuchs:
No account of my childhood would be complete without mentioning the eunuchs. They waited on me when I ate, dressed and slept; they accompanied me on my walks and to my lessons; they told me stories; and had rewards and beatings from me, but they never left my presence. They were my slaves; and they were my earliest teachers.
The eunuchs were slaves who did all the work in the Forbidden City, such as cooking, gardening, cleaning, entertaining guests, and the bureaucratic work needed to govern a vast empire. They also served as the emperor's advisers. The eunuchs spoke in a distinctive high-pitched voice and to further prove that they were really eunuchs had to keep their severed penises and testicles in jars of brine they wore around their necks when working. The Forbidden City was full of treasures that the eunuchs constantly stole and sold on the black market. The business of government and of providing for the emperor created further opportunities for corruption and virtually all the eunuchs engaged in theft and corruption of one sort or another.
After his marriage, Puyi began to take control of the palace. He described "an orgy of looting" taking place that involved "everyone from the highest to the lowest". According to Puyi, by the end of his wedding ceremony, the pearls and jade in the empress's crown had been stolen. Locks were broken, areas ransacked, and on 27 June 1923, a fire destroyed the area around the Palace of Established Happiness. Puyi suspected it was arson to cover theft. The emperor overheard conversations among the eunuchs that made him fear for his life. In response, he evicted the eunuchs from the palace. His brother, Pujie, was rumored to steal treasures and art collections and sell to wealthy collectors in the black market. His next plan of action was to reform the Household Department. In this period, he brought in more outsiders to replace the traditional aristocratic officers to improve accountability. He appointed Zheng Xiaoxu as minister of Household Department and Zheng Xiaoxu hired Tong Jixu, a former Air Force officer from the Beiyang Army, as his chief of staff to help with the reforms. The reform efforts did not last long before Puyi was forced out of the Forbidden City by Feng Yuxiang.
On 10 October 1911, the army garrison in Wuhan mutinied, sparking a widespread revolt in the Yangtze river valley and beyond, demanding the overthrow of the Qing dynasty that had ruled China since 1644. The strongman of late imperial China, General Yuan Shikai, was dispatched by the court to crush the revolution, but was unable to, as by 1911 public opinion had turned decisively against the Qing, and many Chinese had no wish to fight for a dynasty that was seen as having lost the Mandate of Heaven. Puyi's father, Prince Chun, served as a regent until 6 December 1911, when Empress Dowager Longyu took over following the Xinhai Revolution.
Empress Dowager Longyu endorsed the "Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor" (清帝退位詔書) on 12 February 1912 under a deal brokered by Prime Minister Yuan Shikai with the imperial court in Beijing and the Republicans in southern China. At the crucial meeting in the Forbidden City, Puyi watched the meeting between Longyu and Yuan, which he remembered as:
The Dowager Empress was sitting on a kang [platform bed] in a side room of the Mind Nature Palace, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief while a fat old man [Yuan] knelt on a red cushion before her, tears rolling down his face. I was sitting to the right of the Dowager and wondering why the two adults were crying. There was nobody in the room besides us three and it was very quiet; the fat man was sniffing while he talked and I could not understand what he was saying ... This was the occasion Yuan directly brought up the question of abdication.
Under the "Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor after His Abdication" (清帝退位 優待條件), signed with the new Republic of China, Puyi was to retain his imperial title and be treated by the government of the Republic with the protocol attached to a foreign monarch. This was similar to Italy's Law of Guarantees (1870) which accorded the Pope certain honors and privileges similar to those enjoyed by the King of Italy. Puyi and the imperial court were allowed to remain in the northern half of the Forbidden City (the Private Apartments) as well as in the Summer Palace. A hefty annual subsidy of four million silver taels was granted by the Republic to the imperial household, although it was never fully paid and was abolished after just a few years. Puyi himself was not informed in February 1912 that his reign had ended and China was now a republic and continued to believe that he was still Emperor for some time. In 1913, when the Empress Dowager Longyu died, President Yuan Shikai arrived at the Forbidden City to pay his respects, which Puyi's tutors told him meant that major changes were afoot.
The document is dated 26 December 1914.
- After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, his title of dignity is to be retained by the Republic of China with the courtesies which it is customary to accord to foreign monarchs.
- After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, he will receive from the Republic of China an annual subsidy of 4,000,000 silver taels. After the reform of the currency, this amount will be altered to $4,000,000 (max.).
- After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, he may, as a temporary measure, continue to reside in the Palace (in the Forbidden City), but afterward he will remove himself to the Summer Palace. He may retain his bodyguard.
- After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, the temples and mausoleums of the imperial family with their appropriate sacrificial rites shall be maintained in perpetuity. The Republic of China will be responsible for the provision of military guards for their adequate protection.
- As the Chong Mausoleum (崇陵) of the late Emperor Dezong (the Guangxu Emperor) has not yet been completed, the work will be carried out according to the proper regulations (relating to imperial tombs). The last ceremonies of sepulture will also be observed in accordance with the ancient rites. The actual expenses will all be borne by the Republic of China.
- The services of all the persons of various grades hitherto employed in the Palace may be retained; but in future no eunuchs are to be added to the staff.
- After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, his private property will be safeguarded and protected by the Republic of China.
- The imperial guard corps as constituted at the time of the abdication will be placed under the military control of the War Office of the Republic of China. It will be maintained at its original strength and will receive the same emoluments as heretofore.
Puyi soon learned that the real reasons for the Articles of Favorable Settlement was that President Yuan Shikai was planning on restoring the monarchy with himself as the Emperor of a new dynasty, and wanted to have Puyi as a sort of custodian of the Forbidden City until he could move in. Puyi first learned of Yuan's plans to become Emperor when he brought in army bands to serenade him whenever he had a meal, and he started on a decidedly imperial take on the presidency. Puyi spent hours staring at the Presidential Palace across from the Forbidden City and cursed Yuan whenever he saw him come and go in his automobile. Puyi loathed Yuan as a "traitor" and decided to sabotage his plans to become Emperor by hiding the Imperial Seals, only to be told by his tutors that he would just make new ones. In 1915, Yuan proclaimed himself as emperor, but had to abdicate in the face of popular opposition.
Brief restoration (1917)
In 1917 the warlord Zhang Xun restored Puyi to the throne from July 1 to July 12. Zhang Xun ordered his army to keep their queues to display loyalty to the emperor. During that period, a Republican plane dropped a small bomb over the Forbidden City, causing minor damage. This is considered the first aerial bombardment ever in East Asia. The restoration failed due to extensive opposition across China and the decisive intervention of another warlord, Duan Qirui.
Life in the Forbidden City
Briton Sir Reginald Johnston arrived in the Forbidden City as Puyi's tutor on 3 March 1919. Puyi recalled: "I have never seen foreign men. From the magazines, I noticed they had big mustaches. The eunuchs said the mustaches were very hard and a lantern could be hung at its ends". President Xu Shichang believed the monarchy would eventually be restored, and to prepare Puyi for the challenges of the modern world had hired Johnston to teach Puyi "subjects such as political science, constitutional history and English". Johnston was allowed only five texts in English to give Puyi to read: Alice in Wonderland and translations into English of the "Four Great Books" of Confucianism; the Analects, the Mencius, the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean. But he disregarded the rules, and taught Puyi about world history with a special focus on British history. Johnston also told Puyi so much about his native Scotland that Puyi eventually expressed the desire to visit the "Scotland the Brave" that his tutor spoke of with such pride and love. Besides history, Johnston taught Puyi philosophy and about what he saw as the superiority of monarchies to republics. Puyi remembered that his tutor's piercing blue eyes "made me feel uneasy ... I found him very intimidating and studied English with him like a good boy, not daring to talk about other things when I got bored ... as I did with my other Chinese tutors".
As the only person capable of controlling Puyi, Johnston had much more influence than his title of English tutor would suggest, as the eunuchs began to rely on him to steer Puyi away from his more capricious moods. When the 14-year-old Puyi had some western-style clothing purchased to wear from a theater company, Johnston flew into a rage, saying that Puyi was wearing cheap clothing unworthy of an emperor, and had him buy expensive clothes from a western-style department store, saying, "If you wear clothes from a second-hand shop, you won't be a gentleman, you'll be ..."; Puyi noted he was unable to finish his sentence. Under Johnston's influence, Puyi started to insist that his eunuchs address him as "Henry" and later his wife Wanrong as "Elizabeth" as Puyi began to speak "Chinglish", a mixture of Mandarin and English that became his preferred mode of speech. Puyi recalled of Johnston: "I thought everything about him was first-rate. He made me feel that Westerners were the most intelligent and civilized people in the world and that he was the most learned of Westerners" and that "Johnston had become the major part of my soul". In May 1919, Puyi noticed the protests in Beijing generated by the May 4th movement as thousands of Chinese university students protested against the decision by the great powers at the Paris peace conference to award the former German concessions in Shandong province together with the former German colony of Qingdao to Japan. For Puyi, the May 4th movement, which he asked Johnston about, was a revelation as it marked the first time in his life that he noticed that people outside the Forbidden City had concerns that were not about him.
Puyi could not speak Manchu; he only knew a single word in the language, yili ("arise"). Despite studying Manchu for years, he admitted that it was his "worst" subject among everything he studied. According to the journalist S. M. Ali, Puyi spoke Mandarin when interviewed but Ali believed he could understand English. Johnston also introduced Puyi to the new technology of cinema, and Puyi was so delighted with the movies, especially Harold Lloyd films, that he had a film projector installed in the Forbidden City despite the opposition of the eunuchs who disliked foreign technology in the Forbidden City. Johnston was also the first to argue that Puyi needed glasses, as he was extremely near-sighted, and after much argument with Prince Chun, who thought it was undignified for an Emperor to wear glasses, finally prevailed. Johnston, who spoke fluent Mandarin, closely followed the intellectual scene in China, and introduced Puyi to the "new-style" Chinese books and magazines, which so inspired Puyi that he wrote several poems that were published anonymously in "New China" publications. In 1922, Johnston had his friend, the writer Hu Shih, visit the Forbidden City to teach Puyi about recent developments in Chinese literature. Under Johnston's influence, Puyi embraced the bicycle as a way to exercise, cut his queue and grew a full head of hair, and wanted to go to study at Oxford, Johnston's alma mater. Johnston also introduced Puyi to the telephone, which Puyi soon become addicted to, phoning people in Beijing at random just to hear their voices on the other end. Johnston also pressured Puyi to cut down on the waste and extravagance in the Forbidden City, noting that all the eunuchs had to be fed. Johnston convinced Puyi that he could open doors for himself and did not need eunuchs standing idly all the time by the main doors of the palaces just to open them if he should happen along. Puyi cut off his queue so he would look like a Western gentleman and under Johnston's advice embraced the bicycle as the best way to move about in the Forbidden City, retaining a lifelong enthusiasm for cycling, though it is doubtful that the eunuchs working as gardeners much appreciated Puyi's habit of riding through the flowers.
In March 1922, the Dowager Consorts decided that Puyi should be married, and gave him a selection of photographs of aristocratic teenage girls to choose from. Puyi chose Wenxiu as his wife, but was told that she was acceptable only as a concubine, so he would have to choose again. Puyi then chose Gobulo Wanrong, the daughter of one of Manchuria's richest aristocrats, who had been educated in English by American missionaries in Tianjin, who was considered to be an acceptable empress by the Dowager Consorts. On 15 March 1922, the betrothal of Puyi and Wanrong was announced in the newspapers, on 17 March Wanrong took the train to Beijing, and on 6 April Puyi went to the Qing family shrine to inform his ancestors that he would be married to her later that year. Puyi did not meet Wanrong until their wedding.
In an interview in 1986, Prince Pujie told Behr: "Puyi constantly talked about going to England and becoming an Oxford student, like Johnston." On 4 June 1922, Puyi attempted to escape from the Forbidden City, having decided that he wanted to go to study at Oxford, and planned to issue an open letter to "the people of China" renouncing the title of Emperor before leaving for Oxford. The escape attempt failed when Johnston vetoed it and refused to call a taxi, and Puyi was too frightened to live on the streets of Beijing on his own. Pujie said of Puyi's escape attempt: "Puyi's decision had nothing to do with the impending marriage. He felt cooped up, and wanted out." Johnston later recounted his time as Puyi's tutor between 1919 and 1924 in his 1934 book Twilight in the Forbidden City, one of the main sources of information about Puyi's life in this period, though Behr cautioned that Johnston painted an idealised picture of Puyi, avoiding all mention of Puyi's sexuality, merely average academic ability, erratic mood swings, and eunuch-flogging. Pujie told Behr of Puyi's moods: "When he was in a good mood, everything was fine, and he was a charming companion. If something upset him, his dark side would emerge."
