Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Pu Yi -- The Last Emperor of Qing Dynasty and Witness of the History of China 

Pu Yi (1906 -- 1967) was the last emperor of both the Qing Dynasty and the history of China. 


Toddler Emperor Pu Yi

When Pu Yi was only two years old, his grandmother Empress Dowager Cixi took him away from his parents, and moved him into their royal palace the Forbidden City, as the heir of the Qing Empire. 


Because at that time, Pu Yi’s uncle, the Emperor Guang Xu was “sick” (actually was imprisoned by Cixi) and had no offsprings.


Pu Yi then became the third puppet emperor under Cixi’s control.


When Pu Yi was three years old, Emperor Guang Xu and Cixi passed away within two days, then Pu Yi ascended to the throne, and his birth father became the most powerful regent of the Qing Empire. 

Ending of the Qing Dynasty and Abdication of the Throne

At that time, Qing Empire’s dominance already reached the sunset; rebel forces, from refugees and peasants to well educated intellectuals, appeared in many places in China.


Soon, the Revolution of 1911 exploded and quickly spread to the whole of China; the Qing’s army kept losing in the next two months.


Then Pu Yi’s father was forced to resign as the regent, and soon Pu Yi announced the abdication, as the legit emperor of this last feudal dynasty in the history of China.


The Republic of China (ROC), which was consisted of many half-independent warlords, was established in the year 1912. ​

Pu Yi still had the right to live in the Forbidden City and take a certain amount of money from the government of the ROC; the Manchu nobles of Qing still hold some privileges and were respected.


Inside the palace, there was a complete system serving Pu Yi as a real emperor, just like old times; until two years later, they were required to abolish feudal royal titles and change their nomadic clothes and hairstyle to modern ones. 

The 11 Days of Pu Yi's Second Time Being An Emperor

When Pu Yi was 11 years old, a warlord occupied Beijing and supported Pu Yi to recover the Qing Empire.


However, 11 days later, another warlord defeated the restoration supporter, and forced Pu Yi announced the abdication for the second time. 


Afterwards, Pu Yi continued his emperor’s lifestyle inside the royal palace, and was able to meet his siblings and birth parents sometimes.


Since the Revolution of 1911, many people still haven't given up on restoring the Qing Empire, and Pu Yi has always been taught so.


He was educated to be a good monarch and enjoyed the privileges of being one, though he had never tasted the real power or freedom.


When he was 15, his birth mother committed suicide, because Pu Yi had an argument with a powerful empress dowager; he finally realized that his "power" even wasn’t able to protect his own mother. 


Failed Escape Plan and Pu Yi's Modernization 

Pu Yi had a British teacher since he was 13, and had a good relationship with him; Pu learnt English, math and geography from this foreign teacher.


When Pu Yi grew older, he realized his dangerous situation and wanted to escape out of the Forbidden City, or even study abroad, but most of the conservative nobles and other royal members didn’t allow him to do that.


So, Pu Yi and his oldest brother made an escape plan. 


Firstly, they transported many extremely valuable paintings and other treasures outside of the Forbidden City secretly, and stored them in another house; most of them were soon disappeared after Japan arrived during the World War Two.


But right before Pu Yi got the chance to escape, he and his brother was found out, and this plan failed.  

Because of the influence of this foreign teacher, Pu Yi finally cut off his plait and recommended other nobles to do the same; since then, this nomadic Manchu hairstyle finally disappeared in the history China.


Soon, Pu Yi got married when he was 16; he followed Qing Empire's emperor’s wedding ceremony, when he had a queen and an imperial concubine at the same time.


After the wedding, Pu Yi dismissed some eunuchs, trying to change the situation that many people kept stealing and selling treasures from the Forbidden City. 


Being Expelled Out of the Forbidden City

Two years later, Warlord Feng initiated a coup and expelled Pu Yi out of the Forbidden City; he also claimed that Pu Yi would get their protection, only if Pu Yi give up all the privileges and become a civilian since after.


Qing’s Manchu nobles refused to give up, including Pu Yi himself.


Pu Yi then took as much treasure as he could and went to his father’s mansion; soon they escaped to another city and lived in a house in concession.


During that time, Pu Yi was still respected as an emperor and communicated more with foreign forces; he was especially close with Japanese, because he felt that they were quite nice and possible to be helpful in Qing Empire’s restoration. 


Destruction of Mausoleums of Empire Qing's Monarchs

After Pu Yi was expelled, ROC ended long-time fights among warlords and organized a united government.


On the other side, Pu Yi was trying everything to restore his empire.


However, a general led his army opened Qing’s late emperors’ graves; the two most luxurious monarchs’ royal cemeteries, Emperor Hong Li and Empress Dowager Cixi’s, were ransacked and their skeletons were dragged outside of their coffins.


Pu Yi and his loyal “officials” were quite angry and sad, they tried to appeal to the ROC’s government, but they failed. 


Pu Yi's Third Time Being A Puppet Monarch

When Pu Yi was 25, Japan invaded and occupied the northeast of China.


Then Kenji Doihara assisted Pu Yi escaped northeastward, where Pu Yi established another “country” with the help of the Japanese, which turned out was an illegal regime and Pu Yi was just a puppet monarch.


Pu didn’t have much freedom there, and was not allowed to make important decisions or participate in politics. 


Pu Yi’s queen, a beautiful and well educated noble born girl, got the lunacy during this half captive period. His father, uncle, and his little brother all refused to go to his new "country" to become a traitor. His imperial concubine announced a divorce, who lived as a teacher since after.


