Who Was China’s Last Emperor?

When you think of China in the modern-day, you think of a communist/socialist state, a place of beauty with the Great Wall, and a country whose cuisine has spread worldwide. However there was a time when China did have its own emperor, and was not ran by either the Japanese or Mao.

Image of Henry Pu Yi

Henry Pu Yi was born on the 7th February 1906, and at the age of 2 years and 10 months was chosen by his predecessor Empress Dowager Cixi on her deathbed. Known as the Xuangong Emperor, his start to the reign did not go quite to plan: Puyi was taken from his family residence kicking and screaming by palace guards, leading to the eunuch needing to be sent to calm him down.

His father, Prince Chun became the Prince Regent, but could do little to stop the new Emperor from making a scene during his coronation. After developing a close relationship to his nurse, barely ever seeing his own biological mother, and saw her till the age of 8. However, getting all that power from such a young age, and being treated like a king had a negative affect on Puyi, who would feel distant from everyone around him, regularly having his eunuchs beaten for small things.

An Image of 3 Year old Puyi

As Emperor, he aimed to reform the Household Department, replacing the old aristocratic officers with outsiders, appointing Zheng Xiaoxu as the minister of the Household Department, who then hired Tong Jixu. Jixu was a former Air Force pilot, and as Chief of Staff was meant to clean up Puyi’s government. However the reforms did not go to plan, and Puyi was later forced out of the Forbidden City by Feng Yuxiang, who would later go onto be Vice Premier of the Republic of China.

Image of Feng Yuxiang

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which consisted many revolts and uprisings saw the end of the Chinese Imperial Dynasty, and Puyi’s reign. On the 12th February 1912,  a 6-year-old Puyi became the last Chinese Imperial Empire, marking the end of 2000 years of Imperial rule. Signed with the new Republic of China, he was able to retain his title, but would be treated like a foreign monarch, a similar agreement that Italy held with the pope. Puyi and his Imperia court were allowed to remain in the Northern half of the Forbidden City, as well as in the Summer Palace: all put in the Articles of Favourable treatment released on the 26th December 1914.

Although Puyi was restored in 1917 through warlord Zhang Xun, it was to only last from the 1st July to the 12th, a move which grew mass opposition across China, and would later lose Puyi his privileges put in place by the Articles of Favourable Treatment. In 1925, Puyi was moved to the Japanese Conession of Tianjin, spending time in the Zhang Garden and then the Garden of Serenity. Though he may have been pushed out of China, he was never too far away from politic, with discussions to reinstate him coming and going.

Image of Zhang Xun

After discussions with the ever-growing Japanese army Puyi was instated as a puppet ruler of Manchuko (1932-1945). In public, Puyi bared no sentiment towards the Japanese, but in private resented being made head of state/emperor. This is emphasised through his enthronement, where the Japanese wanted him to wear Manchuko-style uniform, but Puyi wanted to wear his traditional clothing. In the end, a compromise was met, seeing Puyi wear Western style uniform. From 1935-45, there were many assassination attempts on Puyi, including being stabbed in 1937 by a palace servant. All in all, his role as Emperor was limited, with Puyi’s wartime duties including sitting through Chinese-Language Shinto prayers.

After the war the Soviets sent Puyi to a sanatorium on the Soviet/Chinese border, and stayed there till the Communists took over China. Though Mao’s cultural revolution in 1966 looked to threaten Puyi, old age eventually caught up with him, and he died of Kidney cancer and heart disease in 1967 at the age of 61.

It’s easy to see why history forgot Puyi: unlike Tsar Nicholas II, he didn’t have much opportunity to mess up as badly, and control always seemed to be out of his hands. Given that he was on the throne at such a young age, it was hard for him to put his mark on history.

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