On 21 October 1922, Puyi's wedding to Princess Wanrong began with the "betrothal presents" of 18 sheep, 2 horses, 40 pieces of satin and 80 rolls of cloth, marched from the Forbidden City to Wanrong's house, accompanied by court musicians and cavalry. Following Manchu traditions where weddings were conducted under moonlight for good luck, an enormous procession of palace guardsmen, eunuchs, and musicians carried the Princess Wanrong in a red sedan chair called the Phoenix Chair from her house to the Forbidden City under a full moon. Wanrong was taken to the Palace of Earthly Peace within the Forbidden City, where Puyi sat upon the Dragon Throne and Wanrong kowtowed to him six times to symbolize her submission to her husband.
Wanrong wore a mask in accordance with Chinese tradition and Puyi, who knew nothing of women, remembered: "I hardly thought about marriage and family. It was only when the Empress came into my field of vision with a crimson satin cloth embroidered with a dragon and a phoenix over her head that I felt at all curious about what she looked like." After the wedding was complete, Puyi, Wanrong, and his secondary consort Wenxiu (whom he married the same night) went to the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, where everything was red – the color of love and sex in China – and where emperors had traditionally consummated their marriages. Puyi, who was sexually inexperienced and timid, fled from the bridal chamber, leaving his wives to sleep in the Dragon Bed by themselves. Of Puyi's failure to consummate his marriage on his wedding night, Behr wrote:
It was perhaps too much to expect an adolescent, permanently surrounded by eunuchs, to show the sexual maturity of a normal seventeen-year-old. Neither the Dowager consorts nor Johnston himself had given him any advice on sexual matters – this sort of thing simply was not done, where emperors were concerned: it would have been an appalling breach of protocol. But the fact remains that a totally inexperienced, over-sheltered adolescent, if normal, could hardly have failed to be aroused by Wan Jung's [Wanrong's] unusual, sensual beauty. The inference is, of course, that Pu Yi was either impotent, extraordinarily immature sexually, or already aware of his homosexual tendencies.
Wanrong's younger brother Rong Qi remembered how Puyi and Wanrong, both teenagers, loved to race their bicycles through the Forbidden City, forcing eunuchs to get out of the way, and told Behr in an interview: "There was a lot of laughter, she and Puyi seemed to get on well, they were like kids together." In 1986, Behr interviewed one of Puyi's two surviving eunuchs, an 85-year-old man who was reluctant to answer the questions asked of him, but finally said of Puyi's relationship with Wanrong: "The Emperor would come over to the nuptial apartments once every three months and spend the night there ... He leave early in the morning on the following day and for the rest of that day he would invariably be in a very filthy temper indeed." Reginald Johnston arranged for the Marquis of Extended Grace Zhu Yuxun, a descendant of the Ming dynasty imperial family, to visit Puyi in the Forbidden City in September 1924, which was the first time the heirs of both the deposed Ming and Qing dynasties came face to face.
Puyi rarely left the Forbidden City, knew nothing of the lives of ordinary Chinese people, and was somewhat misled by Johnston, who told him that the vast majority of the Chinese wanted a Qing restoration. Johnston, a Sinophile scholar and a romantic conservative with an instinctive preference for monarchies, believed that China needed a benevolent autocrat to guide the country forward. He was enough of a traditionalist to respect that all major events in the Forbidden City were determined by the court astrologers. Johnston disparaged the superficially Westernized Chinese republican elite who dressed in top hats, frock coats and business suits as inauthentically Chinese and praised to Puyi the Confucian scholars with their traditional robes as the ones who were authentically Chinese.
As part of an effort to crack down on corruption by the eunuchs inspired by Johnston, Puyi ordered an inventory of the Forbidden City's treasures, which caused the Hall of Supreme Harmony to go up in flames in a case of arson on the night of 26 June 1923, as the eunuchs tried to cover up the extent of their theft. Johnston reported that the next day he "found the Emperor and Empress standing on a heap of charred wood, sadly contemplating the spectacle". The treasures reported lost in the fire included 2,685 golden statues of Lord Buddha, 1,675 golden altar ornaments, 435 porcelain antiques, and 31 boxes of sable furs, though it is likely that most if not all of these had been sold on the black market before the fire.
Puyi finally decided to expel all of the eunuchs from the Forbidden City to end the problem of theft, only agreeing to keep 50 after the Dowager Consorts complained that they could not function without them. After expelling the eunuchs, Puyi turned the grounds where the Hall of Supreme Harmony had once stood into a tennis court, as he and Wanrong loved to play. Wanrong's brother Rong Qi recalled: "But after the eunuchs went, many of the palaces inside the Forbidden City were closed down, and the place took on a desolate, abandoned air." After the Great Kantō earthquake on 1 September 1923 destroyed the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, Puyi donated jade antiques worth some £33,000 to pay for disaster relief, which led a delegation of Japanese diplomats to visit the Forbidden City to express their thanks. In their report about the visit, the diplomats noted that Puyi was highly vain and malleable, and could be used by Japan, which marked the beginning of Japanese interest in Puyi.
Expulsion from the Forbidden City (1924)
On October 23, 1924, a coup led by the warlord Feng Yuxiang took control of Beijing. Feng, the latest of the warlords to take Beijing, was seeking legitimacy and decided that abolishing the unpopular Articles of Favorable Settlement was an easy way to win the crowd's approval. Feng unilaterally revised the "Articles of Favourable Treatment" on November 5, 1924, abolishing Puyi's imperial title and privileges and reducing him to a private citizen of the Republic of China. Puyi was expelled from the Forbidden City the same day. He was given three hours to leave. He spent a few days at the house of his father Prince Chun, and then temporarily resided in the Japanese embassy in Beijing. Puyi left his father's house together with Johnston and his chief servant Big Li without informing Prince Chun's servants, who followed them in another car while two policemen joined on the sides of Puyi's car, leading to a wild car chase through Beijing as Puyi's chauffeur tried to lose the servants' car before Puyi was able to slip into a jewelry store and into a carriage that took him to the Japanese legation. Puyi had originally wanted to go to the British Legation, but the Japanophile Johnston had insisted that he would be safer with the Japanese. For Johnston, the Japanese system where the Japanese people worshipped their emperor as a living god was much closer to his ideal political system than the British system of a constitutional monarchy, and he constantly steered Puyi in a pro-Japanese direction. Puyi's adviser Lu Zongyu, who was secretly working for the Japanese, suggested that Puyi move to Tianjin, which he argued was safer than Beijing, though the real reason was that the Japanese felt that Puyi would be easier to control in Tianjin without the embarrassment of having him live in the Japanese Legation, which was straining relations with China. On 23 February 1925, Puyi left Beijing for Tianjin wearing a simple Chinese gown and skullcap as he was afraid of being robbed on the train.
Residence in Tianjin (1925–1931)
In February 1925, Puyi moved to the Japanese Concession of Tianjin, first into the Zhang Garden (張園), and in 1927 into the former residence of Lu Zongyu known as the Garden of Serenity (simplified Chinese: 静园; traditional Chinese: 靜園; pinyin: jìng yuán). A British journalist, Henry Woodhead, called Puyi's court a "doggy paradise" as both Puyi and Wanrong were dog lovers who owned several very spoiled dogs while Puyi's courtiers spent an inordinate amount of time feuding with one another. Woodhead stated that the only people who seemed to get along at Puyi's court were Wanrong and Wenxiu, who were "like sisters". Tianjin was, after Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan Chinese city, with large British, French, German, Russian and Japanese communities. As an emperor, Puyi was allowed to join several social clubs that normally only admitted whites. During this period, Puyi and his advisers Chen Baochen, Zheng Xiaoxu and Luo Zhenyu discussed plans to restore Puyi as Emperor. Zheng and Luo favoured enlisting assistance from external parties, while Chen opposed the idea. In June 1925, the warlord Zhang Zuolin visited Tianjin to meet Puyi. "Old Marshal" Zhang, an illiterate former bandit, ruled Manchuria, a region equal in size to Germany and France combined, which had a population of 30 million and was the most industrialized region in China. Zhang kowtowed to Puyi at their meeting and promised to restore the House of Qing if Puyi made a large financial donation to his army. As Zhang walked with Puyi to his car at end of their meeting, he noticed a Japanese spy who had followed Puyi and said in a very loud voice, "If those Japanese lay a finger on you, let me know and I'll sort them out", which was Zhang's way of warning Puyi in a "roundabout way" not to trust his Japanese friends. Zhang fought in the pay of the Japanese, but by this time his relations with the Kwantung Army were becoming strained. In June 1927, Zhang captured Beijing and Behr observed that if Puyi had had more courage and returned to Beijing, he might have been restored to the Dragon Throne.
Puyi's court was prone to factionalism and his advisers were urging him to back different warlords, which gave him a reputation for duplicity as he negotiated with various warlords, which strained his relations with Marshal Zhang. At various times, Puyi met General Zhang Zongchang, the "Dogmeat General", and the Russian émigré General Grigory Semyonov at his Tianjin house; both of them promised to restore him to the Dragon Throne if he gave them enough money, and both of them kept all the money he gave them for themselves. Puyi remembered Zhang as "a universally detested monster" with a face bloated and "tinged with the livid hue induced by opium smoking". Semyonov in particular proved himself to be a talented con man, claiming as an ataman to have several Cossack Hosts under his command, to have 300 million roubles in the bank, and to be supported by American, British and Japanese banks in his plans to restore both the House of Qing in China and the House of Romanov in Russia. Semyonov claimed that he was only asking for Puyi's financial support because of a temporary cash flow problem, and promised that once his Cossacks took Beijing he would repay all the money Puyi loaned him. Puyi gave Semyonov a loan of 5,000 British pounds, which Semyonov never repaid. Another visitor to the Garden of Serenity was General Kenji Doihara, a Japanese Army officer who was fluent in Mandarin and a man of great charm who manipulated Puyi via flattery, telling him that a great man such as himself should go conquer Manchuria and then, just as his Qing ancestors did in the 17th century, use Manchuria as a base for conquering China.
In 1928, during the Great Northern Expedition to reunify China, troops loyal to a warlord allied with the Kuomintang sacked the Qing tombs outside of Beijing after the Kuomintang and its allies took Beijing from the army of Marshal Zhang who retreated back to Manchuria. The news that the Qing tombs had been plundered and the corpse of the Dowager Empress Cixi had been desecrated greatly offended Puyi, who never forgave the Kuomintang as he held Chiang Kai-shek personally responsible for the sacking of the Qing tombs; the sacking also showed his powerlessness. During his time in Tianjin, Puyi was besieged with visitors asking him for money, including various members of the vast Qing family, old Manchu bannermen, journalists prepared to write articles calling for a Qing restoration for the right price, and eunuchs who had once lived in the Forbidden City and were now living in poverty. Puyi himself was often bored with his life, and engaged in maniacal shopping to compensate, recalling that he was addicted to "buying pianos, watches, clocks, radios, Western clothes, leather shoes and spectacles".
Puyi's first wife Wanrong began to smoke opium during this period, which Puyi encouraged as he found her more "manageable" when she was in an opium daze. His marriage to Wanrong began to fall apart as they spent more and more time apart, meeting only at mealtimes. Wanrong complained that her life as an "empress" was extremely dull as the rules for an empress forbade her from going out dancing as she wanted, instead forcing her to spend her days in traditional rituals that she found to be meaningless, all the more so as China was a republic and her title of empress was symbolic only. The westernized Wanrong loved to go out dancing, play tennis, wear western clothes and make-up, listen to jazz music, and to socialize with her friends, which the more conservative courtiers all objected to. She resented having to play the traditional role of a Chinese empress, but was unwilling to break with Puyi. Puyi's butler was secretly a Japanese spy, and in a report to his masters described Puyi and Wanrong one day spending hours screaming at one another in the gardens with Wanrong repeatedly calling Puyi a "eunuch"; whether she meant that as a reference to sexual inadequacy is unclear. In 1928, Puyi's concubine Wenxiu declared that she had had enough of him and his court and simply walked out, filing for divorce. After Wenxiu left, a regular visitor to the court was Puyi's cousin Eastern Jewel, described by Tunzelmann as "... an urbane leather-clad cross-dressing spy princess".
Captive in Manchuria (1931–1932)
In September 1931 Puyi sent a letter to Jirō Minami, the Japanese Minister of War, expressing his desire to be restored to the throne. On the night of 18 September 1931, the Mukden Incident began when the Kwantung Army blew up a section of railroad belonging to the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railroad company, which was blamed on the warlord Marshal Zhang Xueliang, the "Young Marshal" who took over Manchuria in 1928 when his father, the "Old Marshal", was assassinated by the Kwantung Army. Using this incident as an excuse, the Kwantung Army began a general offensive with the aim of conquering all of Manchuria with heavy artillery being used to blast Zhang's barracks in Mukden. Puyi was visited by Kenji Doihara, head of the espionage office of the Japanese Kwantung Army, who proposed establishing Puyi as head of a Manchurian state.