They all stayed in other cities, though in poverty, and rejected to work for the puppet government that was under control of Japanese.


Only Pu Yi’s oldest brother, the one who helped him steal and transport valuable treasures out of the Forbidden City, supported Pu Yi and married a Japanese wife. 


Miseries and Desperations In the Illegal Country

As a puppet "king", Pu Yi had no actual right in politics, and never brought his people better lives.


Large numbers of labors were cruelly murdered by Japanese invaders; countless innocent people were captured and used in inhuman experiments.


Many mass graves containing tens of thousands of bodies were found after the Japanese army left this area.


Civilians were forced to accept enslaving education. People living in the best rice production area were forbidden to eat rice, because the rice needed to be transported to the Japanese battlefront in the World War Two. 


Pu Yi married two other “imperial concubines” during this period.


One was named Tan, whom Pu loved very much and spent some good times together; but Tan dead out of a sudden when she was only 22, after she got sick and having been "treated" by a Japanese doctor.


Pu insisted that Tan was murdered by the Japanese, because Tan was well educated and told Pu many of the Japanese’s cruel behaviors.


After Tan’s death, Pu Yi was “suggested” to marry a Japanese wife, but he refused firmly; so he chose a young but rarely educated girl, from a list that Japanese offered. 


This girl was then dismissed after Japan surrendered. 


War Criminal in Soviet Union and His Testification at Tribunal

When Japan kept losing in the Pacific and Southeast Asia battlefileds, Pu Yi started to worry that they might kill him, in case he fell into the “wrong” hands.


So he tried his best to show his “loyalty” to the Japanese, who then decided to take Pu Yi with them. Before that, Pu Yi announced his “abdication” for the third time.


However, right before they were about to leave China, Pu Yi got captured in the airport by Soviet Union soldiers.


This time, he was no longer an emperor or “king”, instead, he became a war criminal. 


Also, as a puppet "monarch" controlled by the Japanese, Pu Yi was defined as a big traitor of the ROC government and Chinese people, including many of Pu’s close relatives, like his father, uncle, and little brother, etc.


Pu Yi was clearly aware of this, so he applied  for several times to stay in the Soviet Union, and had donated many treasures that he took along, but got no reply.

Soon, Pu Yi testified at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for eight days, and revealed some crimes that Japanese committed (according to his own memoirs, he didn’t say the things that he was involved, in case he would be sentenced by Chinese people if he was sent back someday).


Based on his special status, Pu Yi was treated well; he even didn’t need to participate in any labor activities.


Sending Back to China and His Captive Life in An Ironic City

A few years later, the People's Republic of China (PRC) established, when Pu Yi and his former followers were sent back and imprisoned. 

Ironically, the city where Pu Yi was grounded, was the same one that his nomadic Manchurian ancestor established their regime and started to fight against the Ming Dynasty.


The first king of the Qing Dynasty flourished there; then, three hundred years later, their last emperor served his time here, in the same city. 


Pu Yi then started to learn to do everything on his own, such as laundry.


He, for the first time, clearly knew what exact crimes the Japanese did in the northeast China, under the name of his “kingdom”; he also met many civilians who suffered a lot and fought bravely againstt the Japanese.


After hearing how ordinary people suffered under Pu Yi's “dominance”, Pu’s former followers stopped talking to him, and tried to isolate him. 


Pu Yi wrote his memoir here, and donated the rest of his treasures, which were then put back in museums.

He also met with all of his relatives who refused to work for the Japanese before, and was specially amnestied after nine-year captive life. 


Commoner Pu Yi and His Late Years in Beijing

Then, Pu Yi went back to Beijing and met with his family members.


He lived in his hometown, for the first time, as a common person, freely, with no constraints, or life and death moments.


He then worked in a botanical garden, and participated in an organization to write historical materials. Later, he was nominated as a member of the Political Consultative Conference. 


Many people tried to introduce women to Pu Yi, but he refused all of those former Manchu nobles; instead, he married to a civilian born nurse, and spent the rest of his life with her.


When he was old, Pu Yi paid his last visit to the Forbidden City; he bought a ticket like other people, and served as a guide.


Years later, he passed away old and sick and left no offsprings. 

What Happened to Pu Yi's Close Relatives

Pu Yi's father, the former regent, refused to go to northeast of China to work for the Japanese; in the year 1951, he passed away in his old palace.


Pu Yi's beautiful queen, who tried everything to escape from the “kingdom” that Pu and Japanese built, but failed. Gradually, she became insane and was grounded. After Japan surrendered, she was released but died in the next year; no one knew how and where she ended up.


Pu Yi's uncle, the former prince and powerful minister, stopped contacting with Pu after he rejected to work for the Japanese. After the Japanese occupied Beijing in the World War Two, they offered Pu's uncle to be the “mayor” of Beijing; but he firmly refused and lived a poverty life by selling stuff in a market. After PRC established, his uncle was assigned to work as a consultant in the army, and a member of National People's Congress.    


Pu Yi's sisters all participated in some occupations, like educator, painter, file clerk in the Forbidden City, etc.; their kids are working in different areas as well. 


Pu Yi’s youngest brother, who passed away in the year 2015, dedicated his entire life to teaching and researching history.


Most of them recovered their nomadic Manchurian family names (many of Qing’s Manchurian changed their family name, trying to avoid being revenged after 1911) and lived on their own hands as other ordinary people.


They are one of the 55 minority groups in China now, with a bigger name, the Chinese.