P'u Yi was the last emperor of China. He was not Chinese, he was a member of the Ch'ing
dynasty and therefore a Manchu. The Manchus were originally nomads from Manchuria, North
East of China. They conquered China in 1634 but kept themselves apart from the rest of the
population. By the time P'u Yi was born in 1906, China was being dominated by foreign
powers which the Ch'ing dynasty had no power over. The country was ruled by the Dowager
Empress Cixi, who had forced the emperor from his throne, imprisoned him and later
poisoned him for conspiring against her. On her deathbed Cixi nominated P'u Yi, the
emperor's nephew, as successor to the throne.
P'u Yi was three years old when this happened. He had to leave his family to go and live
in the Forbidden City, where there were no other children and he was cared for by eunuchs
and the consorts of previous emperors. He did not meet any other children until he was
seven when his brother and sister came to visit him. His father, Prince Ch'un served as a
regent. In 1911 there was an uprising in China and a democracy was declared. He was forced
to abdicate. Even though he was not emperor, all his servants and visitors that entered
the Forbidden City were obliged to kowtow to him. P'u Yi only met his real mother again
when he was ten, and three years later, after a quarrel with the consorts over P'u Yi's
upbringing, she killed herself by swallowing a ball of opium. Six years after the
revolution, a warlord named Chang Hsun decided to restore P'u Yi to power. His army
surrounded Beijing and forced the local government to accept his demands. Six days later
there was an air raid on the Forbidden City, and Beijing was again surrounded, but this
time by the troops of the new government. P'u Yi was again forced to resign.
P'u Yi studied History and Poetry but did not study Science, Maths and other basic
subjects. At the age of thirteen he started to study English. Some still hoped to return
him to power and to do this he needed to have contacts with the West, so an officer from
the English Colonial Office was asked to become P'u Yi's English tutor. His name was
Reginald Johnson, and he had a great influence on the young emperor, with whom he became
good friends, calling him Henry, a name that was to stick for the rest of his life.
When P'u Yi was fifteen he tried to escape by bribing the guards, who accepted his money
but betrayed him, and he never made it out of the gates. A year later his advisors decided
it was time for him to get married. They gave him four photo's of noble Manchu girls and
told him to chose one. He picked one, but was told that he had made a bad choice and
should choose another. He picked a very beautiful girl of his own age called Wan Jung,
later known as Elizabeth, and married her. The first girl he had chosen became his first
concubine. He never had any children and it was rumoured that he had boys as concubines.
In 1924 another warlord surrounded the Forbidden City. He was Feng Yu Hsiu, and was a
communist, and therefore against the empirial power. He forced P'u Yi to leave the
Forbidden City and go and live in his father's mansion, although soon Reginald Johnson,
his English tutor, helped him escape to the Japanese embassy. The British hoped that the
Japanese would nominate P'u Yi the emperor of Manchuria. P'u Yi, his staff, and his wives
were moved to Tien Tsin on the coast of China where Japan had a lot of influence. He lived
in a mansion called Chang Garden and he set up his court there.He spent four years there
plotting with the Japanese to become emperor of Manchuria. He got on much very well with
his first consort, Wen Hsiu, although she soon asked for a divorce. Although this had
never happened in the Imperial Family before, P'u Yi was forced to accept because he did
not want a public scandal.
In 1931 the Japanese army invaded Manchuria and P'u Yi was proclaimed emperor. Elizabeth
joined him there, but she had an affair with a guard and P'u Yi punished her by confining
her to her rooms. Eventually the empress became addicted to opium and became mentally
unstable. The Japanese set up a new country in Manchuria called Manchukuo. The Chinese
government protested, calling Manchukuo a puppet regime, and P'u Yi a traitor. The country
truly was a puppet regime. P'u Yi was provided with money and a beautiful house and the
Japanese made all the decisions for him. He was only being used as a symbol and had very
little say over any decisions. The Japanese pressured him and his brother to marry
Japanese women who would spy on them. He refused and married another Manchu girl. He was
also ordered to convert to Shintoism, and although outwardly he conformed, he secretly
became a devout Buddist.
At the end of World War 2, the Soviet Army invaded Manchukuo. He was told that he could
pick three companions and that he would be sent to live in Japan. He picked his brother
and two servants leaving his foty year old opium addicted wife behind. The Russians did
not keep their promise and took him back to Russia with them. There he was placed under
house arrest in a dacha and was treated very well. He was made to testify against the
Japanese war crimes. He was later returned to him home land, China, and there was placed
in a prison camp. He went along very meekly with all the brain washing of the Cultural
Revolution and was released in 1959.
The Last emporer was you might call a conformist. He went along with any idea just to keep
peace. He never seemed one for confrontation, and always remained under the oppression of
others. He trusted many people, and as a result, he was often betrayed. He lived most of
his life in luxjery, but was always seen by many as meek and humble.
The Communist Government forced him to become a gardener, and he was made to appear at
public gatherings on the government's behalf. In 1965 Mao Zedong decided to purge all the
intellectuals that opposed him, and when P'u Yi died in 1967 it was rumoured that he had
been murdered by the revolutionaries, although it is more probable that he died of cancer.