The Empress Wanrong was firmly against Puyi's plans to go to Manchuria, which she called treason, and for a moment Puyi hesitated, leading Doihara to send for Puyi's cousin, the very pro-Japanese Eastern Jewel, to visit him to change his mind. Eastern Jewel, a strong-willed, flamboyant, openly bisexual woman noted for her habit of wearing male clothing and uniforms, had much influence on Puyi. In the Tientsin Incident during November 1931, Puyi and Zheng Xiaoxu traveled to Manchuria to complete plans for the puppet state of Manchukuo. Puyi left his house in Tianjin by hiding in the trunk of a car. The Chinese government ordered his arrest for treason, but was unable to breach the Japanese protection. Puyi boarded a Japanese ship, the Awaji Maru, that took him across the East China Sea, and when he landed in Port Arthur (modern Lüshun) the next day, he was greeted by the man who was to become his minder, General Masahiko Amakasu, who escorted him to the train that took them to a resort owned by the South Manchurian Railroad company. Amakasu was a fearsome man who told Puyi how in the Amakasu Incident of 1923 he had the feminist Noe Itō, her lover the anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, and a six-year-old boy, Munekazu Tachibana, who happened to be there, strangled to death as they were "enemies of the Emperor", and he likewise would kill Puyi if he should prove to be an "enemy of the Emperor". The American historian Louise Young described Amakasu as a "sadistic" man who enjoyed torturing and killing people. Behr commented that Amakasu's boasting about killing a six-year-old boy should have enlightened Puyi about the sort of people he had just allied himself with. Chen Baochen returned to Beijing, where he died in 1935.
Once he arrived in Manchuria, Puyi discovered that he was a prisoner and was not allowed outside the Yamato Hotel, ostensibly to protect him from assassination. Wanrong had stayed in Tianjin, and remained opposed to Puyi's decision to work with the Japanese, requiring her friend Eastern Jewel to visit numerous times to convince her to go to Manchuria. Behr commented that if Wanrong had been a stronger woman, she might have remained in Tianjin and filed for divorce, but ultimately she accepted Eastern Jewel's argument that it was her duty as a wife to follow her husband, and six weeks after the Tientsin incident, she too crossed the East China Sea to Port Arthur with Eastern Jewel to keep her company.
In early 1932, General Seishirō Itagaki informed Puyi that the new state was to be a republic with him as Chief Executive; the capital was to be Changchun; his form of address was to be "Your Excellency", not "Your Imperial Majesty"; and there were to be no references to Puyi ruling with the "Mandate of Heaven", all of which displeased Puyi. The suggestion that Manchukuo was to be based on popular sovereignty with the 34 million people of Manchuria "asking" that Puyi rule over them was completely contrary to Puyi's ideas about his right to rule by the Mandate of Heaven. The Lytton Commission appointed by the League of Nations was due to arrive in Manchuria soon to examine the Chinese complaint made to the League Council that Japan had committed aggression by seizing Manchuria, and presenting Manchukuo as an exercise in Wilsonian self-determination was calculated by the Kwantung Army to appeal better than archaic arguments about the Mandate of Heaven. Furthermore, the Japanese were fearful of international isolation, and contended that they had not violated the Nine-Power Treaty of 1922 because the Kwantung Army had supposedly responded to the demands of the local people to break away from China. The United States had already announced the Stimson Doctrine of refusing to "recognize any treaty or agreement" that Japan might impose on China which "may be brought about by means contrary to the covenants and obligations of the Pact of Paris [the Kellogg–Briand Pact]". The Japanese contention was that China "was not an organized state" but instead a lawless region ruled by warlords; Japan would observe all of its treaty commitments, but would react if the local people asked for Japanese help. The Japanese historian Akira Iriye wrote that this argument about self-determination and freedom for the people of Manchuria was meant to make "an egregious violation of China's territorial and administrative integrity ... compatible with the Washington treaties".
Itagaki suggested to Puyi that in a few years Manchukuo might become a monarchy and that Manchuria was just the beginning, as Japan had ambitions to take all of China; the obvious implication was that Puyi would become the Great Qing Emperor again. When Puyi objected to Itagaki's plans, he was told that he was in no position to negotiate as Itagaki had no interest in his opinions on these issues. Unlike Doihara, who was always very polite and constantly stroked Puyi's ego, Itagaki was brutally rude and brusque, addressing Puyi like he was barking out orders to a particularly dim-witted common soldier. Itagaki had promised Puyi's chief adviser Zheng Xiaoxu that he would be the Manchukuo prime minister, an offer that appealed to his vanity enough that he persuaded Puyi to accept the Japanese terms, telling him that Manchukuo would soon become a monarchy and history would repeat itself, as Puyi would conquer the rest of China from his Manchurian base just as the Qing did in 1644. In Japanese propaganda, Puyi was always celebrated both in traditionalist terms as a Confucian "Sage King" out to restore virtue and as a revolutionary who would end the oppression of the common people by a program of wholesale modernization.
Puppet ruler of Manchukuo (1932–1945)
|Reference style||His Imperial Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Imperial Majesty|
On the night of 24 February 1932, when Puyi accepted the offer to be Chief Executive of Manchukuo, a party was thrown with geishas imported for the celebration, during which Itagaki become very drunk, and forgetting that the geisha are entertainers, not prostitutes, made outrageous sexual advances on them, fondling their breasts and vaginas and telling Puyi that as a general he could do anything he wanted to them. During the party, while Itagaki boasted to Puyi that now was a great time to be a Japanese man, Puyi was much offended when none of the geisha knew who he was.
On 1 March 1932, the Japanese installed Puyi as the Chief Executive of Manchukuo, a puppet state of the Empire of Japan, under the reign title Datong (Wade-Giles: Ta-tung; 大同). One contemporary commentator, Wen Yuan-ning, quipped that Puyi had now achieved the dubious distinction of having been "made emperor three times without knowing why and apparently without relishing it."
Puyi believed Manchukuo was just the beginning, and that within a few years he would again reign as Emperor of China, having the yellow Imperial Dragon robes used for coronation of Qing emperors brought from Beijing to Changchun. At the time, Japanese propaganda depicted the birth of Manchukuo as a triumph of Pan-Asianism, with the "five races" of Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Manchus and Mongols coming together, which marked nothing less than the birth of a new civilization and a turning point in world history. A press statement issued on 1 March 1932 stated: "The glorious advent of Manchukuo with the eyes of the world turned on it was an epochal event of far-reaching consequence in world history, marking the birth of a new era in government, racial relations, and other affairs of general interest. Never in the chronicles of the human race was any State born with such high ideals, and never has any State accomplished so much in such a brief space of its existence as Manchukuo".
On 8 March 1932, Puyi made his ceremonial entry into Changchun, sharing his car with Zheng, who was beaming with joy, Amakasu, whose expression was stern as usual, and Wanrong, who looked miserable. Puyi remembered of his first time in Changchun:
I saw Japanese gendarmes, and rows of people, wearing all sorts of clothes; some were in Chinese jackets and gowns, some were in Western suits and some in traditional Japanese dress, and they were all holding small flags in their hands. I was thrilled and reflected that I was now seeing the scene that I missed at the harbor. As I walked past them Hsi Hsia [one of his ministers] pointed out a line of dragon flags between the Japanese ones and said that the men holding them were all Manchu "bannermen" who had been waiting for me to come for twenty years. These words brought tears to my eyes, and I was more strongly convinced than ever that my future was very hopeful.
Puyi also noted he was "too preoccupied with my hopes and hates" to realize the "cold comfort that the Changchun citizens, silent from terror and hatred, were giving me". Puyi's friend, the British journalist Woodhead, who covered his arrival in Manchuria, wrote, "outside official circles, I met no Chinese who felt any enthusiasm for the new regime", and that the city of Harbin was being terrorized by Chinese and Russian gangsters working for the Japanese, making Harbin "lawless ... even its main street unsafe after dark". In an interview with Woodhead, Puyi said he planned to govern Manchukuo "in the Confucian spirit" and that he was "perfectly happy" with his new position. Luigi Barzini, an Italian journalist from the Corriere della Sera newspaper, wrote: "I was unable to interview this pale, tired prince who doesn't like to talk, who is always plunged in his meditations and who maybe regrets his life as a simple, studious citizen. He has a fixed stare behind his black-framed glasses. When we were introduced, he responded with a friendly nod. But his smile lasted only a second. We could only await the word of the Master of Ceremonies to give us permission to bow ourselves out. A Japanese colonel, our guide, showed us the triumphal arches, the electric light decorations and endless flags. But all this, say the shopkeepers, is 'made in Osaka'".
On 20 April 1932, the Lytton Commission arrived in Manchuria to begin its investigation of whether Japan had committed aggression. Puyi was interviewed by Lord Lytton, and recalled thinking that he desperately wanted to ask Lytton for political asylum in Britain, but as General Itagaki was sitting right next to him at the meeting, he told Lytton that "the masses of the people had begged me to come, that my stay here was absolutely voluntary and free". After the interview, Itagaki told Puyi: "Your Excellency's manner was perfect; you spoke beautifully". The diplomat Wellington Koo, who was attached to the Lytton Commission as its Chinese assessor, received a secret message saying "... a representative of the imperial household in Changchun wanted to see me and had a confidential message for me". The representative, posing as an antique dealer, "... told me he was sent by the Empress: She wanted me to help her escape from Changchun. He said she found life miserable there because she was surrounded in her house by Japanese maids. Every movement of hers was watched and reported". Koo said he was "touched" but could do nothing to help Wanrong escape, which her brother Rong Qi said was the "final blow" to her, leading her into a downward spiral. Right from the start, the Japanese occupation had sparked much resistance by guerrillas, whom the Kwantung Army called "bandits". General Doihara was able in exchange for a multi-million bribe to get one of the more prominent guerrilla leaders, the Hui Muslim general Ma Zhanshan, to accept Japanese rule, and had Puyi appoint him Defense Minister. Much to the intense chagrin of Puyi and his Japanese masters, Ma's defection turned to be a ruse, and only months after Puyi appointed him Defense Minister, Ma took his troops over the border to the Soviet Union to continue the struggle against the Japanese.
The Emperor Shōwa wanted to see if Puyi was reliable before giving him an imperial title, and it was not until October 1933 that General Doihara told him he was to be an emperor again, causing Puyi to go, in his own words, "wild with joy", though he was disappointed that he was not given back his old title of "Great Qing Emperor". At the same time, Doihara informed Puyi that "the Emperor [of Japan] is your father and is represented in Manchukuo as the Kwantung army which must be obeyed like a father". Right from the start, Manchukuo was infamous for its high crime rate, as Japanese-sponsored gangs of Chinese, Korean and Russian gangsters fought one another for the control of Manchukuo's opium houses, brothels and gambling dens, with the Russian gangs having a particular interest in going after Jewish businessmen in Manchukuo for extortion and kidnapping. There were nine different Japanese or Japanese-sponsored police/intelligence agencies operating in Manchukuo, who were all told by Tokyo that Japan was a poor country and that they were to pay for their own operations by engaging in organized crime. The Italian adventurer Amleto Vespa remembered that General Kenji Doihara told him Manchuria was going have to pay for its own exploitation. In 1933, Simon Kaspé, a French Jewish pianist visiting his father in Manchukuo, who owned a hotel in Harbin, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by an anti-Semitic gang from the Russian Fascist Party. The Kaspé case become an international cause célèbre, attracting much media attention around the world, ultimately leading to two trials in Harbin in 1935 and 1936, as the evidence that the Russian fascist gang who had killed Kaspé was working for the Kempeitai, the military police of the Imperial Japanese Army, become too strong for even Tokyo to ignore. In Asia, the rule of law is seen as one of the marks of "civilization", which is why the Japanese and Manchukuo media had spent so much time disparaging the chaotic and corrupt legal system run by the "Young Marshal", Zhang Xueliang; Puyi was portrayed as having (with a little help from the Kwantung Army) saved the people from the chaos of the rule by the Zhang family. Manchukuo's high crime rate, and the much publicized Kaspé case, made a mockery of the claim that Puyi had saved the people of Manchuria from a lawless and violent regime.
On 1 March 1934 he was crowned Emperor of Manchukuo, under the reign title Kangde (Wade–Giles: Kang-te; 康德) in Changchun. A sign of the true rulers of Manchukuo was the presence of General Masahiko Amakasu during the coronation; ostensibly there as the film director to record the coronation, Amakasu served as Puyi's minder, keeping a careful watch on him to prevent him from going off script. Wanrong was excluded from the coronation: her addiction to opium, anti-Japanese feelings, dislike of Puyi and growing reputation for being "difficult" and unpredictable led Amakasu to the conclusion that she could not be trusted to stay on script. Though submissive in public to the Japanese, Puyi was constantly at odds with them in private. He resented being "Head of State" and then "Emperor of Manchukuo" rather than being fully restored as a Qing Emperor. At his enthronement, he clashed with Japan over dress; they wanted him to wear a Manchukuo-style uniform whereas he considered it an insult to wear anything but traditional Manchu robes. In a typical compromise, he wore a Western military uniform to his enthronement (the only Chinese emperor ever to do so) and a dragon robe to the announcement of his accession at the Temple of Heaven. Puyi was driven to his coronation in a Lincoln limousine with bulletproof windows followed by nine Packards, and during his coronation scrolls were read out while sacred wine bottles were opened for the guests to celebrate the beginning of a "Reign of Tranquility and Virtue". The invitations for the coronation were issued by the Kwantung Army and 70% of those who attended Puyi's coronation were Japanese.
The Japanese chose as the capital of Manchukuo the industrial city of Changchun, which was renamed Hsinking. Puyi had wanted the capital to be Mukden (modern Shenyang), which had been the Qing capital before the Qing conquered China in 1644, but was overruled by his Japanese masters. Puyi hated Hsinking, which he regarded as an undistinguished industrial city that lacked the historical connections with the Qing that Mukden had. As there was no palace in Changchun, Puyi moved into what had once been the office of the Salt Tax Administration during the Russian period, and as result, the building was known as the Salt Tax Palace, which is now the Museum of the Imperial Palace of the Manchu State. Puyi lived as a virtual prisoner in the Salt Tax Palace, which was heavily guarded by Japanese troops, and could not leave without permission. Shortly after Puyi's coronation, Prince Chun arrived at the Hsinking railroad station for a visit, and this time Wanrong promised to behave as no Japanese were involved in the ceremonies, and thus she was allowed out of the Salt Tax Palace. As Prince Chun got off the train, the Manchukuo Imperial Guards were there to greet him while Puyi was dressed in his uniform as Commander-in-Chief, wearing Japanese, Chinese and Manchukuo decorations while Wanrong wore the traditional dress of a Chinese empress and kowtowed to her father-in-law. Puyi's half-brother Pu Ren, who was 16 at the time, followed his father to Hsinking and told Behr in an interview:
Puyi was outwardly very polite, but he didn't have a lot of respect for his father's opinions. Puyi badly wanted the whole family to stay in Changchun. He wanted me to be educated in Japan, but father was firmly opposed to the idea and I went back to Beijing. Puyi was still in pretty good spirits. He hadn't entirely given up the dream that the Japanese would restore him to the throne of China.— Pu Ren
Prince Chun told his son that he was an idiot if he really believed that the Japanese were going to restore him to the Dragon Throne, and warned him that he was just being used.
The Japanese Embassy issued a note of diplomatic protest at the welcome extended to Prince Chun, stating that the Hsinking railroad station was under the Kwantung Army's control, that only Japanese soldiers were allowed there, and that they would not tolerate the Manchukuo Imperial Guard being used to welcome visitors at the Hsinking railroad station again. In this period, Puyi frequently visited the provinces of Manchukuo to open factories and mines, took part in the birthday celebrations for the Showa Emperor at the Kwantung Army headquarters and, on the Japanese holiday of Memorial Day, formally paid his respects with Japanese rituals to the souls of the Japanese soldiers killed fighting the "bandits" (as the Japanese called all the guerrillas fighting against their rule of Manchuria). Following the example in Japan, schoolchildren in Manchukuo at the beginning of every school day kowtowed first in the direction of Tokyo and then to a portrait of Puyi in the classroom. Puyi found this "intoxicating". Puyi visited a coal mine and in his rudimentary Japanese thanked the Japanese foreman for his good work, who burst into tears as he thanked the emperor; Puyi later wrote that "The treatment I received really went to my head."
Whenever the Japanese wanted a law passed, the relevant decree was dropped off at the Salt Tax Palace for Puyi to sign, which he always did. Puyi signed decrees expropriating vast tracts of farmland to be given to Japanese colonists and a law declaring certain thoughts to be "thought crimes", leading Behr to note: "In theory, as 'Supreme Commander', he thus bore full responsibility for Japanese atrocities committed in his name on anti-Japanese 'bandits' and patriotic Chinese citizens." Behr further noted the "Empire of Manchukuo", billed as an idealistic state where the "five races" of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Manchus and Mongols had come together in Pan-Asian brotherhood, was in fact "one of the most brutally run countries in the world – a textbook example of colonialism, albeit of the Oriental kind". Manchukuo was a sham, and was a Japanese colony run entirely for Japan's benefit. American historian Carter J. Eckert wrote that the differences in power could be seen in that the Kwantung Army had a "massive" headquarters in downtown Hsinking while Puyi had to live in the "small and shabby" Salt Tax Palace close to the main railroad station in a part of Hsinking with numerous small factories, warehouses, and slaughterhouses, the chief prison and the red-light district.
In 1935, to solve Japan's overpopulation problem, a plan was announced in Tokyo to settle five million Japanese farmers and their families in Manchukuo between 1936 and 1956, and in the first stage of the plan 20,000 Japanese families moved to Manchukuo every year, continuing until 1944, when American submarine attacks reduced the shipping available to move colonists into Manchukuo. By 1939, the total Japanese population in Manchukuo was about 837,000 men, women, and children; comprising the Japanese who had been brought in as rural colonists plus those who had come to Manchukuo to work as civil servants, businessmen, and for the South Manchuria Railway Company, the largest corporation in Asia at the time, together with their families. To provide farmland for the Japanese settlers, the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Korean farmers already living on the land were evicted to make way for the colonists. The Kwantung Army used those who resisted eviction for bayonet practice. Furthermore, Manchukuo was meant to be the industrial powerhouse of the Japanese empire, and right from the start, the Japanese started to build factories and mines on a vast scale while the Chinese workers were ruthlessly exploited. The American historian Mark Driscoll described the economic system introduced by Nobusuke Kishi, Manchukuo's Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce in 1935–1939 and a future prime minister of Japan, as a "necropolitical" system where the Chinese workers were treated as dehumanized cogs in a vast industrial machine. Behr commented that Puyi knew from his talks in Tianjin with General Kenji Doihara and General Seishirō Itagaki that he was dealing with "ruthless men and that this might be the regime to expect". Puyi later recalled that: "I had put my head in the tiger's mouth" by going to Manchuria in 1931.
From 1935 to 1945, Kwantung Army senior staff officer Yoshioka Yasunori (吉岡安則) was assigned to Puyi as Attaché to the Imperial Household in Manchukuo. He acted as a spy for the Japanese government, controlling Puyi through fear, intimidation, and direct orders. There were many attempts on Puyi's life during this period, including a 1937 stabbing by a palace servant. During Puyi's reign as Emperor of Manchukuo, his household was closely watched by the Japanese, who increasingly took steps toward the full Japanisation of Manchuria, to prevent him from becoming too independent. He was feted by the Japanese populace during his visits there, but had to remain subservient to Emperor Hirohito. It is unclear whether the adoption of ancient Chinese styles and rites, such as using "His Majesty" instead of his real name, was the product of Puyi's interest or a Japanese imposition of their own imperial house rules.
In 1935, Puyi visited Japan, sailing from Dalian to Yokohama on the warship Hiei, and while he met the Shōwa Emperor at a Tokyo railroad station, a moment of unintentional comedy occurred when Puyi attempted to take off a too tight white glove before shaking the Emperor's hand, which he had to struggle with for some time while everyone else struggled not to laugh. The Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Hsinking, Kenjiro Hayashide, served as Puyi's interpreter during this trip, and later wrote what Behr called a very absurd book, The Epochal Journey to Japan, chronicling this visit, where he managed to present every banal statement made by Puyi as profound wisdom, and claimed that he wrote an average of two poems per day on his trip to Japan, despite being busy with attending all sorts of official functions. A typical passage from the book records that Puyi was seasick while travelling to Japan, but that "the Ruler's great joy at seeing Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan ... removed all thoughts of fatigue from the voyage". Hayashide had also written a booklet promoting the trip in Japan, which claimed that Puyi was a great reader who was "hardly ever seen without a book in his hand", a skilled calligrapher, a talented painter, and an excellent horseman and archer, able to shoot arrows while riding, just like his Qing ancestors. The Shōwa Emperor took this claim that Puyi was a hippophile too seriously and presented him with a gift of a horse for him to review the Imperial Japanese Army with; in fact, Puyi was a hippophobe who adamantly refused to get on the horse, forcing the Japanese to hurriedly bring out a carriage for the two emperors to review the troops.
After his return to Hsinking, Puyi hired an American public relations executive, George Bronson Rea, to lobby the U.S. government to recognize Manchukuo. In late 1935, Rea published a book, The Case for Manchukuo, in which Rea castigated China under the Kuomintang as hopelessly corrupt, and praised Puyi's wise leadership of Manchukuo, writing Manchukuo was "... the one step that the people of the East have taken towards escape from the misery and misgovernment that have become theirs. Japan's protection is its only chance of happiness". Rea continued to work for Puyi until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but he failed signally in lobbying Washington to recognize Hsinking. At the second trial relating to the long-running Kaspé case in Harbin in March–June 1936, the Japanese prosecutor argued in favor of the six defendants, calling them "Russian patriots who raised the flag against a world danger – communism". Much to everyone's surprise, the Chinese judges convicted and sentenced the six Russian fascists who had tortured and killed Kaspé to death, which led to a storm as the Russian Fascist Party called the six men "martyrs for Holy Russia", and presented to Puyi a petition with thousands of signatures asking him to pardon the six men. Puyi refused to pardon the Russian fascists, but the verdict was appealed to the Hsinking Supreme Court, where the Japanese judges quashed the verdict, ordering the six men to be freed, a decision that Puyi accepted without complaint. The flagrant miscarriage of justice of the Kaspé case, which attracted much attention in the Western media, did much to tarnish the image of Manchukuo and further weakened Puyi's already weak hand as he sought to have the rest of the world recognize Manchukuo.
In 1936, Ling Sheng, an aristocrat who was serving as governor of one of Manchukuo's provinces and whose son was engaged to marry one of Puyi's younger sisters, was arrested after complaining about "intolerable" Japanese interference in his work, which led Puyi to ask Yoshioka if something could be done to help him out. The Kwantung Army's commander General Kenkichi Ueda visited Puyi to tell him the matter was resolved as Ling had already been convicted by a Japanese court-martial of "plotting rebellion" and had been executed by beheading, which led Puyi to cancel the marriage between his sister and Ling's son. During these years, Puyi began taking a greater interest in traditional Chinese law and religion (such as Confucianism and Buddhism), but this was disallowed by the Japanese. Gradually his old supporters were eliminated and pro-Japanese ministers put in their place. During this period Puyi's life consisted mostly of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his state.
Puyi was extremely unhappy with his life as a virtual prisoner in the Salt Tax Palace, and his moods became erratic, swinging from hours of passivity staring into space to indulging his sadism by having his servants beaten. The fact that the vast majority of Puyi's "loving subjects" hated him obsessed Puyi, and as Behr observed it was "... the knowledge that he was an object of hatred and derision that drove Puyi to the brink of madness". Puyi always had a strong cruel streak, and he imposed harsh "house rules" on his staff; servants were flogged in the basement for such offenses as "irresponsible conversations". The phrase "Take him downstairs" was much feared by Puyi's servants as he had at least one flogging performed a day, and everyone in the Salt Tax Palace was caned at one point or another except the Empress and Puyi's siblings and their spouses. Puyi's experience of widespread theft during his time in the Forbidden City led him to distrust his servants and he obsessively went over the account books for signs of fraud. Big Li, Puyi's chief servant, told Behr:
It got so that everyone was covertly watching Puyi all the time, to try and find out what mood he was in. Puyi was completely paranoid: if you were caught eyeing him, he would bark: "What's the matter? Why are you looking at me that way?" But if one tried to look away, he would say: "Why are you avoiding me? What have you got to hide?"— Big Li
To further torment his staff of about 100, Puyi drastically cut back on the food allocated for his staff, who suffered from hunger; Big Li told Behr that Puyi was attempting to make everyone as miserable as he was. Besides tormenting his staff, Puyi's life as Emperor was one of lethargy and passivity, which his ghostwriter Li Wenda called "a kind of living death" for him.
The Emperor did not normally get up until noon, had brunch at about 2 pm before going back to bed for another rest, then played tennis or table tennis, rode his bicycle or car aimlessly around the grounds of the palace or listened to his vast collection of Chinese opera records. He became a devoted Buddhist, a mystic and a vegetarian, having statues of the Buddha put up all over the Salt Tax Palace for him to pray to while banning his staff from eating meat. Puyi's Buddhism led him to ban his staff from killing insects or mice, but if he found any insects or mice droppings in his food, the cooks were flogged. When Puyi went into the gardens to meditate before a statue of the Buddha, there always had to be complete silence, and as there were two loud Japanese cranes living in the garden, the emperor always had his servants flogged if the cranes made a sound. One day, when out for a stroll in the gardens, Puyi found that a servant had written in chalk on one of the rocks: "Haven't the Japanese humiliated you enough?" When Puyi received guests at the Salt Tax Palace, he gave them long lectures on the "glorious" history of the Qing as a form of masochism, comparing the great Qing Emperors with himself, a miserable man living as a prisoner in his own palace. The Empress Wanrong retreated in seclusion as she became addicted to opium, and her father stopped visiting the Salt Tax Palace as he could not bear to see what she had become. Wanrong, who detested her husband, liked to mock him behind his back by performing skits before the servants by putting on dark glasses and imitating Puyi's jerky movements. During his time in Tianjin, Puyi had started wearing dark glasses at all times, as during the interwar period wearing dark glasses in Tianjin was a way of signifying one was a homosexual or bisexual.
On 3 April 1937, Puyi's younger full brother Prince Pujie was proclaimed heir apparent after marrying Lady Hiro Saga, a distant cousin of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. The Kwantung Army general Shigeru Honjō had politically arranged the marriage. Puyi thereafter would not speak candidly in front of his brother and refused to eat any food Lady Saga provided, believing she was out to poison him. Puyi was forced to sign an agreement that if he himself had a male heir, the child would be sent to Japan to be raised by the Japanese. Puyi initially thought Lady Saga was a Japanese spy, but came to trust her after the Sinophile Saga discarded her kimonos for cheongsams and repeatedly assured him that she came to the Salt Tax Palace because she was Pujie's wife, not as a spy. Behr described Lady Saga as "intelligent" and "level-headed", and noted the irony of Puyi snubbing the one Japanese who really wanted to be his friend. A sign of improved relations came when Puyi gave Lady Saga a diamond-encrusted watch as a belated wedding present. Later in April 1937, the 16-year-old Manchu aristocrat Tan Yuling moved into the Salt Tax Palace to become Puyi's concubine, but though Puyi seems to have liked her, it remains unclear whether he had sex with her. Lady Saga tried to improve relations between Puyi and Wanrong by having them eat dinner together, which was the first time they had shared a meal in three years. Wanrong refused to eat with chopsticks, instead using her fingers, regarded as "savage" behavior in Asia; Wanrong said she was past caring what others thought about her. Puyi tried to joke away Wanrong's unhappiness by saying that it was "Mongol night" and everyone was going to be like a Mongol "savage" by eating with their fingers, but Lady Saga noted his jesting fell flat.
Based on his interviews with Puyi's family and staff at the Salt Tax Palace, Behr wrote that it appeared Puyi had an "attraction towards very young girls" that "bordered on pedophilia" and "that Pu Yi was bisexual, and – by his own admission – something of a sadist in his relationships with women". Puyi was very fond of having handsome teenage boys serve as his pageboys and Lady Saga noted he was also very fond of sodomizing them. Lady Saga, who was somewhat homophobic, wrote in her 1957 autobiography Memoirs of A Wandering Princess:
Of course I had heard rumours concerning such great men in our history, but I never knew such things existed in the living world. Now, however, I learnt that the Emperor had an unnatural love for a pageboy. He was referred to as "the male concubine". Could these perverted habits, I wondered, have driven his wife to opium smoking?
When Behr questioned him about Puyi's sexuality, Prince Pujie said he was "biologically incapable of reproduction", a polite way of saying someone is gay in China. When one of Puyi's pageboys fled the Salt Tax Palace to escape his homosexual advances, Puyi ordered that he be given an especially harsh flogging, which caused the boy's death and led Puyi to have the floggers flogged in turn as punishment.
In June 1937, some off-duty members of the Manchukuo Imperial Guards fell into a trap when they objected to Japanese colonists jumping the queue for rowboats in a Hsinking park, leading to a brawl. The Kempeitai had expected this and were waiting; they arrested the guardsmen, who were then beaten, forced to strip naked in public, and finally convicted by the courts of "anti-Manchukuo activities". As a result, the Manchukuo Imperial Guard lost their right to bear any weapons except pistols. To further add to the message, Amakasu told Puyi that the Manchukuo Prime Minister, Zhang Jinghui, a man Behr called "a venal, cringing Japanese flunky" and whom Puyi despised, should be his role model. In July 1937, when the Sino-Japanese war began, Puyi issued a declaration of support for Japan. In August 1937, Kishi wrote up a decree for Puyi to sign calling for the use of slave labour to be conscripted both in Manchukuo and in northern China, stating that in these "times of emergency" (i.e. war with China), industry needed to grow at all costs, and slavery was necessary to save money. Driscoll wrote that just as African slaves were taken to the New World on the "Middle Passage", it would be right to speak of the "Manchurian Passage" as vast numbers of Chinese peasants were rounded up to be slaves in Manchukuo's factories and mines. From 1938 until the end of the war, every year about a million Chinese were taken from the Manchukuo countryside and northern China to be slaves in Manchukuo's factories and mines.
All that Puyi knew of the outside world was what General Yoshioka told him by in daily briefings. When Behr asked Prince Pujie how the news of the Rape of Nanking in December 1937 affected Puyi, his brother replied: "We didn't hear about it until much later. At the time, it made no real impact." On 4 February 1938, the strongly pro-Japanese and anti-Chinese Joachim von Ribbentrop became the German foreign minister, and under his influence German foreign policy swung in an anti-Chinese and pro-Japanese direction. On 20 February 1938, Adolf Hitler announced that Germany was recognizing Manchukuo. In one of his last acts, the outgoing German ambassador to Japan Herbert von Dirksen visited Puyi in the Salt Tax Palace to tell him that a German embassy would be established in Hsinking later that year to join the embassies of Japan, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Italy and Nationalist Spain, the only other countries that had recognized Manchukuo. In 1934, Puyi had been excited when he learned that El Salvador had become the first nation other than Japan to recognize Manchukuo, but by 1938 he did not care much about Germany's recognition of Manchukuo.
In May 1938, Puyi was declared a god by the Religions Law, and a cult of emperor-worship very similar to Japan's began with schoolchildren starting their classes by praying to a portrait of the god-emperor while imperial rescripts and the imperial regalia became sacred relics imbued with magical powers by being associated with the god-emperor. Puyi's elevation to a god was due to the Sino-Japanese war, which caused the Japanese state to begin a program of totalitarian mobilization of society for total war in Japan and places ruled by Japan. His Japanese handlers felt that ordinary people in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan were more willing to bear the sacrifices for total war because of their devotion to their god-emperor, and it was decided that making Puyi a god-emperor would have the same effect in Manchukuo. After 1938, Puyi was hardly ever allowed to leave the Salt Tax Palace, while the creation of the puppet regime of President Wang Jingwei in November 1938 crushed Puyi's spirits, as it ended his hope of one day being restored as the Great Qing Emperor. Puyi became a hypochondriac, taking all sorts of pills for various imagined aliments and hormones to improve his sex drive and allow him to father a boy, as Puyi was convinced that the Japanese were poisoning his food to make him sterile. He believed the Japanese wanted one of the children Pujie had fathered with Lady Saga to be the next emperor, and it was a great relief to him that their children were both girls (Manchukuo law forbade female succession to the throne).
By 1940, the Japanisation of Manchuria had become extreme, and an altar to the Shinto goddess Amaterasu was built on the grounds of Puyi's palace. The origins of the altar are unclear, with the postwar Japanese claiming that Puyi aimed for a closer connection to the Japanese Emperor as a means of resisting the political machinations of the Manchukuo elites, while Puyi in his Chinese Communist-published autobiography claims that he was forced to submit to this by the Japanese. During his visit to Japan in 1940 for Kigensetsu, which was marked with especially lavish celebrations that year to mark the supposed 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the Empire of Japan by the mythical Emperor Jimmu on 11 February 660 BC, Puyi during his meeting with the Showa Emperor read out a statement given to him by General Yoshioka asking for permission to worship the Shinto gods and to establish Shintoism as the state religion of Manchukuo. The Showa Emperor replied "I must comply with your wishes" and gave him three relics, namely a bronze mirror, a sword and a piece of jade (reproductions of the Imperial Regalia of Japan) to take home with him to be the center of Shinto worship in Manchukuo. Puyi later wrote "I thought Beijing antique shops were full of such objects. Were these a great god? Were those my ancestors? I burst into tears on the drive back." Since in the Japanese state religion of Shintoism the Japanese Emperor was worshiped as a living god, worshiping at the Shinto shrine in the Salt Tax Palace also meant worshiping the Showa Emperor as a god, which starkly underlined Puyi's subordination to the Showa Emperor. In any case, Puyi's wartime duties came to include sitting through Chinese-language Shinto prayers. Hirohito was surprised when he heard of this, asking why a Temple of Heaven had not been built instead. After his second visit to Japan, Puyi announced in a press statement that Japan and Manchukuo were "unified in virtue and heart", praised the Shinto Sun Goddess Amaterasu for her "divine intervention" in 1931 that supposedly made Manchukuo possible, and hailed the Showa Emperor as a living god as the House of Yamato were all alleged to be the direct descendants of Amaterasu. Already at the Manchukuo Military Academy that was training officers for the Manchukuo army, the cadets were being taught to serve the "two emperors" with the cadets kowtowing to portraits of both the emperors of Manchukuo and Japan.
In 1940 Wanrong, also known as "Elizabeth Jade Eyes", engaged in an affair with Puyi's chauffeur Li Tiyu that left her pregnant. To punish her, as Wanrong gave birth to her daughter, she had to watch much to her horror as the Japanese doctors poisoned her newly born child right in front of her. Afterwards, Wanrong was totally broken by what she had seen, and lost her will to live, spending as much of her time possible in an opium daze to numb the pain. Puyi had known of what was being planned for Wanrong's baby, and in what Behr called a supreme act of "cowardice" on his part, "did nothing". Puyi's ghostwriter for Emperor to Citizen, Li Wenda, told Behr that when interviewing Puyi for the book that he could not get Puyi to talk about the killing of Wanrong's child, as he was too ashamed to speak of his own cowardice.
In December 1941, Puyi followed Japan in declaring war on the United States and Great Britain, but as neither nation had recognized Manchukuo there were no reciprocal declarations of war in return. During the war, Puyi was an example and role model for at least some in Asia who believed in the Japanese Pan-Asian propaganda. U Saw, the Prime Minister of Burma, was secretly in communication with the Japanese, declaring that as an Asian his sympathies were completely with Japan against the West. U Saw further added that he hoped that when Japan won the war that he would enjoy exactly the same status in Burma that Puyi enjoyed in Manchukuo as part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, saying that as an Asian it was his fondest wish that Japan would do everything that it had done in Manchukuo in Burma. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg sarcastically wrote that U Saw and the rest of Burmese nationalists who saw the Japanese as liberators from the British were not endowed with "great intelligence" as U Saw enjoyed far more power as Prime Minister under the British than Puyi did as Emperor under the Japanese, but they got their wish to have what was done to people of Manchukuo done to their own people, observing: "The use of military and civilian prisoners for bayonet practice and assorted other cruelties provided the people of Southeast Asia with a dramatic lesson on the new meaning of Bushido, the code of the Japanese warrior."
During the war, Puyi became estranged from his father, as his half-brother Pu Ren stated in an interview
... after 1941 Puyi's father had written him off. He never visited Puyi after 1934. They rarely corresponded. All the news he got was through intermediaries, or occasional reports from Puyi's younger sisters, some of whom were allowed to see him.
Puyi himself complained that he had issued so many "slavish" pro-Japanese statements during the war that nobody on the Allied side would take him in if he did escape from Manchukuo. In June 1942, Puyi made a rare visit outside of the Salt Tax Palace when he conferred with the graduating class at the Manchukuo Military Academy, and awarded the star student Takagi Masao a gold watch for his outstanding performance; despite his Japanese name, the star student was actually Korean and under his original Korean name of Park Chung-hee would go to become the dictator of South Korea in 1961. In August 1942, Puyi's concubine Tan Yuling fell ill and died after being treated by the same Japanese doctors who murdered Wanrong's baby. Puyi testified at the Tokyo war crimes trial of his belief that she was murdered, saying "The glucose injections were not administered. There was much to and from activity that night, Japanese nurses and doctors speaking with Yoshioka, then going back to the sickroom." Puyi kept a lock of Tan's hair and her nail clippings for the rest of his life as he expressed much sadness over her loss. Puyi refused to take a Japanese concubine to replace Tan and, in 1943, took a Chinese concubine, Li Yuqin, the 16 year-old daughter of a waiter. Lady Saga later observed that when Li had arrived at the Salt Tax Palace, she was badly in need of a bath and delousing. Puyi liked Li, but his main interest continued to be his pageboys, as he later wrote: "These actions of mine go to show how cruel, mad, violent and unstable I was."
For much of World War II, Puyi, confined to the Salt Tax Palace, believed that Japan was winning the war, and it was not until 1944 that Puyi first began to get an inkling that Japan was losing the war when the Japanese press began to report "heroic sacrifices" in Burma and on Pacific islands while air raid shelters started to be built in Manchukuo. Puyi's nephew Jui Lon told Behr: "He desperately wanted America to win the war." Big Li in an interview with Behr said: "When he thought it was safe, he would sit at the piano and do a one-finger version of the Stars and Stripes." In mid-1944, Puyi finally acquired the courage to start occasionally tune in his radio to Chinese broadcasts and to Chinese-language broadcasts by the Americans, where he was shocked to learn that Japan had suffered so many defeats on land, sea, and the air since 1942. The commander of the Kwantung Army, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, left Manchukuo for the Philippines in July 1944 and told Puyi at their final meeting: "I shall never come back", predicting that he would die for the Emperor in the Philippines. Yamashita was the famous "Tiger of Malaya" who had taken Singapore in 1942, inflicting one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the British Empire, and his gloomy prediction about his pending defeat and death in the Philippines was unsettling to Puyi.
Puyi had to give a speech before a group of Japanese infantrymen who had volunteered to be "human bullets", promising to strap explosives on their bodies and to stage suicide attacks in order to die for the Showa Emperor. Puyi commented as he read out his speech praising the glories of dying for the Emperor: "Only then did I see the ashen grey of their faces and the tears flowing down their cheeks and hear their sobbing." Puyi commented that he felt at that moment utterly "terrified" at the death cult fanaticism of Bushido ("the way of the warrior") which reduced the value of human life down to nothing, as to die for the Emperor was the only thing that mattered; he observed that the Japanese infantrymen all had families and friends who cared for them, and had quite possibly been bullied by their officers into becoming "human bullets". Yoshioka tried to reassure Puyi by saying that the "human bullets" were crying "manly Japanese tears" as deep down they wanted to die for the Emperor, but Puyi later stated he was not convinced by this argument.
On 9 August 1945, the Kwantung Army's commander General Otozō Yamada arrived at the Salt Tax Palace to tell Puyi that the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan and the Red Army had entered Manchukuo. Yamada was assuring Puyi that the Kwantung Army would easily defeat the Red Army when the air raid sirens sounded and the Red Air Force began a bombing raid, forcing all to hide in the basement. While Puyi prayed to the Buddha, Yamada fell silent as the bombs fell, destroying a Japanese barracks next to the Salt Tax Palace. In the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation, 1,577,725 Soviet and Mongol troops stormed into Manchuria in a combined arms offensive with tanks, artillery, cavalry, aircraft and infantry working closely together that overwhelmed the Kwantung Army, who had not expected a Soviet invasion until 1946 and were short of both tanks and anti-tank guns.
To try and stop the Soviet tanks, the Japanese sent out the "human bullets" as infantrymen packed with explosives, who tried to throw themselves into the treads of the tanks; usually they were shot down before getting anywhere close to the tanks. Puyi was especially terrified to hear that the Mongolian People's Army had joined Operation August Storm, as he believed that the Mongols would torture him to death if they captured him. The next day, Yamada told Puyi that the Soviets had already broken through the defense lines in northern Manchukuo, but the Kwantung Army would "hold the line" in southern Manchukuo and Puyi must leave at once. The staff of the Salt Tax Palace were thrown into panic as Puyi ordered all of his treasures to be boxed up and shipped out; in the meantime Puyi observed from his window that soldiers of the Manchukuo Imperial Army were taking off their uniforms and deserting. To test the reaction of his Japanese masters, Puyi put on his uniform of Commander-in-Chief of the Manchukuo Army and announced "We must support the holy war of our Parental Country with all our strength, and must resist the Soviet armies to the end, to the very end". With that, Yoshioka fled the room, which showed Puyi that the war was lost. At one point, a group of Japanese soldiers arrived at the Salt Tax Palace, and Puyi believed they had come to kill him, but they merely went away after seeing him stand at top of the staircase. Most of the servants and all of the cooks at the Salt Tax Palace had already fled, forcing Puyi to eat biscuits as his remaining servants hastily packed up all of the Qing treasures at the Salt Tax Palace. Puyi found that his phone calls to the Kwantung Army HQ went unanswered as most of the officers had already left for Korea, his minder Amakasu committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill, and the people of Changchun booed him when his car, flying imperial standards, took him to the railroad station.
Late on the night of 11 August 1945, a train carrying Puyi, his court, his ministers and the Qing treasures left Changchun. The train was frequently diverted as a result of Soviet bombing, and everywhere Puyi went, he saw thousands of panic-stricken Japanese settlers fleeing south in vast columns across the roads of the countryside. At every railroad station, hundreds of Japanese colonists attempted to board his train; Puyi remembered them "weeping as they begged Japanese gendarmes to let them pass" while the gendarmes forced them back. At several stations, Japanese soldiers and gendarmes fought one another to board the train. General Yamada boarded the train as it meandered south and told Puyi "... the Japanese Army was winning and had destroyed large numbers of tanks and aircraft", a claim that nobody aboard the train believed. On 14 August 1945, Puyi heard on the radio the address of the Showa Emperor announcing that Japan had surrendered, as the Emperor declared with notable understatement that "the war has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage". In his address, the Showa Emperor described the Americans as having used a "most unusual and cruel bomb" that had just destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; this was the first time that Puyi heard of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which the Japanese had not seen fit to tell him about until then.
The next day, Puyi abdicated as Emperor of Manchukuo and declared in his last decree that Manchukuo was once again part of China. As the Soviets had bombed all of the train stations and Puyi's train was running low on coal, the train returned to Changchun. Once there, Puyi planned to take a plane to escape, taking with him his brother Pujie, his servant Big Li, Yoshioka, and his doctor while leaving Wanrong, his concubine Li Yuqin, Lady Hiro Saga and Lady Saga's two children behind. The decision to leave behind the women and children was made by the misogynistic Yoshioka who saw the lives of women and children as worthless compared to the lives of men, and vetoed Puyi's attempts to take them on the plane to Japan. As Puyi left for the airport, he saw Wanrong for the last time in his life, later saying that both she and Li were "blubbering".
Puyi asked for Lady Saga, the most mature and responsible of the three women, to take care of Wanrong, who was hopelessly addicted to opium by this point, giving Lady Saga precious antiques and cash to pay for their way south to Korea. On 16 August Puyi took a small plane to Mukden, where another larger plane was supposed to arrive to take them to Japan, but instead a Soviet plane landed. Puyi and his party were all promptly taken prisoner by the Red Army, who initially did not know who Puyi was. The opium-addled Wanrong together with Lady Saga and Li were captured by Chinese Communist guerrillas on their way to Korea, after one of Puyi's brothers-in-law informed the Communists who the women were. Wanrong, the former empress, was put on display in a local jail as if she was in a zoo, and people came from miles around to watch her. In a delirious state of mind, she demanded more opium, asked for imaginary servants to bring her clothing, food and a bath, hallucinated that she was back in the Forbidden City or the Salt Tax Palace, and most poignantly of all screamed over and over again she missed her murdered baby daughter. The general hatred for Puyi meant that none had any sympathy for Wanrong, who was seen as another Japanese collaborator, and a guard told Lady Saga that "this one won't last", making it a waste of time feeding her. In June 1946, Wanrong starved to death in her jail cell, lying in a pool of her own vomit, urine and excrement, which the local people all found very funny. In his 1964 book From Emperor to Citizen, Puyi merely stated that he learned in 1951 that Wanrong "died a long time ago" without mentioning how she died.
Later life (1945–1967)
The Soviets took him to the Siberian town of Chita. He lived in a sanatorium, then later in Khabarovsk near the Chinese border, where he was treated well and allowed to keep some of his servants. As a prisoner in a spa in Khabarovsk, Puyi spent his days praying to the Buddha, expected the prisoners to treat him as an emperor and slapped the faces of his servants when they displeased him. He knew about the civil war in China from Chinese-language broadcasts on Soviet radio but seemed not to care. The Soviet government refused the Republic of China's repeated requests to extradite Puyi; the Kuomintang government had indicted him on charges of high treason, and the Soviet refusal to extradite him almost certainly saved his life, as Chiang Kai-shek had often spoken of his desire to have Puyi shot. The Kuomintang captured Puyi's cousin Eastern Jewel and publicly executed her in Beijing in 1948 after she was convicted of high treason. Not wishing to return to China, Puyi wrote to Joseph Stalin several times asking for asylum in the Soviet Union, and that he be given one of the former tsarist palaces to live out his days.
In 1946, Puyi testified at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, detailing his resentment at how he had been treated by the Japanese. At the Tokyo trial, he had a long exchange with defense counsel Major Ben Bruce Blakeney about whether he had been kidnapped in 1931, in which Puyi perjured himself by saying that the statements in Johnston's 1934 book Twilight in the Forbidden City about how he had willingly become Emperor of Manchukuo were all lies. When Blakeney mentioned that the introduction to Twilight in the Forbidden City described how Puyi had told Johnston that he had willingly gone to Manchuria in 1931, Puyi perjured himself by saying he was not in contact with Johnston in 1931, and that Johnston made things up for "commercial advantage". The Australian judge Sir William Webb, the President of the Tribunal, was often frustrated with Puyi's testimony, and chided him numerous times. At one point, when Puyi said "I have not finished my answer yet", Webb replied, "Well, don't finish it". Behr described Puyi on the stand as a "consistent, self-assured liar, prepared to go to any lengths to save his skin", and as a combative witness more than able to hold his own against the defense lawyers. Since no one at the trial but Blakeney had actually read Twilight in the Forbidden City or the interviews Woodhead had conducted with him in 1932, Puyi had room to distort what had been written about him or said by him. Puyi greatly respected Johnston, who was a surrogate father to him, and felt guilty about repeatedly calling Johnston a dishonest man whose book was full of lies. He prayed for the Buddha to ask forgiveness for sullying Johnston's name.
After his return to the Soviet Union, Puyi was held at Detention Center No. 45, where his servants continued to make his bed, dress him and do other work for him. Puyi did not speak Russian and had limited contacts with his Soviet guards, using a few Manchukuo prisoners who knew Russian as translators. He spent his time with other Manchukuo and Japanese prisoners playing mah-jong, continued to pray to the Buddha and listened to Japanese records on the only gramophone the Soviets allowed the prisoners. One prisoner told Puyi that the Soviets would keep him in Siberia forever because "this is the part of the world you come from". The Soviets had promised the Chinese Communists that they would hand over the high value prisoners when the CCP won the civil war, and wanted to keep Puyi alive. Puyi's brother-in-law Rong Qi and some of his servants were not considered high value, and were sent to work as slaves in a brutal Siberian labor camp, where they were starved and were worked very hard.
When the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, Puyi was repatriated to China after negotiations between the Soviet Union and China. Puyi was of considerable value to Mao, as Behr noted: "In the eyes of Mao and other Chinese Communist leaders, Pu Yi, the last Emperor, was the epitome of all that had been evil in old Chinese society. If he could be shown to have undergone sincere, permanent change, what hope was there for the most diehard counter-revolutionary? The more overwhelming the guilt, the more spectacular the redemption-and the greater glory of the Chinese Communist Party". Furthermore, Mao had often noted that Lenin had Nicholas II, the last Russian emperor, shot together with the rest of the Russian imperial family, as Lenin could not make the last tsar into a communist; making the last Chinese emperor into a Communist was intended to show the superiority of Chinese communism over Soviet communism. Puyi was to be subjected to "remodeling" to make him into a Communist. Behr observed that the Chinese Communist system was brutal, as millions of people were executed as "kulaks", "traitors" and "landlords" during Mao's first years in power, but it had a very different approach to crime from the West, quoting from Jean Pasqualini's book Prisonnier de Mao: "Prison is not prison, but a school for learning about one's mistakes". Pasqualini wrote that the aim of remodeling in China was "not so much to make you invent nonexistent crimes, but to make you accept your ordinary life, as you led it, as rotten and sinful and worthy of punishment ... self-accusation is one of the masterpieces of the penal system ... the prisoner takes care to build the case against himself as skillfully as he can ... When a prisoner has finally produced a satisfactory statement the government holds a document with which, depending on the emphasis of interpretation, it can sentence him to virtually any desired number of years. It is the prosecutor's dream".
In 1950, the Soviets loaded Puyi and the rest of the Manchukuo and Japanese prisoners onto a train that took them to China with Puyi convinced he would be executed when he arrived. At the border, there were two lines of soldiers, one Soviet and the other Chinese, and as Puyi walked past, he remembered how the faces of the other prisoners were "deathly pale". Puyi was surprised at the kindness of his Chinese guards, who told him this was the beginning of a new life for him. In attempt to ingratiate himself, Puyi for the first time in his life addressed commoners with ni (你), the informal word for "you" instead of nin (您), the formal word for "you". When the train stopped at Changchun to pick up food, Puyi was convinced that he was going to be shot at his former capital, and he was much relieved when the train resumed its journey to Fushun. Except for a period during the Korean War, when he was moved to Harbin, Puyi spent ten years in the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning province until he was declared reformed. The prisoners at Fushun were senior Japanese, Manchukuo and Kuomintang officials and officers. Puyi was the weakest and most hapless of the prisoners, and was often bullied by the other prisoners, who liked to humiliate the emperor, and he might not have survived his imprisonment had the warden Jin Yuan not gone out of his way to protect him. Jin had grown up under Manchukuo and as a schoolboy in the 1930s had kowtowed to portraits of Puyi and waved the Manchukuo flag in the streets when Puyi made visits to Harbin. As Jin had grown up in Manchukuo, he was fluent in Japanese, which was why he was selected to be the warden of Fushun. Jin was assigned the job in 1950 and told Behr in a 1986 interview: "I didn't welcome the idea at all. I tried to get another posting. I wanted nothing to do with those who had been responsible for my older brother's death and my family's suffering during the Manchukuo years. I wondered how I could ever bear to be in their company". Jin also told Behr that he "came to like Puyi quite a bit" as he got to know him, and protected him from the other prisoners. In 1951, Puyi learned for the first time that Wanrong had died in 1946.
Puyi had never brushed his teeth or tied his own shoelaces once in his life, and now for the first time was forced to perform the simple tasks that always had been done for him, which he found very difficult. The prisoners often laughed at how Puyi struggled with even brushing his teeth. Much of Puyi's "remodeling" consisted of attending "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist discussion groups" where the prisoners would discuss their lives before being imprisoned. As part of his "remodeling", Puyi was confronted with ordinary people who had suffered under the "Empire of Manchukuo", including those who had fought in the Communist resistance, both to prove to him that resistance to the Japanese had been possible and to show him what he had presided over. When Puyi protested to Jin that it had been impossible to resist Japan and there was nothing he could have done, Jin confronted him with people who had fought in the resistance and had been tortured, and asked him why ordinary people in Manchukuo resisted while an emperor did nothing. As part of confronting war crimes, Puyi had to attend lectures where a former Japanese civil servant spoke about the exploitation of Manchukuo while a former officer in the Kempeitai talked about how he rounded up people for slave labor and ordered mass executions. At one point, Puyi was taken to Harbin and Pingfang to see where the infamous Unit 731, the chemical and biological warfare unit in the Japanese Army, had conducted gruesome experiments on people. Puyi noted in shame and horror: "All the atrocities had been carried out in my name". Puyi by the mid-1950s was overwhelmed with guilt and often told Jin that he felt utterly worthless to the point that he considered suicide. Jin told Puyi to express his guilt in writing. Puyi later recalled he felt "that I was up against an irresistible force that would not rest until it found out everything". Sometimes Puyi was taken out for tours of the countryside of Manchuria. On one, he met a farmer's wife whose family had been evicted to make way for Japanese settlers and had almost starved to death while working as a slave in one of Manchukuo's factories. When Puyi asked for her forgiveness, she told him "It's all over now, let's not talk about it", causing him to break down in tears. At another meeting, a woman described the mass execution of people from her village by the Japanese Army, and then declared that she did not hate the Japanese and those who had served them as she retained her faith in humanity, which greatly moved Puyi. On another occasion, Jin confronted Puyi with his former concubine Li in meetings in his office, where she attacked him for seeing her only as a sex object, and saying she was now pregnant by a man who loved her.
On 10 March 1956, Jin confronted Puyi in a meeting in his office with his siblings, where his sisters spoke of their happiness with their new lives working as schoolteachers and seamstresses. Puyi was helped with his "remodeling" when the other prisoners began to blame him for everything that happened in Manchukuo, which was a debit for them as in the Chinese system one is supposed to confess to one's own guilt rather than blaming others; Puyi, by assigning all guilt to himself, won Jin's favor. In late 1956, Puyi acted in a play, The Defeat of the Aggressors, about the Suez Crisis, playing the role of a left-wing Labour MP who challenges in the House of Commons a former Manchukuo minister playing the British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd about Britain's reasons for attacking Egypt. Puyi enjoyed the role and ad libbed several lines in English, shouting "No, no, no! It won't do! Get out! Leave this House!". Sometimes Puyi acted in plays about his life and Manchukuo, and in one theatrical production, playing a Manchukuo functionary, Puyi kowtowed to a portrait of himself as Emperor of Manchukuo. During the Great Leap Forward, when millions of people starved to death in China, Jin chose to cancel Puyi's visits to the countryside lest the scenes of famine undo his growing faith in communism. Behr wrote that many are surprised that Puyi's "remodeling" worked, with an Emperor brought up as almost a god becoming content to be just an ordinary man, but he noted that "... it is essential to remember that Puyi was not alone in undergoing such successful 'remolding'. Tough KMT generals, and even tougher Japanese generals, brought up in the samurai tradition and the Bushido cult which glorifies death in battle and sacrifice to martial Japan, became, in Fushun, just as devout in their support of communist ideals as Puyi".
Puyi came to Beijing on 9 December 1959 with special permission from Mao Zedong and lived for the next six months in an ordinary Beijing residence with his sister before being transferred to a government-sponsored hotel. He had the job of sweeping the streets, and got lost on his first day of work, which led him to tell astonished passers-by: "I'm Puyi, the last Emperor of the Qing dynasty. I'm staying with relatives and can't find my way home". One of Puyi's first acts upon returning to Beijing was to visit the Forbidden City as a tourist, when he pointed out to other tourists that many of the exhibits were the things he had used in his youth. He voiced his support for the Communists and worked at the Beijing Botanical Gardens. Working as a simple gardener gave Puyi a degree of happiness he had never known as an emperor, though he was notably clumsy. Behr noted that in Europe people who played roles analogous to the role Puyi played in Manchukuo were generally executed; for example, the British hanged William Joyce ("Lord Haw-haw") for being the announcer on the English-language broadcasts of Radio Berlin, the Italians shot Benito Mussolini, and the French executed Pierre Laval, so many Westerners are surprised that Puyi was released from prison after only nine years to start a new life. Behr wrote that the Communist ideology explained this difference, writing: "In a society where all landlord and 'capitalist-roaders' were evil incarnate, it did not matter so much that Puyi was also a traitor to his country: he was, in the eyes of the Communist ideologues, only behaving true to type. If all capitalists and landlords were, by their very nature, traitors, it was only logical that Puyi, the biggest landlord, should also be the biggest traitor. And, in the last resort, Puyi was far more valuable alive than dead". In early 1960, Puyi met Premier Zhou Enlai, who told him: "You weren't responsible for becoming Emperor at the age of three or the 1917 attempted restoration coup. But you were fully to blame for what happened later. You knew perfectly well what you were doing when you took refuge in the Legation Quarter, when you traveled under Japanese protection to Tianjin, and when you agreed to become Manchukuo Chief Executive." Puyi responded by merely saying that though he did not choose to be an emperor, he had behaved with savage cruelty as boy-emperor and wished he could apologize to all the eunuchs he had flogged during his youth.
At the age of 56, he married Li Shuxian, a hospital nurse, on 30 April 1962, in a ceremony held at the Banquet Hall of the Consultative Conference. From 1964 until his death he worked as an editor for the literary department of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, where his monthly salary was around 100 yuan. One yuan in the 1960s was equivalent to about 40 cents USD. Li recalled in a 1995 interview that: "I found Pu Yi a honest man, a man who desperately needed my love and was ready to give me as much love as he could. When I was having even a slight case of flu, he was so worried I would die, that he refused to sleep at night and sat by my bedside until dawn so he could attend to my needs". Li also noted like everybody else who knew him that Puyi was an incredibly clumsy man, leading her to say: "Once in a boiling rage at his clumsiness, I threatened to divorce him. On hearing this, he got down on his knees and, with tears in his eyes, he begged me to forgive him. I shall never forget what he said to me: 'I have nothing in this world except you, and you are my life. If you go, I will die'. But apart from him, what did I ever have in the world?".
In the 1960s, with encouragement from Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, and the public endorsement of the Chinese government, Puyi wrote his autobiography Wode Qian Bansheng (Chinese: 我的前半生; pinyin: Wǒdè Qián Bànshēng; Wade–Giles: Wo Te Ch'ien Pan-Sheng; literally: 'The First Half of My Life'; translated into English as From Emperor to Citizen) together with Li Wenda, an editor at the People's Publishing Bureau. The ghostwriter Li had initially planned to use Puyi's "autocritique" written in Fushun as the basis of the book, expecting the job to take only a few months. He found the "autocritique" used such wooden language as Puyi confessed to a career of abject cowardice, noting over and over again that he always done the easy thing rather than the right thing in the most leaden prose possible, that Li was forced to start anew to produce something more readable as he interviewed Puyi, taking him four years to write the book. In this book (as translated into English and published by Oxford University Press), Puyi made the following statement regarding his testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal:
I now feel very ashamed of my testimony, as I withheld some of what I knew to protect myself from being punished by my country. I said nothing about my secret collaboration with the Japanese imperialists over a long period, an association to which my open capitulation after September 18, 1931 was but the conclusion. Instead, I spoke only of the way the Japanese had put pressure on me and forced me to do their will.
I maintained that I had not betrayed my country but had been kidnapped; denied all my collaboration with the Japanese; and even claimed that the letter I had written to Jirō Minami was a fake. I covered up my crimes in order to protect myself.
Many of the claims in From Emperor to Citizen, like the statement that it was the Kuomintang who stripped Manchuria bare of industrial equipment in 1945–46 rather than the Soviets, together with an "unreservedly rosy picture of prison life", are widely known to be false, but the book was translated into foreign languages and sold well. Behr wrote:
The more fulsome, cliché-ridden chapters in From Emperor to Citizen, dealing with Puyi's prison experiences, and written at the height of the Mao personality cult, give the impression of well-learned, regurgitated lessons. The style of them was de rigueur in 1964. Today, they have a faintly archaic air. These days, all Chinese historians recognize the appalling consequences of the "Great Leap Forward", and deplore the repression that followed the "Let a hundred flowers bloom" movement. Neither is mentioned in Puyi's book, nor was it possible to begin doing so anywhere in China without risking arrest until the dark years of the Cultural Revolution and the 'Gang of Four' were over ... The younger generation of Chinese knows, even if their elders do not, that during those years vast areas of China become "Potemkin villages" bearing no relationship with reality: Some of the farms and factories that Puyi visited during his final "remoulding" years in prison may themselves have been "Potemkin villages" ... but the after-effects of the Cultural Revolution are such that the kind of prose Puyi used to describe his experiences will never be believed wholeheartedly by post-Cultural Revolution readers. This form of skepticism will last until the last trace of Mao-worship gives way to a frank, realistic assessment of him in light of his appalling "Let a hundred flowers bloom" repression, his half-baked "Great Leap Forward", and the ruthless destruction of his own Party apparatus during the Cultural Revolution ... By rights, as Simon Leys in The Burning Forest has pointed out, the much vilified Gang of Four which brought such chaos and misery to China should be called the Gang of Five, for without Mao it would never have established itself as a ruling group in the first place. Puyi, however, belongs to the era when the cosy, narrow Maoist line was still unquestioned, and not yet brought into terminal disrepute by the Red Guards and the Gang of Four.
From 1963 onward, Puyi regularly gave press conferences praising life in the People's Republic of China, and foreign diplomats often sought him out, curious to meet the famous "Last Emperor" of China.
In an interview with Behr, Li Wenda told him that Puyi was a very clumsy man who "invariably forgot to close doors behind him, forgot to flush the toilet, forgot to turn the tap off after washing his hands, had a genius for creating an instant, disorderly mess around him". Puyi had been so used to having his needs catered to that he never entirely learned how to function on his own. He tried very hard to be modest and humble, always being the last person to board a bus, which meant that he frequently missed the ride, and in restaurants would tell waitresses, "You should not be serving me. I should be serving you." Pujie told Behr:
Gaol was like school for him. All his life, until 1945, everyone around him had convinced him he was special, almost divine. Because of this, his attitude towards others had never been normal. Only in Fushun did he become aware of people as people.— Behr (1987)
Puyi's nephew Jui Lon stated in an interview with Behr that before his imprisonment Puyi's chief characteristic
was his utter selfishness. Even in the gaol he hoarded his cigarettes and would never give any away, even though he was not a heavy smoker. When I saw him in Beijing after his release he was a changed man. In his family he started to care for people for the first time in his life.— Jui Lon
During this period, Puyi was known for his kindness, and once after he accidentally knocked down an elderly lady with his bicycle, he visited her every day in the hospital to bring her flowers to make amends until she was released.
Puyi objected to Pujie's attempt to reunite with Lady Saga, who had returned to Japan, writing to Zhou asking him to block Lady Saga from coming back to China, which led Zhou to reply: "The war's over, you know. You don't have to carry this national hatred into your own family." Behr concluded: "It is difficult to avoid the impression that Puyi, in an effort prove himself a 'remolded man', displayed the same craven attitude towards the power-holders of the new China that he had shown in Manchukuo towards the Japanese."
Death and burial
Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the youth militia known as the Maoist Red Guards saw Puyi, who symbolised Imperial China, as an easy target. Puyi was placed under protection by the local public security bureau and, although his food rations, salary, and various luxuries, including his sofa and desk, were removed, he was not publicly humiliated as was common at the time. The Red Guards attacked Puyi for his book From Emperor to Citizen because it had been translated into English and French, which displeased the Red Guards and led to copies of the book being burned in the streets. Various members of the Qing family, including Pujie, had their homes raided and burned by the Red Guards, but Zhou Enlai used his influence to protect Puyi and the rest of the Qing from the worst abuses inflicted by the Red Guard. Jin Yuan, the man who had "remodelled" Puyi in the 1950s, fell victim to the Red Guard and became a prisoner in Fushun for several years, while Li Wenda, who had ghostwritten From Emperor to Citizen, spent seven years in solitary confinement. But Puyi had aged and his health began to decline. He died in Beijing of complications arising from kidney cancer and heart disease on 17 October 1967 at the age of 61.
In accordance with the laws of the People's Republic of China at the time, Puyi's body was cremated. His ashes were first placed at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, alongside those of other party and state dignitaries. (This was the burial ground of imperial concubines and eunuchs prior to the establishment of the People's Republic of China.) In 1995, as a part of a commercial arrangement, Puyi's ashes were transferred by his widow Li Shuxian to a new commercial cemetery named Hualong Imperial Cemetery (华龙皇家陵园) in return for monetary support. The cemetery is near the Western Qing Tombs, 120 km (75 mi) southwest of Beijing, where four of the nine Qing emperors preceding him are interred, along with three empresses and 69 princes, princesses and imperial concubines.
Quotation from Puyi:
My father had two wives, and they bore him four sons and seven daughters.
The Pedigree of the Qing House flow chart can be found in Puyi's autobiography.
Quotation from Puyi (referring only to his first four wives):
... they were not real wives and were only there for show.
- Father: Zaifeng, Prince Chun of the First Rank (醇親王 載灃; 12 February 1883 – 3 February 1951)
- Mother: Primary consort, of the Gūwalgiya clan (嫡福晉 瓜爾佳氏; 1884 – 30 September 1921), personal name Youlan (幼蘭)
- Grandfather: Ronglu (1836–1903), served as the Minister of Works from 1878–1879, the Minister of War from 1895–1898, the Viceroy of Zhili in 1898 and a Grand Secretary in the Wenhua Hall (文華殿) from 1898–1902 and the Wenyuan Library from 1902–1903, and held the title of a first class baron (一等男)
- Grandmother: Lady Aisin Gioro
- Empress, of the Gobulo clan (皇后 郭布羅氏; 13 November 1904 – 20 June 1946), fourth cousin thrice removed, personal name Wanrong (婉容)
- Lady, of the Li clan (李氏; 4 September 1924 – 9 June 1997), personal name Shuxian (淑賢)
- Noble Consort Mingxian, of the Tan clan (明賢貴妃 譚氏; 11 August 1920 – 14 August 1942), personal name Yuling (玉齡)
- Consort Shu, of the Erdet clan (淑妃 鄂爾德特氏; 20 December 1909 – 17 September 1953), personal name Wenxiu (文繡)
- Concubine Fu, of the Li clan (福嬪 李氏; 15 July 1928 – 24 April 2001), personal name Yuqin (玉琴)
- Paternal side
Puyi's paternal grandfather was Yixuan, Prince Chun (1840–1891), the seventh son of the Daoguang Emperor and a younger half-brother of the Xianfeng Emperor. The Xianfeng Emperor was succeeded by his only son, who became the Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1861–1875).
The Tongzhi Emperor died at the age of 18 without a son, and was succeeded by the Guangxu Emperor (r. 1875–1908), son of 1st Prince Chun and Lady Yehe Nara Wanzhen (younger sister of Empress Dowager Cixi). The Guangxu Emperor died without an heir.
Puyi, who succeeded the Guangxu Emperor, was the eldest son of Zaifeng, Prince Chun, who was born to Yixuan, Prince Chun and his second concubine Liugiya Cuiyan (1866–1925). Lady Liugiya had been a maid in the residence of Yixuan. Born to a Han Bannerman family, her original family name was Liu (劉), and this was changed to the Manchu clan name Liugiya when she became the concubine of Yixuan and was transferred to a Manchu banner. Zaifeng was therefore a younger half-brother of the Guangxu Emperor and the first in line to succession after Guangxu.
Puyi was in a branch of the Aisin Gioro clan with close ties to Empress Dowager Cixi, who was from the Yehe Nara clan. Cixi's niece, who later became Empress Dowager Longyu (1868–1913), was married to the Guangxu Emperor.
Puyi had a younger full brother, Pujie (1907–1994), who married a cousin of Emperor Hirohito, Lady Hiro Saga. The rules of succession were changed to allow Pujie to succeed Puyi, who had no children.
Puyi's last surviving younger half-brother Puren (b. 1918) adopted the Chinese name Jin Youzhi and lived in China until his death in 2015. In 2006 Jin Youzhi filed a lawsuit in regards to the rights to Puyi's image and privacy. The lawsuit claimed that those rights were violated by the exhibit "China's Last Monarch and His Family".
- Maternal side
Puyi's mother was Youlan (1884–1921), the daughter of Ronglu (1836–1903), a statesman and general from the Gūwalgiya clan. Ronglu was one of the leaders of the conservative faction in the Qing court, and a staunch supporter of Empress Dowager Cixi; Cixi rewarded his support by marrying his daughter, Puyi's mother, into the imperial family.
The Gūwalgiya clan was regarded as one of the most powerful Manchu clans in the Qing dynasty. Oboi, an influential military commander and statesman who was a regent during the Kangxi Emperor's reign, was from the Guwalgiya clan.
- In detail
In 1921, it was decided by the Dowager Consorts (the four widows of the emperors before Puyi) that it was time for the 15-year-old Puyi to be married, although court politics dragged the complete process (from selecting the bride, up through the wedding ceremony) out for almost two years. Puyi saw marriage as his coming of age benchmark, when others would no longer control him. He was given four photographs to choose from. Puyi stated they all looked alike to him, with the exception of different clothing. He chose Wenxiu. Political factions within the palace made the actual choice as to whom Puyi would marry. The selection process alone took an entire year.
Puyi's second choice for his wife was Wanrong, a Daur. She married Puyi in 1922 and became his Empress. Her father, Rong Yuan (榮源), was a Minister of Domestic Affairs. She was considered beautiful and came from a wealthy family. By Puyi's own account, he abandoned Wanrong in the bridal chamber and went back to his own room. He maintained that she was willing to be a wife in name only, in order to carry the title of Empress. The couple's relationship was good initially, and Puyi showed preference over Wenxiu for Wanrong and displayed trust in her. However, after Wenxiu left in 1931, Puyi blamed Wanrong and stopped speaking to her and ignored her presence. She became addicted to opium, and eventually died in a prison in Yanji, Jilin after being arrested by Chinese Communist soldiers.
Puyi's first choice for his wife was Wenxiu, from the Erdet (鄂爾德特) clan. She married Puyi in 1922. Although she was Puyi's first choice, the Four Dowager Consorts felt that Wenxiu came from an unacceptable impoverished family and was not beautiful enough to be Empress, so they told the court officials to ask Puyi to choose again. The second time Puyi chose Wanrong, who became Empress, while Wenxiu was designated as Consort Shu (淑妃). Puyi and Wenxiu divorced in 1931. Puyi awarded her a house in Beijing and $300,000 in alimony, to be provided by the Japanese. In his autobiography, Puyi stated her reason for the divorce was the emptiness of life with him in exile, her desire for an ordinary family life, and his own inability to see women as anything but slaves and tools of men. According to Puyi, she worked as a school teacher for some years after the divorce. She married Major Liu Zhendong in 1947.
- Tan Yuling
Puyi's third wife, Tan Yuling, was a Manchu of the Tatara (他他拉) clan. She married Puyi in 1937 at the age of 16 on the recommendation of the daughter of Yulang (毓朗), a beile. She was designated as Puyi's Concubine Xiang (祥貴人). Puyi married her as "punishment" for Wanrong, and, "... because a second wife was as essential as palace furniture." She was also a wife in name only. She became ill in 1942 with typhoid, which the Japanese doctor said would not be fatal. After the doctor's consultation with Attaché to the Imperial Household Yasunori Yoshioka, Tan Yuling suddenly died. Puyi became suspicious of the circumstances when the Japanese immediately offered him photographs of Japanese girls for marriage. Puyi posthumously granted her the title Noble Consort Mingxian (明賢貴妃).
- Li Yuqin
In 1943 Puyi married his fourth wife,[when?] a 15-year-old student named Li Yuqin, who was a Han Chinese from Changchun, Jilin. She was designated as Puyi's Concubine Fu (福貴人). In February 1943, school principal Kobayashi and teacher Fujii of the Nan-Ling Girls Academy took ten girl students to a photography studio for portraits. Three weeks later, the school teacher and the principal visited Li Yuqin's home and told her Puyi ordered her to go to the Manchukuo palace to study. She was first taken directly to Yasunori Yoshioka who thoroughly questioned her. Yoshioka then drove her back to her parents and told them Puyi ordered her to study at the palace. Money was promised to the parents. She was subjected to a medical examination and then taken to Puyi's sister Yunhe and instructed in palace protocol.[clarification needed] Two years later when Manchukuo collapsed, Li Yuqin shared a train with Empress Wanrong, who was experiencing opium withdrawal symptoms at the time. They were both arrested by the Soviets and sent to a prison in Changchun. Li Yuqin was released in 1946 and sent back home. She worked in a textile factory while she studied the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. In 1955 she began visiting Puyi in prison. After applying to the Chinese authorities for a divorce, the government responded on her next prison visit by showing her to a room with a double bed and ordered her to reconcile with Puyi, and she said the couple obeyed the order. She divorced Puyi in May 1957. She later married a technician, and had two sons. During the Cultural Revolution she became a target for attack by the Red Guards because she used to be Puyi's concubine. She died of liver problems in 2001.
- Li Shuxian
In 1962 under an arrangement with premier Zhou Enlai, Puyi married his fifth and last wife, Li Shuxian, a nurse of Han Chinese ethnicity. They had no children. She died of lung cancer in 1997. Li Shuxian recounted that they dated for six months before the marriage, and she found him to be "... a man who desperately needed my love and was ready to give me as much love as he could."
Portrayal in media
- The Last Emperor, a 1986 Hong Kong film (Chinese title 火龍, literally means Fire Dragon) directed by Li Han-hsiang. Tony Leung Ka-fai played Puyi.
- The Last Emperor, a 1987 film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. John Lone played the adult Puyi.
- Aisin-Gioro Puyi (愛新覺羅·溥儀), a 2005 Chinese documentary film on the life of Puyi. Produced by CCTV, it was part of a series of ten documentary films about ten historical persons.
- The Founding of a Party, a 2011 Chinese film directed by Huang Jianxin and Han Sanping. Child actor Yan Ruihan played Puyi.
- 1911, a 2011 historical film directed by Jackie Chan and Zhang Li. The film tells of the founding of the Republic of China when Sun Yat-sen led the Xinhai Revolution to overthrow the Qing dynasty. The five-year-old Puyi is played by child actor Su Hanye. Although Puyi's time on screen is short, there are significant scenes showing how the emperor was treated at court before his abdication at the age of six.
- The Misadventure of Zoo, a 1981 Hong Kong television series produced by TVB. Adam Cheng played an adult Puyi.
- Modai Huangdi (末代皇帝; literally means The Last Emperor), a 1988 Chinese television series based on Puyi's autobiography From Emperor to Citizen, with Puyi's brother Pujie as a consultant for the series. Chen Daoming starred as Puyi.
- Feichang Gongmin (非常公民; literally means Unusual Citizen), a 2002 Chinese television series directed by Cheng Hao. Dayo Wong starred as Puyi.
- Ruten no Ōhi – Saigo no Kōtei (流転の王妃·最後の皇弟; Chinese title 流轉的王妃), a 2003 Japanese television series about Pujie and Hiro Saga. Wang Bozhao played Puyi.
- Modai Huangfei (末代皇妃; literally means The Last Imperial Consort), a 2003 Chinese television series. Li Yapeng played Puyi.
- Modai Huangdi Chuanqi (末代皇帝传奇; literally means The Legend of the Last Emperor), a 2015 Hong Kong/China television collaboration (59 episodes, each 45 minutes), starring Winston Chao
- The autobiography of Puyi – ghost-written by Li Wenda. The title of the Chinese book is usually rendered in English as From Emperor to Citizen. The book was re-released in China in 2007 in a new corrected and revised version. Many sentences which had been deleted from the 1964 version prior to its publication were now included.
- Aisin-Gioro, Puyi (2002) . 我的前半生 [The First Half of My Life; From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Puyi] (in Chinese). Foreign Languages Press. ISBN 978-7-119-00772-4. – original
- Pu Yi, Henry (2010) . The Last Manchu: The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60239-732-3. – translation
- Headland, Isaac Taylor (1909). Court life in China. F.H. Revell. ISBN 978-0-585-15029-1.
- Fenby, Jonathan (2004). Chiang Kai-shek China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 978-0786713189.
- Driscoll, Mark (2010). Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, The Dead, and The Undead in Japan's Imperialism, 1895–1945. Durnham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0822347613.
- Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1934, 2008). Twilight in the Forbidden City. Soul Care Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9680459-5-4
- Li Shuxian (2006) . My Husband Puyi: Puyi yu wo / [Li Shuxian kou shu ; Wang Qingxiang zheng li ; Changchun shi zheng xie wen shi zi liao yan jiu wei yuan hui bian]. Chuan guo xin hua shu dian jing xiao. ISBN 978-7-208-00167-1.
- Puyi's fifth wife Li Shuxian. Memories of their life together were ghost written by Wang Qingxian. An English version translated by Ni Na was published by China Travel and Tourism Press.
- Companion to Bernardo Bertolucci's film of the same name.
- Young, Louise (1998). Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520219342.
- Weinberg, Gerhard (2005). A World In Arms A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-61826-7.
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